Change is inevitable

The work I do causes me to think a lot about how and why culture changes, how businesses change to respond to cultural change and how we, as individuals, adjust engagement and consumption behavior in reaction to an external disruption–that change in our usual state–when it is forced upon us. Throughout my career, I have helped many companies facilitate a transition, and the most important thing I’ve learned from it all is most of us hate change because it is usually something we are forced to react to, rather than participate in change. This is particularly the case in our workplaces, with the businesses we deal with, and even with our favorite products. If you need an example, consider “New Coke,” or the attempt by GAP to change its logo.

I think everyone realizes change is constant and there is no rational choice but to embrace it, evolve with it, or at least find a way to adapt to the impact it has on our work. Embracing, growing, or adapting is how most of us manage change in our personal lives, too. Although, we probably handle change in our business and professional lives much easier than we do in our personal or home lives.

My friend, Wendy Lou, believes most of us just want someone to change with us. I believe this, too, and I think this is why a change in business and professional environments, as painful as it is, can feel much more comfortable for us than personal change. While each of us may approach change differently based on our background and life experiences, we typically experience workplace change with colleagues who are all moving, together, in the same direction. Change is much easier to navigate and appreciate if others are with us on the journey.

In our personal lives, we typically tackle change, at least self-change, alone and this is precisely why such change can be difficult. When we need, or desire, change of our own it’s often self-driven or created by an internal disruption and not directly caused by external forces. When we have people in our lives who are capable of and willing to change with us, we can grow together. If not, then, unfortunately, we will grow apart.

Facilitating life change is intensely personal. After all, not everyone experiences change the same way, or at the same rate. Unlike in the work or the business world we are not all moving in the same direction or toward the same goal, at least not at the same time, in our personal lives. While others might empathize and support us on our journey, no one will truly understand our new path because they will navigate the unique twists and turns of their way at a different pace.

Change is inevitable. Accepting our need to change and evolve is extraordinarily difficult, but necessary part of what it means to be human. Acknowledging that we may need to experience personal change alone surfaces the undeniable and sometimes painful recognition that we are solely responsible for who we are, who we will become, and the happiness we choose to uncover in the process of living our lives.

The change adoption curve

Change Adoption Curve

Some Most of us hate change.

When change begins, it often doesn't register on our radar. We choose to ignore it because the impact or "noise" level in our lives is low, but change is in progress, nonetheless.  When the noise level increases, so does our level of discomfort, as the change adoption curve graph above shows.

We complain that change isn't needed, though change occurs anyway. So, we plead for an exception to change, only to sulk when that exception doesn't come. Finally, we begin to accept that we cannot stop change.

We realize that we have little control over change. But, tomorrow we'll repeat the process with some other change in our lives as if we learned nothing about change yesterday.

What a waste of time and energy.

We cannot control change. All we can control is the speed at which we accept change.

Change happens. Stop wasting time ignoring, complaining, pleading and sulking.

Accept the inevitable. Change. Because it's the only thing, we can do.

Nonprofits have a mission connection problem

The Philanthropy 400, The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual ranking report released in October 2010, showed that the nation's 400 largest nonprofit organizations suffered an 11-percent drop in giving last year, the worst decline the organization wrote, in the two decades since The Chronicle of Philanthropy started the ranking.

If you look the list closely, you’ll see that The Philanthropy 400 is made up of a diverse group of organizations, although most are older and more established nonprofits.  Those on the list this year include some colleges and universities, health charities, hospitals, foundations, youth organizations, media, religious groups, wildlife and environmental groups to name a few.  Some on the list had significant increases in giving last year; others had substantial decreases.  I expected that the diversity of the groups within the listing would create for some variances, but I was curious to know if any one category saw larger than average increases or decreases.

The report does not provide an analysis by category, so I added a “category type” to each organization on the list and performed a review of my own using data I pulled November 30, 2010[1].

Breaking the organizations into the categories below, here’s what I found using the data to compare the change in private giving in 2009 over 2008:

Animal Welfare21%
Children, Youth & Family110%
Health/Medical (Hospital)(106%)
Humanitarian (Food)96%

The greatest overall giving gains were in the Education, Health/Medical (Research/Other), Foundations/Trusts and Children, Youth & Family categories.  The most significant overall declines in giving appear to be in the Health/Medical (Hospital), Outdoor and Environment, and Humanitarian (nonfood).

Within each of the categories, there could also be significant variances. For example, within the Military category support for veterans organizations (DAV and PVA) showed a decline, while support for active troops (USO) showed improvement. This made sense to me in the case of the Military category given our current military actions, but variations in other categories it made less sense.

I would agree that this data suggests directional trends in some categories of nonprofits, specific causes, and perhaps for some individual organizations, although I’m not convinced that giving overall giving is down as reported by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The data provided in this report is merely a snapshot.  Many on the list have different fiscal years, and the data is updated on as new data is provided.  In fact, my review of November 30, 2010, data, for example, suggested that overall giving was up 5% over the previous year, while the October written report from The Chronicle of Philanthropy indicated an 11% decline as mentioned earlier. Also, no consideration seems to have been given to specific events within the life of an individual organization that might have triggered larger than usual donations within the year, such as a milestone anniversary.

As with all research, we could manipulate the data to support whatever giving position we chose to take on the nonprofit sector as a whole.  The reality is there’s a deeper problem that’s not yet being adequately addressed by our Nation’s largest charitable organizations: Our culture and our demographics are rapidly evolving, and most of these organizations are not keeping pace with the evolution.

In fact, most have spent years cultivating the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, but haven’t put much effort into reaching Generation X or Generation Y.  Of those that have put forth an effort to reach the younger generations, the majority have used the same approaches that have proven successful for the older audiences.  Unfortunately, just because it has worked, does not mean it will continue to work. These cultural and demographic changes have created a whole new set of needs, values, and expectation of younger donors that are not aligned with those needs, values, and expectations of the older donors.  Moreover, the speed of change is too high.

Speed and change are the two things most nonprofit organizations fail to do well.

The misalignment of these needs, values, and expectations means that the message and the mission of many organizations are no longer connecting in a meaningful way with new generations of prospective donors. Without the connection, there's no love for the organization or its mission.

This lack of a mission connection is the underlying reason, not the economy, for the decline in giving to a majority of The Philanthropy 400, and for a good number of nonprofits and educational institutions that didn’t make this list.

The question now is this: If you think your organization has a mission connection problem, what are you going to do about it?

[1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy updates their online data regularly.

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