The Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation’s Nonprofit Executive Coaching program allows nonprofit executives in Chicago to access business leaders and experienced mentors, while alumni volunteers provide an invaluable resource to advance a cause they believe in. Alumni are matched with nonprofit executives for an initial six-month coaching term.

In this Q&A, Josh Gantz, ’12, chief financial officer at Ambulatory Management Solutions, shares insight from his experience serving as a nonprofit executive coach for 826Chi, a nonprofit creative writing, tutoring, and publishing center dedicated to amplifying the voices of Chicago youth.

Q: How did you hear about the Rustandy Center and what drew you to apply for the Nonprofit Executive Coaching program? Josh Gantz

The Rustandy Center was founded after I left Booth. I thought it was a great change, an evolution from the unorganized group that were interested in impact. I believe I was on the email list from day one. I wanted to apply to the coaching program because there’s a similar thing called Board Fellows that you can do as a Booth student. I did this as a first-year and then as a second-year I helped with the program. I enjoyed my Board Fellows experience because it enabled me to work with the executive director of a nonprofit in a consulting/mentorship role. So, as an alumnus, when I heard of the Nonprofit Executive Coaching program, it definitely appealed to me. The coaching program was a great option because it was so easy to get involved. I submitted an application and then I was connected to a nonprofit that I knew wanted my help.

Q: How do you think you’ve made an impact in your role as a nonprofit executive coach?

I remember halfway through the coaching program the Rustandy Center organized a check in for both sides—Booth alumni and executive directors. This was a great experience because all of the alumni participating in the program in 2017 came together to share their experiences. Half of the group served as consultants for their nonprofits and were helping them redesign their marketing plan or do some sort of project-based consulting work. The other half was much more individualized and the Booth alumnus was serving the role of mentor to the executive director. One role was not better than the other, but rather it was clear that the program allowed the flexibility for each pair to figure out the right balance: a combination of the need from the nonprofit and/or executive director combined with what the Booth alumnus had to offer.

In my case, the executive director of 826CHI, Kendra, needed a bit of finance help. We spent about a half hour talking about budgets and finances and then the rest of the six months we focused on her. We worked together to help her cultivate the best version of herself possible, which reflected in making the nonprofit the best version it could be as well.

Q: What have you learned from the coaching program? Has your involvement in that program had an impact on your professional role?

This experience has absolutely had an impact on my professional role. Oftentimes there are problems in the for-profit sector that seem to be solvable with money and profit-driven projects, looking at incentives and compensation structures. These things aren’t always relevant in the nonprofit world, where you have to think about problems differently.

Despite some differences, I noticed that Kendra and I have the same problems in our organizations; however, we think differently about the solutions. For example, problems like motivating staff in a mission-driven organization or how to balance multiple constituencies. Kendra recognizes that there are ways beyond money to motivate and retain staff. I learned a lot through this different perspective. It requires a different way of thinking and a refreshing way to look at the same problem.

For profit companies still need to understand mission-driven thinking. Nonprofits need to continue to learn more about for-profit and providing a service or “product” that donors can get excited about and want to donate toward. There is a lot of shared learning, and the best organization is going to pull from both perspectives.

This program forces two different perspectives to learn from each other in a mentor/mentee relationship. I legitimately believe that I got more out of the program than Kendra did. This was a great opportunity for learning.

Q: I understand that you currently serve as a board member on the 826CHI board. What made you want to join the board? 

One thing I really appreciated about the program were clear start and end dates. Like a lot of relationships, it doesn’t just have to taper off. Because we had a clean end to the program, we were able to wrap it up nicely and have a party to celebrate the great six months we shared.

Kendra and I wrapped up my time at the end of June. We touched base again in September for coffee and then in October I went to the 826CHI gala. During this event, I felt like I was missing out on everything and realized how much I missed working with the team. I reached out to Kendra to get involved again and asked her how I would best serve the nonprofit. She shared with me that they had an open role on their board. In January 2018, I became a board member and attended my first meeting.

Now, as a board member, I have to catch myself and remember that my focus is not on just Kendra but the organization as a whole. This is a new relationship that allows me to expand my knowledge of the nonprofit and help them in other capacities.

Q: How did your Booth MBA prepare you to serve effectively as a nonprofit executive coach?

The Booth MBA is much more than just looking at income statements, etc. A lot of it was learning to find answers, ask questions, and ultimately challenge everything. So when you find yourself with a problem and you think you’ve identified the cause, you ask questions like, what evidence do we have to prove that was the problem? How else can we evaluate the problem to come to possible solutions?

As a Booth student, I had access to a bunch of different speakers, case studies, similar problems and challenges. I was able to offer Kendra these resources. For example, she had questions about employee motivation, and I had taken a course called Power and Influence. I shared with her a chapter from a book that we read for the class.

Q: Would you recommend the Nonprofit Executive Coaching program or nonprofit board service to other alumni? And if so, why?

Absolutely. Being in this program fed the social impact part of my soul. A lot of Booth alumni have that itch, and we don’t always know how to scratch it. This program is a great way to give back in a really individual way. And you will learn a ton.

To learn more about the Rustandy Center’s Nonprofit Executive Coaching program, visit the Rustandy Center website.