Major Gifts: Build Your Program and Earn More Donations

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Do you dream about your nonprofit doing more for your mission? Wouldn’t it be great if someone with the means enough to make a major difference loved your cause so much that they made a significant gift to your organization? Better yet, how about having a ton of people like that?

These dreams can become reality—really. But they’re not just going to fall out of the sky. You have to work for them by finding out who’s interested in your mission, making connections, bringing them into your world, and most importantly, asking them to walk with you in helping others.

Welcome to the world of major gift fundraising. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about starting a major gifts program and maximizing the funding for your nonprofit. Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:

Ready to learn more about effectively soliciting major gifts and pursuing much-needed donor support? Let’s jump in.

Frequently Asked Questions About Major Gifts

Whether you’re looking to create a major gifts program for the first time or simply aiming to revamp your current major gift fundraising strategy, you likely have some questions about the process. That’s why we’ve compiled and answered some of the most-asked questions on the subject here!

What are major donors?

Let’s start off by defining what a major donor is. The basic answer is easy: anything you want it to be! It seems a bit loose, but it’s true. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to defining a major gift. What’s “major” to you could be considered “regular” or even “minor” by another nonprofit, and your definition could be unattainable to others.

Your organization can define major gifts as anything you want that suits your circumstances. However, it’s a good idea to have a set standard for your nonprofit, so here are some ways to come to an answer:

  • Major gifts as defined by a dollar amount. This is the most popular definition. What dollar number seems big to you? If you regularly get $25 gifts, then $1,000 might be major. If you regularly get $10,000 gifts, perhaps anything over $100,000 is major. It’s all up to you, and will likely vary based on your typical donation size.
  • Major gifts as defined by a percent of your donations. What defines the top five percent, or even one percent of gifts to your nonprofit? You can draw the line there to decide what constitutes a major gift.
  • Major gifts as transformational to your nonprofit. What size gift would transform your nonprofit? How big does a gift have to be to make a substantial difference? Underlying this question is a well-defined strategic plan for your nonprofit’s future. For example, imagine you’re a nonprofit that rents office space. To really move your mission forward, you need to buy a bigger space so you can run your programs more effectively. In this case, gifts of, say, more than 10% of the total building cost could determine your definition of a major gift.
  • Major gifts as a stretch for your constituency. Complete an analysis of your current donor base and figure out what they can give. In a campaign setting, this is usually called a feasibility study, but you don’t need to be in a campaign to use the methodology. Most prospect research firms can analyze your donor list and help estimate their giving potential to define what a major gift would be for your supporters.
  • Major gifts as defined by an emotional response. This is a popular definition because it makes major gifts feel real rather than an arbitrary, abstract number. Ask yourself, “at what level, if someone came in with a gift of that amount, would you celebrate with a party, and maybe even give the staff member a day off?” That number is your definition of a major gift.

Whatever definitions and numbers you use, your idea of a major gift should be reviewed at least annually. If you start out defining “major” at $1,000 and become successful at it, you’ll want to look at potentially upping the minimum to $2,500 or $5,000 the following year.

Before we step away from your definition of a major gift, make sure you define how a gift is made as well. Let’s look at three possibilities that are not just one-time gifts of cash or its equivalent (like stocks or bonds):

  • Multi-year pledges: For example, let’s say $100,000 is a major gift for your organization. Is it okay for someone to make a five-year pledge to pay $20,000 each year and still be considered a major gift donor?
  • Planned gifts: Will you take an insurance policy? A bequest intention in a will? A life-income agreement such as a charitable gift annuity? Do these types of planned gifts count toward your major gifts program?
  • Gifts-in-kind: What if someone gives you a boat worth $100,000, a piece of land, or even a business? Would those non-cash donations be considered major gifts?

It’s a good idea to answer these questions now, before diving too deep into your major gifts strategy. This forethought will save you a lot of time and energy when the gifts are considered.

How do you identify a major gift prospect?

Most major gift programs define their target donors as individuals or family units making personal gifts. However, there’s no absolute reason to exclude foundations and businesses from your major gift definition. In fact, some people who you’ll target as prospects for a major, personal gift will own businesses or control assets in a foundation or donor-advised fund.

Make sure that you see the donor as they see themselves. While you may see a person and a business or foundation as separate, and legally they are, the person making the giving decision could well see all of these as one unit. That means you need to approach them as one giving unit and let them decide which pocket supplies the final gift amount.

Once you define a major gift and the nature of the prospects, how do you spot a major gift donor? Let’s start with the CIA method.

No, not the spy agency! When it comes to major gifts fundraising, CIA stands for Capacity, Interest, and Access. To get any gift, major or not, you need CIA. Without even one of the three, there’s likely no gift. For major donors, in particular, the “C” makes a world of difference. Let’s break down each element in greater detail:

  • Capacity: For major gifts, this is where it counts. The person you’re asking needs to have the means, or have control of the means to make the gift in the amount you’re asking. If your prospect does not have the capacity to make a major gift, you’re not going to get one—regardless of how much they care about your mission.
  • Interest: The stronger the interest in your mission, the bigger the gift. If a donor doesn’t care about the problem you’re trying to solve, you’re not likely to get a gift, whether they have the money to or not. No interest, no gift!
  • Access: Finally, you need to have a connection to your donor. If you’re talking about a letter, you need a postal address. If an email, then an email address. For a personal solicitation, you need to meet them face-to-face (via video or in-person). Simply put: if you can’t get to them, how can you make your ask?

It doesn’t occur to most people that it’s best to start with identifying people with interest, rather than capacity. That’s because by identifying enough people with high interest, the odds that some will have the capacity to make a major gift are high. If someone really loves your mission, they will find a way to support you in a way that is above your expectations.

