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Emerging entrepreneur: Darin Hollingsworth

By Paula Anderson

Entrepreneurship was not the original goal for an executive coach - a career in fundraising opened the 'doors.'

Darin Hollingsworth, founder of Odonata Coaching and Consulting, offers executive coaching and leadership training for nonprofits.

Darin Hollingsworth|Courtesy photo

His practice model is based on gratitude. He focuses on coaching clients from the standpoint of being grateful. Hollingsworth uses evidence-based research to coach executives.

Hollinsgworth shared these comments about his journey as an entrepreneur and coach.

Q1: Why did you become an entrepreneur?

A trusted friend and colleague were my first client. When I left a job, he reached out to me promptly and said, “You should be a coach and I’ll be your first client.” So, I said…Ok. Initially I really didn’t think it would go very far beyond my new working relationship with him. However, after several referrals from him I made a commitment to full time self-employment. I loved working directly with successful folks who wanted to up their game at work in a healthy way that blended life and work. There was also the flexibility that independent work brings, and it still appeals to me.

Q2: Why is gratitude so important for leaders in the workplace?

A: My coaching practice has always been about work and has always prompted clients to explore what and who they are grateful for at work. Expressions of gratitude and appreciation are so important between leaders and direct reports as well as peer to peer. So many times, leaders think they have appreciation covered with “rewards and recognition programs.” Gratitude is more direct and person to person, not a program. R & R programs also tend to focus by design only on “top” performers. That can leave many high performing employees without a sense of appreciation. Appreciation can also be expressed with gifts, gift cards, or special employee appreciation events. Gratitude and appreciation build relationships. Programs and events can be transactional and generic.

Q3: How has your coaching helped nonprofit leaders understand themselves?

A: So often nonprofit leaders, especially senior leaders like executive directors or CEOs function in a unique and often lonely middle land - between staff and board. Helping professionals understand themselves and how they wish to show and receive gratitude or appreciation is transformational for most of my clients. Similarly, when volunteer leaders/boards of directors are given the opportunity to cultivate appreciation for their involvement they come to value it more and they become more engaged. Then they also understand the importance of gratitude and appreciation for their senior staff. Since almost every role in the nonprofit sector has some connection to fundraising, development professionals tend to be good at expressions of gratitude. When others learn that gratitude is key to building meaningful long-term relationships, organizations can be transformed.

Q4: Explain why you started the Gratitude podcast and how it has helped individuals understand the concept of being grateful.

A: When I started my podcast in 2012 there was basically one device that would play the content. I really didn’t fully understand what would happen over the next decade. I just had an idea for interviewing leaders from a variety of workplace settings whom I know or whom had been referred to me that were using gratitude practices actively in their work environments. I know from years of fundraising that, in general, most people want to "give back” - to make an impact in their community or for a cause they love. It quickly became evident that grateful people were even more inclined to have that sense of philanthropy and had ways of activating on the motivation. In many ways I am a research geek, studying the science of gratitude extensively. In my 70+ episodes I collected a great library of antidotal validation that gratitude works.

Q5: What is the best way for nonprofit leaders to work with staff and team members using your gratitude model?

A: Gratitude and appreciation practice at work definitely starts with sincerity and authenticity from individuals. Leaders may actually see this in others and adopt it or they may add it to their own set of leadership skills. Knowing what you are grateful for at work helps you illuminate for others the ways they can express and receive gratitude and appreciation. I’ve said before, gratitude is a key relationship building skill. Not in a “quid pro quo” way but in a way that ripples through an organization for internal and external stakeholders.

To learn more about Hollingsworth's gratitude podcast, visit Podcast (

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