Grantees talk leadership Photo by Theo Rigby

Becoming a Major Supporter of Nonprofit Coaching

Supporting individual, and social, change

Nonprofits are now seeing the power of customized one-on-one support in making their work more effective.

When most people think of coaching, they think of it in the context of sports – they think of a coach as someone whose job is to lead an individual or a team to victory. Coaching nonprofit leaders is different; the coach’s job isn’t about leading but about providing the space and the encouragement people need to figure out how they can do a better job as leaders themselves.

Like other foundations, the Haas, Jr. Fund is constantly looking for ways to help our nonprofit grantees succeed. Whether they are promoting equal rights for marginalized populations or expanding educational opportunities for young people, we want our grantees to have all the tools they need to achieve their mission and goals.

This is why the Haas, Jr. Fund has become a strong supporter of nonprofit leadership development. We know that the success of nonprofits depends on strong and capable leaders. And one of the crucial tools we’re using to support nonprofit leaders is coaching.

Coaching is gaining a lot of attention in the nonprofit sector as a way to provide executives and senior leaders with customized, one-on-one support. In a coaching relationship, a coach (usually someone with extensive nonprofit leadership experience) is matched with one or more nonprofit leaders. The coach’s job isn’t to tell “coachees” what to do, but to help them figure out for themselves the best approaches to the challenges and opportunities they face in leading their organizations.

Over the first two years of the Haas, Jr. Fund’s Flexible Leadership Awards (FLA) program, participating nonprofits spent about $495,000 on coaching, or 20 percent of the program’s total outlay of nearly $2.5 million. This makes coaching the single largest expenditure category in the program. In all, 12 of 14 organizations in the program were using some of their FLA funds for coaching.

The Haas, Jr. Fund didn’t set out to be a major supporter of coaching. This is just the type of leadership support that participating nonprofits appear to want most. And, in the course of providing support for coaching, we’re beginning to learn some important lessons about how and when coaching works best.

Working with an independent evaluator, Bill Ryan, we’re trying to capture these lessons so we can keep improving our own program while also providing other funders with ideas and inspiration as they consider supporting coaching.

Ryan recently completed a review for the Fund of the role of coaching as a leadership development strategy for the nonprofit sector, and as a cornerstone activity of grantees of our FLA program. His review finds widespread consensus that the hallmarks of good coaching are clear, measurable goals linking individual development and organizational performance. He also recommends various improvements to the Fund’s support for coaching, including a stronger focus on “readiness criteria” to make sure we are selecting good candidates for coaching.            

The Haas, Jr. Fund is intent on sharing what we are learning about coaching with others. An important outlet as we do this is The Coaching and Philanthropy Project, a partnership that is working to advance the field’s understanding of coaching as a strategy for building effective nonprofits. Using information from our Flexible Leadership Awards program and other foundations, the project currently is developing a series of materials to help funders, nonprofits and coaches themselves make the best use of coaching.

Please stay tuned to the Haas, Jr. Fund Web site as we continue to share information and news about coaching in philanthropy.

Read Bill Ryan's full report: Coaching Practices and Prospects.