Three Ways to Prepare Your Nonprofit Workforce for the Future of Work

Do your staff have the skills they need to move your mission forward and achieve your North Star? McKinsey Global found that nearly 9 in 10 executives and managers recognize their staff have skill gaps or will have gaps in the next 5 years. The nonprofit workforce isn’t exempt from the challenges of skill gaps. Without the right skills, your staff will struggle and your organization will feel the effects of that. So how do we prepare our workforce for the future of work? 

  • Identify the skills your staff need to be successful.
  • Develop training or other solutions to develop those skills.
  • Provide ongoing support to staff. 


Identify Skills

To develop staff for the future of work, you first have to be clear on what skills are needed. A competency model is a great way to paint a clear picture of the expectations you have of your staff. To create a competency model that will prepare staff for the future of work, you will need to determine which competencies are right for you

How do you do that?

You need to do some external research to see what trends and changes will impact your organization. You will also need to review your own internal documents, such as your strategic plan, job descriptions, organizational values, and DEI commitment. You can then identify themes across this internal and external research to identify some of the skills that will be needed for success. 

In addition, you can also gather staff input to identify what skills they are using on a regular basis and what challenges they face in their work (possible skill gaps). This can be done through focus groups, interviews, or surveys. 

Once you have collected this information, you can synthesize all the data to identify the skills that are most important and/or most urgent for your nonprofit’s work. 

This gives you a framework to develop your staff as a whole, but you may also want to personalize the learning experience.

How do you personalize it? 

To do personalize skill development, you will need to offer a way for individual staff to identify the skills they need in their roles. This can be done with self-reflection tools, supervisor feedback, formal assessments, or 360 feedback tools.

Staff can use these tools to identify opportunities to upskill or reskill so they can be more effective in their roles. And, it allows the nonprofit to meet their staff’s unique gaps


Develop Training

In the McKinsey Global study, one-third of all respondents placed closing skill gaps as one of their top three priorities. While identifying the skills people need to be successful is an important first step, it isn’t enough to simply communicate those expectations. Nonprofits need to develop the skills they want to see. Two-third of respondents noted they were addressing the skill gaps by hiring new staff, but this isn’t always an option. That’s why 56% also said they planned to develop staff. 

What is staff development?

Staff development is anything you do – with intentionality – to ensure your staff are learning, growing, and performing. 

Developing your staff is most often done through training. This can include in-person training, virtual instructor-led training, self-paced eLearning courses, or even email training. This can also be done through other experiences, such as coaching and mentoring.  

The important thing is that the solutions are tailored to your nonprofit’s needs. While you can certainly use “off-the-shelf” solutions, they will not take into account the uniqueness of your nonprofit or the specific needs of your staff. 

How do you create custom experiences? 

One approach is to select one skill and create learning experiences for staff to develop that skill. The whole organization can focus on the same skill and learn and grow together.

Another approach might be to allow staff to self-select the skills they want to develop. You can offer a variety of skill development opportunities, and everyone is able to have a personalized learning experience. 

What is the result?

McKinsey Global found that the reskilling efforts have paid off. 73% of respondents who had engaged in reskilling efforts saw improved employee satisfaction and 50% saw improved employee retention. 


Provide Ongoing Support

An important thing to note about skill development is that it takes time. Attending a training isn’t necessarily going to produce behavior change. Training combined with ongoing support is more likely to be successful. 

What does ongoing support look like? 

Ongoing support can be coaching or mentoring. It can be supervisor feedback. It can include providing resources. It can include removing barriers. It could even include extrinsic motivators like reward systems. 

You may decide to build the expectations into performance reviews for accountability, but it’s also important to remember the importance of day-to-day coaching

How do we successfully make this change?

Consider using the Prosci ADKAR model to ensure staff have everything they need to adopt the new behavior. Ask yourself a few key questions:

  • Are they aware they need to change?
  • Do they want to change?
  • Do they know how to change?
  • Do they have the skills to change?
  • Can they sustain the change?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” determine how you can make it a “yes.” Do you need a communications strategy in addition to the skill development strategy? Do you need a way to track, incentivize, and celebrate change? The answer is probably yes. 

Setting up these wrap-around strategies is a great way to prompt individual change, and your nonprofit will reap the benefits of that.



Nonprofit leaders have the challenging privilege of developing their staff. It can be difficult to know where to start, but identifying the skills your staff need doesn’t have to be complicated. Once you’ve identified the skills, you can create the right learning experiences to develop those skills and provide the support needed to sustain the changes. With time and intentionality, we can prepare our staff for the future of work so we can continue retain our staff and drive our mission forward. 


Heather Burright

Heather Burright, CEO of Skill Masters Market, specializes in creating dynamic, people-centric solutions that drive business goals. With her comes expertise in strategies for diversity, equity, and inclusion; instructional design; and change management. She’s dedicated to identifying core competencies that are needed to see real results and to creating the learning strategies and solutions needed to develop those competencies. Heather works with nonprofits around the country to create custom competency models, training, and workshops.

June 15, 2023

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