If you know coaching is effective, why don’t you work with one? (Click title for article)

Executive coaching is the most effective professional development tool for non-profit executive directors. Don’t take my word for it! Executive directors say so.

This past year, over 2,000 EDs were surveyed (click here for Daring to Lead report) and 82% of them gave the highest rating to executive coaching of all the professional tools listed, claiming that it was either “very effective” or “effective.” Despite these very high marks, only 10% of the 2,000 EDs reported working with a coach in their current position.

So if the great majority of EDs know that working with an executive coach is one of the best things they can do, why are only a small minority doing so?


Perhaps they don’t truly understand coaching. From my experience, many view coaching as a punitive measure or think that it’s only used to address performance problems. Maybe those who reported coaching as effective had worked with a coach in that regard. While that’s a valid use of coaching, executive coaching can be the most natural performance enhancer. Any professional can reach a new level of performance, leadership, and professional fulfillment. As the recent New Yorker article artfully described, top athletes and world-class opera singers wouldn’t dream of not working with a coach.

Investing in oneself

I’ve heard some say that coaching is too expensive or their budget doesn’t allow it. These are often the same people who somehow find it within their budget to pay $10,000 for a strategic planning consultant. Somehow investing in the organization’s vision and plan is worthwhile but investing in the organization’s leader isn’t. A non-profit’s greatest resource is its human resources. Invest in the growth of your staff and you are protecting and nurturing your most precious resource.


The non-profit sector is founded upon a culture of self-sacrifice for the purpose of the greater good. The staff is so committed to providing hot meals and beds for the homeless that the idea of spending money on professional development makes them feel guilty. “I can’t spend a few hundred dollars on executive coaching when that money could be spent housing and feeding people.” I’m not advocating for not helping the needy or fulfilling one’s organizational mission, but I encourage you to explore ways you can do both. Plus, supporting staff is a way to indirectly further the mission anyway.

Appearance of weakness

Remember there was a time when saying that you were seeing a therapist felt shameful? Perhaps working with a coach has a similar taboo in the workplace. Do EDs fear it will admit weakness, insecurity, or an inability to do the job?

EDs are some of the busiest people I know. The last thing they feel they have time for is an hour or two a month to invest in themselves. Yet they will spend countless long hours at the office, at events and dinners, bring work home on the weekend, and serve on boards, etc. to advance the organization and further their cause. They don’t see that investing in themselves can help them be more focused and productive and in the end and which will actually help them manage their time better. There’s a clear disconnect.

Executive coaching could make a powerful impact in the nonprofit sector yet it tends to still be mostly an exclusive tool used in for-profit companies. Here are some things I am doing to change that:

  • Co-facilitating a workshop about coaching in the non-profit sector at The Center for Nonprofit Management which includes a live coaching demonstration. All attendees receive a complimentary coaching session.
  • Offering free sample sessions. Let me know if you’re interested in one!
  • Talking to board members about coaching so that they can support their staff
  • Talking to funders about coaching so they can provide more capacity building support
  • Sharing with others my personal experience working with a coach and how it’s impacted my career and life
  • Encouraging those who have worked with a coach to share their own experiences with others
  • Writing stuff like this

Why do you think executive coaching is underutilized in the nonprofit sector and what can be done about it? Please share your thoughts.


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