Mutual value is what makes great nonprofit volunteers.
Volunteers are at the core of what nonprofits are.
The origin of the nonprofit sector is tied people voluntarily helping each other as neighbors and as entire communities.
Today, hundreds of countries around the world have codified volunteerism into the definition of a charitable organization.
The ability to enlist willing people in uncompensated labor for the common good is a unique and significant advantage for organizations dedicated to tackling the problems of our day not addressed by government or business.
For nearly all nonprofits, volunteerism starts at the top. While it is possible in most places to pay a nonprofits board, most of the 5 million nonprofit board members in the United States serve voluntarily, and without compensation. In fact, the very word “trustee,” used as an alternate to the title “director” in some nonprofits, speaks to the ethos of nonprofit leadership: to hold in trust for the public good.
[BTW: Where did the number of nonprofit board member’s come from? The Independent Sector, a national advocacy group for nonprofits, puts the number of nonprofits in 2019 at 1.6 million . Since nonprofits almost always have a minimum of three board members, then 1.6 million x 3 = 4.8 million. Considering so many have more than three board members, then 5 million is probably a conservative estimate of the number of nonprofit board members.]
While nonprofits are not required to have volunteers, the ability to enlist volunteers is a major, valuable advantage. Volunteers are an extremely valuable tool in bringing your mission to as many people as possible. Even if volunteers cannot be used for direct service delivery, such as when licensed professionals are required by law, volunteers can serve vital support roles in administrative tasks, maintenance duties and most importantly, revenue generation.
Volunteers bring so much more than meets the eye. The professional experience volunteers bring is often much more than a typical organization of similar size and budget could afford. Then there’s the unquantifiable life experience and enthusiasm for your mission. Volunteers provide a fresh perspective on what you do, bringing new eyes to old problems.
Great nonprofit volunteers come to your organization for a wide variety of reasons.
Are they volunteering because your nonprofit helped them, or they received help from a similar organization?
Do they need to connect with others? Maybe they’re new to an area and want to build a network of friends with similar interests. Maybe they already have friends who volunteer with your nonprofit?
Are they looking to protect something, or someone they love? While we usually think of “preservation” in environmental terms, your volunteer may feel the need to protect a vulnerable person like a child, a grandparent or a disabled person, or a culture or neighborhood.
Is it expected? Some people volunteer because they’ve been raised in a family where volunteerism is expected. They also might feel that to maintain their social standing in their community, they need to volunteer.
Is in based on faith? Many religions encourage assisting others, in or out of one’s faith community. It’s a powerful driver for volunteerism.
As much as volunteering aids the nonprofit and those it serves by willingly providing no-cost labor, its not a one-way street. That’s why its important to understand your volunteer motivations to help them get the most out of their experience, and thus help them help your mission.
And while a volunteer’s labor is free, nonprofits quickly find out that to maximize their volunteer’s assistance, they need to put in time and money, especially in areas such as…
Use screening for everyone’s protection.
Everyone deserves to be safe, and unfortunately, not everyone who volunteers, as well intended as they may be, is safe for your mission. Many municipalities, states/provinces or other government entities will provide background screening free of charge to nonprofits. Some organizations require the volunteer to pick up the cost. But even if you need to pay from your organization’s budget, consider the consequences if you omit this important step. Not screening can hurt anyone personally injured, and the irreparably damage nonprofit’s reputation.
Great nonprofit volunteers deserve insurance protection.
Screening implies liability, and liability points to insurance.
Many US states try to encourage volunteerism by limiting their liability for a volunteer’s actions while working for a nonprofit. But this may not be enough, depending on the state and the circumstances of services. It’s very important to understand your risks, and provide insurance when necessary. And for board members, this could be especially important, since most don’t want to put their personal future in jeopardy for doing good deeds.
Record keeping will help raise money, and more.
Next on your list should be a good database program. Why? So you can recognize volunteers for their service. So you can contact them easily. So you can show everyone how important volunteers are to your great work. Oh, and money. Database information is great share with funders so they see the community interest in your mission. Also, by using the same database as the fundraisers, you’ll be able to see whether your volunteers are donors, too.
While you can keep the records you want on a spreadsheet or create your own database, there are plenty of off-the-shelf programs for the task. In fact, you may already own the functionality you need that’s embedded into a fundraising gift processing program. Besides basic demographic data, like name, address, contact numbers and etc., consider tracking the volunteer’s hours.
To keep great nonprofit volunteers working, they need supplies.
Of course, you want your volunteers to be as effective as possible in supporting your mission. So, do you give them what they need to do their job? Providing supplies so volunteers can accomplish their assigned tasks is an often-overlooked, essential expense. Even if you expect a volunteer to bring their own supplies, make sure that you account for it so you can give them donation credit at year’s end. Your accounting program, like QuickBooks, is a great place to record the information.
Your volunteers don’t know what to do with those supplies unless you tell them. That brings us to another overlooked expense, staff time. Providing leadership and guidance is key to getting the most out of your volunteers.
Some volunteers need access.
To do their job effectively, many volunteers, especially board members and fundraisers, need access to documents like financial statements, marketing material, reports on projects progress and more. There’s an entire class of software called “board portals” that can help with this, but simply providing access to a Google Drive folder can often be more than sufficient.
Nonprofits and volunteers can have a mutually beneficial relationship that meets everyone’s goals and needs. Still, like any worthwhile mission focused initiative, it will cost time, and even some money to do it right. That investment could make the difference between effectiveness and frustration.
Don’t forget the most important resources for volunteers: New Course Alerts from Nonprofit.Courses. Each week you’ll see the latest Nonprofit.Courses content, plus events and other activities from our Content Experts. Sign up, now.
