Friday, June 27, 2008

Non-Profit Board Governance: The Elephant in the Room

Last week, I answered this question on LinkedIn posed by Frank G. Scarpaci of Project Designworks, a boutique management consulting firm headquartered in San Diego, CA.

What are the top three obstacles to effective nonprofit board governance?

My answer:

1. Board micromanagement because they don't trust management and perhaps they don't really understand how to manage and delegate.

2. Board members not understanding how non-profits operate and what their role is vis a vis management. Too often, Board members from the for-profit field believe they are smarter and more capable than the non-profit staff.

3. Chief Executives not being viewed as co-owners of the non-profit and respected as much as for-profit CEOs are respected. Non-profit CEO's are too often viewed as the "hired help."

My first two sentiments were echoed by most of the other 13 responses (see them at .

Lack of clear roles and expectations seems to be the primary obstacle to effective non-profit Board governance. This makes sense, given the history of non-profits - or charities as they were known originally. We basically are dealing with an anachronistic governance model that is based on condescension both to charity beneficiaries and charity staff.

When charitable institutions began in the mid-19th century, they were an evolution from volunteer efforts by wealthy men and sometimes women. In New York City, the first charity organization was the Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor. Begun by a group of wealthy businessmen, the AICP grew out of "friendly visits" to poor families to identify and then ameliorate some of their problems as well as preach to them about the error of their ways. When these men realized they could no longer sustain their level of involvement, they began to hire women to carry out the visits, and they took on the role of Board of Governors. The role of that Board was to direct the daily work of the hired help. And being on this and other charitable Boards was very much like belonging to an exclusive club of insiders - socially desirable and prestigious, while not accountable to any larger group of stakeholders.

Other charities began with similar motives and assumptions about the role of the Board. Boards ran everything, and did not assume that their staff were professionals. It was only in the mid to late 20th century that charities became known as non-profits, and that staff were hired on the basis of their skills and expertise. While there were many causes for this - not least of which were emerging social issues that demanded attention and care - I believe Board members became increasingly unable to devote time to charitable work and the management of staff. It was necessary and easier to hire staff to which they could delegate the management of daily operations. Obviously, the Board members gave money to pay staff (as little as possible...) and to endow many organizations.

For example, the AICP evolved into the Community Service Society of NY which continues to this day funded in part by a multi-million dollar endowment. CSS has a refreshed mission - Fighting Poverty, Strengthening New York - and a highly skilled CEO (David R. Jones) and professional staff.

(For a great history of non-profit governance, see

In 1964, the American Bar Association drafted the Model Nonstock Corporation Statute, that changed the standards by which non-profit Boards operated to be similar to that of for-profit corporations. Boardsource says: "Nonprofits could do anything for-profits could do — except distribute their surpluses in the form of dividends." I'm sure this contributed to the growth of the idea that nonprofit organizations should be "run like a business." After all, if they are governed as corporations are, then shouldn't their management match their governance?

As non-profits proliferated and grew more complicated, they required more skilled managers. And professional managers disliked what they viewed as interference by Board members who could not possibly know much more than the surface facts about the organization's work.

This continues today, as non-profits grapple with society's most intractable and important issues, like hunger relief, housing, health care, education, violence prevention, youth development, child care, and more. Legal, ethical and practical concerns and mandates make the top management's work complex. Board members, who spend at most 10-20% of their time on charitable purposes, cannot hope to even begin to grasp the challenges and conundrums faced by management every minute of every day. Small wonder that executive leadership resents Board members who second-guess and question managerial decisions.

Further complicating matters is the radical cutback in government funding for many non-profits since the early 1980's. All of a sudden, non-profits had to get much better at raising money and delivering services, sometimes for a fee. And the primary role of Board members unofficially changed from overseeing management to raising money.

Yet the governance structure of CSS and every other non-profit remains basically untouched. Any Board member - regardless of his or her contribution level - gets an equal say in questioning management. No Board member is required by law to be a member of, knowledgeable about or accountable to the constituency served. Board members resist raising money until they are practically forced to give, get, or get off - usually by staff with reluctant support from the Board leadership. Giving and raising money How Board members are selected is usually a matter of who volunteers, who knows whom, and who has the most clout and access to resources.

