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The Power of a Pilot Program

The Power of a Pilot Program

Doing things differently creates challenges for organizations. There is inherent risk in changing things up, and a ton of education involved in trying an alternate plan or approach.

As leaders, we must to find a way to “jump start” the change process.   ← Tweet this


The question becomes:
How do I get people comfortable with trying something new?

I have had great success with clients when we create change through “Pilot Programs.”

Why run a Pilot Program?

  • By definition, it sets up the expectation that we’re testing something out. (No pressure here.)
  • It implies something iterative and dynamic. It doesn’t require a 20-page document outline.
  • It gets people started on a new path, in a (relatively) easy format that they can understand.

What do you need to create a pilot program?

You’ve got to know what you want to accomplish—connect with 5 new volunteers for your program? Build stronger relationships with your current sponsors? Test out some messaging for your campaign?

You’ve got to come up with a simple (SIMPLE!) plan for execution—What is the bare minimum that you must do to accomplish your objective?

You’ve got to get buy in from leadership —Help them understand that this is a “feed-forward” exercise. It’s an opportunity to try something, with relatively low risk. You’re basically saying, “let’s try this in this way, and make changes along the way to get to our goal.”

Organizational Impact

The legacy of a pilot project is powerful on an organization. You’ve tested (and proven) that there is a different way to accomplish something. You’ve created a baby step for change, and it can now be replicated.

This is key: once you’ve done it once, you can do it again.

And your board or leadership team is happy too. That’s a win-win.

Sample Pilot Projects

  • A new model for volunteer engagement
  • A sponsorship “pod” to help you generate leads from your volunteers more efficiently
  • A 15-minute standing meeting with your programming people to understand fundraising opportunities
  • A new model for event management that crosses over departmental layers. Who’s doing something already that you can leverage? Don’t create more work for people, or they won’t want to play in the sandbox with you.



Pick a pilot project to run in the next 3 months at your shop.

Get buy in from your “process driven” people by managing risk: we’re piloting something new, not changing the structures at our organization.

Pilot your plan for success and lean into your role as Chief Visionary Officer at your shop.