Leadership Coaching

Leena Mathew and Winifred Neisser, Board President and Secretary of Angel City Chorale, were enthusiastic about the chorale’s fast growing success in the community, and led a Board Development and Fund Development project to keep the momentum going. With ESC’s help, the chorale now has the tools to sustain their programs and concerts well into the future.


After Angel City Chorale completed a triumphant holiday concert in December 2016, the board felt uplifted by their success and were determined to kick off the 2017 season with the same great energy. Their programming had expanded in the past several years with the launch of their YouTube channel and the start of their international tours. As a working board, the board leadership knew it was time to review what went well and make a plan to sustain their success. Angel City Chorale is a multicultural ensemble of 160 men and women that reflects the spirit of Los Angeles, building community through its membership, music and outreach activities. Board President Leena Mathew and Secretary Winifred Neisser felt passionately that the chorale was an enthusiastic, industrious community of singers, volunteers and supporters. They organized their fellow board members and reached out to ESC to start a blended Board Development and Fund Development engagement in order to build the infrastructure they needed to deepen the chorale’s impact.


When the project began in February 2017, Angel City Chorale was running lean with just their founding Artistic Director, a Managing Director and a Business Manager. There were no additional staff in place to execute all of their activities. Their only “staff” were an all-volunteer board and operations committee. Leena said “We were all wearing so many hats, but I knew as a board, we needed to think about what our real responsibilities were to the chorale.” She understood in theory that they needed to go beyond the day-to-day concerns and focus on governance and strategy but in practice it was much harder to implement. All of the board members had day jobs but were still putting in over 20 hours a week to run the chorale. ESC consultants Susan Barton, Lad Lorenz and Nancy Sacks were sympathetic to their harried schedules, guiding a small committee made up of board members and chorale members to hold monthly meetings to identify and discuss the chorale’s most pressing issues.


At first, the Angel City Chorale team was challenged by ESC’s coaching-based approach in which our consultants “guide from the side” and encourage clients to look within to find the solutions that are the best fit for their organization’s culture and mission. Winifred explained “It was frustrating. We wondered why our consultants weren’t just telling us what to do! But we realized that’s what our team needed to go through. To feel that initial frustration because then we took ownership of our challenges and created deadlines for ourselves. There was no easy way around, and our consultants were supportive of that and kept the process going.” Soon, the board determined their own exact goals: for board development, they wanted to establish clear leadership roles that were independent of the chorale’s day-to-day work; for fund development, they wanted to institute a fund development strategy, something the chorale had never done since its founding in 1993. As part of these efforts, the board would also work on their overall organizational development and communication strategies.


The committee found that even with these goals in mind, it was challenging to manage the workload. They worked with Vicky Foxworth, ESC’s Vice President of Organizational Consulting to develop a solution: form targeted subcommittees. Leena was thrilled, “Now we could divide resources, focus our thinking, strategize and create strong plans. We were more accountable for specific tasks.” She served at the helm on the board development efforts with Lad; Winifred led the fund development work with Nancy; and as the ESC team lead, Susan helped manage the goals and activities of both groups. As a result, the board made significant progress, including a successful fundraising campaign — exceeding their goals to support a trip for the Amy Foundation Youth Choir, who are based in Cape Town, South Africa. The youth singers will travel to Los Angeles for a week-long program culminating in Angel City Chorale’s 25th Year Anniversary spring concert in June 2018.


Now twelve months after they first began working with ESC, the board is riding a new wave of energy and motivation. The ESC consultant team recently facilitated a successful board retreat at which the board unanimously approved their board development and fund development plans. Leena admires how far they have come as a board, “We do what we love because we love singing, but now I feel we can do it well. It’s as our Artistic Director Sue says: ‘Don’t just hold the note, sustain it!’ Finally, we aren’t just holding down the fort, rather, we are building the infrastructure we need to sustain the chorale!” Everyone is excited for the next steps. They plan to move from a volunteer-driven business model towards a more formalized infrastructure with fully paid staff. Thanks to the support of the ESC consultant team, Angel City Chorale now has the blueprint to achieve this goal and grow the organization effectively and efficiently for many years to come.