Next, you have to consider what your ideal donor looks like. What are their personal characteristics? Are they well educated? Where do they live? Do they fall into categories based on ethnicity, religion, gender, type of home, or style of dress?

Don’t forget to include indicators of strong interest, as discussed above. Do they show up for your events? Have they supported your fundraisers in the past? Be as specific as you can. Some nonprofits will create an illustration to make a strong visual image.

When done well, it turns out that your profile will expand, not limit your pool of prospects. Why? Because you have given your brain a definition to find. For example, if you drive a certain car, you likely see a lot of that model on the road. You might check out the different colors, models, or modifications. But the reality is, no matter what car you drive, there are not as many on the road as you think. Your mind is just trained to spot them, and now you’re training your brain to do the same with major gift prospects.

Just remember, your profile is a guideline rather than an absolute. If you identify someone who is a major prospect who meets 75% of your definition, that’s certainly okay.

As you’re building your profile, consider who in your current database might fit your definition. You may have unidentified major prospects right under your nose! You’ll also want to consider that major wealth doesn’t always show. For more on this, check out The Millionaire Next Door book series by Thomas Stanley.

How do you secure a major gift?

Now, the big question… how do you get a major gift? The answer is remarkably simple: you ask.

Really, can it be that easy? It turns out it is. The biggest obstacle is the solicitor’s frame of mind.

The nature of asking anyone for anything is to put yourself in a less powerful position. Think about the last time you asked a parent or grandparent for money (even if it was forever ago). It probably wasn’t comfortable, and for some, it’s almost physically painful. You might even say it was like begging. No wonder people don’t like fundraising! Begging is no way to build a nonprofit that does great things and deserves the community’s support, especially when it comes to major gifts.

Luckily, there’s an alternative, and it comes with a handy formula: 1-2-1/4-1. One-to-one (your and your donor) for one (the person who is receiving the benefits of your mission).

This “formula” defines the nature of a successful relationship between a solicitor and donor and the purpose of the solicitation. As an added bonus, it’s also easy to remember.

The nature of any solicitation should be “one-to-one,” whether in person, by mail, or in another way. You and the donor are in partnership for a cause. It’s not begging. Why? (And this is important!) Because you are not asking for your own benefit. Instead, it is fundraising because you are asking for the benefit of someone else. You’re not even asking for your nonprofit. You’re asking for the person who receives the services of your nonprofit, the end constituent.

The 1-2-1 partnership to help someone else is the leveler between you and your prospect. The donor meets their goal by providing the resources, whether that’s because of their dedication to the cause, an interest in the community, a need for a tax deduction, or another reason. You meet your goal by driving your nonprofit’s mission forward. Together, you serve the person who ultimately benefits from your nonprofit.

How do you start a major gift program?

One person makes one solicitation for a major gift, and that’s a major gift ask. One person makes a lot of asks, and you’ve got a major gifts officer. More than one person making more than one ask, and you’ve got yourself a major gifts program.

So what exactly constitutes a major gifts program? A major gifts program has:

  • Goals. Financial goals, yes, but real financial goals are your mission’s program goals reduced to numbers.
  • Messaging: Messaging is your program goals described in a way that your donor can understand and put in light of the people who benefit from your mission.
  • A list: The better your list of major donors and prospects, the more successful your solicitations will be. What makes a good list? The people on it should follow the CIA method of prospect profiling!

The key to a successful major gifts program is the coordination of resources and consistency of messaging. This drives toward meeting your fundraising, programmatic, and mission-based goals—all from a list of people to ask.

Best Practices for Soliciting Major Gifts

The steps to getting any charitable gift are remarkably similar, regardless of the solicitation method. They are especially important to follow in major gift fundraising. Let’s walk through these four basic steps:

  1. Identifying your prospect – Know who your prospect is.
  2. Engaging your prospect – Make contact with the prospect and introduce them to your mission. Take steps to get to know them and let them get to know you, your nonprofit, and your mission.
  3. Soliciting your prospect – Make the ask.
  4. Stewarding your donor – Say thank you, and show your gratitude for their gift.

But how can you follow each of these stages effectively? Take these best practices into consideration at every step of the way.

Identify your donor through prospect research.

When was the last time you hired a plumber, electrician, or mechanic? You likely did an online search to find who was nearby. You read reviews. Maybe you asked some friends or neighbors—all before you made the call.

You identified who you needed through prospect research. Nonprofit prospect research isn’t too much different. You’re just looking in different places and using different data sets.

And in the end, prospect research is to find out who has the C, I, and A to be a donor at the dollar level you need to support your mission.

Start with you, your board, your development committee, your staff, or your fundraisers to make a list of everyone you know who might even have the slightest interest in your mission. Show everyone in that group the list, and mark it with columns each for C, I, and A. For example, for I, does the person on the list show no interest in your mission, have a mild interest, or show great interest?

Then conduct a brief online search to collect additional information such as where they work and in what capacity, any interest indicators, other organizations they belong to, and other nonprofits they serve.

Notice that we haven’t yet contacted a professional prospect researcher. That’s because you can do much of the process yourself. Only after you get to the point where you are certain that there is some potential, perhaps even after your first meeting with a prospect, should you do an in-depth study on whether they would be interested in a deeper relationship with your organization.

Through a variety of online tools like prospect research databases, you can determine who in your network has the capacity to make a gift of the size you need, or who might have an affinity toward your mission.

Finally, be broad. You don’t know people’s history or interests. For example, you may not know that the mother of a highly successful business person had an alcohol problem. That makes that individual a good potential prospect for your substance abuse clinic.

Build personal relationships with major donors and prospects.

Once identified, you move to the engagement and cultivation steps.

