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The Power of Coaching for Non-Profit Leaders

Dawn Newman, PCC | Published on 6/21/2021
Nonprofit leaders are known for passion for the organization’s mission and an entrepreneurial
spirit of creatively applying limited resources while addressing monumental challenges. COVID-
19 caused disruptions and constant change leaving people feeling disconnected, overwhelmed
and exhausted.

In an effort to support St. Louis area nonprofit leaders dealing with unprecedented change, the
International Coaching Federation (ICF) St. Louis Coaches launched a “2020 Gift of Coaching”
program providing four hours of pro bono executive and professional coaching. Thirty nonprofit
leaders expressed interest and completed an application to work with a coach virtually, late
November 2020 through first quarter 2021.

In order to assure quality and consistency in the coaching process all coaches who volunteered
demonstrated ICF core competencies and are committed to continuing education and coaching
excellence. Each has completed a foundational ICF accredited coach training program of 125
hours. Most of the 18 coaches participating in the program hold advanced ICF credentials of
either Associate Certified Coach (ACC), requiring an additional 60 hours of training and 100
coaching hours, or Professional Certified Coach (PCC), achieving 125 hours of training and
500+ hours of coaching.

What do we mean by “coaching?” “The ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a
thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and
professional potential (ICF, 2021).” Coaching is different from teaching, consulting, mentoring
and counseling. The coach is often described as a “thinking partner” or “sounding board” with a
foundational belief that the person being coached is fully capable of creating their own solutions
and doesn’t need someone to tell them answers or give advice. Part of the role of the coach is to
help the person identify what to focus on and move forward with velocity.

Since the coach takes on a neutral role it’s not required that they have expertise in the nonprofit
environment. The coaching relationship is built on mutual trust and creates a psychologically
safe space to have conversations that matter. As a trusted partner, coaches help leaders gain
confidence to change by choosing responses that lead to healthy and effective habits.
While coaching experiences are unique for each leader, they typically entail selecting something
specific to accomplish in each session, gaining deeper awareness and clarity, prioritizing what is
most important, setting goals, building accountability for next steps and reflecting on how they
are changing throughout the process. The impact of individual coaching can create waves of
benefits felt by teams and organizations.

In order to gain deeper insight about the overall program impact a small project team designed an
initial application and final surveys for nonprofit leaders and coaches. The areas of focus
nonprofit leaders identified included conflict, delegation, executive presence, confidence and
leadership development. Each leader was provided a coach for virtual coaching sessions.

Initially, 30 nonprofit leaders applied to participate in the Gift of Coaching. Ultimately 73% of
the 30 applicants completed four hours of coaching. Of those responding to the survey, 100%
would recommend future participation and 100% were very satisfied with their coach. All
nonprofit leader respondents were either somewhat satisfied (12.5%) or very satisfied (87.5%)
with the Gift of Coaching program overall. The coaching process helped leaders discover their
strengths, build confidence and address challenges more effectively.
Input received from nonprofit leaders responding to the survey illustrate what the leaders found
beneficial individually and for their organizations. Examples of how coaching provided value

Part of the role of the coach is to listen, observe and see things the client may not see in
themselves. A nonprofit leader reflected: “This has given me freedom to follow my instincts and
lead in a way that feels right to me. My coach helped me to see that just because I’m leading
differently doesn’t mean I am leading wrong.” Another commented: “I feel much more confident
in how I present myself as a leader.”

Coaches helped leaders discover their strengths: “It helped me realize my potential. I can do this
job and do it well. I was chosen for a reason and I have all the equipment in myself to do this
job.” The acknowledgement of strengths also sparked leaders to clearly communicate and
delegate as described: “I have a better understanding of my strengths and what I need to allow
my staff to let theirs’ shine by sharing the load with them. I’m clear about what I need and spend
less time deciding to delegate.”

Throughout the relationship coaches provided support and perspective-taking. A leader pointed
out: “Having a sounding board outside my organization to review situations with was extremely
valuable.” Another emphasized: “My coaching sessions validated me, my thoughts and my
efforts. It was beneficial to be heard.”

Results of leading more effectively impacted teams and organizations. “I am less concerned
about being ‘boss’ and more concern about being a ‘team player,’” said one. “If I am more
organized and a better leader – so is everyone else on my team!” said another.
Leadership, effective communication, conflict resolution, delegation and time management were
among the attributes cited as a result of the Gift of Coaching program, and these positive notable
results emerged from only a brief period of time invested in coaching. What if we could extend
the power of coaching beyond this program? Imagine the impact on our St. Louis region if we
fully embrace coaching as a way to develop nonprofit leaders and organizations.