COVID-19: The accelerator of nonprofit transformational change

Hindsight, operational agility, and cause commitment are no longer enough to maintain relevancy and sustainability

David L. Harkins, D.ODC
Published in
4 min readJun 26, 2021

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The COVID-19 pandemic may have surprised the nonprofit sector. The new health and safety protocols, shelter-at-home directives, household, and corporate financial stress, brought to the forefront the challenges of organizational design and complexity in many nonprofit organizations.

As we begin to exit the pandemic, nonprofit leaders should consider how to use the challenges borne from the pandemic as the impetus to plan for change that will enable the relevancy and sustainability of their organizations. This will require a planned change approach designed to maximize cooperation and minimize the tensions between the various constituencies within the organization. Here are a few things to consider at the forefront of such a program:

Plan for perpetual new realities. The COVID-19 pandemic may be the necessary accelerator for rethinking the structure and operations of nonprofit organizations. Society is changing, and although nonprofit organizations are essential for civil society, how they operate in service may need re-evaluation. Nonprofits typically have systems and structures designed to serve the social context and needs of the eras in which they are formed. As society and generational leadership change, these new realities create value tensions between what might need to be for relevancy and sustainability¹. Acknowledging and responding to these new realities with a structured and planned approach should improve acceptance of change within the organization and greater relevance to society.

Rethink the mental models. Nonprofit leaders often rely too much on their experiences and hindsight when considering their options. This over-reliance on hindsight may result in the inability to see how the current situation is different than past decisions. It is essential to use Contextual Intelligence and apply a 3-D Thinking approach (hindsight, foresight, and insight) to increase the probability of better decision outcomes². Remember: past experiences may not always be good predictors of future results. Recognizing and applying situational context is the key.

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David L. Harkins, D.ODC
ODC Factor

Social entrepreneurship educator & strategic change consultant. I write about culture, entrepreneurship, and leadership. www.davidharkins.com