In major gifts work, engagement is all about connections. Who in your network, or the network of your volunteers, knows the person and can make an introduction? Perhaps it’s for lunch at a club, coffee before work, or drinks afterward? You could get an introduction at a chamber of commerce mixer or an event for another nonprofit. The point is that this should be planned, not random.

Then, it’s up to you to evaluate their interest in your mission and invite them to get to know your organization and any particular projects you have in mind. They could be with a tour, an introduction to a program manager, a meeting with a client or mission recipient, or any number of dozens of activities.
The point of all of this is to build their interest—or their “I“—so that they can see themselves being a major part of the solution you’re trying to achieve for your beneficiaries. You are making them an insider, or a partner, in your organization through deep, interpersonal relationships.

Determine the targeted ask.

Ah, but how much to ask? Too little and they may not take your cause seriously. Too much and they won’t see themselves as part of the solution.

Unfortunately, there’s no secret formula to determine the perfect ask. But here’s what to consider in creating a strategic plan:

  • Their enthusiasm for your mission and the specific project you are discussing with them. The more enthusiasm for your work, the more they will stretch to help you.
  • Their gifts to other nonprofits. This may be your best indicator for a baseline. Consider that you should ask at least what they gave to a similar organization.
  • Their position in your community. If they see themselves as a leader, they may be interested in showing that by appearing higher on your donor lists.
  • Their assets and salary. Can you get this? Sometimes, yes. They may even tell you. A prospect researcher might find out if they own a high interest in a company. You can easily evaluate their home value online, and see if they have other properties as well. Sometimes, hobby assets are a good indicator of wealth. Boats and small aircraft are notorious money pits, so you need a certain level of wealth to afford them.
  • Their life stage. Are they building a career? Have small children? Growing wealth? Retired? This is a major indicator of their relative assets and inclination to give. Someone with children may have school fees and other expenses that eat into their disposable income. Empty nesters, however, have shed much of their financial responsibilities and are ready to make major gifts to organizations like yours.

By considering a number (or all) of these elements when determining your exact ask, you set yourself up for an increased likelihood for success.

Show your appreciation and follow up with major gifts.

Stewardship is too often overlooked because once a gift is made, there’s pressure to find the next gift. This is short-term thinking. In long-term, sustainable fundraising, great stewardship will lead to the next great gift.

So what to do?

Number one, say thank you! Obvious, huh? Yes, but so often overlooked. And don’t stop at one. A handwritten note, a personal phone call, a visit (when you can do that), a small token gift, anything that recognizes that their gift was valued. Don’t forget to be prompt. If someone makes a gift that’s important to your mission, don’t wait to connect with them.

After that, keep them involved. This is probably the biggest mistake people make after receiving a gift. They gave because they cared, so show your donor the results of their caring.

Of course, depending on your mission, doing things like introducing them to your beneficiaries or whisking them off to the other side of the world may not be possible. Logistics and privacy concerns can get in the way. That’s where letters, photos, and videos from constituents can make a big difference. If you did your job to make them an insider, they’ll understand the issues in a real way.

In some cases, you’ll also want to create financial reports on how their gift was spent. You’ll likely know whether this would be appreciated by your earlier interactions with the donor. It’s also a great opportunity to engage your accounting staff in the fundraising process!

3 Things You Need For a Successful Major Gifts Program

Although there are certainly a ton of moving parts when it comes to managing an effective major gifts program for your organization (especially if you’re building it from the ground up!), these three things can really set your team up for success:

Effective Major Gifts Officers

In some organizations, being a major gift officer is akin to being a navy fighter pilot on the nonprofit aircraft carrier. It’s what many aspire to, and where most think the action is.

Fancy sunglasses, travel opportunities, and cool uniforms (err, nice suits) aside, an effective major gift officer has a difficult job. Contrary to mythology, they’re not all slap-their-back extroverts, either. They are able to interact with a variety of people and cultures and keep good records of their interactions.

Most of all, a great major gift officer is a great relationship builder. And not just one relationship. Dozens, each with its own nuances, and each at a different stage, all that lead to a gift to their nonprofit.

Some might think that this requires a measure of insincerity. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s the major gift officer’s sincere commitment to their nonprofit’s mission that makes them the most successful. Their job isn’t about extracting as much as they can out of each prospect, or going for the easy “low-hanging fruit” gifts. A major gift officer works best when they discern the need of the donor and match it to the need of the mission.

A good major gift officer can pick up the signals and propose a gift that is a true win-win—for the donor and the nonprofit.

Powerful Nonprofit Software

Everyone is human, and to keep focused on relationships, it helps a major gift officer to have a solid donor database in hand. In fact, you could argue that a good database is the heart of every nonprofit’s fundraising program at every level—from direct mail and grant proposals to major gifts and planned giving.

Some business CRMs (or customer relationship management programs) can be adapted for nonprofit use. Yet a database tailored specifically for nonprofit fundraising (also known as a gift processing program or donor management system) enables the major gift officer to get a holistic view of the donor’s relationship with the nonprofit. The most important function of this class of programs is their ability to record and report on a variety of charitable contributions.

For example, few business CRMs can be modified to record multi-year pledges or the charitable gift amount from an event ticket purchase, properly report on gifts-in-kind, or provide present value calculations on planned gifts. Yet it would not be unusual for a major donor to engage in all of these kinds of giving over a short period of time.

Combine these features with the ability to record each step in a relationship, the traditional purview of a CRM, and the nonprofit gift processing program can be a very powerful tool for any major gifts officer.

Strategic Training Resources

Nobody is born a major gifts officer. Few people even imagined it as a career out of high school or college. So, while some people may have a natural inclination toward the best traits of a successful in-person fundraiser, education and training can make a significant difference in their success—and the success of their nonprofit’s mission.

