Creating a Culture of Change in your Organization

Date Published
Debbie Merlino

I often find myself talking with development professionals who feel their fundraising program — or team – is stuck on “repeat,” and they’re frustrated that they can’t seem to create any real change.

If “that’s how we’ve always done it” is a common refrain in your organization, it can be easy to throw up your hands and assume that people are afraid of change, or just aren’t that motivated. Don’t be so quick to assume that someone is intractable. Change is possible. But you need to identify the barriers and then strike them down one at a time.

Barriers to change include: a lack of a common vision, feelings of being overburdened, deficiency in the requisite skillset, and a belief that meaningful change isn’t possible. 

You can create the change you desire. It all starts with your approach.

What’s your “Why?”

Why are you dissatisfied with the status quo? What’s the change that you seek?

What would be possible if your organization raised 5%, 10%, or more topline revenue? How would that impact the services your organization delivers and the people in your community? 

Take an inventory of everything that’s right

Start by making a list of all the things your team does well. What are the strengths in the fundraising program? What are your team members’ strengths?

Identify areas that need improvement

A 5-year trending report like AFG’s Strategic Growth Analysis (SGA) will assess overall file health and identify program strengths, as well as opportunities for improvement. Unlike other trending reports that tend to focus on the past, an SGA will help you understand how your organization arrived where it is today and — perhaps even more importantly — forecast the road ahead. What’s more, a seasoned fundraising strategist will help you understand the data, extract key insights, and recommended next steps. The findings from the SGA can become your roadmap to change.

While a Strategic Growth Analysis will give you a 72,000-foot view of your entire fundraising program, a Program Audit is used when you want to focus attention on one part of your program that you believe needs changing, for example new donor acquisition or your monthly renewal series.

Engaging outside assistance from an agency partner on an ongoing basis – or even with a project or consulting arrangement – will add another change-agent to your team roster right away, and provide you with the support you’ll need, especially early on in the process.

Create a shared sense of purpose

Gather stakeholders throughout the organization and share your vision. Engage those responsible for program delivery as well as all the members of your development team. This is the time to share the team/program strengths you’ve identified as well as the opportunities for improvement. Be persuasive, not dictatorial. Your goal is to generate enthusiasm for what’s possible, and to share a detailed roadmap of how you’ll get there. Your enthusiasm – along with a solid plan for how to make this vision a reality – need to be communicated in equal measure.

Break it down into manageable bites

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Now that you have your roadmap, break down what needs to happen into activity-sized bites and assign resources to each activity. Develop a timeline and milestones and track them regularly. Develop a list of performance metrics that you will also track along the way.

Identify any skills gaps and provide the requisite training

Oftentimes the old way of doing things might be the only way that people know. Engage your team in a discussion about any hurdles they see in the road ahead and be prepared to share with them specifics about how you’ll set them up for success and provide them with the support, training, tools and guidance they’ll need.

Identify your champions

Who in your organization is showing signs that they are a kindred spirit? A change-agent like yourself? Solicit their help and provide them with both the responsibility and authority to put the plans into action. The more people you can recruit – even for small tasks – the more likely you’ll be successful in bringing about change.

Measure and celebrate activities as well as outcomes

Make sure team members understand how their individual efforts – when combined with the activities of others – will bring about the change you seek. Come together as a team regularly to report on activities and how you’re tracking against your performance metrics. 

Change is possible. It’s starts with you.


Debbie Merlino
About the Author:
Debbie Merlino
President, Agency Services

As President of Agency Services, Debbie is responsible for overall client satisfaction. She works to ensure AFG’s winning strategies are being shared throughout the organization for the benefit of all our clients. Debbie is frequently out on the road sharing insights with others and listening to your challenges so we can develop solutions.

What excites you about your work at AFG?

I get to meet the best people and hear their stories. Hardly anyone says they planned to work in development. Learning how our clients found themselves in this profession and hearing the stories of the people they serve is inspirational.

If you weren’t at AFG, what would you be doing?

Attempting the life of a freelance journalist, working in a bookstore, and/or doing a podcast for my own enjoyment.

What are your hobbies/interests outside AFG?

Making people laugh. It’s thrilling! Especially when done purposefully and I’m on stage ; ) I also enjoy yoga and a well-crafted cocktail.

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