The current governance system essentially requires nothing of Board members other than their willingness to show up at some meetings. Yet somehow this group of people is invested with amazing responsibility and power - both far greater than that possessed by paid staff. In fact, the Internal Revenue Service recommends an active Board of Directors:

The Internal Revenue Service encourages an active and engaged board believing that it is important to the success of a charity and to its compliance with applicable tax law requirements. Governing boards should be composed of persons who are informed and active in overseeing a charity’s operations and finances. If a governing board tolerates a climate of secrecy or neglect, we are concerned that charitable assets are more likely to be diverted to benefit the private interests of insiders at the expense of public and charitable interests. Successful governing boards include individuals who not only are knowledgeable and engaged, but selected with the organization’s needs in mind (e.g. accounting, finance, compensation, and ethics)... Organizations that file Form 990 will find that Part VI, Section A, Lines 1, 2 ,3, and 7 ask questions about the governing body.

Unfortunately, there is no oversight of non-profit Boards to ensure that this standard is met. The IRS does no monitoring except of whether an organization pays its payroll taxes and files its 990. Only non-payment of taxes gets an organization in trouble, though - and Boards are not held responsible while paid staff are. States' Attorneys General have legal oversight of non-profit fundraising but not of their Boards. Secretaries of State (or similar officials) approve incorporation, including checking to make sure there are the requisite minimum three incorporating Board members. But those Board members can be anyone over age 18. After incorporation, no one checks on anything.

There have been numerous scandals involving misuse of funds by paid executives of non-profit organizations. When those arise, other Boards of Directors tend to go into panic mode and increase the second-guessing and micro-management, as if this will help protect them from such embarrassment. For that really is the only consequence for Board members - embarrassment that they didn't have adequate oversight systems in place. Directors & Officers insurance protects Board members from most personal liability for any financial damage. There are no shareholders to vote Board members out of office. Consequences only come when other civic leaders and elected officials step in and demand that Boards resign and/or remake themselves. But no one can force these Boards to do that. If they refuse, there is no recourse. The only real punishment that can happen is for donors to pull out their funding or cease making contributions. I suppose there's a lot of good to a "market-based solution" yet somehow there's something wrong about so much money being entrusted to such unqualified people who have zero accountability.

John Carver developed a very interesting governance system, the Carver Policy Governance Model. I sat on the America's Second Harvest Board when it adopted that model. And in so many ways, it is a great model. Here's a description from the website.

Policy Governance® is an integrated set of concepts and principles that describes the job of any governing board. It outlines the manner in which boards can be successful in their servant-leadership role, as well as in their all-important relationship with management. Unlike most solutions to the challenge of board leadership, its approach to the design of the governance role is neither structural nor piecemeal, but is comprehensively theory based. The model covers all legitimate intentions of corporate governance codes (including Sarbanes-Oxley), but in a far more comprehensive, theory-based manner.

In contrast to the approaches typically used by boards, Policy Governance separates issues of organizational purpose (ENDS) from all other organizational issues (MEANS), placing primary importance on those Ends. Policy Governance boards demand accomplishment of purpose, and only limit the staff's available means to those which do not violate the board's pre-stated standards of prudence and ethics.

Researchers Barbara E. Taylor, Richard P. Chait & Thomas P. Holland wrote in the September/October 1996 Harvard Business Review (“The New Work of the Nonprofit Board,” p 36):

“Too often, the board of a nonprofit organization is little more than a collection of high-powered people engaged in low-level activities. But that can change, the authors say, if trustees are willing to discover and take on the new work of the board. When they perform the new work, a board’s members can significantly advance the institution’s mission and long-term welfare. Doing the new work requires a board to engage in new practices. First, the board must go beyond rubber-stamping management’s proposals and find out what issues really matter to the institution.”

