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Be the change you want to see

Words Never be afraid of change on a yellow background with a leaf in the corner

This phrase isn’t a new one, but it never seems to become redundant. Plenty of people fear change, particularly when it comes to steering good causes towards new opportunities and growth—trustees and long-serving staff don’t want to spoil what’s been achieved nor bring the cause into kind of disrepute, so they don’t take (what they perceive to be) risks.

Many a time I’ve sat with smaller (and some larger) charities, and when we look at the organisation’s strategy, where it’s headed and new initiatives that could be incorporated, I often hear these responses.

‘We’ve tried that, it didn’t work.’

‘We wouldn’t know where to start with that technology.’

‘So-and-so always blocks our path.’

‘It’s no good trying to get those people on board, they’ve never given us the time of day.’

I get that it’s difficult to forge new paths. I get that it’s easier to stick with what you know. I get that it can be demoralising to try something and it not be a success. What I don’t understand is trustees and charity staff becoming stuck in the past.

People move on in their careers. Just because one door was slammed in your face a few years ago doesn’t mean that it will be again; the person who didn’t want to get on board the first time may have joined another organisation since then, and their replacement may prove a great ambassador for your cause. It may be that the execution or timing of one of your ideas or initiatives wasn’t ideal, previously, which led to it never getting off the ground—but that doesn’t mean it would get the same reaction now. New technology is only scary when you’ve never used it before; if you try to get to grips with it, you may find that it’s not that difficult after all. Reframing or revising your message may mean it finally hits home with the people you need it to.

I don’t mean this to sound like a sweeping statement, it’s just my experience—but the majority of the trustees and company founders I meet are middle-aged or older. This is fabulous for many reasons: older people have swathes of experience across different avenues; they’re more likely to have networks of real influence than younger generations; they often have more time to give to the cause; and they have wisdom to apply to situations. However, they may (and I stress the word may) become stuck in the past and give responses like those above when brainstorming for the future. This, as you’d imagine, can appear incredibly negative to younger volunteers as well as new people coming on board.

I went to a recent meeting where a local professional, not connected to the charity, acted as a facilitator. They gave a very inspiring and motivating speech about the possibilities for the organisation and examples of what had worked within other charities. When they opened the floor to ideas and comments the first voice that piped up rejected everything the facilitator had said. I felt my heart sink, and I’m sure other attendee’s moods plummeted, too. The facilitator quickly shut them down and urged the group to focus on current and future plans, reminding everyone of the famous quote: if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always see the same results. In this scenario, the doubt, fear and negativity felt by the older person who spoke up first didn’t get the chance to take root in the minds of everyone else present—people of all ages, and who were predominantly new to the charity.

Experience is all well and good, but if it’s used to prevent growth or stop new ideas developing, it’s not helpful.

I know of a few young people who have been full of passion, excitement and energy when offering their time to a good cause. After a few weeks of being seen as little more than a burden or nuisance, they became disillusioned and stopped volunteering. Just as the younger generation can learn from older ones, this should be a two-way street. Open-minded members of any charity’s board/staff could absolutely learn from younger people; their creativity, innovation and objective, bird’s eye view of things could pump new energy into the organisation if allowed.

Even if they rehash an old idea and they still get nowhere with it, it’s worth the effort, as you never know what might work and what won’t. That they want to try at all is something to support and nurture.

For the younger generation, it can seem disheartening if older volunteers put up barriers or try to dissuade you from doing something; however, don’t take this lying down. People of all ages: be the change you want to see. Keep pushing. Channel your enthusiasm. Don’t take no for an answer if your idea is sound. Don’t let the fear of others deter you. Remember that you’re bringing just as much value to the organisation, and for any good cause to move forward, it needs people with vision, faith and fortitude.

If the same people do the same things all the time, it just leads to an organisation in stasis and, eventually, a decline. Charities need to innovate just as much as businesses do, if they’re to become sustainable and remain competitive.

If you’d like help with your organisation’s direction and strategy, get in touch with me: 07729 481010 or email


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