15 Aug

Increase the Likelihood of Nonprofit Success through Coaching

This was originally published in the massnonprofit news.

By Kathy Cohen and Nanette Fridman

Of all the investments that nonprofits could make, but frequently don’t, is in the managers they depend on for success, and one of the most cost-effective ways to do that is through personal coaching.

The importance and excellent benefits of this form of resource development is something the for-profit world figured out a long time ago. As a result, professional development and coaching for employees are regular line items in many annual budgets. That’s because it has been demonstrated time and time again that strong leadership and employees with high levels of job satisfaction are what make the difference between meeting and exceeding objectives. In short, coaching gets results.

It is important to note that coaching differs from mentoring and consulting, both of which can also be tremendously valuable to an organization.

  • Mentoring is an informal relationship between two people in which the “senior” colleague provides advice, having already walked in the “junior” colleague’s shoes.
  • Consulting is structured around specific projects with defined deliverables. Consultants bring technical expertise to identify and solve problems in the mechanics of the day to day operations of the organization or to help with planning for the future in a structured and rigorous manner.
  • Coaching, on the other hand, helps people identify their strengths, weaknesses, and growth opportunities. Coaches partner with clients to achieve the clients’ goals through promoting self discovery, building on core competencies, mitigating weaknesses, managing obstacles, learning and implementing new tools and strategies, and facilitating sustained growth over time.

Coaching is an especially effective talent development process because it focuses on transformational and results oriented change that is personalized for the individual client. Common benefits include:

Support: Sometimes staff need support to get through organizational transitions, moving into new leadership roles, or during new processes like strategic planning, a fundraising campaign or significant growth. Coachees report that having a neutral party to talk with about the regular stresses of managing staff, working with boards and volunteers, overseeing programs and raising funds is very useful and helps them implement effective strategies.

Development: Staff can also be strengthened from support in the development of particular skills related to executive functioning, emotional intelligence, management techniques, time management, board relations, fund development, etc. Coaching can benefit the visionary executive director with poor interpersonal skills, the rock star fundraiser with poor executive functioning skills, or the promising young program director who can learn how to combine knowledge, talent, and resources into management, growth and excellence.

Retention: Being an executive can be lonely and exhausting. Nonprofit jobs have high burnout rates. Having a coach as a sounding board and partner can help organizations with retention and job satisfaction. It can be a positive signal to the extremely capable CEO that the organization wants to invest in her and her work and to find opportunities for her growth before another organization or corporation hires her away.

Acceleration: When employees feel supported, develop their soft and hard skills and feel confident, they can think big and bold thoughts and take calculated risks. People can become extraordinary leaders who accelerate the organization’s speed, breadth, and reach. With their potential unlocked, they can make great contributions to propel the organization forward.

Reframing coaching from a nice-to-have to a must-have helps create the strong, confident, and effective leadership that nonprofits need by dedicating resources toward your greatest asset – your hard working, mission-driven employees.

Kathy Cohen, PhD, a clinical psychologist and experienced nonprofit board president, helps nonprofit executives and boards become more focused, efficient, collaborative, and impactful. Email her at

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, President of Fridman Strategies, Inc., consults on strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching, and is the author of On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service. Email her at

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