Taylor and colleagues characterise this “new work” as requiring finding out what matters which means board and management together determining the issues and the agenda, making the CEO deal with big ideas, having the board understand who the important stakeholders are and developing relationships with them, consulting many sources of knowledge and information, board and management together deciding what should and can be measured and what can’t and needn’t be and above all organising around and acting on what matters and not on what doesn’t! They also observe that many boards are too prone to focus on others for resisting change when they themselves are no different. Correctly they assert that entrepreneurs and industrial captains are seldom effective because they are unused to working with others cooperatively.

As the non-profit sector continues to grow, it is attracting more and more people who want to "make a difference." Many start on Boards and end up as staff. All of them say the same thing: "I never knew what a pain in the *** a Board could be! I apologize for all I did to staff." I wonder if there ever will be a non-profit governance structure that makes sense for all involved and affected parties.

PS Des Griffin from Australia has some interesting things to say about museum governance.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Networking or Information-Gathering?

Many people are very uncomfortable with "networking." I know this from two sources: the number of people who are peddling seminars and webinars and books to help others learn how to network effectively; and people in TransitionWorks who resist that step of the job search process.

Here's how I have approached the topic of networking.

The word "networking" can seem very big and overwhelming. On the other hand, talking to one person is specific and perhaps not as frightening. Dial it back to a place where you’re comfortable and not overwhelmed. Articulating specific next steps helps make it not overwhelming.

It helps me to think through exactly what might make me reluctant. Often it's fear. For me, fear can stem from attaching a lot of importance to the activity, and making the stakes REALLY high. So if I think that "networking" is going to lead either to my realizing my dreams or dashing my hopes - well, those are very high stakes and why on earth would I want to risk so much? Instead, I can think in smaller terms.

I like to think of specific tasks, next steps or people with whom I want to connect, instead of thinking about "NETWORKING." All I'm doing is finding out more about the field and work in which I'm interested. I'm simply connecting with a friend or former colleague or friend of a friend. I am taking an action that hopefully will have a small result - meaning I have an interesting conversation and possibly get the name and contact information for one more person with whom I can speak. The result isn't getting or not getting my dream job. That comes later, and the steps leading to that will all fall into place and make sense as they unfold. In other words, "take the action and let go of the result."

Perhaps I'll find, like one friend, that I'm uncomfortable making "cold calls" to people for the purposes of networking. In that case, let me see if I can find someone to make an introduction for me either in person or via e-mail. This one friend put it in these terms: "I need a warm introduction."

The same person also didn't know what she would say to people. Why on earth am I contacting them? I don't know if I want a job right now. HELP! She realized that all she has to say is "I'm thinking about changing jobs, and wanted to learn more about what you do. Would it be possible for us to have lunch or meet?" There's no commitment on her part, she's not asking for a job and putting the other person on the spot, and it's a very reasonable request that is easily accommodated.

We realized, too, that for her, networking implies that she is doing something for herself and is putting herself out into the world, perhaps exposing herself to an uncomfortable extent. I suggested that she think about the process as information-gathering, not networking. She liked that and said:

Networking is about putting yourself out there while information-gathering is about pulling information into you.

It satisfies her need for the meeting to be more about the other person and less about her and her needs. "Gathering information" is a format that lends itself to interviewing someone, asking questions to find out about the other person. Preparing a set of questions is helpful if you're not comfortable winging it. Most people will be happy to talk about themselves.

(I did caution my friend that she might have to ask women more than one question. for whatever reason, women often are much more aware of how much space and time we take up. Just think about how some men sit on the NYC subway - legs wide apart, taking up as much space as they want or think they need. I don't think I've seen more than two or three women do that in the 26 years I've ridden the NYC subways. In the same way, most women may need a prompting question or two to continue describing their experience - and take up the time and space they deserve.)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Clothes and Changing Jobs

Having a dispiriting job is difficult - I often would say "here I am having to be on my best game at the very time I feel so depressed and worthless." That's where "acting as if" comes in. If I change a single thing about my attitude or behavior, there can be ripple effects into the rest of my life. At very least, I'll get new information to notice.

One of the things I've noticed is that dressing well is an essential part of "acting as if" and "envisioning the desired end state" - the way to get to our intention and goal.