Then think about starting your educational path by watching the Nonprofit Start Up Essentials video set 1, “Know your Why.” It’s an important question to ask because starting a successful nonprofit isn’t easy. There’re a lot of details, and if you can’t articulate to yourself and others exactly why you want to start a nonprofit, and why its important, you may not get through the process.
For example, did you know that in the United States you can’t just apply to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to become a 501c3? You need to be incorporated by your state or territory, first.
That’s if its even right for you to become a 501c3. You’ll probably pick a 501c3 in the end (more than 70% of US nonprofits are) but you have 27 different nonprofit type choices, such as a 501c6 business association, or a 501c4 advocacy group. Which is right for you?
Then, who will be on your board? Friends and family? Easy to sign up, but not your best choice. Why? They’re doing this for you, not necessarily the cause. They’ll often put your friendship ahead of asking the hard questions. Plus, depending on your circle of friends and family, they may not be qualified to ask any questions at all.
Nonprofit Startup Training in Fundraising
Even if you’re an all-volunteer group, you’ll need money for all sorts of program expenses. What are your options? Fundraising can be a big part, but there are lots of other options. See ten right here.
But if you go with traditional fundraising, there’s an important fact that not a lot of people outside fundraising circles know. Businesses and foundations account for less than 30% of all giving to nonprofits. Who gives the rest? Individual people, in gifts big and small. And if you count their closely held businesses, and their bequests, the number from individuals rises even higher. So you need to think seriously about asking individuals, whether in person, by mail or mail, though social media, by holding events or any number of other ways. You’ll find resources for just about every kind of fundraising, here.
Were you thinking of grants? Before you spend a lot of time on looking for foundations, get a behind the scenes look in this series. It’s important to know that foundations and businesses don’t just give money to anyone. To start, your mission needs to match the purpose of the foundation. As a start up, you won’t have a track record of success to point to. How about the experience of the people coming together? It’s also important to know that as a concept, “grantwriting” is a bit of a misnomer. Personal interaction with funders plays a big part in the process.
You know what builds great trust in a nonprofit? Well, consider that you can have the greatest, most innovative programs, but if your accounting is poor, donors won’t give. An investment in QuickBooks training could save your reputation.
Marketing and Communications
Like a business, a nonprofit can’t exist without customers. Whether you call them clients, patients, students or have your own special word – you need to serve someone. But have you asked yourself, “how will they know we’re here to help?”
This is why marketing and communications is key. How do you plan to connect with your mission recipients, their families and the community at large? You can probably name the delivery tools, like social media, personal networking, advertising and more. But have you decided on what you’re going to say? What’s the message? Is it consistent with how the people you want to reach hear things in their community?
As you can see, getting a nonprofit off the ground won’t be easy. You need a solid start to make it sustainable. While statistics may not be available on this, anecdotally it’s clear that the funnel to creating a nonprofit from a dream to still existing after five years of operation is extremely wide at the top, and dramatically narrow at the bottom.
Millions of people dream of helping others. A good number will say “I should start a nonprofit.” A lot drop out when they see how much work it entails, and even some money, just to get set up. Among those who jump through the hoops, a good number never get traction to offer any meaningful programming. If they do create programs, is the enthusiasm and dedication to the mission still there a year or two later? And just as important, can they find the funding they need to keep going?
This isn’t to discourage you at all. Until all of the world’s problems are solved, we’ll still need nonprofits to solve them – and yours could change a life at exactly the right time, in exactly the right place to make a global impact.
Know that everyone at Nonprofit.Courses want you to get beyond starting, so you can thrive in delivering your mission. Check out our videos, podcasts, documents and more. With each step, come back for more. Get New Course Alerts to see what’s new. And through it all, make it a great, nonprofit day!
And speaking of skills, Nonprofit.Courses is where you can drill deep into your current discipline, and learn about other disciplines son you can serve your mission better. For example, let’s say you’re the organization’s accountant. Of course, there’s accounting content on Nonprofit.Courses and you also found fundraising content. Since you work so closely with the fundraisers, educating yourself in their world could be helpful – and it was. In fact, you got a good laugh when you say your development officer’s face when you started to talk about CRUTS, CRATS and CGAs over lunch.
Even more important, by easily getting out of your discipline’s silo, now your development officer feels comfortable bringing up new ways of giving, so your discussions can move your mission ahead in ways you never imagined.
While we’re at it, when you bring up planned giving to your board, you get blank stares, until one of them says “I get things about that from my university. I didn’t know we could do that, too.”
You find a video on Nonprofit.Courses that explains the basics and share it with the development committee. Its just what you need to get everyone up to speed and start a discussion. And you know that the chances of them watching are a lot better than giving them a lot of paper.
That went so well, you came up with an idea. You found a number of videos on board governance and created your own a custom training for your board. Each month you sent a new video to them. And some months you made your own using the video creation tips you found on Nonprofit.Courses.
You took the same idea to your staff. Every one of your staff found something they could use on Nonprofit.Courses. Everyone benefitted from the tech tips they found in the Teacher’s Tech videos. Guila Muir’s presentation videos were a great help to the people meeting with the community. When they scanned the list of content experts, they found nonprofit staff training opportunities that they never would have considered.
Then one of your staff pointed out Tracks. Tracks are sets of videos around a theme that can be viewed individually, or as a group. They’re great for diving deep into a subject since they allow the absorption of information over time.
Whether you’re on the line serving your mission, or behind the scenes funding it, promoting it or leading it, working at a nonprofit is a high stress job. That’s why we all need a laugh once in a while – so why not laugh at ourselves?
When it comes to staff training, there simply isn’t enough. what you found on Nonprofit.Courses is plenty to last for a long, long while. But just so you don’t miss anything, you sign up for New Course Alertsto get the latest content to move you, and your staff ahead.