It starts by knowing the basics of fundraising—CIA, donor profiles, the fundraising cycle, and more. It also helps to have a solid grasp of what your software can do so you can fully utilize its capacity to record and project relationships and identify new donors.

Keeping up with new methods of giving also helps. Every day new donors come into a major gift pool who are younger and more adapted to the technology of philanthropy—like peer-to-peer campaigns. A major gift officer can’t afford to say “that doesn’t apply to me, ignore these new methods.” Their donor will be disappointed that the expert they know can’t explain how their grandson’s school is raising money for their sports program.

Then, there are the changing tax laws. These aren’t just the concern of planned giving officers who work with retirement plans, gift annuities, bequests, and trusts. To be helpful to donors, you need to be up-to-date on deductibility rules, changes in how assets can be gifted, and more.

Perhaps the most important training someone can get is about how they make and maintain relationships. That’s all about knowing yourself. For example, there are studies on how one’s Myers Briggs profile impacts their fundraising approach. Knowing that about yourself and exploring similar ideas can make you a much more effective fundraiser altogether.


More than 70% of American philanthropy comes from individuals, and if you count what assets those individuals control among businesses, foundations, and bequests, that number may even reach the high eighties. Nonprofits who ignore major gifts from individuals are leaving a lot of philanthropy on the table.

And major gifts bring other rewards as well. The relationships built through major gifts bring community engagement, and with it, increased awareness for your mission. Major gifts are not just about big money. They’re about giving the people you serve the kind of services they deserve.

In other words, major gifts are about your mission at its best.

For more information on strategic fundraising and other nonprofit operations, be sure to check out these additional resources:

Learn more about major gifts and other fundraising strategies with Nonprofit Courses.

Building a Fundraising Strategy: Resources and Ideas

For a LOT of nonprofits (perhaps even most), their strategic plan for fundraising consists of two words: get money.

Someone comes up with an idea to run a gala, sell something, send out letters or emails—and that’s what they do. The method picked has a lot to do with who makes the suggestion and what that person has either done in the past or is comfortable with based on their personality. This isn’t to say that these are bad ideas. They certainly have the potential to raise money.

So, if you’re already getting revenue from what you do, is it even important to be strategic? And if you aren’t, will a fundraising strategy even help? The answer to both of these questions is yes.

While whatever tactic you came up with might meet your immediate needs, chances are you can raise even more money with some higher level, deliberate thinking—a lot of which you never consider as “fundraising.”

At Nonprofit Courses, we specialize in providing nonprofits like yours with powerful, on-demand training on a variety of subjects. Luckily, that includes strategic fundraising. We’ve put together this useful guide for professionals like yourself who are looking to up their fundraising efforts and create a more effective, innovative plan. Here, we’ll cover the following key steps and best practices for doing so:

Are you ready to learn more about building an effective fundraising strategy and raising the much-needed funds for your mission? Let’s jump in.

Craft a Detailed Fundraising Strategy Plan

The first step in building a fundraising strategy is to create a detailed fundraising plan that lays out your goals and how you plan to achieve them. And what’s a vital component of this fundraising plan? Your case for support.

Your case for support tells the world exactly why you deserve their money. It’s intimately tied to the most important part of your nonprofit: your mission. The case addresses key questions such as these:

  • Why is your mission important?
  • What happens if your mission is ignored?
  • What are the benefits to those who rely on your mission?
  • How does your mission impact the community at large?

Your “internal case” is a longer document that defines the need for funding your nonprofit–and nobody outside your organization may ever see it. What the public sees are the parts of the case that are relevant to how you are asking for money and who is getting asked–often called the “external case.”

But what all should be considered when crafting your overarching fundraising plan? Let’s look at the following elements:

People

No method of fundraising runs itself, so you need to start with your people–and specifically the willingness, availability, and skills they can offer. Willingness and availability often go hand in hand. The more enthusiastic about the mission of your organization, the more someone will be willing to help, and make their time available to you, regardless of their other commitments.

Skills are another story. The most enthusiastic person for your mission may not have the technical or soft skills required to handle a task. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that fundraising is only an extrovert’s game. Direct mail, online fundraising, grant-writing, and much of the behind-the-scenes work like properly recording gifts into your database and paying vendors are all made for introverts as well. The bottom line: everyone can play a meaningful role in your revenue generation program.

Infrastructure

Every fundraising method makes use of some sort of technology, whether in the act of raising money, in preparation for the activity, or after the gifts are made. Thus, it’s essential that you ask yourself whether your organization has sufficient tools in your toolbox to get the job done effectively, along with questions like these:

  • What does your technology look like?
  • Do you need to upgrade your software to handle more gifts?
  • Do you need new technology to automate or streamline operations?
  • And while you’re at it, how are your facilities?
  • Does anything need a facelift before you bring in visitors?

A lot of what you’ll need depends on the method of fundraising you select, but it’s a good idea to begin asking yourself these vital questions early on in the process.

Policies

Creating policies before they’re needed has saved headaches for thousands of nonprofits worldwide. But what kind of policies will you need?

  • Gift acceptance
  • Donor recognition/acknowledgment
  • Gift recording/entry
  • Confidentiality and ethics
  • Board giving

When you have specific documentation surrounding these instances created ahead of time you can ensure your processes are standardized and effective throughout your entire team.

Prospects

Who typically makes gifts to your organization? You have a choice here–dig deeper to find more of the same types of people or look for new prospects that are out of your traditional mold. Either way, you need to create a donor profile.

A donor profile is a specific description of the arch-typical donor you seek. For example, are they male or female? Where do they live? What is their income range? Be as detailed as you can. A profile doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t seek money from the real-world people outside your imaginary ideal. But it does give everyone a model so they can spot the elements of your ideal donor immediately–and that can help you save time and raise more money for your cause.