There's an expression: "I build self-esteem by doing "esteemable" things." For example, I started years ago making my bed in the morning, as an estimable thing to do. When I walked into my bedroom at night, it looked neat and ready for a new night's sleep. When I didn't make my bed, I felt a little lazy and disappointed in myself, and then at night it felt like I'd never left, as though I missed an entire day. I found myself saying "oh, I don't care" in order to help myself feel OK about not doing that simple thing. And the "I don't care" attitude then got permission to permeate my life. Whereas when I did make the bed, I demonstrated to myself that I DO care, and then that got permission to permeate my life. I do care about how I look, I do care about the work I do, I do care about where I live, I do care about my quality of life and my emotional health and physical health.

After turning 30, I gained a lot of weight and started wearing boring, boxy, neutral clothes in an effort to disappear. Of course, I never did disappear. Unfortunately, I communicated that wish to disappear to the rest of the world and to my psyche. The underlying message? I was ashamed of myself. I didn't care about myself. Other people picked up on my lack of self-esteem. While I'm not certain how that translated into how people treated me, I did sense disrespect and disregard.

Then I started dressing better - nicer quality clothes, more flattering styles, bolder colors, fun shoes, jewelry. I began to feel better about myself, more worthy, more capable, more respected. And about 9 months after I made that shift, I got the job as Executive Director of City Harvest. Plus I'd lost some weight.

I find that when I dress well, I often start to lose weight. And even if I don't, I still look good. I cease being ashamed of myself and no longer want to hide out - simply because I am demonstrating to myself (and the world, against which opinion I still do judge myself) that I care about myself and how I look. I am acknowledging that I am NOT invisible, much as I might pretend I am.

What's key about clothes is that they are something we really can do something about right now, even if we don't have the body or job or house or commute or partner we want. It's totally within our control, right now. So I find it a powerful tool for acting as if I matter, as if I'm worth more than my negative voices tell me I am worth.

That means I don't necessarily have to believe I'm worth it, I just have to act as if I believe it. New action can lead to changed beliefs. If I act (read: dress) as if I'm confident, I may start believing I am. (It's often summarized as "dress for success" - I just get there from the long way around.)

Small changes in what one wears can produce big changes in what one thinks of herself. My sister, for example, never wore jewelry. Through an at-home jewelry party, she bought some. Now she has a bunch of necklaces and earrings, and feels so polished and professional when she wears them. I see a different confidence, a feeling that she's special somehow. Just yesterday, I told her how nice she looked and wondered if she was going somewhere. She wasn't and she didn't feel dressed up, but she was wearing a necklace and it just transformed her appearance. It was an example of how a single change in behavior and dress can completely change how people perceive one as well as one's self-perception.

So go for it! Buy something a little scary to wear - a blue top in one of those teal, turquoise or pool shades. A deep coral skirt or pair of pants. A chunky necklace (if you wear jewelry - and if you don't and you're not constitutionally uncomfortable with it, start wearing some!) or noticeable pair of earrings. Or a long, bright scarf draped around your neck. Some bright shoes - green or deep pink. A scoop or deep V neckline. Even a sheath dress in black or navy with a great necklace. It doesn't matter what your style is, as long as you step a little out of your comfort zone.

Oh, and when people compliment you, just smile and say "thank you!" Eventually, you will be comfortable with the compliments - because your own self-esteem will have risen to match your estimable outward appearance.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Semantic Web

Among my eclectic interests is the semantic web. What, you may ask, is that? According to Project10X's ( ) Semantic Wave 2008 Report: Industry Roadmap to Web 3.0 & Multibillion Dollar Market Opportunities (February 2008), the semantic web is Web 3.0. They define it thus:

The next stage, Web 3.0, is starting now. It is about representing meanings, connecting knowledge, and putting these to work in ways that make our experience of internet more relevant, useful, and enjoyable....Over the next decade, Web 3.0 will spawn multi-billion dollar technology markets that will drive trillion dollar global economic expansions to transform industries as well as our experience of the internet....The basic shift occurring in Web 3.0 is from information-centric to knowledge-centric patterns of computing. Web 3.0 will enable people and machines to connect, evolve, share, and use knowledge on an unprecedented scale and in new ways that make our experience of the internet better....When knowledge is encoded in a semantic form, it becomes transparent and accessible at any time to a variety of reasoning engines.

