An Abundance of Gratitude


Each year, as we prepare to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, reflecting upon the gifts present in our lives becomes customary. This time of year provides a special moment of reflection for me, personally, as it coincides with the founding of Dunleavy & Associates.

Throughout the past 15 years, it has been a sincere pleasure to lead and steward the growth and evolution of our firm. I have had the opportunity to hone my superpower for finding great talent; we’ve recruited some of the most talented professionals in the field – women and men with whom I have had the fortune to work and from whom I have learned so much. For each of you, past and present, I am grateful.

I am a big believer in the power of gratitude. I practice it each day, personally and professionally. It has become a daily mantra, waking me up to notice all of the gifts in my life, ever thankful for another day of leading a team that excels at creating sustainable ways to improve the organizations with which we are privileged to collaborate.

We are each stronger due, in large part, to those who are a significant and integral presence in our lives-motivators, teachers, mentors and, most importantly, friends and family. These are the people who provide scaffolding around us in times of triumph, challenge, vulnerability, risk-taking and reward. I am grateful for their honesty, transparency, counsel and the encouragement they provide without hesitation.

As you gather around the table to enjoy a meal this Thursday, take a moment or two (really, as many moments as it takes) to look around at all that is good and brings you joy. THIS, my friends, is what matters most.

On behalf of Dunleavy & Associates, we wish you and all whom you hold dear a very happy Thanksgiving holiday.


In gratitude, 

Should a nonprofit hire a consultant to lead its executive leadership search?

The executive leader of your organization is leaving and now your team is faced with the tremendous task of finding a replacement. You're having visions of late nights spent sifting through resumes, reviewing interview notes, and calling various board members while searching for the perfect candidate.

Worried there might not be enough coffee in the world to get through the process, you consider seeking outside help. But do you really need to hire a consultant? What would you get for your money? And can you really afford it in the first place?

Staff members at Dunleavy & Associates have helped dozens of nonprofit organizations standing at these critical crossroads find the answers they need. The first thing we advise our clients to do is develop a positive mindset about the whole process: Anxiety is normal, but so much can be accomplished when you focus on the opportunity presented. This is a unique moment to regroup as an organization and bring together team members, board members, and stakeholders to reflect on the past and plan for the future.

The leader’s impending departure creates a tremendous amount of pressure to post the position and start receiving resumes. This is a knee-jerk mistake. First you need to take a step back and determine, "What is our strategy for the next era?" and "Who do we need to lead that strategy?"

An outside consultant can provide valuable insight in guiding this internal discovery process. Specifically, the consultant can help you identify responsibilities that should be in the executive director’s job description and responsibilities that should be shifted to other senior members of your team. Clarifying the job description will allow you to develop a posting that reflects your current needs and attracts the right candidate. You'll not only engage existing leadership and strengthen your organization, but also set a clear path of priorities for the incoming executive director.

If this is the first time in institutional memory that you are seeking a new leader, it's easy to underestimate the amount of work that goes into a search. Even if you're not planning to restructure responsibilities, a lot of groundwork is needed to ensure a strong foundation for the process.

Doing the groundwork is too big a job for one person; you'll need to form a transition team. Ideally, this team blends expertise from across your organization, including finance, communications, analysis, and even organizational psychology. In our experience, the team will need to devote more than twenty hours of combined time each week and have the ability to successfully lead focus groups, communicate with stakeholders, frame out operational priorities, and, of course, lead a comprehensive search for your new leader.

If your organization lacks the skills, knowledge, or time needed to conduct a search in this manner, it's likely that an outside consultant is needed. Hiring an executive director is one of the most important decisions an organization can make, and even a high-caliber candidate may turn out to be the wrong choice for a nonprofit if compatibility pitfalls aren't identified and avoided.

You don't need to break the bank to get outside help, either. Any good consulting agency knows that many nonprofits operate on tight budgets, and will work with clients to share responsibilities and minimize fees. Hiring a firm such as Dunleavy & Associates means you won't waste time learning how to conduct a search and ensures you'll find the best possible leader for your organization.


Does a change in nonprofit leadership require a new strategic plan?

Carolyn Rammel

By Carolyn Rammel

There are few things in the nonprofit sector that induce as much anxiety as a change in leadership. Whether it's an executive director or an influential board member leaving an organization, that individual holds influence that will leave a vacuum after departure.

While the shift may and often should prompt some soul-searching within your organization, there's no reason a leadership change in and of itself must change your strategic plan.

By design, a good strategic plan will be created through contributions from more than one individual. If created correctly, a plan collaboratively combines the ideas, perspectives and recommendations from various stakeholders. From volunteers to board members, staff members to external constituents, all voices carry the same weight. It is a leader's responsibility to execute the strategic plan, not to dictate the plan.

However, a change in leadership does present a great opportunity to revisit the strategic plan and ensure it is still functional and in line with the mission and organizational goals. Of particular importance is determining that the plan's design was not the reason for the prior director's departure, and that new leadership can still reasonably execute it.

Even if you determine the plan was created with input from stakeholders at all levels and is still executable, it may be time to revise. Strategic plans should be updated every three to five years, regardless of changes in leadership.

If your strategic plan passes review and does not require updating, it can actually be the best tool for weathering the stresses of change. As the plan is intended to be the guiding document of your organization, the individuals leading that strategic direction will be secondary to the plan itself. Even more, a completed strategic plan will offer clarity of direction for any incoming leadership.

About the author: Carolyn Rammel is a seasoned executive and consultant, with 25 years of experience in the financial services, travel management, not-for-profit and consulting services industries. She has executed numerous business, marketing and international joint venture initiatives in the corporate marketplace, and more recently served as the executive director of a Philadelphia nonprofit organization. As a consultant, she specializes in the areas of strategic planning, facilitation and leadership alignment.

Be Inspired, Pay It Forward, and Inspire Others

I enjoyed the distinct pleasure of coming face-to-face with inspiration! Following a presentation by Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why and third most viewed on TED talks, I patiently stood on line to have this leadership expert sign his newest book Leaders Eat Last. I left that encounter feeling inspired—not just from his provocative keynote but, perhaps more so from my interaction with him.