Whether your prospects are already in a database or you’re searching for new ones, every prospect needs three attributes to make a gift: capacity, interest, and access (also known as CIA):

  • They have to have the capacity to make the requested gift.
  • They have to have an interest in your mission.
  • You have to have access to them in whatever way you’re going to solicit the gift.

Without all three, you likely won’t get anything. If you do, it will be much less than what could have come to your organization. As you work with donors, your goal is to identify these attributes–and your database is where you store the information.

Goals

Fundraising goals typically come in two types: how many dollars you raise and how many donors you get. You might ask, “why should we care about how many donors we get as long as we get the money we need?” The answer comes in the form of another question: “Would you rather have one gift of $1,000,000, or a million gifts of $1.00?”

Getting one gift of $1,000,000 is great. The problem is that in most cases, it’s not going to be repeatable. That means you have to find another $1,000,000 gift next year, probably from somebody else. Million-dollar gifts don’t just come immediately–or easily. You have to work diligently to build these major donor relationships over time.

1,000,000 gifts of $1.00 might sound daunting too, but in other ways. To get that many, you probably need 4,000,000 prospects, and solicitations of that volume are going to cost a lot of money. The truth is that you need both–many small gifts supplemented by a few (or several) significant gifts. Big gifts give a huge boost to your program but take time. Small gifts don’t make as much impact but are more immediate. Both are required for a healthy fundraising strategy.

It’s important to keep in mind that fundraising is not a monolithic venture. It’s actually best made up of a number of fundraising programs to support your many mission needs. So, at this point, you need to determine exactly which programs within your organization require what kind of funding and where other funding might be available to support them.

For example, some of your programs may have a fee-for-service component, like tuition costs. In that case, charitable gifts will provide the funds required to make an excellent program where tuition might only fund a decent program.

Now, let’s say you come up with the final number for what you need. How are you going to get there? That’s where the scale of gifts comes in. A scale of gifts tells us how many gifts at each level are required to meet a particular fundraising goal–whether that’s your overall goal or a particular campaign.

Let’s go back to that $1,000,000 need. It’s not realistic to think that you’re going to get a single, $1,000,000 gift, nor is it probable that you’ll get a million $1.00 gifts. So what is realistic?

The scale of gifts, or gift range chart, sets up a pyramid of sorts that tells you that you’ll probably need at least one gift of $250,000, two or three at $100,000, a number of $50,000, $25,000, $10,000, and down the line. It’s also important to remember that for every gift you get, you’ll probably need four, maybe five prospects. Therefore, the scale of gifts will tell you how many people need to be on your list so you can meet your funding goals.

Now that you’ve compiled the various information that goes into your strategic fundraising plan, the next step is to match what you have in terms of mission, resources, intended prospects, and goals with be kind of fundraising method that will be most effective for your audience and organization. Let’s discuss a few best practices here:

Explore Available Grant Funding

Grant funding is one of the most well-known and effective ways of raising money for an organization. It all seems rather logical. Fill out an application; get money. Yet as you might expect, there’s a lot more to it than that.

For example, you have to be very specific about what you need and why you need it (remember the case for support, as discussed above). You need to carefully examine the requirements so that you are meeting the funder’s mission as much as your own. That said, you should be sure to vet potential grants carefully so you can choose to collect funding from like-minded institutions as yourself.

Probably most important, however, is that you have a relationship with the funder to the extent that the grant-giving institution allows.

Take Advantage of Corporate Giving

Even in today’s economy, businesses can be a good source of nonprofit funding. But you have to keep one thing in mind: what’s in it for them? It’s not that they don’t want to help or that they’re being greedy. It’s that every business, even of the “mom & pop” variety, is there to make money for their owners and employees. Thus, it’s important to look for opportunities to help them while simultaneously supporting your own organization.

For example, can your fundraising work drive customers to them? Can you increase their visibility within a targeted group, like the people who suffer from the disease your mission is determined to address? Do you supply their business with employees, or do their employees volunteer with or contribute to your nonprofit?

Just like with grants, corporate fundraising is built on relationships. Don’t expect that a business will give you money out of obligation or guilt. Longer-term support always stems because they want to support your cause and the constituents you serve.

Plan and Host Engaging Fundraising Events

Events are the stock and trade of a huge swath of the nonprofit sector. (Get a laugh from this clip from the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie classic, “Babes in Arms.” Does it remind you of a nonprofit committee meeting?)

The good news is that even when people can’t be in the same room, a lot of people want to be seen with each other, supporting a good cause. In their seminal book, The Seven Faces of Philanthropy, Karen Maru File and Russ Alan Prince came up with a name for them and their giving profile: the Socialites. They want to have fun while doing good.

For a nonprofit, a major attraction for special event fundraising is scalability. You can do an intimate dinner party around a dining room table, or a walk-a-thon for thousands. You can make it a black-tie event at a high-end art exhibit, or a beef ‘n beer at the local firehouse. Special events are great ways to deliver messages about your mission while also raising money for your cause–just don’t forget to collect the names of everyone attending so you can connect with them later.

Emphasize Strategic Donor Cultivation Efforts

In any fundraising method, relationships are key. And the fundraising-ese word for building relationships with donors? Cultivation. And effective fundraising requires strategic cultivation.

This means keeping the end goal in mind. Fundraising experts David Dunlop and Buck Smith developed a system known as Moves Management, which assigns roles to staff and volunteers who carry out specific cultivation steps that lead to a gift. These steps can be highly targeted to a donor for a single gift, or broadly applied to many donors simultaneously.

The whole idea is to be intentional and make every contact with your donor or prospect lead to a solicitation. This makes a lot of sense, yet most fundraising cultivation, even for the biggest gifts, is based on ad hoc activities that are made up as the process evolves. Being strategic with your cultivation efforts can save a lot of time, build confidence in your staff and volunteers, and lead to much more significant funding from whomever you ask.