My friend Eric Hoffer has a blog that discusses semantic technology as a tool to use in business and life (click on the headline to get to his site). One of the people he refers to is Dave McComb of Semantic Arts who gave an excellent introductory presentation at the recent Semantic Technology Conference on the west coast. He says that the possibilities of the semantic web are to:

1) augment existing information - combining anything we know with other things we know and deriving inferences based on what we know.
2) give us freedom from tyranny of traditional schema - allowing us to access information in a variety of ways.
3) provide a way to get past keywords as the approach to search, with all their limitations.

Honestly, I don't really understand all of this. However. I am convinced that this is the kind of technology that will help change the world. So I'm following it and linking up to people who are doing the same.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Focusing on the Next Step

Today's New York Times covered Ana Ivanovic's French Open win yesterday. Last year, Ivanovic made it to the finals where she was soundly defeated by Justine Henin - and her own mental state. Her nerves undid her, as they did also this year in her Australian Open final loss to Maria Sharapova. She says:

I had a few sleepless nights after that, honestly. Part of me was already thinking about possibly holding the trophy, you know.

Then she talks about what was different for her at the French Open.

So this time, I really tried to change that and don't think about that at all and just focus on my game. There were some moments where this thought would still come up, but I managed to control it much better.

What a powerful statement of self-awareness and focus! it's a fantastic illustration of how critical it is for us to focus only on the next step in a process instead of on the result. When Ivanovic thought about the future, she was unable to be fully in the present, to keep her focus on the crucial step of playing her best game.

Fortunately for her, Ivanovic was capable of and willing to examine her losses and learn from them. Her example underscores the value of examining one's thoughts, actions and results to determine how they are all related. Ivanovic clearly identified the key thought that caused her problems, and then worked to quiet it. While she doesn't describe how she controlled her focus on holding the trophy, my guess is she refocused on being in the now and on the next action - her serve, her return, her strategy for the next shot, observing her opponent, and watching the ball's movement.

When I talk to people who hope to change jobs, I counsel them to focus on getting interviews rather than on getting a job. The interview is the next step in the process, after you identify your ideal job and crafts a resume that markets you to get such a job.

Getting the interview gives you a chance to see whether the job is actually a "right fit" for you. Too often, people dismiss a job at first glance because they don't like the job title, or they had a negative experience with a similar organization, or they assume the salary is too low - any number of reasons. However, if there was anything in the job that attracted them and nothing that specifically contradicts several of your "must have" list, I suggest that the person apply and see if s/he gets the interview. If nothing else, you can never have too many interviews. And what a great thing it is to be able to practice your interview skills for jobs you may not want or care about!

Ideally, the interview is the place to find out more about a particular job, to gather the information needed to see whether you want to continue pursuing the opportunity. Yes, the interviewers also are evaluating you and they may decide you aren't right for the job. In that case, be glad that you know now rather than continuing through a process even further. If the interviewers do want to see you again, also be glad for the chance to learn even more about the job and to further explore whether the job is a right fit.

In my experience, titles are usually negotiable, salary ranges often depend on the candidate's qualifications and can be stretched for the right person, and every organization is different with a different culture.

One person almost didn't apply for a job with an international organization because she had a disappointing experience with another one with a similar mission and name. The previous organization offered her less money than she needed and wanted, was inflexible on the title, and had a culture that was less than welcoming to her as an African-American woman.

Fortunately, she focused on simply getting an interview with the second organization. During the interview process, she got more and more excited by the position and the organization. Its culture was significantly different, its staff much more diverse, the title exactly what she wanted, and the money very close to her minimum needs. The job was a "right fit" for her, after all, and the organization felt the same about her.

When last I saw her for lunch, she was glowing. She loves her job, the people she works with, the organizational mission and culture, and her future possibilities.

