When’s the last time you learned something new? If it’s been a while, it might be time to pick up some new skills. The need for continued education never ends in the nonprofit sector. There is always something to learn or a skill to improve upon, making it seem challenging to keep up.
However, there are many free or low-cost options for both nonprofit leaders and team members to continue their professional development. Many are also offered online, so you can gain skills from your couch. It’s important to invest your time into development that you can then bring back to your organization.
The Importance of Continued Education
There are some cases when continued education is optional for a nonprofit and others where it is mandatory. For example, if you work with individuals with disabilities or with children, you may need all of your employees to be certified in CPR and other basic medical practices. Even if you aren’t required to continue your education, it’s always helpful to seek new resources. Professional development not only helps you grow but also allows you to keep giving to your organization.
This also gives members of your team something to work towards. Many nonprofits start small, and there may not be a lot of room for promotions initially. However, staff members can always develop professionally through online courses and create their own portfolio of certifications. You may even offer a pay raise to those who take it to the next level. There are numerous ways in which you can further your education and motivate your team in the process.
Factors to Consider
It may seem overwhelming with the many options available today. However, you can break it down into areas where your organization needs the most help. Start from a baseline and have an objective. This is a good time to talk to your team and see where they need the most help. Different viewpoints can help you narrow down your selection.
It’s also important to factor in time and cost. Make sure you stay realistic when dipping into your organization’s funds and are confident you have the time to devote to professional development. You should also choose a format that works best for you. Maybe going to a physical class is important to you. For others, online is the only way they can make it to the class. Is it self-paced? Or, are there weekly assignments with deadlines that motivate you to keep up? These are all factors to consider when continuing your nonprofit education.
Choose your Course
Alright, so you have a plan and you know where your interests lie. Now it’s the exciting part—choosing a class! There are several primary sectors that may appeal to your organization, but the options are endless. Let’s dive into a few:
Making sure your team is well-educated on the technical side of operations is vital to success. New technologies are constantly released, and it’s key to stay ahead of the game so your team can keep up. Be sure to schedule a group training every time you introduce new technology to your organization. Most companies offer a complimentary orientation when you start using their service, and it’s important to take advantage of this time. Don’t be afraid to continue to ask questions and voice any concerns your team may have when implementing the software.
There are many options for technological training, such as:
- Skillshare– They offer a course specifically called Nonprofit Fundraising: Attract Millenial Donors Using Social Media. This allows your team to dive into the digital side of the industry. They also offer online classes on almost any topic. They are bound to have a course related to the technology your team needs help with. They mention that they work with nonprofits, so reach out to them directly to see what offers they have regarding membership costs.
- TechSoup– This course is only $10 and is geared at nonprofits specifically. It focuses on how to handle tech changes and properly introduce them to your staff. This is yet another vital aspect of dealing with technology in your organization and it’s helpful to have a guide through the process. It is 6 hours in total, so it won’t take too long to get through.
- Canva Design School– Canva has an excellent free option for those who need basic graphic design software. It makes creating marketing and event materials easy. They also offer free courses on how to better use their product and effectively design for social platforms.
Fundraising is a common denominator between all nonprofits, but it can also be one of the most challenging aspects. Fundraising calls for innovation and knowledge of best practices, making it even more critical for your nonprofit leaders to be well-versed. It never hurts to gain knowledge on such an important part of the industry.
- Nonprofitready.org– This site offers free fundraising courses along with 500 total courses. They cover everything from grant writing, to marketing, to volunteerism. Nonprofit professionals can work through their courses and gain certificates alongside their new knowledge. All it takes is a quick registration, and you are on your way to hundreds of free courses.
- CFRE– This certification stands for Certified Fundraising Executive and essentially lets donors know they can trust your practices. This not only helps your organization learn how to bring in funds, but it allows the public to trust their money is being put to use in the best way possible. There is an $875 exam fee, so this one comes in on the pricier side. However, if your organization can spare the cash, it may help you draw in funds in the long run.
- Candid. Learning– They offer a variety of courses for nonprofits. They even include a free course called Introduction to Fundraising Planning. This is useful for those just getting started or want to be more organized in the planning stages.
Many organizations look to outside help for grant writing because it can be a complex and time-consuming project. However, if you are tackling it yourself, you need to be informed and stay updated on the best techniques. There are several courses that can help you either get started or refresh your knowledge of how to win a grant.
- Grant Proposal– This class from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology dives into the tedious process of grant writing and teaches you how to avoid common mistakes. It is also free for participants.
- Learngrantwriting.org– This free class introduces participants to the concept of grant writing. While this is tailored towards those who want to do this for their career, there is still a wealth of knowledge for those trying to write for their organization. It covers seven basic steps to writing an effective proposal.
- MITOpenCourseware– This class teaches you how to write grant applications and to be a stronger writer in general. It also covers technical writing, which is important to know when discussing something as meticulous as finances and budget reports. It is free and only takes up 2 hours a week.
Having a strong leader is key to a nonprofit’s success. You need to effectively manage and listen to those in your organization to see growth. It is also important to have a strategy for project management and tackle each new concept with a plan based on tactics that work. Be sure to always encourage your team to continue their education as well. If they see leadership investing time, they will be a lot more inspired to do the same.
- Philanthropy University– They offer several free courses covering everything from project management to budgeting. Each course is broken into modules, and they tell you how many hours to expect each week so you can choose one that works with your schedule.
- Mindtools.com– This site covers every management skill you could think of in the form of articles. These are great resources to share with other members of your team and dive into more deeply. You get three articles for free, pay $1 the first month, and $27/month after that. These could be great training resources for new individuals joining your staff.
- Nonprofit Management Essentials– The Allstate Foundation and the Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management partnered up to offer this course. It is free and aimed at those just starting their nonprofit journey. It is self-paced and consists of topics like management, data, marketing, and more.
Always Look Local
Don’t forget to check out local universities or libraries that may offer training courses. You could even get certified in another area of nonprofits. Libraries also offer computer training and have endless resources for those trying to navigate new industries. Many are also free and offer a chance to meet others who share the same passion for nonprofits. Who knows—maybe a new collaboration could form in the process.
You can also listen to podcasts (like Nonprofits are Messy), read books (like Mission Drift), and join Facebook groups dedicated to your needs. These are all free or inexpensive ways to gain knowledge quickly. With so many options at your fingertips, it’s impossible not to keep developing as the nonprofit rockstar you already are.
By Kaitlin O’Dougherty