by Alex Carter
Nonprofit coaching is a rewarding and demanding niche. If you’ve thought about coaching in a nonprofit setting, but are not sure how to get started, here are a few thoughts that may help you with your decision
If You’ve Seen One Nonprofit, You’ve Seen… One Nonprofit
Once you’ve decided to approach the nonprofit niche, your focusing work is far from over. Large nonprofits range from museums, universities and hospitals. Smaller nonprofits may include animal shelters, some day care centers, and friends of libraries. In addition, nonprofits can be classified as direct service organizations (soup kitchens) or advocacy groups (Mothers Against Drunk Driving); or can be defined by an issue (child welfare, arts or health, for example).
My own work has focused on newer leaders of smaller, grass-roots organizations providing services and advocacy for at-risk children and youth. This is because I feel I can really provide useful services to smaller organizations, and I have a lot of experience in that niche.
Know Your Target Market: Unique Nonprofit Challenges
While this is pretty typical marketing advice, in the nonprofit sector it is even more crucial. Nonprofit leaders have challenges that for-profit managers can’t imagine. They spend 30% or more of their time on fundraising. They have to manage their boards, dealing with diverse personalities and sometimes conflicting demands. They are frequently called to their work out of passion and commitment, and do not have a management background. This has led many to characterize the sector as “over-led and under-managed.”
Nonprofit leaders are also isolated. There are few opportunities to meet with and learn from colleagues. In addition, it is difficult to be collegial when everyone is trying to secure funding from the same sources. Nonprofit leaders feel like they are in silos. I have offered group coaching, where peers come together, and have found that participants really value the opportunity to talk with their peers.
Other issues for nonprofit leaders include:
- Board relations (recruiting and training board members, working effectively with the board–including fundraising)
- Managing staff (communication skills, setting expectations and motivation)
- Time management (getting out of crisis mode and into strategic thinking and planning)
- Work-life balance (developing good self-care habits and sticking to them)
- Leadership succession (letting go, transition, and leadership development)
This is A Terrible Time to Be a Nonprofit Coach
I’ve been asked how one can make a living as a nonprofit coach. After all, times are really tough in the nonprofit world. Foundation endowments have shrunk, government monies are drying up, and nonprofits are being asked to do more and more with less and less. Monies for leadership development—which is where the nonprofit world usually puts coaching—are harder to come by. Nonprofit leaders are so squeezed for time and resources that, even if they had the money, they’re not sure they have the time for coaching.
This Is a Great Time to Be a Nonprofit Coach
Tough economic times have led foundations (the primary source of leadership development money) to focus on outcomes and results. A great strategy is to work with a prospective nonprofit client to develop a proposal for coaching support. This can be a stand-alone proposal, or one component of a larger proposal. Your contribution to the proposal should speak about the proven effectiveness of coaching in general, and lay out some of your coaching goals as concretely and specifically as possible. This makes it easier for the foundation–and you and your client–to know when your work has been successful, and makes the proposal more competitive.
Nonprofit coaches can also supplement your practice with consulting projects. I get a fair amount of consulting work from my coaching clients; they already know and trust me, and I already know about their organization and its needs.
I love working in the nonprofit field, and we certainly have room for talented people in all parts of this sector. Will you join me?
Alex Carter, Your Nonprofit Coach, specializes in helping new Executive Directors become outstanding managers and leaders, while keeping their sanity. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.