Non-profits and Organizational Change

Jo-Louise Huq (PhD, MBA). March 2019.

With the many pressures coming at non-profits, organizational change will become a going concern, if it is not already.

In this post, we explore the implications of these pressures for organizational change. We also examine what nonprofit leaders and managers might want to be thinking about when it comes to organizational change.

(See also:

First, what is organizational change?

Organizational change is a process and an outcome. It is processes through which an organization changes its structure, strategies, operational methods (e.g., programs, services, policies, job descriptions), technologies, and organizational culture (e.g., norms, values, and beliefs that underpin existing ways of working). Organizational change is an outcome when an organization has moved from a current state to some future state.

In responding to pressures, non-profit leaders and managers may try to introduce some of the following:

  • new or changed programs and service delivery models (e.g., evidence-informed frameworks, leading practices, efficiency changes, service innovations).
  • new reporting approaches, which may involve collecting data in different ways (e.g., impact reporting).
  • different approaches to working with existing (and sometimes new) partners (e.g., collaborative or wrap-around approaches).
  • real-time, developmental evaluation rather than formative or summative evaluation approaches.

All of these initiatives require changes to some (if not all) of structure, strategies, operational methods, technologies, and culture. Sometimes what changes are needed are clear. Other times leaders and managers face ambiguity and uncertainty about what needs to change; how to introduce, encourage, and support change; and how to assess whether changes are happening and are being sustained.  

In my experience working with and studying organizations, the complex and ambiguous nature of change initiatives is often underestimated by leaders and managers. Additionally, leaders and managers often underestimate the very real challenge of changing established ways of working.[i] Underestimating the need to explore, engage with, and navigate– ambiguity, uncertainty, and established ways of working – likely contributes to high failure rates in organizational change initiatives.[ii][iii]

Although organizational change is difficult, it can be encouraged and supported. However, not through the traditional leader-driven, top-down, linear change management approaches.[iv]

What is needed are change processes that engage with uncertainty, ambiguity and established ways of working. These processes need to be flexible, allow for distributed leadership and collaboration, build capacity for change throughout the organization, and support experimentation and learning.

In future posts, I will explore these ideas in greater depth. For now, I would encourage leaders and managers to reflect on what changes they want to introduce in their organizations and what competencies they might want to develop to better introduce, encourage, and support organizational change.

[i]Huq, J. L. (2018). Conditioning a professional exchange field for social innovation. Business & Society, 0007650318758321.

[ii]Ewenstein, B., Smith, W., & Sologar, A. (2015). Changing Change management. Available online:

[iii]Mark Hughes (2011) Do 70 Per Cent of All Organizational Change Initiatives Really Fail?, Journal of Change Management, 11:4, 451-464, DOI: 10.1080/14697017.2011.630506

[iv]Tams, C., (2018). Why We Need to Rethink Organizational Change Management. Available online:

Published by CCIG | Collaborating, Changing, Innovating, EnGaging

I am a 'pracademic,' a practitioner of collaborative change and innovation who also conducts and publishes research on collaboration, change, and innovation. This is my personal blog, and I use it to communicate about my and other's research, publications, and ideas related to change, innovation, and collaboration.

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