Change: Don’t Just Face It Embrace It!

This blog was co-authored by:

  • Christopher Percopo, Director of Grants Management at The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust 
  • Bonnie Rivers, Associate Director of Grants and Records Management at the Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • Satonya Fair, Director of Grants Management at the Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • Nicole Howe Buggs,  Associate Corporate Secretary & Director, Grants Management at the Carnegie Corporation of New York


Socrates once said “the secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” In recent years, grantmaking institutions have found themselves dedicating significant resources, both staff time and dollars, to adapt to a changing world. Facilitating this change is no small feat and this has made “change management” an important skill to look for on a potential employee’s resume.

While there is no one way to ensure change is not only adopted, but embraced, there are a few recommendations we would make to increase your likelihood of success:

  • Stay Focused and Clear: Avoid “mission drift” and adding on too many extras.  Remember to be your own advocate.
  • Resources: Be clear about what it will take for this to be successful.  Think about internal and external resources as well as capital and training needs. Without appropriate resources, change is much more difficult.
  • Seek Counsel: Within your organization, identify people you need to buy-in to ensure the project is successful (at ALL levels of the organization) as well as identify people who can be a sounding board for ideas and deployment throughout the process.
  • Build Credibility: Get a complete and clear understanding of the current process – from every angle – who is involved, what and how things are done now – find out what is working, what isn’t working, AND IF THE CHANGE WILL AFFECT PEOPLE’S JOB!  Be transparent about what the change will bring and what it won’t! Be transparent about what will and WON’T be impacted.
  • Make Yourself an Expert (and bring in others): Make sure your organization has faith that you can do this work.  This means learning as much as possible about a new system and pulling in external resources when appropriate.  If the change will impact grantees, ask them for feedback!  They are key stakeholders that cannot be ignored.
  • Strategize and Plan: Come up with a strategy to change minds and behavior by doing research and obtaining data from key stakeholders on how they managed similar changes.  Outline and share the goal and a detailed plan, including timelines.
  • Communicate: Share the course of action including major milestones, deadlines, and benefits. Create talking points for your team, internal sponsors and leadership. If you have the resources internally, engage your communications team to assist you on messaging the plan and impacts. Create a plan for regular communications to keep stakeholders updated and engaged (Keep it as simple – and short – as possible).
  • Be Flexible: Keep things fluid and be open to ideas. Others may suggest things you had not thought of or you were not made aware of. You may need to negotiate and/or give up components of the work if your project objectives will still be met.
  • “Right-size” the Change:  Do not oversell small changes and disseminate plans for larger-scale initiatives.
  • Solicit Input and Feedback: It is crucial to ensure opportunities and a forum for input and feedback.
  • Engagement: Get stakeholders involved! Don’t spend all your time convincing the critics but instead target your energy toward those who are neutral to change, willing to change or cheerleaders for change. If you recognize experience or recognize fatigue, make adjustments.  Do not let people burn out on change.
  • Plan to Reinforce: This includes providing trainings and allowing input and feedback. Follow up after changes are implemented and document any lessons learned (what would we do differently).
  • Celebrate Success: Change is hard and it takes work.  Do not be afraid to celebrate when a large project completes.  Sometimes a small celebration (coffee and cupcakes) goes a long way to getting people on board with the next initiative. Also, do not overlook lifting up the “small” victories (meeting milestones, staying on budget, etc.) as doing so can build good will when completion is still far in the distance.

Every organization is different, but incorporating these points into any plan will go a long way in building your grantmaking organization into a new, vibrant, entity.



Guest Blogger

GMN welcomes blog posts from members, colleagues from peer organizations, thought leaders, and others in the philanthropy sector. Contact Nikki Powell at

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