It won’t include absolutely everything (what list can?) but it will give you a solid start on eliminating what mission you can’t imagine working with, which you’ll consider, and the ones you love.
Inventory Your Skills
Skills you need to work in a nonprofit can be classified into three categories.
Program Skills. These are the skills or professions that directly serve the mission of the organization. For example, if you work at a homeless shelter, you will find rehabilitation counselors. If you work at a private school, you’ll find teachers. If you work at a health clinic, you’ll find nurses.
But you may not be out of luck. Some skills don’t require certifications, or better yet, will train you on the job. They tend to be lower level positions, or because the barrier of entry is lower, less well paid.
Skills that have equivalents in business.Accounting, human resources, marketing, information technology and others you can find in business and nonprofits. Yet as similar as they are, they’re different, too. As someone new to nonprofits, you need to get versed how they compare, and begin to educate yourself.
Skills that are unique to nonprofits. There are a few things that you simply won’t find in business. Top among them are fundraising, grant proposal writing, program evaluation, volunteer management and if you’re in education, student recruiting. If you’re coming from the business sector, especially sales, you may find that you have a lot of transferable skills in these and other areas. Just know that you’ll face a bit of a learning curve.
See the Content
If you’re breaking into the nonprofit sector, there are two kinds of Content you want to consider on Nonprofit.Courses.
Career Content.This is content created by professionals in nonprofits that targets career issues. These are great “words of wisdom” videos that give you insider perspective on the work, and discuss advancing your career once you have a position.
Technical Content. If you know which skill you want to bring to your nonprofit job, or want to explore which skills are right for you, then start binge watching the content related to that.
This can be very important if the top level title has a lot of sub-specialties which require different skill sets. Take fundraising as an example. Yes, there are generalist fundraisers, but most people gravitate to the sub-specialty that’s comfortable for them, like direct mail, planned giving (wills and trusts) or major gifts (personal solicitation for significant gifts).
Get started finding that Nonprofit Career!
Successful transition from business or the government sector to a nonprofit job won’t always be smooth. We didn’t talk about pay (sometimes lower, but not always), cultural differences (which can be frustrating) and building a network that will lead to an offer.
For these and other job hunting skills, check out a great networking/job transition organization, like Great Careers/BENG, and its Nonprofit Career Network. Its a great way to meet others, create collateral like resumes and bios, and explore your options.
Matt Hugg, President and Founder, Nonprofit.Courses
(One more thing! Make sure you sign up for New Course Alerts so you get notice of current content on Nonprofit.Courses to move your career ahead.)
It’s not that I’m encouraging you to leave… in fact, far from it. I want you to grow! That’s because growth in our jobs, and growing out of our jobs so we can take on another, more challenging assignment, keeps us motivated.
Along with pay, lack of growth potential, having a boring job, or worse yet, burning out on doing the same things day-in and day-out, are some of the top-cited reasons for people moving on – especially in the nonprofit sector.
But how do you grow? I’m not going to say, “it’s easy,” but I am going to say that it’s totally possible, even in the low-budget environment at most nonprofits.
First, take a step back. What really interests you? Are you an annual fund fundraiser who really wants to work in major gifts? Are you the director of Human Resources who wants to dig deeper into why you have so many staff changes? Do you work with clients all day, and want to address the bigger picture?
Second, communicate. This could be the hardest step of all. You need to talk to your boss about your interests, and if you have a mentor, even better. Remember, there are dozens of problems each day at any nonprofit, and certainly not enough resources to address them all. Showing interest in one of those issues can be refreshing to any boss. However, this won’t mean that you’re going to be any less responsible for your current assignments – but if you take on something new that excites you, that and your current work won’t feel as burdensome.
Next, get skills. No budget for professional development? Not enough time for a conference? No problem. Sites like Nonprofit.Courses have thousands of free, accessible videos and podcasts from less than five minutes to more than five hours.
Here, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite free nonprofit webinars that we encourage you to explore. These 21 courses are divided by category for your convenience.
Feel free to jump around to the sections that interest you most, or read along with us from the top. Ready to get started? Let’s jump in!
What makes a great nonprofit webinar for you?
Remember, this isn’t Netflix or network television. You’re there for the content, not the production value. Still, some presenters do a great job in what is clearly a professional environment. Others do desktop videos in their kitchen. Should you care? Yes, but not why you might think. It’s really a matter of how you relate to the person, or voice on the screen. You might really connect with that desktop/kitchen webinar host. That means you’ll listen more. But there are limits. For example, robo-voices are just bad.
Here’s three steps to find to the right nonprofit webinar for you:
Find your subject. There are lots to pick from, so you can be pretty specific. Let’s take major gift fundraising. There are webinars on how to identify the donor, how to get the appointment, how to ask for the gift, and lots more.
Think about when and where. Are you watching or hearing this at your desk, at lunch, to/from work, while washing the dishes? Remember, a lot of good content that’s primarily video can play like a podcast.
Get a mix. One of the strengths of Nonprofit.Courses is that you hear from a variety of voices – some well-established veterans and other up-and-coming experts. Hear from them both.
Our Favorite Free Nonprofit Webinars
It’s hard not to say “they’re all my favorites.” But here are a few that I really like, for some special reasons:
Let’s face it, measurement isn’t always our favorite word, especially when it comes to our work. I love this video because content expert Ellen Bristol does a great job taking the teeth out of what scares us.
This isn’t one of my favorites because of the presenter (spoiler alert – it’s me!), but because so many nonprofits are stuck in revenue ruts. Everyone who works in or with a nonprofit needs to know their funding options.
