Go Ahead...Advocate for Yourself.

I can’t believe it. I am almost at the three-month milestone for launching Think Good Leadership (TGL). During this time, I have had the opportunity to meet with diverse nonprofits and their leaders about leading with intent. In an earlier blog (The Leadership Mindset), I set the stage for various factors that play into one of the two current leadership crises in the nonprofit sector…the lack of succession planning and talent management. Through these meetings, I am hearing about the need for additional support through coaching, leadership and board development.

What we know is that nonprofits are not making headway in the area of succession planning and leadership development for their staff. With a large number of baby boomers preparing for retirement in the next five years, we will see tremendous turnover in our organizations. Without a focus on developing the next generation of leaders, we put our nonprofits at great risk for a leadership deficit….a deficit that we could have planned for.

In addition to the demographic changes facing the sector, we all know that nonprofit leadership is exhausting and that the turnover rate for executive directors is staggering. Nonprofit leaders are tired and burned out and often discuss the lack of work/life balance in a field where compensation is low and job demands are high. These leaders might be looking at other jobs in our sector or are considering taking their skills to the corporate world. Although our boards know that leadership is a flight risk, no one is making the investment into improving our bench strength. Meanwhile, our organizations become increasingly more complex and are in daily stress around diminishing resources.

Dear Colleagues…now is the time to LEAD and plan. Investing resources in succession planning and leadership coaching for high potential staff members is the proactive way to approach the crisis. Here is what you need to know. The CAP (Coaching and Philanthropy Project) has done extensive research on assessing and advancing coaching as a strategy for building nonprofit organizations. According to their extensive research:

“Many nonprofit leaders view coaching as a way to develop and hone key leadership and management skills. Asked why they wanted a coach, 67 percent of coachees surveyed by the CAP Project chose to develop leadership skills/confidence” as a high priority.”

A majority of coaches also gave high priority to developing better work life balance and managing organizational change more effectively. Because many of us practice servant leadership, we tend to struggle with boundaries and in asking for support.

This conversation might be keeping you up at night. Where do you begin leading with a plan for leadership development for your organization? The very first thing you need to do is educate your board or at least your board chair about this crisis so that in partnership you can develop a plan. This is one of those courageous conversations that has to happen in the lifecycle of your leadership. Be proactive.

Once you get buy in, think creatively (aren’t we always!) about how to fund such an initiative. Here are few ideas:

1.   Build it into your budget. WHAT?!! Yes! If you don’t know about Dan Poletta you should. (Check out this powerful video at http://overheadmyth.com). This type of training and coaching will cost you money but is as important as other operational costs.

2.   Look at capacity building grants and tie leadership development into organizational growth. When I worked for Habitat for Humanity, we were given the opportunity to apply for capacity building funds. Leadership consulting and coaching can be part of your proposal.

3.    3) Find a foundation who offers funding in this area…they are out there. For example, The George Fund is committed to growing authentic leaders and has funding available. Check out http://www.georgefamilyfoundation.org/about/focus-areas/authentic-leadership.

4.    Identify a donor who is looking for a unique way to support what you do by designating dollars for professional development. Good candidates for this could be past board chairs.

5.    Reconsider how you utilize conference dollars. I know that with Habitat, I was always committed to getting my team to the state and national conferences which provided valuable content specifically related to Habitat. These same dollars could have been utilized for leadership development for high potentials.

6.    If you are personally seeking professional growth, consider asking your board to match your contribution to coaching. Showing a willingness to invest in yourself is always a powerful statement.


Let’s take ownership for educating the next generation of nonprofit leaders. It is our responsibility to sustain the work we have started.