Invest in Powerful Fundraising Software

“Make the list, work the list.” The better list you have, the better you’ll be able to match your prospective donor with your nonprofit’s need, estimate the appropriate gift amount, and make the ask. The idea is that every gift should be a win-win for both the donor and the nonprofit. Fundraising software is key in making that happen.

Donor management software like Bloomerang, CharityEngine, Lumaverse and so many more are available at a wide variety of price levels, with capabilities that will amaze. There is absolutely no reason to use manually updated spreadsheets to build your own donor database for tracking supporters, their gifts, and their attributes.

Further, online giving solutions like Snowball, Donately, and Salsa Labs can help you collect and process donations from any number of supporters with ease.

Train Your Team in Your Fundraising Strategy

Training your nonprofit team in your fundraising strategy is an important part of the fundraising process. In doing so, you’ll boost your staff and volunteers’ confidence in you by communicating your plan effectively. Then, each member will care about your mission, see their own role in your success, and work to see it succeed.

Sharing your strategy shows every member of your team–from the CEO and the board of directors to the marketing interns–that fundraising is a priority within your organization. A plan means that you’re on a mission on the move, but it’s not likely to be an effective and actionable plan if every player doesn’t understand their part.

Luckily, there are a ton of free and low-cost nonprofit fundraising resources available to organizations like yours. If a member of your team is unsure how to begin the prospect research process, encourage them to take an online course on the topic. If your volunteers are lacking the skills required for successful donor outreach, be sure to equip them with the powerful educational resources they need.


Ready? Now get started!

You can do this… you have to do this! Building a fundraising strategy isn’t optional if you want to be more effective in your fundraising and the pursuit of your overarching cause. Your mission is too important not to plan for, and your staff and volunteers deserve the guidance that a carefully laid out plan will bring. After all, a strategic fundraising plan is a cost-effective, time-efficient way to raise money for your organization. It’s like our mothers told us: well started is well done–so get it done!

For more information on strategic fundraising and overall nonprofit operations, be sure to check out our other educational resources:

Find out how effective nonprofit training can help with building a fundraising strategy.

Great nonprofit volunteers are worth the cost.

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.

See the webinar Nonprofit Volunteers, here.

[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.]

To see how nonprofits can use Nonprofit.Courses to support their boards, click here.

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.

See Nonprofit.Courses videos, podcasts and document resources on volunteer management and training, here.

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.

  1. Are they volunteering because your nonprofit helped them, or they received help from a similar organization?  
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Start right.

Like anything else, to have an effective volunteer program, you need to get them started right. Get the FREE Nonprofit.Courses Volunteer Onboarding Checklist.

Summing it up.

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.

Leverage Nonprofit.Courses with Great Nonprofit Startup Training

Nonprofit Startup Training can launch your dream

of a better world, a better community… a better life… for someone… somewhere… some time.

There’s too much of…

There’s not enough of…

We need to save…

We need to stop…

We don’t want that…

Dreams alone don’t solve problems. You need people. You need organization, you need action, and you need money. And if you’re just starting out, you need education.

That’s how Nonprofit.Courses can help.

Nonprofit.Courses is a perfect place to cost effectively pick up information and skills to make your nonprofit successful.

See all of the videos, podcasts, documents and more in the Start Up category.

It starts with Nonprofit Startup Training in the Process

Want to get started right? Check out the #1 Tip to Start a Successful Nonprofit and 3 Ways to Test Your Nonprofit Idea. Then watch Who Owns a Nonprofit , What if people say my nonprofit idea sucks, and Start a Nonprofit to Make Yourself Money. These could be some real eye openers.

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.

See The ABC’s of FORMING YOUR 501(C)(3)

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?

Avoid problems by watching this video: Biggest Mistake When Applying for 501c3.

Here’s a way to take it all in, one day at a time. Maybe you start your nonprofit startup training with the free 10-Day Nonprofit Startup Bootcamp

Or maybe you want to take a social enterprise approach? Establishing a nonprofit may not be right. Are you better off being a business and designating your enterprise as a public beneficiary corporation, or a B-Corp.? Check out Top tips for non-profits to generate innovative and feasible social enterprise ideas.

It could be that establishing an independent nonprofit isn’t right for you, at all. Have you heard of fiscal sponsorship? It’s like renting someone else’s nonprofit designation and running your program under their umbrella. See Things You Should Know About Fiscal Sponsorship, including Where To Find One.

Your Board

Of course, starting right can make all the difference in the success of any enterprise. And your board is at the heart of your start.

To get off on the right foot, see the # 1 Mistake Startup Nonprofit Boards Make

Then se the answer to this important question: How many board members for your startup nonprofit?

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.

Startup Funding for Nonprofits

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.

But if you still decide that grants are the way to go, this is essential information: How Not to Pay a Grant Writer.

Build Trust with Accurate Accounting

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?

Check out all of the ways you can communicate here.

Let’s get started!

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!

Oh, one more thing: Keep up with everything Nonprofit.Courses has to offer by signing up for New Course Alerts.

On Demand Nonprofit Staff Training makes a Major Difference

Nonprofit staff training can’t happen fast enough.

Your executive director is on the phone.

She’s just been to a board meeting and she sounds tired. Really tired.

“I need you to give me a marketing plan by week’s end,” she demands. You can hear the stress in her voice. “I need to give something to the board by next week!”

“Ahh, okay,” you reply tentatively. You think to yourself, “where am I going to learn about marketing in a week?”

Then you remember…. Nonprofit.Courses.

Then the hesitation melts away. “Sure thing! How’s Thursday?”

