Increase the Likelihood of Nonprofit Success through Coaching

By Kathy Cohen, PhD and Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD

Most nonprofits are in a constant state of feeling overworked and under-resourced. Rarely does an executive director end the day thinking, “That was easy. We exceeded our mission. Our work here is done.” There is always more need than time, people and funds available. Even the most committed people can grow weary from the constant wear and tear. Work satisfaction doesn’t come from stock options or holiday bonuses. It comes from work well done, a great professional environment, and progress toward meeting or exceeding the organization’s goals. And reward comes from one other place as well: opportunities for personal growth both in one’s professional development and in the organization’s maturation and evolution.

We are certainly sympathetic to overtaxed nonprofits who feel they do not have enough resources for their own programming, much less the funds for talent development such as coaching. However, the importance and excellent benefits of this particular 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. Why is that? 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 is different 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.

Coaches, on the other hand, work with clients to 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 is focused on transformational and results oriented change that is personalized for the individual client. We have seen throughout our coaching practices that coaching can be a relatively small investment that can pay handsome and long term dividends for nonprofit organizations. 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.

Reframe coaching from a nice to have to a must have and reap the benefits of having strong, confident and effective leadership at every level. Don’t hesitate to put resources toward nurturing your greatest asset  – your hard working, mission driven employees.

Kathy Cohen, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist and experienced nonprofit board president who provides governance and, development consulting as well as coaching for nonprofit organizations. Her practice is focused on helping nonprofit executives and boards become more focused, efficient, collaborative and impactful. She can be reached at

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is catalyst, consultant, coach and speaker. She is the founder and principal of Fridman Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for values-driven organizations. Nanette is the author of On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service. She can be reached at