Organizational Transformation: Moving from Paper and into Action

A well-respected statewide charitable organization needed a profound transformation. Donations were on a long downward trend even as the community’s needs were growing. For its 77 years of operations, dozens of agencies had depended on annual contributions from this organization. 


The organization wanted to evolve from a distributor of funds to a catalyst for social change by harnessing and focusing resources throughout the state.  Specifically, it wanted to make a significant difference in three Impact Areas: 1) Children, youth and families; 2) People in crisis; 3) Building adult and neighborhood independence.

Yet a change like this would affect business, personal and political relationships.  It would also fundamentally change the work inside the organization. The organization had attempted to take action for years.  Leaders had proposed many options, yet action eluded them.

We began by creating a giant wall-map of the journey—what it would take to transform the organization. The map, tattered though it became, was a touchstone for the organization. It depicted a tangible picture of the work that needed to happen and goals along the way. It held out hope for the organization that their vision was realizable. Parallel paths included: chartering and developing community impact groups that would make decisions about distribution of funds in the future, developing measures to ensure that we were on track, and engaging the board to understand and support this new level of community involvement. A Communications Team worked with many stakeholder groups to ensure that they understood the need for the change, help them work through their resistance to it, and ultimately see their potential role in the new organization.
In the first major engagement with the community about the new direction, the organization held three Summits involving nearly 1000 people across the state. Political leaders, business people, healthcare providers, educators, community leaders, students, social services professionals and more began to create the new vision for each of the impact areas and to hone in on a focal point of impact. Today all three impact groups have made significant grants to targeted projects. Relationships with constituencies have strengthened. And the organization has dramatically increased its leverage through innovative public policy, especially in affordable housing. It is well on its way to transforming itself from a distributor to a powerful catalyst for social change.



Lisa Hirsh is a remarkable person and a wonderful consultant – honest, courageous, smart, clear and very patient! Her work with us at the United Way of Rhode Island helped us launch the most ambitious strategic plan ever undertaken. Change is difficult but Lisa had an uncanny way of not only helping us craft a very comprehensive roadmap, but also helped us to believe we could actually make the journey successfully. Our community will be better for United Way’s changes and we are better as an organization because of Lisa’s work with us.

Jane E. Nugent, Ed. D.
Senior Vice President, Community Services
United Way of Rhode Island

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