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This article originally appeared in the June 8, 2021 issue of the Insights newsletter from the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, and was contributed by the Institute’s Managing Director of Education and Engagement, Melissa Spas. 

In observing the work of religious organizations, I have found that many leaders have a particular, remarkable facility with managing adaptive change. Even without a formal approach or the organizational change management vocabulary to describe it, again and again I see religious leaders making a new way through complex and uncharted territory, and bringing their people and organizations along into a vital, creative future.

Adaptability in Leadership

There is something distinctive about the challenges and opportunities facing religious organizations that creates a fruitful space for adaptation, creativity, and faithful do-it-yourself innovation, even within the broader context of the nonprofit sector. Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky put a fine point on the challenges involved in adaptive leadership. In describing the high stakes of leading through difficult change, they say: “The risks during such times are especially high because change that truly transforms an organization… demands that people give up things they hold dear: daily habits, loyalties, ways of thinking. In return for these sacrifices, they may be offered nothing more than the possibility of a better future.” 

While Heifetz and Linsky were not describing religious leadership, the description rings true, and I would suggest that religious formation and identity lends itself to that very task. In the twenty years since Heifetz and Linsky published Leadership on the Line, American religious institutions have experienced more upheaval and transformation in the external environment than in the preceding half century, decentering previously dominant voices and opening space for new expressions of meaning-making to emerge.

"...change that truly transforms an organization… demands that people give up things they hold dear: daily habits, loyalties, ways of thinking. In return for these sacrifices, they may be offered nothing more than the possibility of a better future.” 

– Heifetz and Linsky

Philanthropy, Nonprofits, and Faith: Strength at the Intersections

A Distinguished Visitors Dialogue featuring Dan Cardinali and Kerry Robinson
Hosted by the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving in partnership with the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes

Wednesday, June 30, 2021
3:00 – 4:15 pm EDT

Join two remarkable nonprofit innovators as they discuss the ethical and practical strengths at the intersection of philanthropy and faith.

In a time of creative disruption and transformation, nonprofit organizations of all kinds are reevaluating their funding models and the organizational priorities that shape missional activity, in response to both external forces and internal pressures.

How can nonprofits best operate from their deepest values, and make meaning with their stakeholders? What can philanthropy contribute to the transformation taking place in the nonprofit sector? How might religious or faith-based organizations inform this work?   

Register at the link below for this free, online seminar. 

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