CAPE: Champion

In the first step of the CAPE Cycle, one or two people from your organization will “champion” the CAPE Cycle. We refer to this person as your “Overall Champion" or, if having two people serve, "Overall Co-Champions."

The Overall Champion’s Role

The Overall Champion’s role is simply to ensure that your organization’s strategic planning process is executed and integrated into regular operations. 

More specifically, the Overall Champion facilitates, manages, supports and leads the team in the use of the CAPE Cycle.

Champion is Step 1 for a Reason

Many years ago our strategic planning cycle included only three steps -- Assess, Plan, and Execute. We realized that our cycle left out the foundational element that leadership plays in effective strategic planning. 

Simply put, we’ve never seen an organization succeed with strategic planning that didn’t have a person or two that “championed” the process. Never.

With that in mind, we added “Champion” as the critical first step in the four-step CAPE Cycle.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been using the word champion to describe the role of leading the planning effort. With a Latin root of campio, meaning “fighter,” to champion something is to support and defend it. For example, you may champion human rights, educational equity, or your community’s economic development.

Similarly, you may have to fight to overcome the barriers that commonly get in the way of effective strategic planning. Hence, your role as the champion.

One or Two Overall Champions?

You can have one or two Overall Champions. We’ve seen both the solo and co-champion models work. But our experience is that two people serving as co-champions is the best model. 

Strategic planning is an important but typically not urgent activity. It is easy to put off when you have a lot on your plate. Co-champions provide important mutual accountability to ensure that the process is implemented. Two heads can be better than one when thinking through the plan. And, frankly, it is just more fun to have a partner in leading the process. 

If your organization is just starting out or there are no options for a co-champion then do your best with one person serving as the overall champion. 

Who Should the Champion(s) Be?

At your organization, you likely have some clarity about who runs programs, who raises funds, and who handles finances. 

You’re likely less clear about who ensures effective strategic planning. This lack of clarity and accountability is a key reason that strategic planning can slip through the cracks. 

So, who should the Overall Champion(s) be?

In most cases, we’ve seen the organization’s executive director (or equivalent) serve as the Overall Champion or as a co-champion. However, we’ve also had board chairs and other staff members effectively fulfill the role.

One very effective co-champion arrangement is the pairing of the executive director with an administrative assistant. The executive director serves as overall strategic leader and motivator whereas the assistant makes sure that the mechanics of the process are followed. 

Time Commitment

How much time does it take to be an effective Overall Champion? It depends on the complexity of your strategic plan and the size of your organization.

For a fairly new nonprofit with a simple plan, the Overall Champion will only need to spend about one hour per month championing the process for the team. For a more developed organization with a larger team and plan, the Overall Champion can expect to spend two-three hours per month supporting the process and the team members. 

In any event, playing the role of Overall Champion is not a huge time commitment. 

Is Playing the Role of Champion Additional Work?

Yes. Especially at first as the Overall Champion is learning all of this.

But over time your organization’s Overall Champion(s) will simply view leading the CAPE Cycle as a normal part of the job.

Like so many important things in life -- staying fit, creating meaningful relationships, following a spiritual practice, etc. -- strategic planning takes an effort and focus in order to get the desired benefits. 

It’s interesting to note that in over twenty years of doing this work we’ve never seen a leader invest in our strategic planning process only to put it aside later on. Once you’re doing this work then you see and feel that your time invested leads to tremendous benefits. 

The transformative results for your organization are well worth it.


As the champion of your strategic planning effort, your primary responsibility is simply to ensure that your organization has both an effective plan  and a process for executing it. That’s it.

Note that it isn’t the champion’s responsibility to execute the plan. Although this person is typically heavily engaged in the plan’s work, the real responsibility for completing the plan lies with the entire team.

Practically speaking, the champion of the process should make sure that:

  • The plan and its supporting documents are accessible to everyone
  • Team members know what they’re responsible for
  • There is a set of scheduled strategic planning meetings
  • The team maintains a positive and supportive tone regarding planning
  • The plan is regularly measured and reported on
  • Everyone has the support they need to execute the plan
  • Planning is approached as an ongoing process

The CAPE Cycle Checklist

The one-page CAPE Cycle Annual Checklist outlines key responsibilities that the Overall Champion needs to oversee. The Champion will be much more likely to succeed by following each of the items on this checklist.