Why are non-profits adverse to executive coaching?

The for-profit sector discovered long ago the value of executive coaching. There have been studies that show coaching boosts job performance. There are studies that show coaching increases company profitability. There are still more studies that show coaching increases competitiveness and helps with leadership development and succession planning.

So, why is it that so many non-profit organizations seem to be reluctant to invest in executive coaching for their employees?

My first knee jerk reaction to this is to simply say most non-profit agencies are under-resourced and unable to pay for those kinds of services. However, I think I’ve recently changed my mind after attending a conference as an exhibitor. As with most exhibitor booths, I ran a fish bowl giveaway in an attempt to capture people’s business cards. At the end of the day, I pulled two names and gave away from FREE coaching services. As you can probably guess, I haven’t received a phone call from either individual. So, can the answer be as simple as money?

After spending more time contemplating why non-profit organizations seem to be reluctant to invest in executive coaching, I think I’ve come up with a different answer . . .

Non-profit leaders don’t truly understand the idea of “return on investment” (ROI).

For all the recent talk about ROI in non-profit circles when it comes to measuring outcomes and stewarding donors, this idea originates from the for-profit sector and is a relative newcomer to non-profit circles. So, quoting a study that shows coaching yields a ROI 5- to 7-times the initial investment gets quizzical looks from many non-profit leaders who I know. This response improves only slightly when you’re able to quantify the dollars and sense like Fortune magazine did in this quote:

“Business coaching is attracting America’s top CEOs because, put simply, business coaching works. In fact, when asked for a conservative estimate of monetary payoff from the coaching they got… managers described an average return of more than $100,000, or about six times what the coaching had cost their companies.”

I suspect that executive coaching won’t been seen by board volunteers as a viable performance enhancement tool until we start talking differently about it and point to improved job satisfaction and employee retention.

I also suspect that executive directors won’t start looking at executive coaching for their fundraising professionals until we start pointing to how little time non-profit CEOs seem to have and how that results in minimal time spent coaching resource development professionals.

I don’t know . . . I can be talked off the ledge. Please take a moment and use the comment box below to share your thoughts.

Has your agency used executive coaching services? Has it be beneficial? Did you measure ROI? If so, what was the return? If your agency doesn’t use coaching services, what do you suspect the reasoning is?

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


  1. Hm. I agree on your knee-jerk reaction. That would be my first inclination as well. I think that many non-profits are used to getting things deeply discounted or inexpensive. Maybe if you donated your services to one non-profit and then created a case study – it might help others recognize the value return.

    1. Amber . . . I have donated my services to a non-profit professional, but I need to go that extra mile and turn it into a case study. What did I learn? What worked? What didn’t work? What appealed to them and what do they think others might pay for? I appreciate you thoughts.

      Recently, I’ve worked with two people who hired me for very short periods of time to coach them through a job search process. I might focus on this niche as well.

      Thanks for the coaching!


  2. There’s more going on here, I think. It might be money for some. It might be a lack of understanding of ROI … or, viewing the ROI with a slightly different angle, perhaps it’s an under appreciation of the power of building capability.

    But for virtually all people (and that’s likely all of us!) that may benefit from coaching, a core dynamic is getting past the threat and embarrassment that such coaching can elicit and expose.

    People resist this kind of help because they know that with it comes a very real personal risk. That is the price that remains even when we offer “free of charge” …

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