I only work with nonprofits. I’ve spent my whole three-decade career in the nonprofit world. This is where my heart is.
Seven years ago, on May 22, 2015, I officially formed SparkNonprofit to develop fundraising strategies so nonprofits raise more money and build stronger relationships. Last year, I added a new service: executive coaching. I help nonprofit CEOs, directors, and senior professionals envision a better future, achieve more, and find peace, joy, and satisfaction.
What I’m here to do is help people figure out how to be more effective and more satisfied. Here’s a look back on my path to nonprofit consultant and leadership coach and what I’ve learned along the way, as well as some advice for budding solopreneurs.
Why start my own business?
I liked the idea of working for a lot of different nonprofits, helping them in their growth and development. I saw and valued the potential not just in the nonprofits, but in the people — the employees and the board members. I had been a consultant with two other companies. In many ways, SparkNonprofit was similar to that work. This time, though, it’s my company. I love the flexibility to choose which projects to work on and to only accept business that is a good fit for the client and me.
Calling my business “Allison Bough Consulting” was out of the question. It’s not about me. It’s about the people I serve. “Spark” represents energy and momentum, innovative ideas, and new approaches. “Nonprofit” represents my clients.
How has SparkNonprofit evolved?
Initially, I was strictly a fundraising consultant. I was delighted to help An Achievable Dream get started on planned giving. They received about $3.5 million in planned gifts within the first year after we began working together. I also was grateful to have the opportunity to help Ohef Sholom Temple raise almost $2 million for their capital campaign.
Building on success in my fundraising consulting work, I knew I could do more. I became a coach so I could help fundraising professionals benefit from guided introspection.
I know nonprofit people who are successful fundraisers or executives. And I see them wanting to be even better. What could I do to support them in that effort? I realized the power coaching had to help transform your professional life.
How coaching helps you with your emotions and awareness
As a business owner, fundraiser, and leadership coach, I’ve learned the importance of good communication and of being curious rather than judgmental. I’ve also learned about letting go of things you can’t control.
We each have the power to control our thinking, beliefs, and reactions. Being frustrated with board members who won’t help with fundraising won’t control how they act. Only they are responsible for their actions. What I can control is how I think about them or how I react to what I perceive as their reluctance to fundraise.
With coaching, you can develop awareness around your own thinking and beliefs. That frees you up to choose how you want to react, instead of just running on autopilot.
One of the great coaching questions is “Is that really true?” Is it really true that we don’t have time to think, or is that the story that we believe? Once you slow down and develop the awareness that you’re telling yourself this story, you might look at that and say that’s not true. I don’t have to rush. Is it really true that your nonprofit has to participate in Giving Tuesday? Is it really true that you must have a dinner and silent auction event each year?
You have the power to stop activities that are not serving you. You can give yourself permission to relax your standards or let some things go. Coaching honors who you are as an individual and what your circumstances are.
Advice for people who want to go into business for themselves
- Go for it. Be brave and take the leap. Trust in yourself.
- Find your community. Find other solopreneurs and fellow business owners. Most people are generous about sharing what they’ve learned along the way.
- Make connections through professional associations. You just have to be willing to make a call or shoot someone an email.
- Get free advice from business experts through SCORE, a volunteer network dedicated to helping small businesses.
Where do I want to be in 10 years?
I love what I’m doing, so more of this, please.
Five years or 10 years from now, I would like to be doing exactly what I’m doing now: working with great people who want to achieve more and continuing to grow as a coach and a fundraiser.
My superpower sits at the intersection of teaching, coaching, and helping develop people’s potential. I’m committed to holding a positive vision of them and helping them achieve what their goals are. It’s not about what I want for them; it’s about what they want to achieve.
I feel incredibly lucky. The work I’m doing now is the culmination of a lot of different experiences in my life. At the time I was going through those experiences, I didn’t necessarily have a clear goal in mind. My vision of what I could be and do has evolved over time. But it’s still in this realm of consulting, coaching, and teaching.
Want to learn more about leadership coaching or fundraising?
I’d love to chat with you about your needs and answer your questions. Sign up for a free call.