The Coaching and Philanthropy Project: Implications for Nonprofits

by Daniel Martinage

A 2010 study of nonprofits use of coaching finds that coaching is an effective tool for strengthening nonprofit leaders. The Coaching and Philanthropy Project (CAP) took a comprehensive look at coaching in the nonprofit arena to determine how widespread and effective coaching is among 501 (c) (3) groups including community-based and charitable organizations and foundations. Funded by a coalition of partners and coordinated by CompassPoint and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), the three-year study consisted of a series of surveys, focus groups and listening sessions.

For purposes of the study, coaching was defined as “… a relationship where an individual with leadership and coaching experience (the coach) provides customized support to one or more nonprofit leaders (coachees) for a limited period of time”. Major findings of the study include:

• almost 2/3 of those interviewed as part of the study said coaching was very effective as leadership tool;
• coaching can have a ripple effect on organizations, communities and entire movements as an individual or team begins to lead effectively;
• coaching is gaining attention among Grantmakers as a potentially effective from of leadership development support for grantees;
• coaching can provide targeted support to leaders in identifying what is vital to their mission and what they must keep, what they need to cut, and how their organization can have greater impact;
• coaching can make an important contribution to keeping good people in the nonprofit sector.

The study found that non-profit and corporate executives have similar goals or reasons for coaching including:

• a safe haven to test new ideas or approaches without fear of judgment or retribution;
• more awareness of life/work balance;
• recognize and address management and leadership blind spots;
• create a long-term career plan;
• managing time and establishing priorities;
• support and guidance through change or transition.

Those interviewed in the study were about equally split between those whose coaching sessions were in person and those whose were conducted by phone.

Another variation of coaching is pairing the CEO with the top volunteer leader to explore joint leadership initiatives and to differentiate between staff and volunteer roles and responsibilities.

The final report from the program can be downloaded free at It contains a lot of valuable information including tips for finding and working with a coach.

Daniel Martinage, CAE is an executive coach and consultant specializing in nonprofits and associations. The former executive director of the International Coach Federation Dan also serves on the Selection Committee for The Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management. His website is

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