Idaho Leads is a program for nonprofit leadership to learn crucial leadership concepts unique to leading a nonprofit organization.
Idaho Nonprofit Center’s Idaho Leads program helps build strong leaders

Nonprofit organizations fill a critical role in Idaho. They work to solve complex systemic issues such as housing, homelessness, and hunger. There are nonprofits that bolster typically underfunded arts and cultural opportunities for Idahoans, while others help provide healthcare, transportation, and more for those in need.

In short, nonprofits do a little bit of everything, and it adds up to a lot. Nonprofits not only provide essential services but offer careers and contribute to the economy. There are more than 2,500 nonprofits in Idaho, and the sector is the fifth largest employment sector in the state.

The success of nonprofits can help build a healthier Idaho.

Like any organization, nonprofits need strong leadership to achieve their missions. A challenge is they usually lack resources and organizational infrastructure to develop and grow leaders that for-profit corporations can access. Nonprofit leaders also wear many hats and can be overwhelmed, which can lead to burnout, turnover and less-effective results.

Kevin Bailey

“I really buy into this idea that nonprofit leaders are stretched pretty thin and, if they’re not taking care of themselves, filling themselves up in some ways, we’re going to lose them,” said Kevin Bailey, CEO of the Idaho Nonprofit Center. “When we lose good leaders, our organizations suffer. Our communities suffer. The big, tough, hairy problems don’t get progress made on them or solved.”

Bailey and the Idaho Nonprofit Center (INC) created the Idaho Leads program for that reason. Idaho Leads is a leadership development program is a cohort-designed program for nonprofit executive directors and CEOs to learn crucial leadership concepts unique to leading a nonprofit organization. Idaho nonprofit leaders can apply for the program until April 22.


INC spent a year or two developing the concept and during that pilot stage Bailey had an a-ha moment. A prominent nonprofit leader that had done a great job of scaling their organization attended and confided she was close to leaving due to stress and burnout.

“We almost lost the leader,” he said. “That learning cohort helped. The sense of having a community, having the skills and the resources to really center on. It helped the leader focus on what she was good at and passionate about. It recentered and re-energized her and gave a new lease on leadership. The person is still in their role two-plus years later.”

That experience was the proof that Idaho Leads needed to fully launch. Bailey reached out to the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health (BCIFH) and asked for support. BCIFH Executive Director Kendra Witt-Doyle provided a $100,000 grant to support the program for two years and it make it affordable ($500) for leaders to participate. The funding came from a donation that BCIF received from a MacKenzie Scott donation in late 2022.

“Nonprofit organizations do so much for our state,” Witt-Doyle said. “The Idaho Leads program is a way to help build effective leadership at these organizations so they can fulfill their missions and improve the quality of life in Idaho.”


Scott Smith is the executive director of the Bingham Crisis Center in Blackfoot, a facility that provides advocacy, counseling, and shelter at no cost to those affected by violence, abuse or trauma. He attended Idaho Leads last season and called the program transformational.

“I went in there thinking I was a leader,” Smith said. “I came out knowing I was a leader.”

Scott Smith is the executive director of the Bingham Crisis Center.

Smith said many nonprofit leaders, because they wear so many hats, can suffer from the imposter syndrome. He found he wasn’t alone in that regard in the coaching sessions and cohort meetings as part of the program, which allowed him to connect with peers, network, as well as share experiences.

“One of the biggest things that I learned out of Idaho Leads was that I do bring something to the table,” he said. “It was that empowerment that I needed to be a little more focused on how I can directly help the organization and my staff.”

Designing Idaho Leads for top leadership position as opposed to boards hopefully will strengthen Idaho’s nonprofit organizations.

“Our mission is centered around educating, advocating, collaborating for stronger nonprofits,” Bailey said. “If we’re aiming at that, it was so obvious that we needed to impact directly nonprofit leaders in terms of executive directors and CEOs. That real change, real organizational growth, scaling to meet complex challenges starts with the leaders, the people who are paid to sit in that seat 40-plus hours a week. This program, to me, is the core of our mission.”


Bailey not only helped create Idaho Leads but he participates, too. He wanted to experience what leaders are going through and improve his own leadership skills.

“I need the coaching, the community and peers,” he said. “This helps me evaluate my own leadership style and continue to grow.”

Smith almost didn’t ask his board of directors if he could spend $500 to attend.

“I don’t like asking for things for myself,” he said. “I was a little nervous, but what I got out of that experience, the $500 was minuscule. This will benefit me personally and the organization as well.”

He encourages any nonprofit leader thinking about applying to Idaho Leads to do so. The program is expanding from 14 to 20 seats this year.

“I would say take that leap. Whatever the cost may be to you, whether that’s financial cost, time away from the office, time away from family, take that leap and try it,” Smith said. “Put your whole heart into it. Do what you are asked, and I guarantee it’s going to make a difference. It did with me. As soon as I finished up with everything last fall, I knew I was a much better leader.”

The Idaho Leads nonprofit leadership program starts with a three-day, two-night retreat in Cascade. Bingham Crisis Center Executive Director Scott Smith said it was a great way to begin the program. “It was incredible being able to literally just get away from my phone and email for three days in the mountains,” Smith said. “It was a very much needed reset for me and great being able to get into an environment with other likeminded individuals.”