What Is Strategic Change in an Organization?

by | Nov 3, 2022 | Strategic Planning

Nonprofit leaders are perpetually grappling with change.

Whether it’s staff departures, local policy shifts, or evolving donor priorities, dealing with change is a part of the job description.

But too few leaders are prepared to actually manage change strategically.

More often than not, we find ourselves reacting to change. We run from one challenge to the next, never having quite enough time to step back and consider strategy implications.

That leaves us scrambling yet again when the next unanticipated change inevitably strikes. It becomes a never ending cycle—one that eventually leads to burnout.

Which leads us to wonder: Is there a way nonprofit leaders can transform unexpected changes into strategic opportunity? 


Managing Change in Your Nonprofit

First, let’s distinguish the two types of change nonprofit leaders are dealing with:

  • Planned Strategic Change: Strategic planning positions your organization to move from a position of reactive change to proactive change. This shift is critical both for achieving your organizational goals and for initiating a mindset shift. At Funding for Good, we recommend organizations invest in a comprehensive strategic planning process every 3 to 5 years.
  • Unplanned Change that Needs to be Made Strategic: As opposed to change driven by strategic planning, unplanned changes are wrenches thrown into your existing plans. While you can prepare for some of these challenges using tools like an environmental scan or SWOT analysis, others will inevitably come out of the blue. Leaders simply can’t predict or prepare for every scenario. In this case, having a framework for how to respond to unexpected changes without getting knocked off course is vital.

When it comes to managing an organization, both of these types of changes intersect and influence each other. For example, unexpected staff departures and fundraising gaps could cause you to reevaluate timelines and goals laid out in your three-year strategic plan.

But the key is that you’re starting from a position that’s grounded in managing organizational change strategically. So, what does this look like in action?

Here at Funding for Good, we appreciate practical examples. And one example that’s had us thinking about change management is how the upheaval in the energy sector is accelerating the transition to renewable energy.


How Crises in the Energy Sector are Driving Strategic Change

Over the past few months, problems in the energy sector have made headlines daily.

Skyrocketing electricity bills. Rising gas prices. Worries about the intersection of national security and energy independence. Energy has become a quickly evolving situation that is affecting everyone, from families to businesses to entire nations. It’s easy to imagine all the many stakeholders scrambling for solutions—most of which aren’t ideal.

Yet a new report from the International Energy Agency reveals that, amidst these crises, investment in clean energy is finally ramping up around the world. For anyone concerned about climate change, this momentum seems long overdue.

For years, advocates have highlighted the urgent need to transition to clean energy. They’ve made the case in terms of public health, job creation, and protecting vulnerable communities from catastrophic weather changes. But what finally tipped the balance was an unexpected crisis.

The Executive Director of the International Energy Agency explains the motivation behind governments’ recent increases in clean energy investments:

And why do governments do that? Because of climate change, because of the greenness of the issues? Not at all. The main reason here is energy security.

While the motivation for the sudden shift was unexpected, the blueprints for building a clean energy future have been in development for years. Those strategies were ready to be adapted when the need and opportunity arose.

Which meant leaders weren’t left scrambling, but rather strategically shifted course.


What Is Strategic Change in an Organization? 

We can use these same approaches within our own organizations.

Strategic change is keeping an organization’s goals and objectives in sight while adjusting tactics as new challenges arise. Doing this successfully requires preparing before a crisis strikes.

Transforming unexpected challenges into strategic change isn’t easy, but with a strategic plan in hand it’s more than possible. With preparation and practice, it might just become second nature.


BURNOUT: How Nonprofits Can Avoid It

Why Every Nonprofit Needs a Strategic Plan NOW

Comprehensive Environmental Scan vs. a Simple SWOT

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