Leadership focus of pro-bono project

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With a national study last year finding three in four nonprofit executive directors expected to leave their jobs within five years, the nonprofit marketplace faces a leadership crisis.

Aiming to help address some of the issues underlying that crisis is a new pro-bono initiative created by an emerging practice of seven executive-leadership consultants from throughout the U.S.

At its annual retreat, to be held July 6 in Charlotte, the group will provide a full day of free consulting and coaching for the executive teams at one to three local nonprofits.

“Because so much of their time is devoted to relationships with their boards and fundraising, they’re not taking the time to spend on development of themselves and each other and their teams,” says Joan Wright, principal of Charlotte-based O’Sullivan Wright and host for the inaugural Leadership for a Better World project of the seven-member Executive Coaching Mastermind Group.

The pro-bono project reflects an effort by members of the consulting group to practice the advice they offer to their clients, mainly entrepreneurs and senior executives at big corporations, to “give back” to their communities, says Wright.

The consulting practice has teamed up with the Executive Service Corps of the Charlotte Region, which will help identify local nonprofits that might benefit from the pro-bono consulting.

A committee that includes representatives of the Executive Service Corps, Arts & Science Council and United Way of Central Carolinas, plus Rebecca Merrill, a Durham-based member of the consulting practice, will select one to three nonprofits for the project, or possibly one to three local branches or units of a larger nonprofit.

Before the all-day session in July, each consultant will speak by phone for an hour to 90 minutes with each member of the executive team of the nonprofit or nonprofits selected to participate.

The phone conversations will aim to clarify and define the leadership challenges the executives face, plus goals for the all-day session.

After a keynote speech to open the July 6 session, to be held at Queens University, the consultants will pair off with the participating nonprofits to work on their leadership challenge and goals, and to set a “leadership agenda” and “action plan” for the executive team and each of its members.

The members of the consulting practice also will provide one-on-one leadership coaching to the participating executives.

While the focus of the consulting will not be selected until the phone conversations, Wright says, possible topics might include how to develop high-potential leaders within the nonprofit; how to be more effective in working with boards and dealing with conflict management; or how to address burnout and “rejuvenate, re-inspire and recommit.”

Then, in September, the consultants will hold a teleconference with the participants to check in and see how they are progressing with their action plan.

A long-term goal will be to help the nonprofit executives develop their own peer networks, Wright says.

“In the end, when they’re trying to create an impact, it is through people that they get things done,” she says. “It’s vital because it’s through the relationships that you make things happen, that you achieve your goals.”

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