Welcome to
Paddling the Rapids

Peter Vail, author of Managing As A Performing Art, uses the term, “permanent white water” to describe what leaders navigate   a continual disorderly procession of surprising, novel, ill-structured events demanding a leader’s learning and constant attention.” 

Paddling the Rapids describes what every nonprofit leader does. Whether or not you paddle a kayak or canoe, this analogy will likely resonate with you. Not only is it imperative to be skillful in reading the waters around you to detect the metaphoric winds picking up or rocks just below the surface, but equally essential is the ability to simultaneously keep an eye on the weather brewing while also discerning what lies downstream that might impact your organization’s long-term sustainability.

Deciding when to take action and determining the right action is but one of the many daily challenges facing leaders.


Paddling the Rapids


"Deb understands the value of prioritizing both efficiency and process and shines in her capacity to support dynamic organizations to manage change and increase impact. She has a deep understanding of nonprofit dynamics, and offers a pragmatic style that is flexible, adaptive, and accessible."

Andrea Irwin, former Executive Director, Mabel Wadsworth Center, Bangor, Maine

Paddling the Rapids


"As a leadership coach, Deb is empathetic and inclusive, offering her valuable experience and expertise while also honoring individuals’ strength, inherent wisdom, and capacity for growth."

Andrea Irwin, former Executive Director, Mabel Wadsworth Center, Bangor, Maine.

"As a coach Deb is knowledgeable, accessible and dedicated in ways that make working together truly feel more like a trusted partnership rather than a business contract."

Janet Lewis, former Executive Director, Healthy Peninsula, Blue Hill, Maine.

Paddling the Rapids

Peer Leadership

"Challenges abound for every executive director, but one tried and true way to counter the onslaught is peer education and support. That's where Deb Burwell and Paddling the Rapids come in. To be a "Paddler" means being part of a small group of like-minded nonprofit leaders who share knowledge, feedback and encouragement. If you are considering Paddling the Rapids, just go for it and reap the benefits!"

Matt Murphy, General Manager, WERU Community Radio, Orland, Maine

"While exhilarating, the work as an executive director can be isolating, demanding and lonely. 'Paddling the Rapids' groups [are] designed to focus on the intricacies of being an Executive Director in the most supportive, productive and thought-provoking ways."

Janet Lewis, former Executive Director, Healthy Peninsula, Blue Hill, Maine

Like paddling the rapids,
Maine leaders are faced daily with many issues
and decisions competing for their
finite time, energy, and resources.

Contact Us


PADDLING THE RAPIDS © 2024. All Rights Reserved.