Channeling Unexpected Change Toward Growth

When your non-profit takes an unexpected hit – the loss of a major funder, the non-renewal of an important grant, the cancellation of an important fundraising event – it can either take you out or you can tackle it head on, growing stronger through the process. Every challenge is an opportunity for growth if you take time to process, plan, and proactively move forward.


Leadership Team

Pull together your best and brightest – people with passion for your mission and professional skill sets you need – but make sure you know who the final decision maker is. Gather the team’s perspective and insights, but know who will ultimately be prepared to (and have the ability to) pull the trigger on important decisions. The best organizations can get stymied in ‘planning paralysis’, so worried about making the right decision that they wait for the moment of absolute certainty or 100% consensus (which never comes), that they lose important momentum and opportunity.



Big changes and challenges most often require communication to key donors, volunteers, and constituents. Ensuring a consistent voice, both in the one-one conversation and broader communications (social media, newsletters, etc.) is important. A watered down message, or one lacking clarity and consistency, leads people to ‘fill in the blanks’ on their own… And they usually fill them in wrong or to the negative. You want to control your message and stay on point. Your spokesperson should:

  • Be the point person for any media – take the calls, answer the inquiries
  • Set the final talking points and train other leadership on the message
  • Sign off on social media posts, if not facilitate them themselves (at least through the early stages of communicating a big change)
    • Facebook and Twitter are where your message can so quickly, so easily veer off point. Don’t take clear and clear communication here for granted. Social Media can also be your biggest ally, doing more to move a positive message than any well-planned mailing or more formal communication. Manage it well.


Plan Strategically

Take the time to craft a strategic plan that includes a timeline of actions steps. A solid plan helps you prioritize what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to; your ‘yesses’ and ‘nos’ are equally important. Your plan should cover a timeline and tactics for communications as well as specifics on fundraising and logistics. When crafting your plan, ensure you take full consideration of what is already on your plates that is non-negotiable, assess the strengths of the group and play to them, make a list of resources you have to execute tactics you identify.

  • Explore opportunities and ask the tough questions.
    • Does this challenge present a need and an opportunity to re-brand your organization? Shift priorities? Drop or add programs?
    • Take a hard look at your vision and mission. Is it still true to who you are and where you’re headed? If not, strongly consider changing or ‘refreshing” vision, mission, brand and voice.
    • Take a hard look at your staffing structure. Take existing personnel out of the discussion for now. Once you’ve reviewed your vision, mission and strategic priorities, discuss what skill sets you need to most effectively and efficiently execute; then look at existing staff and volunteer resources. Do you have the right people on the team? If you don’t, be willing to make some tough choices and changes.
  • Map out what is already happening – events and programs, regular communications, etc. that you can use to deliver your message, communicate about changes, and offer opportunities to give/support.
  • Assess where the gaps and opportunities are – Can you add in additional emails? Include a message about your changes/fundraising needs in a mailing already going out? Add elements of your new campaign to existing events?
  • Have a pointed discussion about resources – not just tangibles, but intangibles like board members with connections, volunteers with skill sets you need, strengths among staff that can be utilized in new ways. If you do not have the resources – either in skill set or in tangible elements – then consider whether that ‘great idea’ is doable. Be willing to say no to things that are great in theory in order to focus time, talent and attention on things that are attainable; the latter will do more to bring progress.


Emergency Funding

If emergency funding is a part of the plan, take the time to create a campaign with strategic elements that focus the message and the action steps you want your community to take:

  • Once you’ve crafted the message, create a special landing page on your site with a clear call to action
  • Feature easily accessible ways to give – prominent donation button
  • Ensure consistent branding and message – don’t get so creative with design that you veer off brand and people don’t readily know it is you
  • Set a clear and reasonable fundraising goal, be specific and communicate it well. Offer regular updates to your community on progress toward your goal, not just in terms of money raised but programmatic goals accomplished.
  • Consider setting up a peer-to-peer campaign page on a site like Network for Good, Crowdrise, or FirstGiving. There are hundreds of platforms to chooses from. Do your research and select the one that best fits your needs. Integrate it well into your website and promote effectively on social media and through other channels.



If your organization is facing an unexpected change and you need a partner to help shepherd you through, Altimeter can help.