Three opportunities for coaching non-profit leaders

Many executive coaches believe that non-profit organizations are not a good niche. They believe that non-profits don’t have money to pay outside professionals. This belief is not true. Many non-profits are as well-funded as for-profit organizations. They can raise money for a professional like you through donors and grants from foundations for capacity building.

At the same time, non-profits are great for helping coaches to get visible. The typical non-profit board of directors has between 10 and 18 people on it. These board members are well-connected, whether through board roles on other non-profits or through leadership positions in for-profit organizations. If you do a good job with your non-profit engagements, you can get lots of referrals to other clients. I know, because my very first client was a non-profit and the referrals from that work allowed me to quickly build my practice.

Following are the top three opportunities to work with non-profit leaders. Of course, you have to have some substance in order to do this kind of work. The Center for Executive Coaching has toolkits and methodologies to give you the content you need to get into the non-profit niche.

One: Create a strong strategic plan that actually gets implemented…

Many non-profits, like any other type of organization, struggle with setting strategic direction and then executing the plan. However, with non-profits the challenges can be even greater than with for-profits. That’s because it is hard to build consensus among board members with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and points of view. You can serve as a coach/facilitator to help non-profit organizations develop their strategic plans. You can also help make sure that the organization is prepared to execute strategy, for instance by having enough people and money, and by holding leadership accountable.

The Center for Executive Coaching’s strategic planning methodology has been used successfully with many non-profits over two decades (and it also includes a professionally designed PowerPoint for training and presentation purposes). It is proven. You can use it as a pure coaching model, through group coaching and facilitation, and through a hybrid of consulting and coaching. It starts with the big-picture strategic questions that every organization needs to answer. Then it moves to setting just a few strategic priorities to move the organization forward in the best possible way. Finally, it focuses on aligning the organization so that it has the resources, roles, rewards, and accountability needed for execution.

Two: Develop the board…

Often non-profit leaders have lofty aspirations and recognize that they can’t make those aspirations happen without a stronger board. You can have a huge impact by helping the executive director and key board members to assess their board, develop a plan to improve board performance and strength, and then implement their plans.

Again, the Center for Executive Coaching gives you a methodology to coach and facilitate non-profit clients through this process (once again including a professionally designed PowerPoint along with the toolkit).  Our process begins with a thorough assessment of the board as a whole, including individual members. Then we coach the client to imagine their ideal board, based on the right people with the right skills and connections to make sure that strategic priorities get done, that funds are in place, and that the organization represents their constituents and communities appropriately. This includes working with leadership to develop the current board, set clear expectations and hold board members accountable, and recruit and onboard new talent to the board. It’s an incredibly powerful process that truly takes non-profit organizations to new levels of performance and ability to realize their missions.

Three: Support executive directors on their most pressing leadership challenges

Executive directors of non-profits need support. They tend to burn out at a high rate, and – despite their passion and vision — often they lack training in the skills required to lead and develop a non-profit organization. You can help by coaching these individuals. As noted earlier, increasingly we see funds being made available by donors and foundations to assist executive directors with professional development, including coaching.

It is difficult to list all of the areas in which you can assist an executive director of a non-profit, but they include:

  • Handling overwhelm in the face of multiple priorities and challenges;
  • Resolving conflict among the team;
  • Setting expectations and creating an accountable culture;
  • Engaging employees;
  • Developing the next generation of leaders and planning for succession;
  • Setting boundaries with the board of directors;
  • Putting in place systems and structures for a strong organization that runs independently of the executive director;
  • Improving leadership presence, including influence and communication impact; and
  • Building one’s power base in the community to improve the organization’s visibility and funding base.

The Center for Executive Coaching has toolkits and methodologies for you to work with non-profit executive directors in each of these areas. We also have numerous sample marketing materials and templates to help you get into this market. Contact us at for more information.

It is rewarding to work with non-profits, and there is a huge need. Please consider contacts you have that can help you expand into the non-profit arena as a coach, if you are not already doing so.


From our selection of articles:

Prospective clients often ask for assistance justifying that executive coaching will provide a return. Here is a stock answer you can give to your clients or internal sponsors when you are asked:First, the International Coach Federation, the leading coach professional organization, has conducted and reviewed studies about coaching in organization. They found an average return […]

Sometimes prospective members ask us why we don’t have a very formal application process compared to other coach training programs. All we ask for is a brief bio, CV, resume, or Linkedin profile. We are also happy to schedule a brief phone call to confirm fit. That’s usually enough to know whether a prospective member […]

Here is an important fact: If you practice coaching with other coaches, you can count that as barter and therefore as paid coaching hours towards your ICF designation. The ICF website makes that very clear.The Center for Executive Coaching has a large pool of members/coaches who are pursuing their ICF designation. We keep an active […]

After viewing the video recording of our most recent Open House, enter your email in the box describing the ebook and we will email you a copy right away. At the same time, please email Director Andrew Neitlich directly at to set up time to discuss, identify the best program for you, and answer […]

Copyright © 2016 - Center for Executive Coaching. All rights reserved.