Earlier 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
Photo Credit: PhilanTopic
There was a really interesting interview last week in the Nonprofit Quarterly with Bill Ryan, author of Governance as Leadership, who recently led a study on coaching in the nonprofit sector. Coaching is a form of management consulting where a leader is given one-on-one strategic guidance.
An executive director can be coached to grow an organization, to build a stronger board, to revamp their financial model. Or as Ryan puts it, coaching answers the question: “If my organization wants to get to Point X, what do I, as a leader, need to do to build on my strengths and manage my weaknesses to help it get there?”
The concept of coaching is fascinating to me because, as Ryan points out, in corporate America coaching is much more commonplace than in the nonprofit world. If a CEO needs management counsel, they are encouraged to find a coach, whereas coaching for nonprofit leaders is often deemed a luxury. But, I think coaching is even more necessary in the nonprofit world. Nonprofit leaders, unlike their for-profit counterparts, often lack a management background having made their way to the top through program expertise.
The reality is that coaching for a nonprofit executive director can be absolutely transformative. It can make the difference between a program that is just getting by and a program that becomes financially sustainable and grows dramatically, with an engaged, committed board behind it.
Such is the case with ACE: A Community for Education, a nonprofit early childhood tutoring program. I have coached ACE Executive Director, Mary Ellen Isaacs for over a year since we completed an ambitious strategic planning process. They are now working to triple the number of students they serve and diversify and grow their financial model.
Here’s what Mary Ellen has to say about the coaching experience (or if you are reading this in an email click here to watch):
I believe coaching can be hugely transformative for nonprofit organizations, helping their leaders build the skills they need to grow their solutions far and wide. If you’d like to learn more about how I coach nonprofit leaders, check out the Coaching page of the website.
Photo Credit: wikimedia
Being the leader of a nonprofit can be incredibly lonely. You have a million demands on your time, countless people to keep happy, ambitious (if not impossible) goals to achieve, and few resources with which to achieve them. It can be an overwhelming place to be.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. I have found that if a nonprofit leader has someone to confide their challenges and concerns, strategize solutions, brainstorm new approaches, and hear about alternative options they can emerge with greater confidence, inspiration and energy.
I believe there is a tremendous need for this kind of coach for the leaders of the nonprofit sector. That is why I’ve begun offering nonprofit staff coaching services.
I coach executive directors to:
- Create a more effective, engaged board of directors
- Structure your staff to better meet your goals
- Implement and monitor your strategic plan
- Establish or strengthen key external relationships
- Better communicate with and engage staff
- Develop dashboards for reporting progress to board and funders
- Raise growth or capacity capital
- And much more
And I coach development directors (and executive directors who also wear the development director hat) to:
- Create an effective annual financing plan
- Launch a major donor campaign
- Engage your board in fundraising
- Use social media to recruit donors
- Develop compelling fundraising letters, proposals and materials
- Streamline donor cultivation and stewardship
- Develop more efficient and effective back-end fundraising systems
- And much more
I provide phone, email, and in-person coaching to nonprofit staff to help gain new perspective, try new ideas, get unstuck and move their organization forward. You can download the Coaching one sheet here.
The duration and price of coaching depends on the level of counsel your staff needs. You can purchase a package of coaching hours to use over a month, several months, or a year. The more hours you purchase, the lower the hourly coaching rate. Coaching prices range from $250 for a single hour of coaching to $10,000+ for 50+ hours of coaching.
And if you’d like to schedule a free consultation to learn more about how coaching might work for your nonprofit, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: JPtHart
I’ve been talking about strategic planning a lot lately (here and here) because I think it is so critically important to the success of a nonprofit organization. But it’s not enough to create a great strategic plan on paper, you have to implement and monitor it. This is why I insist that the strategic plans I help create have a detailed, measurable operational plan that describes the day-to-day work that will bring the strategic plan to fruition.
But sometimes a strategic plan calls for so much change to a nonprofit organization that they need follow-up staff coaching to make the plan a reality. This was the case for one of my clients, ACE: A Community for Education.
ACE is an early childhood literacy tutoring program, with a proven model that really works to get children to grade level in reading by 3rd grade. The outcomes of the program were so impressive that they wanted to expand it to many more schools. But, the program was a well-kept secret. A small advisory board and limited external connections left the organization struggling to build the kind of community, funder, and school district support they need to dramatically grow.
ACE hired me to create a 3-year strategic plan for growth. ACE assembled a working group of staff, advisory board members, funders and other key stakeholders, and I led them through a 5-month process analyzing the internal and external environment, creating the goals and objectives of the strategic plan for growth, determining the projected budget required to get there, and creating a detailed annual operational plan to bring the plan to fruition.
But ACE realized that their strategic plan was so ambitious that they would need some guidance and regular coaching to make it a reality. So once the strategic plan was created and adopted by the advisory board and other stakeholders, ACE hired me to coach their staff on:
- Restructuring the advisory board to lend more strategic support and expand community connections to ACE
- Expanding their fundraising efforts in order to support the new goals of the strategic plan
- Growing the staff and program infrastructure to implement the plan
So over a 10-month period I met regularly with the Executive Director and the Development Director to coach them on:
- Restructuring the advisory board
- Creating a major donor fundraising campaign
- Implementing the strategic plan
- Using the strategic plan to filter future decisions
- Effectively using staff resources
The result is that ACE has moved quickly to grow their program. They plan to triple the number of students served by the program by 2016. They have already secured a significantly increased financial commitment from participating school districts to do so. They have also completely restructured their advisory board and expanded its membership. They have hired new staff positions to make growth a reality. They have begun involving the advisory board in their new major donor campaign efforts and have already enjoyed new and renewed interest from funders. Staff and advisory board are energized and focused on their plans for growth.
As ACE Executive Director Mary Ellen Isaacs put it recently:
“Our work with Nell has been critical to developing a viable growth strategy and plan for ACE. The process helped us clarify our core competencies, engage stakeholders, and articulate exactly how and why ACE should grow. As a result of Nell’s strategic planning and follow-up coaching, my staff and I, and our advisory board, have the tools and confidence to reach our larger vision for ACE. This was one of the best investments we have made in ACE!”
If you are interested in learning more about how I coach nonprofit staff to strengthen or grow their organizations, check out my Staff Coaching consulting service.
Photo Credit: VarsityLife
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