Free Webinars for Nonprofit Board Members
Board members can feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. Ultimately, they’re responsible for everything your nonprofit does, or doesn’t, do for their cause. Check out these great videos to get them prepared to serve, and fund your mission.
A nonprofit board is no place for your friends and family. You need the right people. Shalita O’Neal, the Nonprofitista, gives you encouragement, and great advice, so you get the best people for the job.
By the end of this course, board members will understand why many commonly held and well-intentioned assumptions about fundraising may actually lead to raising less money – rather than more, all courtesy of legendary expert fundraiser Henry Freeman.
Dr. Victoria Boyd, president of The Philantrepreneur Foundation, reminds us that “being a board member is more than just taking a seat at the table.” Watch this thought-provoking video to see what she means.
Webinars for All Nonprofit Professionals
There are some things that everyone in the nonprofit sector should know. Check out some of these essential courses.
Every nonprofit staff and board member should grasp logic models, even if they never write a grant proposal. They’re fundamental to how your work will be evaluated by funders, and so many more. Brought to you by GrantsMagic U founder Maryn Boess.
Not sure why board members aren’t giving bigger gifts to your nonprofit? Amy Eisenstein gives us the top 10 reasons your board members would give bigger gifts to support your organization’s cause. Many of these reasons are truly shocking!
Imagine if your nonprofit could count on a steady stream of recurring donations, month after month. This is what a recurring donation program is all about. In this video, you’ll learn more about this three-step process for getting recurring donors – by iMission Institute.
Direct mail is expensive. So, when you decide to invest in a mailing, you want it to be as good as possible. But just covering the cost of the mailing isn’t good enough. In this online training, you’ll learn practical techniques to instantly improve your solicitations – from our friends at PlannedGiving.com.
The days of the static, billboard website are gone. It’s not enough for your clients and constituents to know what you do. You need them to support you! See this presentation by Elevation Web.
Nonprofit Webinars on Marketing and Branding
It’s all about marketing. Everything your nonprofit does, from its hiring to service delivery to financial audits, impacts how the world sees you and your mission. Learn how the right tools can make all of the difference.
Our friends at BC/DC Ideas offer a challenge. Sure, brand standards should always include your marks, margins, and colors. But what if they included more to guide your organization to be more inclusive and diverse?
Tracy Vanderneck knows that your budget is stretched. That’s why she helps with nonprofit Marketing on a Budget by bringing you a demo on how to make a quick video for your nonprofit organization using VideoMakerFX.
Making sure that your nonprofit’s staff, board and volunteers are well trained in their task and well educated on your mission could be the most important step you take for your organization’s success.
A well-trained fundraiser raises more money.
A well-trained program staff member leads to happier clients.
A well-trained volunteer greeting visitors builds a great reputation.
Yet for all of the advantages, training and education aren’t top on the list of where nonprofit resources are spent. It doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s see how that’s changing at Nonprofit.Courses. Take a look at some of our favorite nonprofit resources:
What’s most important at Nonprofit.Courses can be summed up in a handy acronym: CATS.
Cost: You don’t have to stretch your nonprofit resources at Nonprofit.Courses. There are 1,000+ free video and podcast training opportunities at Nonprofit.Courses in just about any aspect of nonprofit work. And the paid, premium courses? They’re a great value.
Access: Nonprofit.Courses isn’t gated with a paywall or membership requirement. You’re connected directly to the Content Expert’s material.
Time: Have a minute before an appointment? How about an educational lunch? Need a day’s seminar with credit hours? Check out the handy indexing by time – from less than five minutes to full academic semesters.
Simplicity: It’s easy. Do a quick search for which resources you want: filter by time, subject, Content Expert and more. Go to the course page. Instantly see what’s embedded, or hit the button to go to the Content Expert’s page for the video, podcast, or document.
You work so hard. Why aren’t you raising more money? Maybe the bucket’s leaking? ACFRE Linda Lysakowski will guide you through a systematic process so you figure it out.
Nonprofit Resources for Better Grant Writing
Whether grants are your nonprofit’s lifeblood or icing on the cake, an unfunded proposal is a huge disappointment and a waste of precious time and effort. Up your game and increase your odds of funding with these informative videos:
There’s a lot more to starting a grant proposal than putting pen to paper (or fingers on your keyboard!) Grants Magic U founder Maryn Boess takes you through the prep to increase your chance for funding success.
Does your organization get distracted by every new fundraising idea that comes down the pike? Do your executive management and board expect you to raise unreasonable amounts of money in a short timeframe with no resources to help? Linda Lysakowski shows you how to avoid your predicament through a well-written development plan.
Any nonprofit keeps data – on donors, on clients, on personnel, and more. This Wolters Kluwer course identifies types of data breaches and how criminals steal data from organizations, as well as review some of the legal and ethical implications involved.
Podcasts for Nonprofit Professionals
Did you hear that wonderful idea? Of course you did — on a podcast you found on Nonprofit.Courses. Listen today for some of the most interesting thought-leaders in today’s nonprofit sector.
Nonprofit Professional Development: Top Resources and Ideas
“Our greatest asset is our people!”
That’s just a vacuous, corporate platitude, proffered by Sunday morning political talk-show sponsors who want to show us they “care,” right?
Not so fast. Assets cost money. Even if your business is “lean,” “flat,” automated, and super-high-tech, the cost of the people you need to make it all happen could well be one of, if not the top expense.
Those Sunday morning talk show sponsors know that if they can’t keep great talent, all the other assets won’t produce enough money for a quick commercial on the late-late-late night movie, let alone a full minute on a high-profile Washington-based, investor-watching public affairs program.
They also know that it’s much more cost-effective to retain an employee than it is to hire someone new. And if they can keep the right people for a longer time, the more efficient they become and the more money they make.
