Solutions Library


Enabling Community Leadership

Island and remote coastal communities face many challenges. Decreasing year-round resident populations threaten the diversity of human capital that make isolated communities viable. Limited access to resources, high cost of living, and limited economic opportunities all provide particular challenges as well. However, despite their small populations, volunteer participation is much higher per capita in island communities, indicating a high level of social capital. Critically, a single individual can have a greater impact because the populations are small and invested.

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Island Leadership Exploration and Development (ILEAD)

Island Leadership Exploration and Development (ILEAD) is a series of workshops designed to increase local leadership skills, increase the number of willing leaders within communities, and provide a peer network across multiple islands for information and resource sharing going forward.


ILEAD combines technical assistance and networking opportunities through a series of sessions presented in a day-long or weekend-long workshop format that can be tailored to address the different and specific leadership needs that exist in municipal governments, nonprofit organizations, and school systems. ILEAD increases the skills and confidence of current leaders. General leadership workshops are designed to build on basic skills to train individuals who are hesitant of taking on a leadership role within their communities because of a fear that they lack the appropriate skills or knowledge to lead effectively.



What were some of the highlights of the program?

Meeting like-minded islanders that I would not normally have contact with nor a way to meet was great. I have relied on some of those new “friendships” a few times since the workshop to help me problem solve on my various boards. Networking is so important to un-bridged islands. Hearing that my concerns for my island community are not unique was comforting.

What were you able to bring back to your island and your work?

Island Institute staff do such an awesome job presenting the topics of meeting facilitation and board organization (along with mission, vision, and values) and that helped translate what was most important. I’m serious, that was life changing information to me. I came back to my island, my job, and my boards with a confidence I did not have before and a desire to implement and share what I had learned.

Are there any challenges in the leadership of your community?

I’m new to island living and am still eager to be involved in my community. It would be great to get the people who are true islanders and have served their community for a really long time – but feel that there is nothing new to learn or that they don’t need help or guidance – to get them to attend. I wish there was a way to target those people.



  • Identify key skills. Knowing what is needed for specific leadership roles (i.e. municipal, nonprofit, general) ahead of time will help to shape the workshop.
  • Invite experts. Including professionals who can provide training and important resources to participants is crucial for a successful workshop.
  • Striking a balance. Design a high quality workshop with a balance of workshops and networking time, both free and guided:

Sample Agenda

Session: The Value of Stories as Leaders

Session: The Leader Within- Personal, Professional Leadership Qualities
Session: Mission, Vision, Values and how they guide your Organization
Session: Strategic Planning
Session: Meeting Facilitation and Communication Strategies
Formal Networking with Guided Questions
Session: Strategies of Fundraising

  • Logistical details. Decide on a central location for participants, a conference room, and a separate dining room to encourage movement between sessions. Is there a place to stay nearby or within the same facility? How is the food?
  • Outreach to target participants. Outreach is most often accomplished through direct email to associates or an email blast to mailing lists, as well as posting the application form on the Island Institute website, sending a link to established island newsletters, and getting a flyer posted on boards around the islands and at ferry terminals for people to see. Asking specific people to make a direct, personal ask (i.e. word of mouth) is also effective.
  • Follow-up. Follow up with the contact list for continued resource sharing in the cohort and connection to experts.



  • Drawing busy leaders away from their to-do lists for the duration of the conference plus travel time.
  • Finding a time of year that allows people to travel off-island for a few days with the least inconvenience.
  • Making workshop fees affordable, while still covering operating costs and paying speaker fees, is difficult. This includes being sensitive to the lost income many self-employed or hourly workers incur when taking time away from work. The costs of each workshop varies depending on the location, the number of days, number of participants and number of outside speakers, and if they are donating their time to get in front of the audience or have a speaking fee. Costs are offset by grants, by having buffet meals rather than formal sit down meals, by finding a venue that is all-inclusive and offers discounts for volume, or by only doing a one-day workshop and having an island group provide lunch. Some islands have organizations that provide local scholarships for professional development opportunities to help offset the costs for attendees. We try to be very aware of people’s time and ferry schedules when arranging the workshop agenda in order to limit the amount of time people are away from their jobs (thus, not only spending money for the training, but also not making money)
  • Bringing in new leaders, especially those who don’t think they could benefit from training and networking. One way to reach those who are reluctant is to bring the workshop to them, rather than making them go off-island, and to tailor it to their very specific island needs, rather than making it more general and big picture. Another way is to leverage island connections and have someone make a personal ask for that person to attend.
  • Funding for follow up services.



  • In 2015, ILEAD trained 23 nonprofit leaders in mission, vision, and values, strategies of fundraising and grant writing, board development, facilitation, strategic planning and budgeting. Leaders included executive directors, council members, board presidents and members, and treasurers.
  • The program trained 19 self-identified island leaders to understand their leadership style, employ effective communication strategies, and identify areas of need within their community to effect change.
  • Leaders reported having increased strategies for board development and using the network of peers who understood the logistics and unique challenges of running an island-based non-profit. Participants commented that “meeting others that truly understand what it takes to run a nonprofit on an island was priceless” and that they “came away with a whole list of strategies for working more effectively with the board.”



Originally Published April 2016

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