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5 Reasons Professional Development Can Help Your Nonprofit

There are a ton of excuses employers use to avoid effective training and professional development practices. For example, you might have heard this one: “We don’t train our staff because if we do, they’ll leave.”

Or perhaps this rationalization: “If they weren’t trained to do the job, we wouldn’t have hired them.”

Maybe this? “Nobody can teach you about this job. You have to do it yourself.”

And then there’s the old standard: “Training is too expensive.”

While there’s a kernel of truth in each of these, they’re all shortsighted when compared to the benefits of powerful training—especially for nonprofit organizations.

Let’s start by knocking down what we just set up:

  • “We don’t train our staff because if we do, they’ll leave.” Yes, it happens. But remember what your science teacher warned against so many years ago: don’t confuse cause and effect. The cause is probably not that you trained them, and suddenly they became attractive to new employers. The cause is likely that you didn’t train them, and they became frustrated with you, their current employer. Most people are not looking for excuses to leave a job. Instead, they want to grow in their careers alongside the employer who is willing to invest in their education.
  • “If they weren’t trained to do the job, we wouldn’t have hired them.” Fair enough. But how far can they go with the knowledge they brought? Only so far. Most disciplines come up with new concepts and best practices. Depending on the job, the entire method of working could change in just a few short years. Do you want to be that far behind the curve? Will you just get rid of the person and all their institutional knowledge and hire new every couple of years? That’s both time-consuming and expensive.
  • “Nobody can teach you about this job. You have to do it yourself.” True, some people have natural aptitudes or personalities that lend themselves to some kind of work. But almost nobody can start a job and just do it without some kind of instruction. And do you have time to wait before they “get it”? No matter how talented they are, the answer is probably not.
  • “Training is too expensive.” As long as you have a mission, you want to maximize every opportunity to serve your mission beneficiaries, so your budget will always be tight. Besides, it looks better on your 990 to spend less on “overhead,” which is probably where the training budget goes. But a well thought out training plan can make you money in very little time. Plus, a lot of quality training is available for free or low cost, and easy to access through online learning tools.

Now that we’ve debunked some of the most-used objectives to professional development, let’s focus on why you should be training your staff, both now and in the future. Here are five reasons why professional development can help your nonprofit succeed:

1. Training is about knowledge.

Training brings increased knowledge. Most people think of this first, and for good reason: it’s true. After all, why spend the resources, time, and money if the trainee isn’t coming back with something that contributes to your success?

Nonprofit training, whether it’s a two-minute video or a multimedia course, can bring you new ideas and methods that can save (or make!) you money or accelerate your progress toward an objective. It can also lower the risk that your staff or volunteers are using old methods—which can save you money on insurance.

Yet you might be shocked at how at the end of a training session, conference or class, nobody asks, “what did you get out of your experience that will change things around here?

This is why it’s essential to outline your goals for training before you start. Is there specific knowledge you’re looking for? Are there particular problems you want to solve that you’re hoping that training will address? Are you looking for your trainee to take on a new role that the training will support?

Effective training begets knowledge, but it’s important that your learners go into the experience with clear objectives in mind.

2. Training is about confidence.

Can you afford to have an employee or volunteer who lacks self-confidence, who hesitates to make even the simplest of decisions? No! A confident employee or volunteer is much more productive than an insecure one.

So, train your employee or volunteer to build their confidence in the job—if for no other reason so that you can do yours. Plus, your confident employee will be a great example to others, which will make your entire staff more productive.

3. Training is about leadership.

Leaders aren’t just the people at the top of your organizational chart. Leaders occur at every level. Consider asking your newly trained staff member or volunteer to train others and share the knowledge they just learned.

Nothing makes someone internalize a subject more than teaching that subject to someone else. Training others will also boost their reputation among their colleagues, building their self-confidence even more. Pretty soon, you’ll have a home-grown leader on staff who will take on even more responsibility in driving your mission forward.

4. Training is about networking.

No nonprofit is an island. No staff member is, either. But a staff member’s ability to network can be very threatening to a nonprofit—especially if the staff person is good at what they do.

But rather than fear your staff or volunteer’s network, you need to take advantage of it.

Your nonprofit is unique, but it isn’t. When you picture the venn diagram of all the nonprofits out there, you overlap in more ways than you can imagine. You face common issues with nonprofits of similar sizes, geography, and missions, with whom you share board members, and lots more.

There’s good news in this! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every issue that comes your way. But how would you know unless you had overlapping contacts that included people from these other nonprofits? And since some of the best training brings together like minded nonprofits and their teams, networks that build on mutual training experiences host a distinct advantage.

5. Training is about evaluation.

A good staff member will want to participate in and apply training to drive your mission forward. For example, an ambitious fundraiser who cares about your mission will want to explore new, modern trainings so they can bring in more money for your cause. In fact, you might even be concerned about any nonprofit staff member who doesn’t want training in their role.

Therefore, use the interest and results of training to gauge the interest and aptitude of staff and volunteers. The ones who are interested and successful in their training are worth keeping. The ones who show little to no interest in your professional development opportunities might just be biding their time.

Some nonprofits see training as a high-risk activity. Successful nonprofits don’t agree. Training minimizes the risk that your staff and volunteers will leave. It can make you money and save you time. And if you take it seriously, effective training will make your mission thrive. Good luck!

Author: Matt Hugg

Matt Hugg Nonprofit.Courses

Matt Hugg is an author and instructor in nonprofit management in the US and abroad. He is president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses, an on-demand, eLearning educational resource for nonprofit leaders, staff, board members and volunteers, with thousands of courses in nearly every aspect of nonprofit work.

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