Nonprofit organizations are often pressed to do more with less. Your staff is expected to be more efficient, your organization more productive, and your mission more manageable all while your piggy bank is light. Actually, 18% of nonprofits cite having a small staff (or staff transitions) as the greatest challenge they encounter. 

While it’s always important to expand your staff when necessary, there are also opportunities for you to help current employees become more efficient. One such way is through professional development programs. 

These programs help your staff members develop skills that can be applied at your organization for more efficient processes and a productive work environment. 

We’ve written this guide on professional development programs to help nonprofit executives like you empower employees to develop skills and hone their craft. Explore these four best practices when creating great professional development programs: 

  1. Understand why development is important. 
  2. Leverage nonprofit-specific development resources. 
  3. Enhance existing training programs. 
  4. Offer external development opportunities. 

Remember that the best development opportunities are born from upfront research and the best nonprofit development resources.

Reading this article is a great first step in conducting this research and leveraging development opportunities effectively. Let’s get started. 

1. Understand why development is important. 

Understanding the importance of effective development programs is the first step to success. If you’re unsure of these programs, the chances of you implementing it well are very slim. 

There are numerous advantages to nonprofit professional development opportunities, including: 

  • Increased employee engagement. 87% of millennials say that development opportunities are important to them in a job. In order to engage our employees and continue growing, it’s better to begin these programs sooner. This especially engages the younger generation because it offers room for growth into future positions. 
  • Creating a culture of learning. Astron Solutions’ article on employee compensation names nonprofit culture as one of the key elements of a total rewards compensation structure. A culture of learning encourages staff members to remain engaged and pay attention to new opportunities. This keeps their focus on how to develop themselves as well as your mission. 
  • Increasing organizational efficiency. The more your staff members learn about the industry, the more improvement opportunities they’ll find. Pay attention to their suggestions and see how providing learning options can help you succeed. 
  • Helping staff grow in their roles. You love your team and we know you want them to succeed. By providing them with nonprofit professional development opportunities your staff can hone their skills, become stronger employees, and gain the confidence they need to succeed. 

If these advantages don’t entice you, there are plenty of others that will! Professional development is a beneficial program for all parties involved, especially when you’re able to maintain motivation and craft the best program for you and your staff. 

2. Leverage nonprofit-specific development resources.

After deciding to create a nonprofit development program, you’ll need to leverage the best resources to do so. After all, your team has to learn from someone

While there are many skills that your staff can gain experience and learn about from for-profit sources, they’ll relate better to nonprofit-specific resources. 

Let’s say that a resource is setting up an example to illustrate principles of accounting. They talk about a company working to speed up the production process of a product in order to increase profit. That’s not an example most nonprofits can relate to because their goal is impact rather than profit. 

As you’re combing through the nonprofit-specific resources, you’ll need to decide on the learning platform. Here are some common options you may consider: 

  • Books. Books are a classic example of a great development opportunity. You may decide to host a book club at your organization and discuss the specific points covered on a regular basis. Relate the abstract points and examples to concrete aspects of your organization! 
  • Online opportunities. With so much of our world today existing online, it makes sense to find learning opportunities there. Look for expert-created online courses. For example, the Leaderosity Learning Library by the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance has courses that utilize engaging learning elements such as text, video, images, and interactive features.
  • Journals. Crafted by academically-minded individuals who wish to draw conclusions derived from the latest research in the sector, these journals can help your organization stay up-to-date with the latest trends as well as backup strategic decisions with time-tested research data. 

No matter which you choose to employ, be sure the format suits your audience. The staff of a nonprofit school or tutoring system may prefer academic journals, while those at the local animal shelter may prefer online training courses. 

Choosing the best resource for your audience is the best way to enhance engagement and avoid burnout. Keep in mind the industry and your audience as you research your materials. 

3. Enhance existing training programs. 

There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel every time you implement training opportunities. Instead of crafting an entirely new program, enhance the existing training programs at your nonprofit with relevant supplemental resources. 

For instance, let’s say you read a chapter of a book that is highly relevant to your organization’s mission statement. Include that reading in your onboarding activities for new employees so that they get a feel for the mission they’re working toward. 

If you have other standard training opportunities, such as for volunteers or for advancing one’s position, you can also implement new materials into those programs. 

This article sets up a scenario of an animal shelter that has multiple locations and relies heavily on volunteer involvement. They want to make sure every volunteer has the same high level of training before working directly with the animals. Therefore, they use a specific LMS system to teach and train volunteers. 

If this organization wanted to add a new element to this training for all locations, they simply update the course on their LMS (or ask their provider to make the update) with the new information. This way, all volunteers are able to receive the updated information with one fell swoop. 

4. Offer external development opportunities. 

Let’s say you find some incredible development opportunities, but don’t want to incorporate it into existing training programs. Maybe the resource doesn’t fit nicely into one of your existing programs or maybe you want to encourage people to take advantage of the opportunity outside of work. 

External (optional) development opportunities are a great way to maintain team engagement with your mission, especially during these unprecedented times. 

While your staff members are implementing social distancing into their daily lives and working from home, they may be searching for new opportunities to fill their newfound additional time. Sponsoring external opportunities is a great solution. This is how it works: 

  1. You’ll find a book, an online course, or another professional development resource applicable to your team. Make sure it’s within the price range so you can sponsor as many as who want to participate in the program (or ask to see if there’s a group rate). 
  2. Ask your employees if they’d be interested. If you have a great number of interested individuals, you might consider offering some type of group discussion element around the opportunity. For example, lunchtime or happy hour discussions (even over Zoom).
  3. Talk to your employees about what they’ve learned. Whether it’s in discussion groups or one-on-one meetings, be sure to give your staff the opportunity to apply the new concepts to your organization’s operations. 

External resources are a great opportunity to encourage additional learning without taking time that’s usually devoted to your mission. Be sure your employees are interested and excited about the opportunity or else they won’t feel the motivation to learn during their free time. 

Professional development opportunities encourage and entice your nonprofit’s staff to create more efficient operations and create a greater impact. Plus, it keeps them motivated and moving forward in their own careers. Strengthen ties within your organization and watch the investment pay off tenfold. Good luck! 

Author Bio:

Kristine Holferty is the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, where she is dedicated to using her extensive expertise to help social enterprises and social impact professionals develop their leadership capacity. In addition to her work with The Alliance, Kristine is the founder of Ignite Everyday, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of women in their careers, and serves on the Certification Governing Board for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (“NASM”), which oversees the certification programs offered by NASM, a division of Assessment Technologies Institute (“ATI”) and the Athletic and Fitness Association of America (“AFAA”). Kristine volunteers as a reading mentor in the Lead to Read KC program and as a coach for At Coaching for Everyone, delivering complimentary coaching and leadership support to traditionally underserved and under-resourced populations. Kristine spends her free time in the great outdoors, running adventure races across the globe with her husband, two boys and two dogs. For more information on the NLA’s mission and Leaderosity, check out the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.