New Chapter Coaching was launched in 2008, during the second largest financial crisis in recent memory. Now, the business is helping nonprofits survive the current crisis.
Based in Columbia, the nonprofit consulting firm is run by President and CEO Carolyn Sullivan. It offers customized services for teams large and small, ranging from executive retreats and team building clinics to long-term planning.
Sullivan’s business primarily serves local organizations, including the city of Columbia, but it also works with organizations as far away as North Carolina and California. Sullivan limits the number of clients to about 15 at any given time to ensure quality service.
New Chapter Coaching’s overarching mission is to build a better world by increasing the effectiveness of nonprofit leaders and the impact of the organizations they serve, Sullivan said.
She typically spends her days working closely with her team on client projects and developing the business. The work can range from strategic planning to team building and executive transitions.
“Helping people is my soul work,” she said.
The most successful project to date is the executive roundtable. Ten executives come together once a month for nine months as a trust-based, collegial community. They talk about best practices, share challenges and find ways to support each other.
Sullivan started New Chapter Coaching the day Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, which heralded the 2008 recession. She left her job as director of affiliate development at NARAL Pro-Choice America to assist nonprofit organizations that found themselves struggling to keep their doors open.
“I remember knocking on the door of a longtime, well-respected executive director in town and telling her the mission of my business,” Sullivan said. “The response at the time from most nonprofits was that they were fighting to keep their doors open.”
She added: “The kind of work I was doing at that time was being cut from their budget.”
Sullivan began by targeting two areas — the nonprofit executive coaching she does now and helping older adults who were successful in their fields transition to the nonprofit sector.
Although she had the full support of her spouse and money set aside to start the business, the first few months did not generate much revenue. Eventually, the demand for helping adults transition into the nonprofit sector was crowded out by the demand for consulting and leadership coaching.
In 2009, Sullivan knew she had to innovate. People liked the service she had to offer, but they didn’t have room in their budgets to hire her.
She pursued an idea she had kicked around for many years — a nonprofit executive roundtable. She set it up as a low-dollar, high-return program.
“That really was the seed that grew New Chapter Coaching, that single idea,” she said. “Sometimes all it takes is one good idea to grow a business.”
The first roundtable drew 10 executives with different experience levels, some with 20 years of experience, as well as those with none.
“What was magical about that experience was the sharing that everyone did, including the two young and the two senior, and how much they learned from each other,” Sullivan said.
Since then, a roundtable has been held every 12 to 18 months. During the pandemic, Sullivan has moved it to an online space rather than postpone it.
She accelerated the program as well, shaving the length to four months and holding two meetings per month.
She calls the accelerated roundtable “a resounding success,” with an executive who first attended during the 2008 financial crisis returning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re in a crisis; we all need more help rather than less help,” she said.
Olivia Swanson is the training and development coordinator for New Chapter Coaching. Swanson participated in New Chapter Coaching’s strengths-based team-building service, which uses the CliftonStrengths Assessment.
The CliftonStrengths Assessment is a 177-question-long assessment that identifies an individual’s natural strengths and talents. New Chapter Coaching shows teams how to work with their strengths and the insights from the assessment.
“I loved how it helped us achieve our mission, and I saw it in practice,” Swanson said. “I saw how what New Chapter Coaching taught us made a difference.”
After seeing New Chapter Coaching’s results, Swanson had wanted to join their team so that she too could help nonprofits thrive. Their paths would later cross again, and it was meant to be, Swanson said. There was a position open at that time, and Swanson has now worked at New Chapter Coaching for just over a year.
After the initial stress, 2020 turned out to be a good year for Sullivan. The first round of PPP loans helped the business stay afloat, and it began to sustain itself soon afterward.
“If you interviewed me in March or April, I would’ve said I’m worried about my business going out to sea. As nonprofits go, so goes my business,” she said.
Sullivan noticed that nonprofits seem to have fared better in this recession than in 2008.
“I don’t know of a single nonprofit that shuttered in 2020,” she said.
DeAnna Alonso, CEO of the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association, has been a client of New Chapter Coaching for six years. She first brought in Sullivan for team-building events and strategic planning.
The association is now on its third strategic plan with New Chapter Coaching and is continuing to work with Sullivan to cope with the pandemic.
“I was discouraged trying to figure out how we’ll do this,” Alonso said. “She really talked me off the ledge.”
Alonso had not needed to consider how to provide her service in a virtual space before. New Chapter Coaching has assisted her in transitioning to working from home and continuing to provide her services online in a way that won’t let her clients down.
New Chapter Coaching Associate Carrie Collier has worked with Sullivan since August 2019. When she started, she was the only person working with Carolyn. Now, they have doubled in size and have a four-member team.
“We love working together. Our team is a really unique team that works really hard and effectively together,” Collier said. “The kind of work we do is fun, it’s exciting, it’s creative.”
Collier hopes that New Chapter Coaching will continue to increase the types of services it provides. She hopes to increase the number of clients and strategic partners it works with so it can address a wider range of needs for nonprofits.
Hoping to continue her growth through 2021, Sullivan plans to expand her internal services to make the business a one-stop shop for nonprofits. She hopes to expand into financial advising and bookkeeping and then expand her marketing.
Through New Chapter Coaching, Sullivan wants to continue to increase the resilience of nonprofits in the community and to make sure they’re ready when the next crisis comes along.
“We don’t want to be the best kept secret. We’re doing great work and want to get the word out about what we’re doing,” she said.