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.