But what does that mean to you, a nonprofit leader? Whether you’re an all-volunteer, grass-roots charity, or a major national institution, it means the same thing as it does to that Fortune-whatever corporate CEO—your greatest asset is your people.
So how do you get the most out of those assets – the ones that literally breathe life into your nonprofit mission? The answer is professional development.
That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive guide to nonprofit professional development to help organizations like yours get the training they need to succeed. Let’s take a closer look at the resources, ideas, and best practices involved in effective nonprofit training:
Read along from the top to find out everything you need to know to get started with nonprofit professional development or feel free to skip around to the sections that interest you most. Now let’s jump in!
What is nonprofit professional development?
To start, like everything you do, nonprofit training is about your mission.
Sure, you can be “well-intended” and carry out your mission with “what seems right” methods backed by intuition. Too many nonprofits do. But the best and biggest funders want expertise – current expertise. They want to see numbers that justify your programs, and programs carried out by professionals following today’s best practices. And today’s best practices aren’t yesterday’s.
Your staff needs to keep up.
Professional development, especially in a nonprofit context, is all about aligning your mission goals with your staff’s personal and professional goals. That can take all sorts of forms, from an annual nonprofit training conference to a nonprofit course at your local community college, mentor/mentee relationships, and so much more.
For someone to grow – and therefore become a greater asset to your organization – they need to own their growth. You have to give them the choice – autonomy – to explore what’s right for them.
For you, as a nonprofit leader, there’s a risk in that autonomy. What if they get so good that they become attractive to other employers and get offered more money? Yeah, it’s going to happen. If you were their biggest supporter and encouraged their professional development, you’ll have an advocate in the community.
But remember, just like it’s better for you to keep staff, changing jobs is a major hassle. It’s easier for staff to stay with you. Therefore, if you encourage their professional development, they’ll probably stay because they want to.
So now that you understand the importance of ongoing professional training, what are your options in the nonprofit sector?
Nonprofit Professional Development and Training Resources
Lucky for you, there are many different types of nonprofit professional development, and no two resources will look the same. Let’s walk through some of the most popular training options for nonprofit teams, and you can decide what’s best for your organization!
Online Nonprofit Courses
Once considered the “only if you have to” nonprofit training choice, recent events have highlighted some significant advantages to online nonprofit courses. You have some great options.
You’ve heard that “free is good.” When you’re talking about nonprofit courses, free can be excellent.
But why would anyone offer a course, or even a webinar for free? Top among a lot of great reasons is the motivation of the instructor proving their expertise. The calculation is pretty simple.
Let’s say you’re a fundraising consultant to nonprofits. By offering an excellent free course on “Top Major Gifts Asking Techniques for Your Nonprofit,” you develop a reputation for being an expert. The nonprofits who can’t afford your services will be grateful for the content and sing your praises to others. The ones who can afford your services see that you know what you’re talking about.
Some of either group may take what you said and apply it on their own. However, a significant portion of those who take the course won’t have the time or skills to match your expertise. Those are the ones who will engage your services for pay. Clearly, there’s a real incentive to offer a solid course. It’s a win/win for everyone.
Conversely, a lot of free nonprofit training isn’t related to the company’s core product at all. For example, a computer software vendor will offer a webinar from a nonprofit marketing expert because they associate their brand with that expert, and that expert brings their audience to their business. Again, it’s solid content, and free.
If free options are so good, why would you ever pay? Here are some top perks offered by paid nonprofit training courses that you can’t always get from their free counterparts:
Production quality. The quality of a paid course is probably going to be higher, which is going to better keep the learner’s attention, and thus more learning will take place.
Depth of learning. Paid courses tend to go more in-depth, even if it’s the same length as a free course.
Organized for better learning. Paid nonprofit courses tend to be better organized for learning. The modules will be short enough for you to absorb the information. They may also offer supplemental material, like workbooks or resource sheets.
Veteran instructors. Most people offering nonprofit courses, free or paid, come to you with nonprofit experience or very relevant business or government experience. It’s’ the ones who combine this with the ability to convey that information to you in an easily absorbed fashion that are worth paying for.
Professional credits. Free courses rarely come with the credits needed to maintain professional accreditation, like the CFRE for fundraisers, or CPA for accountants. Even if you don’t need “the hours,” consider that if a course can offer credits, it’s an assurance that it’s quality instruction.
Live seminars and conferences were the cash cow of the association world. As a board member for a local chapter of a professional association for seven years, I was surprised at how much the organization depended on live event revenue, especially when it was clear that online training was gaining in popularity. In fact, these seminars and conferences generated so much money that private companies were getting into the game, hopping from city to city with many of the same offerings using local talent.
Clearly, things have changed.
With online courses and webinars increasing in abundance, it will be interesting to see if live seminars become as robust a component of the nonprofit professional development landscape as before. Their primary advantage, however, is networking. Just running into interesting people in your same discipline is a major benefit. You can find sounding boards (or whining partners) for new ideas and life in your profession, often from people you would never otherwise meet from places you would never otherwise go. There’s also the emotional/mental break from being at your home or office.
Will these and other key advantages outweigh the costs? Maybe.
Even if the conference or seminar is local, you still have to travel to and from, and probably have meal costs either built into the event or on your own. If it’s far away, there’s transportation and even more time away from your organization’s work. That’s why these experiences may become less regular for you and their sponsors.
Academic degrees in the mission disciplines of nonprofits have been around for a while. You can get Bachelor’s, Master’s or even Doctorate degrees in social work, environmental studies, history, art therapy and so much more. Academic specialties like nonprofit management, or even sub-specialties in fundraising, are much more recent, and not nearly as common.
Still, since so many are offered online, it’s worth considering as a step on the path to nonprofit leadership.
