Dealing With Change: A Reflection on ‘Switch’ From the Apra Advocacy Committee Book Club

Earlier this summer, the Apra Advocacy Committee held its first virtual book club and discussed “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath, brothers who teach at business schools and study why we act the way we do. “Switch” focuses on change and why it can be hard sometimes. Since we all deal with change in our prospect development shops, the book resonated well with the group. We had several great participants from around the United States, and the discussion was both interesting and enlightening.

Participants included:

  • Amanda Ward, Rollins University
  • Anne Geiger, University of Montana
  • Amber Countis, Norwich University
  • Jessica Channell-Iler, Wittenberg University
  • Emily Walsh, University of Arizona
  • Susan Hayes-McQueen, University of Washington
  • Jessica Balsam, University of Washington

About the Book

The book’s main idea is that knowing change should happen won’t make it happen. You need to address three broad aspects of change to make it successful. The Heath brothers call these three aspects the Rider, the Elephant and the Path.

The Rider is the logical reason behind the change and the understanding of what should change.

The Rider has to contend with the Elephant — our emotional selves. Imagine: You want to run a 5K in a month and know you should train, but it’s rainy and the couch is calling your name. The gray-hating couch potato is your Elephant. The Rider wants to run, but the Elephant is stronger.

The Path is how you get to the change. If you wanted to go for a run but your shoes are wet, the path is harder. If you lay out your clothes before leaving for work, the path is easier. If you want change to be successful, you have to be thoughtful about these three aspects. (Simple, right?)

“Switch” talks about the three areas to concentrate on and gives specific tasks to make change easier. Interspersed throughout the book is the research behind the authors’ findings and anecdotes illustrating each one. In a similar vein, below are big ideas from the book and fundraising anecdotes for each.

First: Direct the Rider

The Rider is thoughtful and logical and decides what is best to do, but can often spend time in analysis rather than decision-making and moving forward. To help change happen:

1.     Follow the bright spots.

Find examples of success to show others how to do it, instead of telling people what to do.

Situation: You have new predictive model scores and need fundraisers to utilize them, but they aren’t really grasping the scores — changing how they use information.
Action: Share specific stories about other fundraisers who used predictive model scores to pare down their portfolio. Anecdotes of successful peers allows others to see themselves.     

2.     Script the critical moves.

Tell them exactly how to do what needs to be done.

Situation: You’ve developed some great predictive model scores about who is likeliest to give. You’d like fundraisers to use these to help identify the best prospects for their portfolio.
Action: Provide a list of prospects with scores and check boxes for “keep, drop, defer.” Provide a timeline (e.g., “We’ll pick your list up after 3 p.m. on Friday.”).

3.     Point to the destination.

Define what the end result looks like.

Situation: Ideally, every key campaign prospect should have a written strategy on file.
Action: Define your success in measureable outcomes, such as, “By December, every prospect will have a strategy on file and you’ll have access to read them.”

Next: Motivate the Elephant 

The Elephant likes anecdotes and feelings, and will often act on these no matter what the Rider says. Motivating the Elephant to do what the Rider wants is a win-win. To help get the Elephant on the same page as the Rider:

1.     Find the feeling.

Demonstrate the impact of what you want to do in a way that is visible or tangible.

Situation: You would like your research team to find more prospects for the campaign.
Action: Introduce them to actual students. Tell them, “Here is a student; hear their story of how a scholarship changed their lives. By identifying prospects, your work helped 43 students last year.” Don’t show a PowerPoint with facts. Show them the students.

2.     Shrink the change.

If the Elephant is well fed and well rested, they will listen to the Rider. Don’t overwhelm people.

Situation: It is near the end of the fiscal year and some of your fundraisers haven’t met their goals.
Action: Be a cheerleader: “You’ve already solicited 10 of your 12 asks; only two more to go! Tell me how you were able to do those 10.” Don’t focus on the uphill climb. Avoid saying things like, “You still need two asks to go. You haven’t met your goal.”

3.     Grow your people.

Help people in the change adopt the identity of what they can be in the future.

