New leadership program trains nonprofit executives


More often than not, the budgets of nonprofits are spent on programming and overhead, and little is left for talent development. A new partnership in Ottawa County is trying to change that.

Patrick Cisler, Managing Director of Lakeshore Non-Profit Alliance (LNA), a membership organization that serves 160 nonprofits in Ottawa County, has partnered with Rodger Price, founder and managing partner of the Grand Rapids-based education consulting firm Lead by design (LBD), to launch a version of LBD’s LEAD 24/7 program suitable for non-profit organizations.

The nonprofit LEAD 24/7 completed its first 12-month cohort of nine participating executive directors in May, including Barbara Lee VanHorssen, Momentum Center; Beth Larsen, Resilience; Craig Spoelhof, Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holland; Darcy Fluharty, Children’s Advocacy Center; Deedre Vriesman, Resthaven; Drew Peirce, Good Samaritan Ministries; Josh Bytwerk, Love in Action from the Tri-Cities; Sarah Lewakowski, mosaic council; and Scott Rumpsa, Community Action House.

A second cohort was launched this month.

Cisler’s organization is dedicated to providing education, training and advice to its nonprofit partners – “helping them do their good jobs even better,” as he put it. About five or six years ago, LNA started thinking about how to set up a low-cost professional development program for nonprofit executives who often don’t get the support they need.

After exploring many options, three years ago Cisler began discussing with Price and his team about setting up a nonprofit specific 24/7 LEAD program after Cisler himself went through. a cohort with LBD.

Rodger was kind enough to open his playbook and say, ‘I’d be happy to do that,’ “Cisler said. “Sure, that aligns with him on a missionary level, and so he, again, opened the program for us, and then we as an organization raised money to help subsidize the costs in order to be able to place nine executive directors in our first cohort. We were interrupted by the pandemic, but we just finished our first cohort in May 2021. ”

Participants in the LEAD 24/7 nonprofit cohort meet once a month for a year – in person, if possible, at a leading nonprofit or company in their field – listening to facilitators such as Cisler and Kurt Wassink, retired director of human resources for Gentex, on topics such as giving and receiving feedback, public speaking, healthy conflict resolution, building a strong team, formulating a vision, leading yourself, lead change and more.

As part of the program, participants break into small groups to discuss, and then they also meet with an executive coach from Leading by Design to help them apply the concepts to their organization.

“They meet (the coaches) for about two hours between sessions as another way to help process some of the content they are learning,” Cisler said. “I’ve been through a lot of leadership development programs myself over the years, and one of the nuances of this program, where it separates, is in processing what you learn, just trying to uphold the principles of leadership. … It’s not like going to a leadership conference where you can learn great things and forget about them two weeks later.

Cisler said the first cohort of participants found the content most useful for team development, such as hiring, firing, onboarding, training, and dealing with conflict.

“Nonprofits have a particularly difficult time dealing with conflict,” Cisler said. “As humans we usually have a problem with that, I don’t think the industry that you are in matters, but in western Michigan we especially struggle with that, with this whole thing. “West Michigan nice”. We don’t want to hurt people, and then there’s an extra layer on that when it comes to nonprofits, because most of the people who work in nonprofits are very generous. … They generally prefer to avoid tackling difficult subjects rather than tackling them. This program has helped our participants a lot to do better in their organization.

Many participants identified with the curriculum’s emphasis on being yourself and using your innate strengths when leading, which can help avoid burnout.

A bonus element that emerged organically, Cisler said, was the fact that the participants formed a deep relationship and were able to lean on each other to navigate the pandemic.

Recognizing that nonprofits are largely funded by donations, which in turn are often intended for programming and services, not professional development, Cisler and his team at LNA have raised funds for the program. in order to subsidize it for the participants, who were then responsible for $ 2,500 approximately $ 10,000 per person price tag LBD normally costs. Cisler said some attendees were able to secure additional support from community foundations to further defray the costs.

“Association executives and association staff in general very rarely have the opportunity to focus on professional development, whether it is prohibitively expensive or simply an accessibility issue, it There just aren’t a lot of leadership development opportunities in western Michigan, ”he said. “We wanted to provide a very rewarding experience for some of our best local nonprofit leaders, knowing that most of them had never had this opportunity before. “

Cisler said LNA and LBD will continue to evaluate and improve the program for future cohorts. One of the goals for next year’s group is to further integrate a diversity, equity and inclusion perspective into the program, including adding more diverse instructors and facilitators.

The nonprofit LEAD 24/7 will also likely add cohorts of emerging leaders below the executive level, Cisler said, and in the future he hopes to be able to offer the program to organizations outside the county as well. of Ottawa. Leading by Design already has an international presence, so he believes geographic expansion would be a natural next step for the nonprofit training program.

More information on Nonprofit LEAD 24/7 can be obtained by contacting Cisler at [email protected]


Kevin E. Boling

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