Why did we become coaches? Most of us did so to improve others’ lives, right? I sure did! That’s why I have dedicated most of my career to coaching social leaders. Who are social leaders, you may ask? Social leaders are people or organizations who dedicate their lives to making this a better world. They include:

  • Nonprofit leaders
  • Philanthropists
  • Social entrepreneurs
  • Social Innovators
  • Changemakers
  • Teachers
  • Educators
  • Activists
  • Community leaders
  • Civic leaders
  • Coaches
  • Mentors
  • Health and wellness professionals
  • Corporate responsibility professionals
  • Human service providers
  • Volunteers
  • Creators
  • People committed to sustainability and the environment
  • Generally awesome people who want to grow and learn

Here are my top 4 reasons why I love coaching social leaders. I hope they inspire you to embrace pro-bono and non-profit coaching too!

Social Leaders’ Dreams are Big and Their Impact is Even Bigger

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a client’s newspaper editorial. She was making a cogent case to her fellow citizens to rethink her country’s entire educational system. It moved me, knowing she is such a credible agent of change for her people. As her coach, I help her pursue her dream of human-centered education for all children.

Our client’s dreams are at the core of our coaching. Is there a more powerful dream than changing the world? Through our coaching of social leaders, we can help make the seemingly impossible, possible. Coaching these types of leaders truly has a multiplying effect on society. For example, when my education reformer client implements action plans we have co-created, thousands of under-served kids and their families benefit.

Social Leaders Make me Grow as Both a Coach and a Person

I am a different person because I coach social leaders. Coaching people tackling the world’s most complex problems has taught me so much about empathy and sustainable approaches. Social leaders serve diverse communities and come from all kinds of academic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of them are at the forefront of new ways of thinking about the world. They are generally optimists who persevere against the odds.

Imagine a deep coaching conversation with a child abuse survivor who is now working to reform the child protection system in his state. How would it impact you as a coach? As a person? These coaching interactions transform us. They broaden our mind and touch our soul. They remind us that there are many good people in this beautiful and complicated world.

Social Leaders Tend to be More Open to the Coaching Process

How does coaching social leaders differ from coaching corporate executives? I am often asked this question. I find that social leaders tend to be more open to the process and willing to explore. ICF’s 11 Core Competencies often allude to co-creation, experimentation, and risk taking. Most social leaders already operate in “risky” environments, where there are no clear answers. Professionals like doctors or teachers never know what the day will bring, so they are comfortable with uncertainty.

On the other hand, “uncertainty is the enemy of business” is a widely held belief. Thus, corporate leaders may be more focused on “results” and are more risk-averse in the approaches they are willing to pursue in the coaching relationship.

Social Leaders Really Need Coaches

An at-risk youth non-profit Executive Director recently said to me “I am always fighting fires and things are never stable. I am exhausted.” Saving the world is a challenging and stressful undertaking! Social leaders typically perform miracles with very little staff, funding, time or self-care. They need coaches to help them learn how to maximize both their financial and emotional resources. If a social leader already performs miracles on her own, imagine what she could do with a coach?

Coaching social leaders has enriched my life. Let it enrich yours, too. Try pro-bono coaching through the ICF Foundation and your local ICF Ignite program. You will not regret it.


Cristina Custodio is the Social Leadership Coach. She helps social leaders realize their dream of a better world, in their own style and on their own terms. She has over 20 years’ experience in leadership and management. Since 2011, she has coached social leaders in education, philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, community development, environment, public health, STEM and the arts. She is a PCC (Professional Certified Coach by the International Coach Federation) with a BA in History & Literature and MBA from Harvard University. You can follow her blog in either English or Spanish at www.thesocialleadershipcoach.com.