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Capacity-building as a journey — change from the inside out.

Have you ever embarked on a significant journey? How did you feel at the end? What were the takeaways?

I recently walked 507 miles on the Camino Del Norte in northern Spain. When I arrived at the final destination of Santiago de Compostela, I felt euphoria at completing the journey but didn’t experience a massive lightning bolt of revelation. Instead, I realized that the actual reward was each step I had taken through forests, beaches, mountains, fields and towns.

Similarly, each year at Spitfire, I have the benefit of building journeys for nonprofit leaders through our 10-month communication-centered leadership program, the Executive Training Program (ETP). These leaders learn, practice, explore and grow together, walking away at the end hopefully without any blisters and instead with new relationships for continued support.

  • ETP’s cohort model brings nonprofit leaders together with their peers and fosters sharing similar and different experiences — most of which strategic communication can assist them with addressing to help build the world we all want to see. Last year, nonprofit leaders from eight countries came together to listen, learn and share insights from work issues including migration, economic development and climate change. They dug into ways to explain — create messages about — these complex issues.
  • Rather than broadly focusing on topics like farmworkers’ rights and equitable food systems, they identified audiences they most need to reach to make a difference and built strategies to connect with people in those audiences.
  • As they considered reaching audiences to support youth leadership, solve homelessness and end violence, they focused on specific asks that will increase the likelihood of audiences taking action.

Complete strangers before the training program, together these nonprofit executives addressed big challenges and refined strategies. They figuratively took those steps along trails and through forests and towns. And now they are a close-knit group that experienced learning together and continue to support each other.

ETP’s intentional approach to connect people via learning ensures ongoing collaboration following Spitfire’s in-person trainings and virtual skill-building sessions. It balances group learning with individual coaching, which Spitfire does to guide each participant’s personal growth and address their organization’s specific needs.

Here are details from few ETP participants about their journeys:

ShalaneThe power of communications to influence action and drive social change is undeniable. However, as a nonprofit leader, having the time, space and presence to hone this skill set is a luxury. The ETP program created a safe space for me and other leaders to practice critical skills with like-minded social change leaders. Skills such as ethical storytelling, messaging, and audience identification are examples of those I immediately shared and implemented within my organization. On a personal level, I’ve gained clarity in structuring visionary speeches and powerful presentations, thus boosting my confidence in an otherwise challenging area. With support from my coach Adam and access to a library of practical materials, ETP has better prepared my organization to engage diverse audiences and drive meaningful action.

Shalane Yuen, Founding Executive Director,Trevor Noah Foundation (South Africa)


JudithAs an executive director with 10 years’ experience, I’ve participated in many professional development trainings. The ETP was the one experience that showed me how to impact change through different pieces of training and personal coaching. I was able to build a strong network, grow as a more well-rounded leader and cultivate my organization. I was honored to learn alongside other executives worldwide, engaging with each other and creating connections. The one topic that made the most significant impact is ethical storytelling. Storytelling is a way to communicate and transform minds. Through ethical storytelling, we built those connections and understanding of one another: who we are, what we do, where we serve and why we do this work. 

  Judith Ortiz, Executive Director, Monument Impact (Concord, California)


SimonThe ETP program has been a great opportunity for us as an organization to build our capacity and for myself personally as a leader. As a relatively new executive director, it has really helped me consider aspects of leading a nonprofit from experts whom I would never normally have access to. Developing a communications strategy and a branding framework were the most inspiring areas of learning, and I am looking forward to developing these within JustLife over the next few months. The way we learned matched my learning style — short workshops with time to practically try things out, alongside a group of fellow executive directors with expert support from my coach.

Simon Gale, Chief Executive, JustLife (United Kingdom)


At its core, ETP is a program that focuses on communication skills vital to effective leadership. Recognizing that everyone learns in different ways, the ETP curriculum combines in-person sessions, virtual trainings and one-to-one coaching to foster shared learning and collaboration while providing individual, custom support that helps the learning to stick. Post-journey evaluations told us at Spitfire that almost 60% of participants said ETP exceeded their expectations. We learned that 80% saw significant growth or moderate growth as individuals. In measuring communication changes for their organization, 90% saw significant or moderate improvement. And almost 50% saw significant or moderate impact for their broader field — an area where we also seek progress.   

Over nearly a year, I journeyed with ETP participants, and I grew close to many of them as I coached and trained. I’m grateful we’ll stay in touch, whether by LinkedIn or the occasional email or phone call, because I also learned during the journey with them. Their stories and experiences connect to many of my own, and I will carry them with me. As I noted in this previous blog post, participants and I shared a journey to create a better world.

I will leave you with a last word from one ETP graduate:

“ETP has been a transformative journey for me, cultivating not just my leadership skills but a deepened an understanding of strategic communication. As a beneficiary, I’ve witnessed firsthand the positive impact of this program on both personal and organizational growth. And beyond the program, I have joined a network of inspirational leaders driving social change globally.”

If you or a colleague is interested in this journey for 2024, which will begin in May, or if you’re a funder who wants to support participants in the program, please learn more here or contact me.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 13, 2024 at 03:48 am and is filed under Coalition, connection and network building. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.