Executive directors cringe when an incoming chair says, “When I’m installed, I’m going to make changes in the association.”

Other statements causing dread:

  • I want you to help me leave a legacy.
  • Here’s my list of pet projects.
  • I want to make my mark on the organization.

The best approach for a new chair is, “Where is the strategic plan? My job is to advance the existing mission and goals.”

A strategic plan is a multiyear roadmap. Consider it the organization’s GPS: goals, priorities, and strategies.

Its purpose is to guide successive leaders. When volunteers make wholesale change to a plan or disregard it for their personal agenda, it causes havoc.

Personal Initiatives

Some volunteers unpack a suitcase full of personal priorities. They give little thought to how their interests fit in the current program of work.

In one organization. the chair gave an installation speech, “My theme for the year is driving excellence. My initiatives will be technology and growth, and my priorities are member satisfaction and marketing campaigns.” There was no mention of the organization’s existing goals.

It was the first the executive director had heard the intentions of this chair. The executive must decide to change course to accommodate the chair or discuss with him or her what interests fit into the current plan.

It is natural for an incoming chair to have personal interests. Adaptations can be made to integrate a few initiatives into an existing plan.

The strategic plan is like a promise between the leadership team and members. Making significant change causes angst.


Being the chief elected officer is not an invitation to make drastic changes. A strategic chair will analyze the existing plan and resources to build a program of work.

The board may care less about personal priorities or yearlong themes. They expect the chair to advise how the mission and goals will be advanced during the term of office.

Being the chair of a meeting is like leading an orchestra. Use the music that was provided and engage everybody in the process to create favorable outcomes.

Consistent Terminology

Volunteers may not be familiar with the terminology of strategic plans. In their own work settings, they refer to objectives, initiatives, priorities, and themes to achieve their mission

Here are the common terms in association strategic plans:

Mission: The mission statement is the purpose for existence. Most statements identify the organization, who it serves and what it offers. It is submitted to the IRS regarding federal tax exemption. The mission should resonate with internal and external audiences.

Vision: A statement of aspiration describing the desired outcome for the organization or community it represents. While mission is mandatory, vision and values are optional.

Values: Guiding principles of the board and staff. Examples include diversity, integrity, community, and transparency. The combination of mission, vision and values makes up the brand platform.

Goals: Goals are the core competencies or “pillars” of the organization. Goals necessitate alignment of people, time, and money.

Strategies: Programs and priorities are the strategies to advance the goals.

Tactics: The specifics about achieving the strategies are best addressed at the committee and staff levels; not to be included in a strategic plan.

Performance: A plan is enhanced by adding performance metrics. Examples include increasing membership by 5% net per quarter or expanding the conference to draw more than 100 exhibitors.

By studying the strategic plan, incoming officers should not feel pressure to add themes and priorities. Their role is to advance the strategic plan, not disregard it or make changes to the organization.