I can tell you from experience that unless you have super great discipline, you probably won’t be as focused on your own as you would in an academic program. Getting graded really helps with this!
Most will give you a well-rounded set of nonprofit courses in a variety of essential disciplines, like marketing, fundraising, finance, legal issues, and more. Many top off your experience with a capstone project that brings together parts of several classes, focused on some aspect of your current organization.
You can also go for a more general degree, like an MBA or a Master’s in organizational leadership. Many of these programs offer formal or informal concentrations in nonprofit management and are more portable if you decide to leave the sector.
Podcasts are an excellent way to enhance your nonprofit professional expertise.
First of all, your ears may be the only thing you can lend during a lot of your day. Your eyes may be occupied with washing dishes, cleaning the house, or commuting to work.
Second, and just as important, many podcasts use an interview format that offers you a nice variety of content over time. Chances are you’ll get exposed to topics that you never would have if you weren’t a daily/weekly/monthly listener to your favorite audio source. Here are some excellent nonprofit podcasts to start you off.
Books about Nonprofit Leadership and Management
The definition of “book” is more fluid than ever before. Whether it’s a “traditional” paper from a known publisher, a self-published eBook from a new voice in the field, or a free download from a consultant’s website, they can all contain meaningful, career-changing information.
Therefore, the question really isn’t “should books be part of my professional development?” The better question, (in my opinion) is “how do I find the right books?”
Of course, you should be well-read in the specific field in which you aspire to, or profess expertise. If you call yourself a nonprofit human resource professional, you need to know the past and current literature related to nonprofit human resources. That’s a given. If you’re not sure where to begin, you can find some of the best nonprofit-driven books in our online bookstore!
Plus, over the years I’ve found the real gems of information are in the books that aren’t directed to nonprofits, but rather the books outside my field. For example, while I will argue all day that fundraising is not sales, there’s a lot that a fundraiser can learn from books on sales that aren’t covered in most books on nonprofit development. One of my favorite books is “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg. It has nothing directly to do with nonprofits but explains so much about donors and staff.
The difference between a book and a periodical is simple. Books should be (relatively) timeless and in-depth. Periodicals offer shorter content that’s more focused on the “here and now.” To be taken seriously in your profession, you need to keep up with the most recent developments and updates.
Each nonprofit subdiscipline has its publications, from commercial vendors to professional associations. For example, if you’re a higher education or private school development, alumni, or admission officer, you’ll want to subscribe to Currents, the publication of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).
Don’t worry. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the thought of incorporating all of the above into your already overburdened nonprofit life. You’re not alone. That’s one of the top reasons people throw up their hands and say “maybe later,” when it comes to nonprofit professional development.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some ways you can integrate professional development into your nonprofit life:
Organize mentorship/buddy programs.
Consider having “buddies” or “mentors” do some of the training. Having a person who is more experienced, but not an individual’s supervisor is a great way to accomplish ongoing nonprofit training. That person need not be in their discipline, either. It will be a great learning experience for both.
Host a staff book club.
How about a book club? While reading a book is great, a gathering of people who read the same book and discuss it is even better. This way, team members can share thoughts and ideas that come up while diving deeper into a new subject.
Get greater value from group training.
One way to make learning more exciting is by organizing it as a group experience. A lot of paid (or free!) nonprofit courses are the same price whether you watch the content by yourself, or as a group. This way, it’s a better value and team members can learn from each other at the same time.
Incorporate a social aspect to training.
Create a social media group among co-learners. This can be within your organization or across nonprofits. Discuss the latest articles read, nonprofit courses attended, recommend podcasts, and more.
Bring in sector leaders to share valuable knowledge.
Hosting external speakers is a great way to engage with your staff and encourage learning. Whether you do this online or in-person, getting an outside speaker to give your staff a new perspective is very useful. You may already be paying a consultant who can do this, or you can enlist a board member or bring in someone from a similar organization that doesn’t compete in your area.
Encourage team members to share their own experiences.
Be sure to recruit internal speakers as well! You probably have expertise right in your own organization that everyone can benefit from, whether it’s in their discipline or not. This is also great training for up and coming staff who should go on to making presentations at professional conferences.
Make the most out of your staff meetings.
Your staff meetings can be a valuable training tool. I worked with a nonprofit museum that held an all-staff meeting daily in their center hall. About 50 people stood in a circle to hear announcements and updates for 15 minutes every morning. A fun feature each day was a three-minute presentation from a section of the museum about the latest findings in their area. Plus, each day the gift shop demonstrated a new toy, book, or another item. Nobody looked bored!
Nonprofit Professional Development FAQ
So you understand the importance of nonprofit professional development, and you’re looking to implement these practices within your own organization. We’ve put together a list of some top questions concerning the establishment of nonprofit training. Let’s walk through each one to become better prepared for your own training experiences!
1. How do I get started with nonprofit professional development?
If you’re new to professional development, or your program is just perfunctory, getting started (or getting the most of your nonprofit training) can be daunting. However, like your mission programming, client marketing, revenue generation and so much more in your organization, you need goals.
Let’s start with what isn’t a goal? “Go to one conference of your choice,” at the bottom of a list that includes more “serious” goals, like the number of client visits or revenue projections. It reinforces that professional development is one extra thing that you should squeeze in if you have time.
Instead, take a page from grant writing. Think of it in terms of inputs, outputs, and outcomes.
Inputs: The free and paid training, podcasts, books and periodicals and more are all inputs – and like any good program, you should have multiple inputs.
Outputs: The output is what you want your staff person to do with all of these: for example, increase staff retention rate by 10% without increasing costs.
Outcomes: The outcome is something like “create a happier workforce that is more dedicated to our mission.” (And don’t forget to evaluate your outcome, like with a survey.)
