Reform or Transform

When we reform something we make it better.  We correct.  We amend.  We revise.

When we transform something we change it altogether.  We reconstruct. We metamorphose.  We revolutionize.

We talk far more about transforming than we do about reforming.  For instance, we say our institutions provide a transformational education experience.  We tell our Boards that we have transformed our Annual Fund or our Planned Giving program, etc.  Or, we say that we need to transform our marketing efforts.  All exciting stuff!

We don’t talk much about reform.  It’s just not as exciting.

But, if we really look at what we do, we find that we do far more reforming and far less transforming.  For instance, when we set the next fiscal year’s advancement calendar, we usually start with last year’s calendar and tweak it.  We plan the Spring Phonathon by starting with what we did in the fall or last spring and make incremental changes to the script, processes, call stations, etc.  Or, we plan our major donor stewardship event by starting with last year’s agenda.

We tweak.  We modify.  We amend.  We reform.  We rarely start from scratch.  We rarely blow-up what has worked in the past.  We rarely stop and say, “what are our goals and how can achieve them more effectively and efficiently?” We rarely transform.

Transforming is hard work.  Reforming is easier.

Transforming is risky.  Reforming is safe.

Transforming takes time.  Reforming is quick.

But transforming energizes.  It motivates.  And it provides the institution with the best opportunities to surpass goals and have breakthrough experiences.

This spring as you and your advancement team set aside planning time for the next fiscal year, set aside time to transform.  Don’t simply tweak.  Blow-up and rebuild.



  1. Rev. Joanna Tipple

    Hey Jason –
    Well, I came across this tonight. I am not sure how I missed it but thank you for your reply to my query. Still seeking transformation as I continue to work on reformation. Both/and…


  2. So, I’m wondering how this incorporates the idea of the Reformation, as we are reformed, ever reforming.

    • Hi Joanna: Thanks for reading and, especially, for your response. Great observation/question! I’m certainly no theologian, so I wasn’t writing with that perspective in mind. As I understand it, the spiritual concept of “reforming” is neither easy nor quick in practice. However, in a broader, more pragmatic sense, I would suggest that we tweak, amend from a known starting point (i.e., we “reform”) in our work far more often than we “transform.” Again, thanks for reading and offering such a thoughtful observation!


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