Blog: Amplify

Leadership Development: An Essential Investment for Nonprofits

This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.

See where it all began at our
Fall Conference for Community Foundations in Cleveland this October!

For nonprofits to thrive, they must invest in strong leaders to strategically navigate the challenges faced along the organization’s life cycle. While most organizations recognize the importance of leadership development, many are unable to afford the high cost of coaching services.

In response to the demand for further professional development opportunities for nonprofit leaders, ACT for Alexandria, a community foundation in Alexandria, VA, launched LEAD (Leadership, Excellence and Development) in May 2013. LEAD offers local nonprofit executive directors six months of tailored executive coaching with Leigh Shields of Leigh Shields & Associates, an expert executive coach and leadership consultant. Through LEAD, selected program participants are guided through individual coaching sessions as well as intensive peer sessions to share best practices and identify solutions to shared problems.

“We know that highly successful nonprofits must invest in leadership development,” says John Porter, President and CEO of ACT. “But too many just don’t have the resources or support to make it happen like they should. As part of our commitment to supporting Alexandria’s nonprofit community and improving services for people in need, LEAD helps put our nonprofits in a better position to sustain their success.”

Each participant in the LEAD program identifies a mission critical goal to focus on, such as working more productively with their board or restructuring their organizations. Throughout the six month process, the executive directors are coached on how to better engage and communicate with their board chairs, staff and partner organizations.

In the words of one participant, “I credit participating in LEAD with helping me learn my leadership strengths but also what habits I needed to improve to be the change I wanted the world to be! This led to the Board supporting my recommendation to apply for and receive a strategic planning grant.”

 The first class of executives to complete the program valued the coaching they received through LEAD so highly that they chose to continue the executive coaching and peer sessions past the official six month program schedule. Another class of six directors is currently participating in the program. The LEAD program works with executives from organizations serving a variety of causes including early care and education, animal welfare, arts and culture and homelessness prevention.

LEAD is just one of the initiatives ACT operates to strengthen the local nonprofit sector. For more information about ACT for Alexandria and its nonprofit capacity building programs, please visit:

Kerrin Epstein is Community Foundation Associate at ACT for Alexandria.


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