There are no “ta-da” moments (imagine a magician unveiling the cut-in-half assistant as a whole) in this process. Professional development is ongoing, supported by your nonprofit’s leadership, and among staff themselves.
2. Is staff training expensive?
All this is good, but you must be worried about the cost. I know I would be.
There’s some good news here. The costs aren’t bad, and even better when you consider your return on investment.
Obviously, free nonprofit courses are free, and most podcasts are, too. Paid courses can drop substantially on a per-person basis if you engage them as a group; same with bringing in an outside speaker.
If you decide on online education, remember that it’s saving you hotel, food, and transportation costs that would otherwise go to a live seminar or conference. Books may not be free, (although many are) but they can be passed around the office, as can periodicals. Assigning a staff person to speak on a topic to the rest of the staff won’t cost you anything, although it would be nice to provide something like a gift card to a local restaurant for their effort.
The return for all of this? Huge. Better engaged staff who will be up to date on the latest methods, and more likely to stay longer – which saves you money!
3. How do I get my staff to participate in development opportunities?
That’s the biggest question when it comes to nonprofit professional development.
One of the biggest obstacles is that a lot of staff think of their careers as “extra” when it comes to working for your mission. To a point, that’s good. You want dedicated staff. However, there can be a downside when they don’t make the connection between their personal improvement and their ability to carry out your mission as best as possible. As much as you can, encourage staff and volunteers to see taking a nonprofit course, for example, as an exciting way to improve their part of your enterprise.
Yet on a deeply personal level, that may not be enough. As they say in sales, people buy emotionally and justify logically. The best way to encourage attendance is with positive emotion – like fun! Who says a nonprofit course can’t be fun?
It can be hard to be fun for a lot of disciplines – at least for an outsider. I can’t imagine having fun learning accounting, but there are lots of people who do (God bless them). And if the nonprofit course isn’t fun enough on its own, it’s definitely on you to be engaging. That way, more people will attend with greater enthusiasm.
The most powerful way to build professional development into your nonprofit‘s culture is to start with yourself. Be the role model.
However, being the role model isn’t about announcing that you’re jetting off to some exotic location for a three-day professional retreat, leaving behind resentful staff toiling in the trenches.
Being a role model is about being seen learning. Have a book with you and talk about it with your staff. Ask about what they’re reading. Attend a group online nonprofit course with your staff, then engage them about it later. Recommend a podcast that you listen to. Show that you make time for learning as a prompt for them to do the same.
Your taking these and similar steps is a powerful statement of the importance of ongoing education. Because if your greatest asset is your people, then professional development is a great way to protect your assets – and it starts with you.
Never engage even the best nonprofit client without one
Contracts: you can’t live with ‘em, you can’t live without ‘em.
Back in my fundraising paycheck life, I had a major real estate developer as a donor. On one visit, I caught him right after a protracted negotiation for a significant project. He said (to paraphrase)
“Contracts are funny things. If everything’s going great, nobody cares about the contract. When things are bad, everyone hates the contract! Still, you gotta have a contract.”
Yes, still, you gotta have a contract.
Could you do work without one? Sure. Would I recommend it? No way! There are at least seven reasons for you to have a contract on your next nonprofit consulting job:
It could be required by law. In fundraising in particular, more than 30 US states have laws requiring contract between nonprofits and fundraising consultants. Does yours?
It tells everyone you are a professional. Nothing says “I’m real” than a contract. A contract moves your work (in the eyes of your client) from a hobby to a business.
It removes any confusion that you may be volunteering your services. This is important to clarify in a sector where volunteering is part of the labor force. With a contract up front, there’s no confusion at the end of a job when you present your client with a bill.
It makes you take your work more seriously. “I have a contract to fulfill” maybe what gets your attention to get the job done.
It can make you look good. If you say in your contract, for example, “only three re-writes,” you look great if you “make an exception” and give them four or five.
It prevents abuse of your time. A contract defines exactly what your job is. Like nonprofits can suffer “mission creep,” you can suffer “job creep,” if what you are expected to do is not well defined in the contract.
It draws a definite end date. The best contracts end on a specific date. It’s not to say you can’t extend them, but a clear date gives you (and your client) the means to rethink your relationship. After all, you may need an “out” if you don’t like working with a client.
What’s a good contract look like? This is where I’m going to send you to your attorney. S/he probably has some templates for you to review that are specific to consulting. If you are in fundraising (or even if you are not), many contracts must be filed with the state. That makes them public documents, so you may be able to request a sample from the state agency handling fundraising consultant registration. And while you’re at it (again, if you are a fundraiser) make sure that your contract covers the required points as mandated by the state in which your client resides. At least one state (New York) has a form which must be included in all fundraising counsel and solicitor contracts. Most states put their fundraising counsel or fundraising solicitor contract requirement on the same, or linked website, as the website that addresses nonprofit fundraising registration. Oh, and again for fundraisers, don’t forget to register in that state as a fundraising counsel or solicitor (or whatever they call you), if it is required.
So… should you have a contract? Yeah. Are contracts fun? No. But like my friend and donor said, you gotta have ’em.
Are you an interesting person and fun to be with? Of course! But that only gets a consultant so far. You need to know why your client wants you. It might just boil down to one of these ten reasons:
Transfer knowledge.Many times, nonprofits are forced to depend on semiskilled labor to perform functions that in the for-profit world would be given to a higher paid expert. These people are either inexperienced, serve once served as volunteers to the organization, or serve functions in business that are similar to what they are being asked to do in a nonprofit, but not the same. Recognizing this, nonprofits will ask consultants to come in and teach the skills necessary to bring their staff up to speed in the expertise they require.
