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Cultivating Breakthrough Change

By Kim Ammann Howard

Coaching, when done well, can result in breakthrough changes for leaders, their organizations and over time the individuals and communities that they serve. It has been used to enhance nonprofit leadership and organizational effectiveness in a variety of ways ranging from renewed commitment to nonprofit work due to better work-life balance, to stronger senior leadership teams and boards due to clarification of roles and responsibilities, to shifts in roles from an internal to external focus due to more frequent and effective delegation.

Over the past few years, I have had the pleasure of learning about the experience of nonprofit coaching from hundreds of individuals, including nonprofit leaders who have received coaching, coaches who have worked with these leaders and funders who have supported coaching. I have been struck by the power of coaching, not only in facilitating and accelerating change, but in coaching’s ability to bring about breakthrough change—changes that leaders have been hoping, or needing, to make but have a varied history of less than satisfying attempts.

What makes coaching unique? Its power lies in its confidential, tailored and real-time nature. Leaders are able to bring their most salient concerns to the coaching relationship and consider solutions for themselves and their organizations—something that is especially important for leaders, such as CEOs, who typically experience a high degree of isolation in their position. Coaching addresses the porous boundaries between leaders’ current positions, their personal lives and their career paths in ways that many other types of supports, such as leadership trainings and organizational consulting, do not.

If coaching can be so effective, why doesn’t it happen more often? While the business world has embraced coaching for years, and spends over $1 billion on coaching annually, in the nonprofit sector, coaching remains a fairly emerging practice. To facilitate its practice, it is important that more people recognize that coaching is best utilized as a reward for high performing and promising leaders rather than a tool to fix problem behaviors.

What needs to take place to increase the use of coaching? Early adopters of coaching need to share what they learn about coaching with the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors so that people fully understand its value. This will help nonprofit leaders to better understand what coaching is and what it is not; when and how to use it; and enable them to fully appreciate how a relatively small investment of resources can have an enormous pay off.

To read more about what we have learned, please see our coaching action guides for grantmakers, nonprofits and coaches on our website. An online toolkit that includes FAQs, tools and case studies to help inform nonprofit and grantmaking decision making about coaching can be found at either of our partners’ websites: or