That’s one of the perfect uses of Nonprofit.Courses. Thousands of videos, podcasts and documents ready for you to catch up quickly on nearly every nonprofit subject you can think of.

But there’s more.

How’s your career?

In addition to the comprehensive collection of skills-based content, Nonprofit.Courses has videos and podcasts specifically on how to move your career ahead, at whatever stage you’re in.

Not just your own discipline, but other’s.

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.

See content expressly for your career, right here.

Board Training

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.

See content for Board Training right here.

Staff Training

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.

See all of the Tracks on Nonprofit.Courses

Nonprofit Humor

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?

See our Nonprofit Humor page by clicking here.

What’s your next step?

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 Alerts to get the latest content to move you, and your staff ahead.

Looking at a Nonprofit Career?

Transitioning to a Nonprofit Career won’t be easy, but it could be worth it.

 It’s time for something different. It’s time for a job that has meaning. It’s time for using your skills for good! It’s time to look at a nonprofit career.

You’ve always been generous. Anytime you’ve seen a need, especially in an area that connects to who you are, you’re there, ready to help.

Plus, you’re willing to work hard, maybe in less-than-ideal conditions.

  • Maybe it was when you walked in the rain to raise money for cancer research after your best friend went through chemotherapy?
  • Or were you at the town meeting when your favorite tract of land, the one that you hike with your kids, was threatened with development?
  • Are you there to help your school because you got so much from it, and you see even greater need in the kids, today?

Its time to look at making a full-time job of it. But where do you start?

This is a perfect time to explore Nonprofit.Courses.

Find a Mission

First and foremost, nonprofits are mission driven organizations. You’ll find that a lot of people hired by nonprofits are extremely dedicated to the missions they serve.

So, your first step is to identify missions that resonate with you. (Get your free Nonprofit.Courses List of Missions.)

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.

While some people who come from the business sector have the education and certifications in areas that are mission related, most don’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t get an education and certification in these areas. It’s just that it will take more time, and usually some amount of money.

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.

Good luck!

Matt Hugg Online Nonprofit Courses

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.)

21 Free Nonprofit Webinars to Further Your Career Today

How long do you plan to be at your current job? 

Not too long, I hope. 

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. 

Free nonprofit webinars can be a helpful resource for any organization.

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.

We love these free nonprofit webinars.

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:

Free nonprofit webinars can provide powerful training resources for any team.
  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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 

We love these 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:

Why I Love Metrics and You will Too!

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. 

The ABC’s of FORMING YOUR 501(C)(3)

“How do you start a nonprofit?” is one of the most frequent questions I get. I love this video because the experts at Harbor Compliance do a great job laying out what’s needed. 

More than Parties & Grants, 10 Revenue Sources for Nonprofits 

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.

Building Your Nonprofit Board: Don’t Get Discouraged! 

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.

The Non-Profit Board’s Guide to Successful Fundraising: 8 Core Principles 

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.

Being a Connected Leader

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

Free nonprofit webinars offer powerful educational resources.

There are some things that everyone in the nonprofit sector should know. Check out some of these essential courses.

CharityChannel Interviews the Alliance’s Governance Affinity Group

In less than 20 minutes Stephen Nill brings us the results of the Alliance of Nonprofit Management’s groundbreaking survey on the leadership of nonprofit boards.

The Logic Behind the Logic Model.

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.

Who owns a nonprofit?

Nonprofit attorney Jess Birken clarifies an essential, and often confused point. Watch this so you can explain it to others!

3 Excellent Fundraising Webinars

These free nonprofit webinars are dedicated to top fundraising strategies.

No money, no mission, right? Here are some great videos to get that money part solved so you can make that mission part thrive!

10 Shocking Reasons Why Board Members Would Give More

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!

2 Areas to NOT assume in nonprofit fundraising

Internationally known fundraising expert Marc Pitman brings you a quick 5-minute video on what you should never assume when you’re raising money for your mission.

10 Steps to a Successful Planned Giving Program

If you’re ready to launch a Planned Giving program, the experts at Stelter break it all down for you here. Even experienced shops will benefit from this straightforward checklist.

3 Engaging Grantwriting Webinars

Free nonprofit webinars offer powerful educational resources.

Grantwriting is a nonprofit essential skill. There’s plenty of expert resources on the subject at Nonprofit.Courses. Here’s some to get you started.

Grant Writing – Tips for the New and Occasional Writer

Nationally known author and consultant Michael Wyland talks on the grant writing basics (and not so basics).

What is the Most Important Part of Grant Writing?

Are you trying to figure out where you should focus your energy as you begin the grant writing process? Check out this video from Funding For Good to learn where professional grant writers start.

What Funders Want

This session is a deep dive into tracking outcomes and best practices to prepare for mission success by outlining what funders want. It’s an important question answered by 501(c)Services

5 Ongoing, Live Nonprofit Webinars

Where are some other helpful sites with lots of nonprofit educational content? Check out these: 

Free nonprofit webinars can be a helpful resource for any organization.

DonorPerfect 

Bloomerang 

National Council of Nonprofits

Nonprofit Leadership Alliance

Volunteer Match

Nonprofit Webinars on Annual Funds

Free nonprofit webinars offer powerful educational resources.

According to the 2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report, less than half of nonprofit gifts were repeated each year. Do better with these and other videos on Nonprofit.Courses. 

Success with Recurring Donations

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.

How to Write Solicitation Letters that get Results

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.

Squeeze the Most Fundraising from Your Website

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

We love these free nonprofit webinars.

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.

Inclusive Branding

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?

Marketing on a Budget

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.

Marketing Trends Nonprofits Need to Know (and Embrace)

Digital marketing, content marketing, social media marketing—each plays a role in a nonprofit’s strategy. Check out the latest from Firespring.

