Companies can sometimes spend lots of money on professional development for their employees, whether they are for-profit or nonprofit. Smaller to mid-sized nonprofits don’t always have the resources for that, and it’s hard to explain to funders the need for their dollars to go toward professional development.nonprofit training

However, developing staff knowledge and skills is vital for any organization’s success. Professional development betters fundraising, marketing skills, analysis, helps employees keep up with trends, and learn new skills. It betters the nonprofit professional and the nonprofit sector as a whole. Though there is not always room in the annual budget for it, staff members & nonprofit board members’ training can bring great energy to your organization. Training for executive directors especially can help to make the whole nonprofit team better.

Professional development is usually a part of Human Resources budgeting for staff development and benefits. For those nonprofits that don’t have a fully developed Human Resources department or budget, there are other ways to provide development opportunities and benefits to staff. Developing staff internally can address gaps in skills or expertise, or create pipelines for future leaders of the organization. Nonprofits benefit exponentially from having some sort of professional development program.

The Need for Professional Development in Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit strategies are continually adapting to meet the needs of the missions and stakeholders they serve. In order to create and adapt strategies, nonprofit leaders must continually learn and grow their skills, and grow the skills of their team members. New skills are often required as technology, systems, and methods evolve over time.

MissionBox puts nonprofit development into four different categories.

  • On-the-job training: unstructured and informal
  • Training and development: professionally delivered
  • Talent and performance training: included in a career development program
  • Capability development: focused on improving the organization’s capabilities and culture

They also further noted, “Small organizations tend to focus on on-the-job training and professionally delivered training and development.

No matter the size, Guidestar gave three great reasons for nonprofits to invest in professional development.

  1. Increased Employee SatisfactionGuidestar noted that “People who feel supported in their professional goals are happier in their positions, even if they’re not making as much money as their for-profit counterparts. This means better workplace morale, and better morale means less burnout and more engagement.” and that “Studies have shown that organizations who offer professional development opportunities have a higher staff retention rate than those who don’t”
  2. Better Results for Your Organization: Nonprofit management is bettering the health of the entire organization. Staff from all different departments or parts of the nonprofit can benefit from webinars, conferences, training, etc. As employees gain new skills and better current skill, they energetically apply that to the organization. Grant writing courses and training on donor stewardship or database management will help fundraising grow stronger. There are all sorts of conferences and workshops on how to successfully launch new programs. Plenty of materials out there on how to better advocacy efforts. All of these better the staff’s ability to drive better results for the nonprofit organization.
  3. “Rising Tide, Lifted Boats”: Nonprofit leaders better their organization by proving to their employees they think what they do matters by investing in their long term growth.

Professional development is important for every nonprofit to think about in every strategic planning session they have. The long term growth, learning, and overall investment in the staff’s ability to do their job are important for the sustainability of the nonprofit.

How to Consider Professional Development When Budgeting

After a year like 2020, it is hard to think about budgeting for anything outside of necessities or the norm. Because 2020 changed the world in many ways, now is the right time for nonprofit professionals to grow, expand, and learn new skills. The survival of nonprofits everywhere depends on the hard work of its professionals and so much more so for the small nonprofits without as much marketing resources.

The Nonprofit Hub published an article in the Fall of last year on the importance of having a formal professional development program. Creating a formal program codifies an employee benefit that ensures a culture of learning, better staff retention, and helps further develop current staff. What that formal professional development program looks like depends on each nonprofit and whether they have the resources or want to pay for professional development.

Typically, professional development is a Human Resources approach as a benefit to employees. If a nonprofit wishes to formally adopt a paid professional development program, they need to include a line item each fiscal year for some professional development. This allocation can be given to employees directly or used to participate in an association that benefits company employees with professional development opportunities. If it is a stipend for employees to use at their discretion, this line item should be included in employee benefits. For participation in an association, the line item should be considered as “dues”. For overall training company-wide, there should be a line item for company training. All should live within a professional development code.

No matter how a paid program is set up, there are several ways to keep a paid program on the lower end of the budget line. Paying for association or membership dues that include company-wide access to resources is one way to pay one price for all employees. Agreeing to pay for conferences, webinars, LinkedIn Learning licenses, etc. are all ways to pay for employee development opportunities.

There are more expensive ways to pay for development, such as ongoing or one-off reimbursements that add up over time or certificate programs like the CFRE for fundraisers or PMP for program managers. As Nonprofit Hub suggests, leveraging online resources such as books, journals, or things like Nonprofit Leadership Alliance‘s Leaderosity‘s program can be extremely beneficial. Center for Nonprofit Advancement has their own training hub for professionals too.

Professional Development for Nonprofits with Cash Flow Restraints

If total expenses are worrisome due to cash flow or similar issues, there are ways to keep professional development off financial statements. If the nonprofit grows over time, then it is a good idea to consider gradually paying for professional benefits. However, there is a way to conduct professional development without spending dollars when the budget is tight.

There are plenty of free resources out there for nonprofits that wish to encourage constant learning and growth but are strapped for cash. NonprofitReady is one amazing online resource for professional development. It is completely free and the resources are put together through multiple trusted partnerships in the nonprofit sector. There are basic certificates that can be completed, multiple courses that can be used to create a playlist or one-off resources for very specific topic areas.

Within the same vein as NonprofitReady, companies like CauseVox and Bloomerang offer multiple free webinars and blog posts or newsletters. Nonprofit professionals can sign up for webinars, newsletters and podcasts for free and a nonprofit can allow hours in the workday for staff to access those free resources. The Bridgespan Group published an article on 52 different development opportunities for staff. These are more internal suggestions that nonprofit leaders can implement almost immediately to develop future leaders from within their current staff.

One way of incentivizing professional development hours is to have employees report how many of their hours used each pay period on development or to include a company-wide specified time each day, week, a month for that development.

Funneling Professional Development Back into the Nonprofit Organization

After the nonprofit leader decides which way of professional development is best for their organization, the next step is to figure out how to funnel the information or new skills back into the nonprofit’s operations. Some of the more direct development will funnel its way into the nonprofit organically. One great example is fundraising. Fundraising development should translate easily into more fundraising success. For marketing or programmatic success, trends and analysis development will help better goals pretty quickly. Very technical skill-building, such as database management or technical writing courses, should also help the organization almost immediately.

Outside of that, there are several clever ways to incorporate group and individual development into the nonprofit. One creative way to for staff members to share new skills with their colleagues is to have them give a presentation to their department or group after a webinar or conference. This is a great way for nonprofits to share the benefits of development if they can only afford to send one employee to a conference or to pay for their webinar. Allowing that employee to present to their full group also provides the additional benefit of presentational skills they can add to their overall skills growth.

For smaller nonprofits, it would be wise to identify gaps in skill sets that could benefit the nonprofit and focus professional development resources on those gaps. Even if those skills aren’t currently exhibited in staff resources, those skills could be learned through professional development to further address gaps that could help the nonprofit become more successful and sustainable.