VT readers ask questions about volunteer management
and administration. Ask Connie, an experienced volunteer manager, consultant
and trainer, provides the answers for all to see.
Send questions to AskConnieP@cs.com
I don’t know if it’s the end of summer
or it’s just
me but it seems that “change” is in the air more than
usual. My guess is that many nonprofit organizations are looking
toward the end of the year and deciding how to maximize resources most
effectively until then. So, this month I offer you some advice
on Managing Change (and Dealing with Resistance to It!).
Among volunteers there are some common reasons to resist change. It’s
important to identify exactly why someone is resisting change in order
to help them move, if possible, toward accepting the change.
Tradition is threatened. You may hear long-term
volunteers say, “We’ve always done it this way.” Volunteers
often are concerned that valuable institutional history or volunteer
accomplishments will be lost with a change. Volunteers can
be threatened about losing their identity or even power within an
organization when change is made.
Change can be perceived as illogical,
for example the costs of a new activity or program seem greater
than the benefits. This
occurs most often when volunteers don’t know the reasons for
the change or don’t fully understand the greater benefits to
the institution. Your communications with volunteers need to
include why the change is being made and the benefits to the organization
as well as to the volunteers.
Change can be perceived as self-serving. Volunteers
often ask, “Who’s promoting this change?” or “Is
there a personal benefit with this change?” Provide honest
answers to these questions and don’t ignore them.
The change lacks clear intention and direction,
at least to the volunteers. Change often evolves slowly, particularly
in nonprofit organizations. Rarely are all parts in place at
the very beginning. Having a written plan for change and involving
volunteers in implementing the change will provide the direction
and guidance that volunteers seek.
Change brings fear of the unknown. This
fear can produce a reluctance to trade the known, the way things
are now, for an uncertain new way of doing things. Effective
communication about the change management plan is essential to lessen
the fear of the unknown. Once volunteers know what to expect
and when, they can become more comfortable with the idea of the change.
Volunteer positions and power can be threatened. Will
the change bring reorganization? Will power positions change? Who
will I work with now? Again, communication is essential to
neutralize this type of resistance. Be honest but positive
about why the change is necessary, what is going to happen, how and
when it will happen, and the benefits to everyone once the change
Just as there are common reasons to resist change, there are also common
reasons for volunteers to accept change. Acceptance most
often occurs when:
The change is logical and its merits are understood. This
means that you’ve done a good job of communicating the change
Volunteers support the change when they are involved in
it. This means that you have solicited feedback
from volunteers and involved them in the steps to implement the
The change is non-threatening. This means
that you have communicated clearly the reasons for the change and
the anticipated results. Volunteers understand their role in
the change and exactly how the change will impact them.
The intention of the change is very clear. Again,
you’ve communicated with volunteers from the very beginning,
back when you knew that change was even being considered. In
this way volunteers will feel the change is being made “with” them
and not “to” them.
Connie Pirtle, of Strategic NonProfit-Resources,
has 25 years' experience in working with volunteers. She has consulted
and/or trained for such organizations as the Washington National Cathedral,
Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music America, and the Association
for Volunteer Administration.
Send your questions to Connie
Strategic Nonprofit Resources
314 E. Marie Dr. * Stillwater, OK 74075 * VOICE: 405.372.8142 or 202-306-1492