Additional Nonprofit Resources

Check out these additional nonprofit resources.

 Need a reason for continuing your education journey? Check out these articles:

29 Nonprofit Resources for Fundraising, Development, and More

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. 

These nonprofit resources are a great way to train your team.
  • 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. 

How about some examples?

Exactly What You Need to Know About Any Fundraising You Do

Should I Start a Facebook Group For My Nonprofit?

Handling Money to Build Trust

Nonprofit Resources for Improved Fundraising

Check out these nonprofit resources for better fundraising.

It’s simple. To accomplish your mission, you need money. The better you get at finding money, the more people you can serve. 

100% Board Participation 

If the board doesn’t give, why should anyone else? Fundraising expert Amy Eisenstein gives some great hints to get you going.

The Four Decisions – How to Lead Your Donor to Each

Veteran fundraiser Dan Shephard lays out a framework for successfully asking for major gifts. 

5 Ways to Delight and Retain Donors with Video

Video is for more than great training. Let nonprofit expert Julia Campbell show you how. 

Create Your Fundraising Calendar, Now! 

Content Expert Ayda Sanver gives some important tips on creating a calendar so you can time your solicitations for their greatest effect.

The Leaky (Fundraising) Bucket What’s Wrong With Your Fundraising and How to Fix It

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

Learn more about grantwriting with these nonprofit resources.

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:

Budget Building for Grantwriters

GrantsMagic U founder Maryn Boess gives you exactly what you need for this critical proposal component. 

Online Graduate Class in Practical Grantwriting

Dive deep into the grantwriting process, and come out with a real proposal and college credits with expert instructor (and Nonprofit.Courses president) Matt Hugg.

When Do You Need to Hire a Grant-writer? 

DIY or hire a pro? Shalita “the Nonprofitista” O’Neale can help you decide.

The 30 Minute Fast-Tracked Grant Writing Course

If you need to jump-start your grantwriting, Holly Rustic can show you how in her step-by-step system.

Is it Worth Your Time to Write that Grant? 

Mandy Pearce will walk you through this essential question in just over six minutes. 

Nonprofit Resources for Earning Continuing Education Units 

Encourage your team to continue their education with these powerful nonprofit resources.

Do you hold a professional license or designation like a CFRE or CPA? Lots of courses on Nonprofit.Courses come with certification so you can maintain that important credential. Here’s a few: 

Growing Your Grants Readiness

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.

Create a Development Plan that Works! 

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.

Common Frauds in Not-for-Profits:

Wolters Kluwer lays out various types of frauds and how the criminals commit the frauds. It’s essential information for every nonprofit leader. 

Creating Your Most Successful Year-End Fundraising Campaign

Year-end can be the most fruitful time to raise money for any nonprofit. ACFRE Linda Lysakowski gets you prepared.

Data Breaches, What’s My Risk? 

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

Podcasts are convenient and educational nonprofit resources.

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.

Inspired Nonprofit Leadership with Mary Hiland

Mary makes her podcast one of the best places for nonprofit leaders to gain insights, tips, inspiration, and encouragement to unleash their potential. 

The Nonprofit Jenni Show

In each episode, Nonprofit Jenni (Hargrove) chats with nonprofit professionals about their management, marketing, and development strategies.

Concord Leaders Podcast by Marc Pitman

Marc brings us short interviews with nonprofit CEOs and executive directors, reminding us why we love leading and giving us strategies to overcome challenges.

Nonprofit Vision with Greg Nielsen

Nonprofit Vision with Gregory Nielsen presents informative and entertaining conversations spotlighting critical issues in nonprofit leadership and the visionaries who are addressing them.

The Rainmaker Fundraising Podcast

High impact interviews with top fundraisers and nonprofit leaders, from hosts Andrew Olsen, CFRE, and Roy Jones, CFRE.

Additional Nonprofit Resources

Check out these additional nonprofit resources to learn more.

Nonprofit Professional Development: Top Resources and Ideas

Getting What You Paid For: 10 Tips for Nonprofit Training

Nonprofit Staff Development: 5 Effective Best Practices

5 Reasons your Nonprofit Should Invest in Virtual Training

5 Ways Micro-Learning Leads to Your Maximum Results for Your Nonprofit

How Online Training can Build a Stronger Nonprofit Team

Nonprofit Professional Development: Top Resources and Ideas

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.Nonprofit professional development can bring your nonprofit staff to the next level.

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:

  1. Nonprofit Professional Development and Training Resources
  2. Nonprofit Professional Development Ideas
  3. Nonprofit Professional Development FAQ

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!

This man is taking a nonprofit professional development course at his desk.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!

This man is at his desk taking an nonprofit professional development course online.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.

Free Courses

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.

You can check out some of our free nonprofit training courses here.

Paid Courses

Paid courses offer great value for nonprofit professional development.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. 

Take a look at our top paid offerings for online nonprofit training here.

Live SeminarsA woman in front of an easel during a nonprofit professional development seminar.

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.

A man running to a nonprofit professional development academic class.Academic Instruction

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. 

Nonprofit PodcastsA man walking while listening to a nonprofit professional development podcast.

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

A couple on a couch reading nonprofit professional development books.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. 

Professional Publications

Man reading Professional Publications for his nonprofit professional development.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). 

In addition, anyone in the nonprofit world, staff or volunteer, would also benefit from the broader perspectives offered by non-discipline specific periodicals, like the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Nonprofit Times, Nonprofit Quarterly, or NonprofitPro

Nonprofit Professional Development Ideas

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.A man on a couch using social media as nonprofit professional development tool.

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!

These questions can help you prepare for your nonprofit professional development.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. A woman at her desk taking advantage of nonprofit professional development opportunities.

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. 

Conclusion

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.