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What Nonprofit Leaders Really Need

By Nell Edgington



Exec Dir Learning ProjectEarlier this month, there was a great post by Linda Wood from the Haas Fund bemoaning the fact that 73% of nonprofit leaders in a recent Center for Effective Philanthropy study said they lack resources to build their leadership skills. And the recent Meyer Foundation Executive Director Listening Project found that nonprofit leaders’ biggest challenges are fundraising, human capital management and board of directors management — all leadership challenges.

This doesn’t surprise me at all.

I constantly witness the lack of support nonprofit leaders receive for building their leadership skills. Leading a nonprofit is an incredibly demanding task and the challenges are only growing. Nonprofit leaders are expected to magically solve the world’s problems, on a shoestring, while herding a disparate group of volunteers, funders, clients.

Which is why I think nonprofit leader coaching holds so much promise for the sector. If a struggling nonprofit leader had a strategic partner who could help her think through staffing, fundraising, board management and strategic decisions, instead of having to figure it out all on her own, it could be transformative.

Nonprofit leader coaching is one-on-one strategic counsel from someone with deep management, financial, and strategy expertise. With a strategic coach, a nonprofit leader can find solutions to issues like how to:

  • Create the most effective staffing structure for growth
  • Recruit and engage an effective board
  • Diversify and grow funding streams aligned with the nonprofit’s specific mission and operations
  • Analyze strategic opportunities for the organization
  • Develop effective collaborations that build on the organization’s assets

The return on investment of coaching can be really exciting. Let me give you some examples:

Increased Board Fundraising
Fundraising is such a tricky business. Often nonprofit boards are fairly ineffective at it, largely because they and their nonprofit leader don’t know how to focus the board’s efforts. This was true for one of my clients whose board didn’t understand fundraising and was confused about their role. Through coaching, both with the executive director and board members, the board now understands how each of them individually can contribute to bringing money in the door. They also understand how to focus their efforts on the most profitable activities and now have the skills and knowledge to move the organization’s financial strategy forward.  As a result, the board has dramatically increased the number of new donors to the organization.

Clearer Strategic Thinking
Nonprofits are constantly bombarded with new opportunities, new partnerships, new funding ideas. A coach can help a nonprofit leader think through how a new opportunity might fit with the overall organization strategy, ask hard questions and analyze the costs and benefits. In this coaching role, I encourage nonprofit leaders to take a step back and examine all of the implications of a decision, how it might draw resources away, what impact it will have on the larger work, how it moves the organization closer to or farther away from strategic alignment, and so on. Coaching can get nonprofits away from group think and towards making smarter, more strategic decisions.

More Productive Staff
Management of staff is one of the hardest jobs of being a leader in any setting, but I think it’s particularly tricky in the nonprofit sector where resources are tighter and nonprofits are often encouraged to play nice at all costs. In coaching around staff challenges, I help a leader create an effective staffing structure for the organization, analyze and resolve staff conflicts, and make sure all staff are playing to their strengths.

Strategic coaching is not right for every nonprofit leader because it takes a real commitment to change, a willingness to analyze situations, and an openness to making difficult decisions.

But coaching is right for a leader who:

  • Leads an organization that is ready for change
  • Is open to trying new approaches
  • Wants to have difficult, but important, conversations with board, staff and funders
  • Needs a thinking partner to help make strategic decisions
  • Recognizes that she doesn’t have all of the answers
  • Is ready to build her leadership skills

If you think coaching could help move your nonprofit forward, and you’d like to learn more about the coaching services I offer nonprofit leaders, let me know.

 Photo Credit: PhilanTopic

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (www.socialvelocity.net), a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.


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1 Comment to What Nonprofit Leaders Really Need

[…] sustainable financial engines, to funding evaluation and performance management systems, to financing nonprofit leader coaching, philanthropists will increasingly recognize that if we are going to expect more from the nonprofit […]

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