Evaluate.More nonprofits are being asked by funders and government agencies to objectively evaluate their effectiveness in mission programs or internal systems. Your developing an expertise in being able to quantify what the nonprofit up to that point considered unquantifiable will make you a viable resource.
Pinpoint an issue.Given the financial restraints that most nonprofits face, it’s easy to have a minor problem manifests itself in big ways. Being a troubleshooter for nonprofit can be a very valuable service in delivering their mission.
Episodic expertise.It’s incredibly tough for nonprofits to have every expert they require for every circumstance they encounter. Being able to bring you in “on call” can be an extremely valuable service, whether that’s in human resources, accounting, fundraising events or other once in done kind of activities.
Ongoing expertise.For some nonprofits, it’s a better business model to hire consultants who are semi permanent staff. For example, if they’re entering into a campaign that will only last two or three years, they might consider bringing in a campaign manager over that time, rather than hiring a full-time staff member that they might let go after the campaign is complete.
Interim leadership.To their credit, many nonprofits recognize that having a thoughtful hiring process for a permanent position takes time. They may not have the expertise in-house to take over a job on a short-term basis, or they made have somebody in house who is qualified but is a candidate for the position. It’s often better to hire an interim leader in a key position who can lend expertise and put systems in place for long-term betterment of the organization, then to hire quickly and regret the decision quickly.
As a “hatchet man.”Unfortunately, people just don’t like to do the hard tasks that can cause bad interpersonal relationships. Nonprofits are no different. Bringing you into objectively assess the situation and recommend appropriate cuts or changes insulates the staff that survives from long-term repercussions.
Spark things up.It’s easy to burn out very quickly when working with a nonprofit. A great function of the consultant is to offer new ways to look at things, new processes and new enthusiasm to a mission.
Pilot a new program.Introducing a new mission related program to a nonprofit is risky. Hiring you to get it started, work through some of the initial problems and train staff to keep it going reduces the risk and the potential for staff frustration.
Make contactsin the community.You may have valuable connections in the field that the nonprofit can benefit from, whether those are with government agencies, donors and potential donors or other consultants such as yourself. Many nonprofits will hire somebody to help them connect with resources that are out of their network.
Yes, smile. Yes, get engaged with their mission. But in the end, know why you’re there.
Which of these Five Nonprofit Consultants Limiting Beliefs is You?
You’re not human if you don’t have limiting beliefs. They’re the voices in the back of your head that say “be careful,” and “don’t go there” protecting us from danger. The same messages, especially when there’s not the physical danger that our internal caution system was created to handle, can stop us from real success. Here’s five that can hold you back from a successful nonprofit consulting career…
Nonprofits have no money. Wrong! “Nonprofit” doesn’t mean that there’s no money. It means there’s no shareholders to get the profits. In some cities, nonprofit hospital and universities are the biggest employers, with budgets in the billions of dollars. Connected to them are thousands of people and their businesses make their living serving the nonprofit community. Nonprofits need the same services as most businesses, plus most need specialty services, such as fundraising and program support. Many of the services that nonprofits require that are equivalent to businesses, such as accounting, have nonprofit specialties.
Nonprofits are corrupt. Unfortunately, nothing gets a bigger headline than a nonprofit scandal. Inappropriate accounting, bad human resources behavior, and misuse of resources, among other issues, occur in business, government and nonprofits. But because nonprofits are held to a higher standard, and because they are intended to serve the broader public, particular attention is given to any misdeeds within the nonprofit sector. What you’ll find is that nearly every nonprofit is aware of their fiduciary and moral obligations and operates appropriately within a code of ethics, whether formal or informal. Plus, if you see bad behavior, as a citizen, you have the right to call that behavior to the attention of your state’s attorney general, who has standing in all nonprofit matters within their jurisdiction.
Nonprofit work is “play,” not serious. Nonprofit work is extremely serious work. Some people might say that it is more important than business because it touches lives directly in ways that very few businesses offered products can do. You also find that nonprofits will work in extreme conditions, that no business would dare consider. Nonprofit workers will do more work than their equivalent for-profit workers and as their consultants, will often expect the same dedication from you.
Nobody will take me seriously if I work with nonprofits. Will you be taken seriously if you show them a paycheck? There’s nothing “un-serious” about working with nonprofit clients. Not only do nonprofit clients pay, but the work you do for them makes a difference in ways that equivalent work for a business will not. How many lives did their client, XYZ widget company, save today?
I don’t understand nonprofits. It’s easy to see why. Nonprofits have their own culture, standards of behavior, and even business processes which are distinctive from either the business or government sectors. Many people who enter nonprofit work do so because they did not want to work in business. This can express itself with an attitude of disdain toward business processes and the people who work in the business sector. Don’t take it personally. As a consultant, even as a consultant who comes with a broad nonprofit background, many in the nonprofit sector will see you as simply another business person trying to make money off them. It’s okay. Your job is to build relationships to break through that barrier. Most will see the value you can bring to their organization. Some never will. Don’t worry about them
I don’t have nonprofit credentials. While specific credentials are very important in many areas that serve nonprofits, and that don’t, for non-state regulated professions, your ability to show results in your work is much more important to your clients than a certificate. For example, the CFRE (certified fund raising executive) is a well-known credential in the nonprofit fundraising world. However, it is not a state regulated certification, such as certain legal or medical skills. So, as long as you are appropriately registered in the state to offer fundraising services (if the state you are working in requires this) your credentialing does not make a difference. Your clients will be more interested in the results they get than whether you have the letters behind your name. That said, the letters are important as a way of showing that you have some confidence in the field. In effect, they are marketing tools.
Is it easy to succeed in consulting to nonprofits? No! But what’s going to get you first is your own limiting beliefs, not reality.