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Evolution of Social Sector Coaching

By Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg,
Richard Michaels & Sharon Brown

Coaching for Transformation
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Although coaching started out in the business sector as a resource for current and emerging leaders, it is now taking hold in the social sector where it continues to evolve.

Coaching in the social sector initially focused on leadership development and organizational capacity building, which includes improving organizational systems, processes and results. One-to-one coaching of executive directors and other key leaders of social change initiatives strengthened them as leaders and supported them in implementing desired changes in their organizations.

As part of the Coaching and Philanthropy 1 (CAP) project, Leadership that Works partnered with CompassPoint, BTW Informing Change and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations to conduct an unprecedented deep dive into learning about the nonprofit sector’s support for and use of coaching. In the 7-year project, the partner organizations assessed and advanced coaching as a strategy for building effective nonprofit organizations. The CAP project focused primarily on leadership development and organizational capacity building.

In subsequent work, Leadership that Works and other coaching organizations began helping nonprofit leaders incorporate coaching competencies into all levels of their organizations. As they created coaching cultures in their organizations, people became more empowered, productive and satisfied. The organizations evolved through continuous feedback and social sector leaders started using coaching to bring out the best in their teams. As a result, creating a coaching culture became a major force in the evolution of coaching.

More recently, Leadership that Works has provided coaching skills training to direct service providers in nonprofit organizations—dramatically changing the ways in which they work with their clients. When these professionals, which include case workers, financial counselors, and any nonprofit t staff who work directly with clients, add coaching skills to their existing toolbox, they shift their focus from problem-solving to a partnership that expands possibilities and transfers ownership and accountability to the clients. The direct service providers report they are less stressed, while their clients become more empowered and engaged, leading to sustainable results.

A growing trend in collaborative community partnerships is the use of coaching as the foundation. These collaborative initiatives include partners from foundations, nonprofits, government agencies, community leaders, volunteers and community residents all working together to achieve a common community goal. The partners receive coaching skills training and individual coaching which supports collaboration, communication, brainstorming, opening to new possibilities and shifting from limiting to empowering viewpoints that lead to more creative actions. Embedded throughout the programs are opportunities to embrace and leverage cultural diversity.

We envision bringing coaching skills directly to the people who need it regardless of their income levels. Our hope is that coaching continues to spread in organizations, schools, families, communities and individuals from all walks of life. The possibilities are limited only by the imaginations of the people who continue to learn this effective way of communicating and collaborating to create sustainable social change.

Leadership that Works remains at the forefront of this ground breaking work—providing needs assessment, strategic planning support, basic and advanced coaching skills training, one-to-one mentoring, group support for skill enhancement, opportunities to share best practices, online learning communities and program evaluation. Our goal is to expand access to coaching through collaboration with funders, nonprofits and community leaders to provide coaching to an ever-widening circle of people.

1 The Coaching and Philanthropy Project is a partnership between BTW informing change, CompassPoint NonProfit Services, Grantmakers for Effective Organizationa, and Leadership that Works. This work was made possible by the generous funding and support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.


Excerpt from the book Coaching for Transformation: Pathways to Ignite Personal & Social Change by Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michaels and Sharon Brown. As faculty at Leadership that Works, they certify coaches who offer personal, organization and community transformation. Check out the free Power of Coaching teleclass.

Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.

Leadership that Works

Transforming the world.
One heart at a time.

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