She is a perfect example of how great results can happen when one focuses on the next step instead of on the possible outcome. It's incredibly powerful to stay in the now rather than dream about the future.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Finding Staff Who Are a "Cultural Fit"

A fellow Maplewoodian posted a fascinating piece on how a new client of his works to find staff that are a cultural fit. Look at for the essential questions they ask.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Having a Conversation to Resolve Conflict

There are tools to use to have a good conversation with someone else – no matter how angry and seemingly intractable they appear. It’s all about really listening to the person – “active listening” is a key tool – and getting very clear about what happened and what could help resolve it now and in the future. By the end of the conversation, you and the other person optimally would be allies in solving the problem. It requires great patience and stretching beyond your comfort zone. And you can do it.

The key to resolving conflict is to do it with the people who are directly involved. E-mail is a no-no. In person, face-to-face conversation is the best method. Once you all have established relationships based on trust, phone conversations can be used. To build trust, you have to talk to people directly, in person.

If all parties involved stop listening to each other and refuse to accommodate one another, a no-win situation exists. This is a classic stand-off situation. Someone has to make the first move. Making the first move is difficult when one is “sensitive to conflict” – it’s very scary to approach someone who has expressed his/her anger or displeasure in some way. Yet that’s exactly what has to happen.

The Process

1. Approach the person to ask if they have some time to talk, either then or within a day. Remember, you’re asking them for something, not making a demand.

2. Thank them for making the time (whenever it is).

3. When you begin talking, start by summarizing what you believe is the immediate problem. For example, “I wanted to talk to you about the recent meeting. When I read your e-mail, I got it that you were upset at not being informed about it. I also read that you wish we had a better process for communicating these things.”

It’s critical that you use “I” statements. You have no idea what they mean, how they feel, what they intend. And if the person is angry, s/he will really get angry if you try to tell them what they meant. So instead of saying “You were really upset about that” you can say “It seemed to me that the situation upset you.” This phrasing depersonalizes it for the other person and allows them to validate your perception or not.

4. Immediately follow this statement with a question to check out the validity of your perception. “Have I understood your concerns?”

5. Allow the person their response:
Anger - “NO! you don’t understand” – you can say “I want to understand. Can you explain it to me again?” When they’ve expressed it again, say “I hear you saying…xyz. Is that what you mean?” Your goal is to get them to agree that you have understood what they are saying.
Acceptance – “Yes, that’s it.” – you say, “Great. I’m glad I understand.”
Correction – “you’ve got part of it, but not all of it” – you can say “What haven’t I understood?”
When they say the clarification, repeat it after them saying “This is what I hear you saying…abc. Is that right?”

Whatever the response, you want to get to the point where you understand the other person’s issue to that other person’s satisfaction. Repeating back to them what they’ve said is the key to “active listening” – it’s also known as “mirroring.”

7. Once you both are on the same page, you can say “I’m sorry this happened. And I wonder if there is something I can do now to rectify the situation – if not this one, then in the future.” You’re hoping to learn from them what they need. You can even ask directly “what do you need from me in the future in a similar situation?”

8. Again, allow them their response. Usually by this time, the person isn’t as angry. If s/he still is angry, the chances are s/he won’t want to “fix you” or “tell you how to make it better.” If that’s the case, your next step is to suggest something you could have done. For example, “would it have helped if I sent out a notice to the senior management group after my initial conversation?”

9. If the person isn’t angry and does answer your question, use the “mirroring” technique again to clarify.

10. When you think you both understand what the solution is, summarize it. “So here’s what I think we agreed: xxx. Did I get it all?” Somehow, check it out with the other person.

11. You then make a commitment to the person. “OK, I commit to letting you know well in advance of anything that is likely to need the male health educators. And I also commit to talking it over with you to make sure I get your ideas and that the timing works with your health education schedule. How does that sound?” Get the other person’s to agree your commitment will meet his/her needs.

If you can’t make that commitment, make another one. Say clearly, “I will try to talk to you individually but it might not always be possible. However, I will definitely bring it up at a senior management meeting and get your input there.” Again, get the other person’s agreement.

12. Hopefully, by this time, you can then make a suggestion about a process or system that could be applied across the group. For example, “Do you think it would be useful to talk about this situation with the others in the senior management group, so we can all figure out how to communicate better with each other?”

