February 13, 2024

How Strategic Planning Equips NEW CEOs for Success

I despise waste. Whether it’s spoiled leftovers in the fridge or lights left on, it grates on me. It’s a trait I inherited, likely from my parents’ generation. This aversion extends to my professional life—wasting clients’ resources doesn’t just bother me; it aggravates me.

Strategic Planning: A Critical Pillar for Nonprofit CEOs

Let me share a common scenario I witness—requests for strategic planning as part of a CEO’s exit plan. On the surface, it sounds great, doesn’t it? A new strategy sets up the next CEO for success.

But here’s the kicker: more often than not, the plan falls flat. Why? Because when leadership changes hands, the strategy rarely fits the new CEO’s approach. It’s like trying to use someone else’s password—it doesn’t unlock the door. And so the nonprofit wastes time, money, and energy. Grr!

Why New CEOs Should Pursue Strategic Planning

As someone who has worked with countless nonprofits, I know new CEOs are the best people to embark on strategic planning. For one, it creates a strategy they’ll use. Plus, it comes with these additional benefits.

First, it provides new CEOs with a comprehensive understanding of the organization. It’s like studying the cover of a puzzle box before diving into assembling it. The process allows everyone to share perspectives, paving the way for informed decisions and effective action.

The Impact of Strategic Planning

Take Nashid Madyun, Executive Director of Florida Humanities. He found that his nonprofit strategic plan immediately opened doors and started conversations. It strengthened his board relationships and charted a clear path forward.

A well-executed planning process uncovers invaluable insights. New executives identify emerging needs, entrenched challenges, and those proverbial “elephants in the room.” For instance, you might discover staff concerns and hidden operational issues.

Transforming Board Engagement: A Strategic Approach

Let’s focus on the board. Engaging in strategic discussions fosters deeper connections to the organization’s mission and goals. It promotes a culture of shared ownership and enthusiasm.

Sarah Pallone, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity, saw a transformation in her board engagement after the strategic planning process. Board members became more aligned. They understood their roles and stopped calling her nights and weekends!

Leveraging Expertise: The External Advantage

Leveraging external expertise is another critical benefit of strategic planning. First, it demonstrates a CEO’s commitment to seeking expertise and industry insights. And it accelerates the onboarding process.

Strategic Planning: More Than a Checklist

In the end, strategic planning isn’t just a box to check—it’s an opportunity to lay the groundwork for new leadership’s vision. Whether you’re just starting or plan to stay for years, the key is to ensure the plan fits the CEO who will use it.

Bottom Line

Strategic planning is not just helpful; it’s a “hack” for leadership success, aligning stakeholders, and fostering a culture of achievement. Even if a plan exists, it’s the new CEO’s task to make it their own.

What’s Next

  1. Evaluate your current plan to identify its strengths.
  2. Read Karen’s take on practical strategic planning.
  3. Chat with Karen.
Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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