Situation: A new analyst is happy to provide whatever the fundraiser wants, but does not want to be presumptive in making suggestions for strategies.
Action: Call them an analyst, refer to their work as consulting reports, or use some other elevated identity. Refer to their work in meetings and ask for their opinions in front of others. Their belief that they’re an analyst, not an assistant, will make them act like one.

Last: Shape the Path

Sometimes, resistance to change is simply that the path is too complicated. Exhaustion and information overload are culprits. For example, if there’s a great report with lots of information, many of us would start by asking, “What should I do with this information?” Think like Amazon one-click ordering — remove the barriers to make the “purchase” easier.

1.     Tweak the environment.

Try to remove the barriers.

Situation: You have a challenging, but somewhat tedious, list to analyze and cull.
Action: Set the stage. “We’ve set aside two hours this Friday for you to update these difficult lists. We’ll provide pizza and ask the office to be quiet during this time.” If you just ask people to update whenever and without structure, the path is too hard to start.

2.     Build habits.

Change your environment or set “trigger actions” to get your brain to make change.

Situation: You know you should spend more time writing thank-you notes to your coworkers.
Action: Set time on your calendar each week to write these notes. Allow yourself a treat while you do this — maybe do it in a sunny conference room or get a cookie when you start.

3.     Rally the herd.

If someone is resistant to change, use their peers as example-setting.

Situation: No one is putting suggestions in the suggestion box.
Action: Put a bunch of suggestions in there and make a show of opening it. Read from them in a meeting. (This is why coffee shops seed the tip jar.)

Our Discussion

We discussed changes that are happening in our organizations — the largest of which seemed to be database conversions and dramatic personnel changes. It was a common issue within the group and helped remind us we are not alone in dealing with constant change. The discussion was also a good reminder that change is a constant part of our professional lives.

Our group had a number of good examples and ways to apply ideas in “Switch.” Several participants shared stories where they had already incorporated techniques from the book but hadn’t realized it. Many of us have natural skills to help change along, but I found getting the language from the book helped me understand why some situations might be more successful than others.

One participant shared how she had used the ideas in “Switch” for a past project, where she was able to “point to the destination” and “grow your people” when it was an exciting change: database conversion. She was struggling with a more esoteric change that didn’t have a destination of excitement to point to. (She was implementing new metrics.) What would you do to help with this change?

We talked about shaping identities — many of us are consultants, analysts or strategists — and moving away from being a reactive service provider to a partner in fundraising work. Using “grow your people” to assume the identity of a partner is something many of us have been conscientiously or unconscientiously doing in our shops.

One suggestion during the discussion was that we in prospect development can help our leaders set good examples (“bright spots”) by sharing testimonials/anecdotes that they can propagate (“rally the herd”). Helping make sure leaders use language that helps shape how people think of themselves (“grow your people”) can make a huge difference.

As information providers, we can all take something away from “Switch.”


There were many unexpected benefits from this book club discussion, and it doubled as a great therapy session. Talking to one another about our changes — both exciting and daunting — was supportive in a way I was not expecting. It was another good reminder of the importance of our Apra community. Talking through the book with a group made its concepts better “stick” for me, as well.

I look forward to more book clubs. For now, I’ve got an Elephant to herd!


Susan Hayes-McQueen is the senior director of prospect management, research and analytics at the University of Washington. She joined the University of Washington in Seattle in 1996. She has worked as a fundraiser, implemented a relationship management system and now serves as the senior director of prospect management, research & analytics. In her role, she heads a team of 18 information professionals who work with more than 185 fundraisers in more than 25 schools, colleges and campuses.



August 24, 2018 12:58 PM by Amber W. Countis

Susan, great summary of the book and our discussion. I enjoyed the read and talking with all of you about this one. Looking forward to the next opportunity! 

Thank you!

September 5, 2018 10:49 AM by Amanda Viehman

Can't wait for the next book/discussion!

Book Club

September 7, 2018 01:19 PM by N. Dori Watanabe

Is it published anywhere what the next book is?  Is this a committee only book club?

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