If the other person agrees, you two can work together to draft a short agenda item and send it to Lorraine to get her to put it on the group meeting agenda. (All group members have the ability to put items on the agenda, I believe. Optimally, those agendas will be distributed before the meeting so people have a chance to think about the various topics. It will make the meetings more efficient.)

• Pay no attention to their body language. Pay attention to your own. Sit with feet on floor and hands on table. Avoid crossing arms and legs. Look the person in the eye.
• Bring a piece of paper and a pen in case you are moved to write something down. It helps the other person feel heard.
• Focus on what the other person is saying. Avoid thinking about your response. Avoid defensiveness. Avoid accusation. Focus on solving the problem.
• Keep your focus on the goal – resolving conflict, building trust, and establishing forward movement for your relationship and possibly for the entire group.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Thinking Through an Offer of Coaching

A recent acquaintance of mine who lives in Scotland is hoping to relocate to the US. She apparently has a line of a job in HR - her current field - as well as an offer of coaching to help her pursue her dream of becoming a Life Coach. She asked my help in evaluating the coaching offer. Here's part of what I wrote:

That's exciting about a job in HR in the US - it's a great way to start you on your way to realizing your dream. Being in HR can give you tremendous credibility as you start on your coaching path. It will be important to think about how to package your experience as particularly relevant to coaching and helping people reach their own goals and dreams.

That's part of the context in which I'd assess the coaching offer. First, I would say that to my mind it doesn't matter whether you have a US-based coach or not. I do think you will have to have a coach, in order to have the experience of being coached - for three reasons.

1) You can use the support of having a coach help you set goals and reach them.

2) It's a GREAT learning experience! You will learn an enormous amount about how to coach from your coach - techniques and tools, philosophy, things that work and don't work with you (and possibly with your clients), getting a feel for the way a coach facilitates your own process of setting and reaching goals, the shifts you need to make in response to a client's shifts, etc.

3) Your prospective clients will be impressed and more comfortable because they know you are experienced in the coaching process.

A possible 4th reason is that by having a coach certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), you will be set up to meet one of its qualifications if you decide to go to coaching school and get ICF certification yourself. This link tells you the why and how of ICF credentialing at various levels. Click on the PDF version to read it.

You'll see that being coached is part of the package, either as part of your coaching program or to submit as part of a "Portfolio" application for people who don't study in an ICF-accredited program. Also, you'll need 2 recommendations from qualified coaches, meaning ICF-certified coaches. So if you're interested in becoming certified, make SURE this coach has ICF credentials.

Here are some other things to consider in terms of evaluating this coaching opportunity:

* What kind of business do you envision yourself creating? Your own business from the beginning, or starting out under the auspices of another entity? There are certainly more and more entities that use coaches - and it could be a good way to start. Examples are: , and It's not as widespread as I think it will be in the future - maybe that's a goal? To set up your own coaching company with other coaches? Dream big!

* Does the prospective coach has experience similar to what you envision?
Is s/he part of a larger organization or does s/he work on their own? If the experience is different, can s/he point you to other people, can s/he be a good resource for you? If s/he knows the coaching process well, then s/he should be able to help you reach your goals.

* Has this a person reached his/her own goals? Get a bio. How did s/he start? Did s/he have to weave their past experience into a set of credentials to set up their own coaching business? If you have a choice, choose someone who started as a coach in a way similar to how you'd like to start.

* Does this person work with and understand entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship? Being a Life Coach is essentially an entrepreneurial enterprise, and it would be ideal if not essential to have someone familiar with the processes and tools of setting up an enterprise. Some coaches focus only on coaching people to reach goals within a workplace - that's not your issue (unfortunately, there are very few executive coaches on staff anywhere, although that may change over time).

Usually, the first session is a free one to check for "chemistry." That's the time to ask these questions. If the chemistry isn't right, move on. The experience will move you that much closer to getting the right coach for you.

I hope this is helpful to you as you assess this offer. I will say that the price is reasonable so if you can afford it, go for it. I suggest that you wait until you get an offer in the US - if the offer will still stand, great. If it won't, you certainly can find someone else to help you.