Ideation Series: How to Successfully Implement New Ideas When Everyone is a Volunteer

Implementing new ideas at work can be stressful with mixed results. For volunteers in a non-profit setting, the hurdles can be even steeper.

“We’ve always done it this way, and the last time we tried something new, it just didn’t work out.”

The longer people are accustomed to doing something, the stronger their resistance to change tends to be. For organizations that do not have a culture of constant change, new ideas often require negotiating with the “old guard” or finding a way around them. Despite the challenges, change is an important and healthy component of any thriving organization. Organizations that fail to change often are left behind by the rest of the world — Kodak and Blockbuster are great case studies of this.

Before you dive into recommending drastic changes to your Rotary club, consider these four tactics that will help you succeed.

Clearly define your vision and share your passion.

Before you talk to stakeholders about your idea, have a clear vision of why you are introducing this idea, and how a successful implementation would impact your organization. Be prepared to explain what the “problem to solve” is that your idea tackles, and what metrics for your organization does that effect. Most importantly, be ready to explain why you are passionate about this change. Having these prepared in advance will help you succeed in convincing stakeholders to adopt a new idea.

Bonus Tip: Remember to share the human side of your story. People often support ideas because of the stories they hear and how it impacts people. If you don’t have a story, create one using one of your target customer profiles.

Get buy-in from key stakeholders in advance.

When you are working with passionate volunteers, often people love to know they are being heard and that you value them. People want you to wine and to dine them, and for Rotary clubs run by volunteers, building strong rapports is key to a healthy culture. Bringing up your new ideas and asking key stakeholders for their feedback and support often will go a long way in the successful adoption of a new idea.

Bonus Tip: It can sometimes help to bring in a mentor into some of these conversations, especially if you foresee trouble with getting buy-in from specific stakeholders.

Call it an experiment.

New ideas can be scary to the old guard of your organization because it disrupts what they know already works, bringing potential risk. In design thinking methodology, you are encouraged to prototype your ideas as quickly as possible and as often as possible, in order to get real-world data on if your idea is a good one or not. Taking this concept into the Rotary context, sometimes the easiest way to implement new ideas is to ask for permission to run an experiment. When you use the word “experiment,” people often perceive it as just a controlled test that does not impact their day-to-day activities. Your experiment should have a set end date and have set parameters. This is a great opportunity for you to get real-world data on if your idea would work for the long-term, and if not, what you need to change to make it successful.

Bonus Tip: Remember to document your experiment with photos and videos, where appropriate. If the experiment is successful, the photos and the videos can be used in your presentation to the leadership on why your experiment should become a permanent change in the organization.

When you fail at first, try again.

Even when you use every trick and tip you find, it is important to understand that not all of your ideas will be well-received. It can be discouraging when your ideas are turned down by the team, but turn this into an opportunity by asking for constructive feedback from the team. Find out how you can improve. See what it will take to have the team approve a limited experiment so you can get some data. Talk to people after the meeting to understand their feedback, while conveying your appreciation for their thoughts. If you are consistently sharing your appreciation and valuing them, you will continue to grow your rapport and it will make the next time you introduce your idea easier.

“You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.” — J.K. Rowling

Final thoughts and other resources.

There is no one right technique, but there are hundreds of other techniques you can explore if you are craving to learn. You may decide that one of the best ways for you to dive further into implementing new ideas is to host an ideation session. As a design thinking consultant, I often refer to the original design thinking experts over at IDEO when it comes to ideation techniques. Here are some helpful links to explore ideation.


Continue reading more Rotary Membership Best Practices.