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Who do you turn to when navigating board, staff or community dynamics?  

I’ve served as executive and senior staff for several foundations and been an advisor to dozens of grantmakers and nonprofit organizations around the country.  It’s not unusual to find myself in a coaching role with a chief executive or board chair in these assignments.  They place great value on having a trusted, experienced voice to provide objective and reliable guidance through the twists-and-turns of their work.

I asked two foundation chief executives that I’ve coached to share their stories.  I always conduct such work on a confidential basis so am not including their names or affiliations.

What moved you to seek executive coaching in your work?

Executive 1:  As the ED and our sole employee, I was looking for support to improve my leadership skills.  This would in turn create more effective management of the foundation and greater impact in our community.

Executive 2:  Sometimes working so closely in the day-to-day activity interferes with examining all the possibilities.  I wanted to have a fresh set of eyes, particularly as we were updating our strategic plan.  I appreciate the spectrum of philanthropic support groups out there, but I’ve not found a peer group from a similar enough circumstance to our foundation. I was seeking someone who understood philanthropy, someone of expertise.

What did you learn through your coaching experience and how did you apply that learning in your work for the foundation?

Executive 1:  I learned how to better navigate the ins-and-outs of strategic planning, and how to maneuver through the delicate dynamics present in the board room.  Jeff also encouraged me to find my stance in leading our board to find a balance in maintaining our foundation’s independence while continuing to partner with much larger funders.

Executive 2:  This coaching helped me learn ways to utilize input from multiple stakeholders more effectively.  This helped me incorporate more input into our activities and goals, and more tangible ways to evaluate what success means for the foundation.  I added more indicators to consider if our actions had the intended impact and to better test our assumptions.

What counsel would you share with other foundation executives about using coaching to strengthen their work?

Executive 1:  It was helpful to have an independent, experienced professional to take a closer look at my personal skills and to lean where I could be more effective.  Jeff provided concrete suggestions and examples on implementing change so I could achieve more impact in my work.  He also connected me with like-institutions.  Being able to network with others when it requires confidentiality was extremely helpful.

Executive 2:  When you are passionate about your work, it is personal to you and that can mean you don’t want to give up control.  In working with a coach, develop a trusting relationship – and remember trust goes both ways.  This work can involve sharing vulnerabilities in order to be most helpful.  An open, trusting and confidential relationship will provide for the best possibilities to carry out your responsibility.

For more information on how we help foundations and nonprofits strengthen their impact through executive coaching, strategic planning, evaluation and organizational development, contact Jeff Glebocki at or 480.794.0871.

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