Major Gifts Officer Training: 8 Resources for Success

Get started with Nonprofit Courses for your major gifts officer training.Nearly everyone at a nonprofit, or at least its leadership, has the same dream… a person of means walks through the door, pulls out a checkbook, and makes a gift so big that the organization never needs to worry about money again. 

Major gift officers are in the business of making that dream come true. 

While the donation described in the aforementioned scenario is hardly likely, transformational gifts are certainly possible. Significant gifts like these, that make a major difference in your mission, are worth pursuing. That's why a major gifts fundraiser’s job is to identify, cultivate, and steward potential major donors so that when asked, the prospect sees your cause as meeting their goals—and writes the check to make it all happen.

So how exactly do you get this done? Sure, asking is a major component of the strategy, and not asking is a big reason why major gifts don’t happen. Still, the actual asking is a brief, albeit important part of a proven process. In fact, to prove how brief it is, get out your stopwatch and time how long it takes to say “will you make a gift of [any amount here].” Probably less than three seconds. 

So, if asking is so important and so easy, why aren’t major gifts flying in your door? 

Because getting major gifts is a process. The good news is that the process is pretty well proven. If you're a major gifts officer or a major gifts officer in training, you just need to learn it. If you learn it and still aren’t getting results—go back and review it. Because the process works. 

But understanding the major gifts offer training process is for more than major gifts officers. 

Why? Perhaps the best comparison to use is with ice hockey. Every time a player scores a goal, that player gets a “point” on their record. Points add up, and clearly, the more goals you score, the more points you get and the more valuable you are to the team.

But unlike a lot of other sports, hockey recognizes that the player who touches the puck directly before it goes into the goal isn’t the whole story. Let’s say a buddy drives the puck toward the goal with a slapshot. You’re there next to the net, and just tip it with your stick, leaving the goalie way out of position—and you score! You get the point, but your teammate gets a point, too. Which is called an “assist.” 

Like in hockey, fundraising is a team sport. The person making the ask isn’t solely responsible for the gift. Your assist is just as valuable as your major gift officer’s goal. So if you know how major gifts work, you can be a major player in making goals—and getting gifts. Just like a hockey player with a lot of assists, your career benefits as well.

How do you learn to score the goals and make the assists in major gift fundraising?

That’s where strategic major gifts officer training resources come in.

As a nonprofit leader, you want your team to be well-equipped to raise money and meet their fundraising goals. When it comes to major gifts officer training, having the right tools in your toolkit is more important than ever.

Our suggestion? Train your team with on-demand, low-cost virtual resources like from Nonprofit.Courses. As an online, open-access platform for nonprofit content, including major gift development, Nonprofit.Courses lets you find exactly what you need from a voice that resonates with you and your nonprofit’s mission.

It's a great resource for anyone interested in the process of soliciting major gifts—whether you’re a full-time major gifts officer, a professional who supports the effort, or a volunteer who loves the cause. And if you're not sure where to start, we've picked out eight favorite resources to inform any fundraising professional about the multi-faceted approach to major gifts development. Let's jump in!

1. Basic Fundraising Concepts for Nearly All Nonprofits

Before you conduct any fundraising activities, it's important to have a solid understanding of the process involved. Regardless of whether you write an email asking for a small donation or sit in front of someone to request a major gift, the basic concepts are the same. 

Getting this big picture view from the beginning helps anyone seeking major gifts see fundraising from the donor’s point-of-view. You may be asking for something big that your research says is important to the donor, so why is your donor making a bequest to a cause they only hear about through the mail? Knowing how each component of fundraising works together by effectively grasping the basics can answer this question and more.

While we’re talking about basics, wouldn’t it be great if you, your colleagues, and your volunteers could learn about fundraising without all of the jargon and complications? Wouldn’t you like to see philanthropy from the joy of abundance, rather than a fear of scarcity? 

Fundraising consultant Larry Johnson hates it when someone calls fundraising a “necessary evil” that people avoid to the point that asking rarely occurs. To this nonprofit expert, fundraising is a joy—and his goal is to make it your joy, too. That's why he created an effective, proven method of raising significant money for your charity that’s approachable for everyone, and long-lasting in your nonprofit’s culture. 

This is huge, especially if you’re just starting out or wouldn't consider major gifts your full-time job, or if fundraising never “took” before in your organization. However, even if you are an experienced professional fundraiser, this major gifts officer training course gives a perspective that you rarely find to volunteers and colleagues alike. 

3. Build Donor Relationships that Lead to Major Gifts

Major gift fundraising is built on one foundation: the relationship. The connection between your donor and your cause—the people you serve and the staff, volunteers, and contributors who make it happen—leads to major gifts. But how do you become more than just friends? How do you build a relationship where your donor meets their goal of helping a cause they love with a major gift, and you meet your goal of getting significant support for those you serve?

That’s what Linda Lysakowski’s course, Build Donor Relationships that Lead to Major Gifts is all about. Linda knows that you need to have a genuine relationship with your donor based on mutual trust and interests. As one of the few in the world with the Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive (ACFRE) designation, Lysakowski has the experience you can trust to get the straight scoop on the most important part of major gift fundraising.

4. Become a Prospect Research Connector

Wouldn’t it be great if you could figure out whether someone had the capacity for a major gift, how to connect to them, and whether they are interested in your cause all before you visited them? That’s what prospect research is all about!

Prospect research can go deep into the details of a single person or review a broad list of people for indicators of who you should look at more closely. It’s a great tool to use before and after a connection with your prospect. 

Luckily, the Prospect Research Institute’s Research Connector program gives you access to a variety of tools and courses so you can focus your time on the people who can make the greatest impact on your mission.

5. The Storytelling Non-Profit Master Class

What if the classic television show “The Brady Bunch” started with a chart of the children’s names, ages, and parents, along with how many friends they had at school. Would you remember? Would you even care? Probably not.

Instead, the first words are “it's a story…” The show’s producers knew one simple fact: humans learn by storytelling. It's how we retain information. 

That's why Vanessa Chase Lockshin focuses so much on storytelling in nonprofit fundraising. She knows, and you’ll learn, how stories can make your case for a major gift much better than dry numbers, charts, or even facts and figures.

It’s not that she’s against numbers. This course just encourages you to bring your numbers, and your donors, alive through the best means possible: attention-grabbing, powerful stories. 

6. The Asking Conversation: Exactly What to Say in a Major Gift Solicitation and When to Say It

You've likely heard the objection, “what do I say?”  when it comes to practicing and making the fundraising ask. It's also the most frequently asked question when anyone inquires about how to get major gifts. 

It would be patronizing to tell you “it's easy,” when for so many people, it's not. Internationally recognized nonprofit expert Marc Pitman knows this, which is why he added “The Asking Conversation: Exactly What to Say in a Major Gift Solicitation and When to Say It,” to his Nonprofit Academy series of webinars.

So relax. Marc has the answers and is eager to share with his audience of fundraising professionals like yourself in this powerful major gifts officer training resource.

7. The Four Decisions: How to Lead Your Donor to Each

Those who benefit from your mission deserve everything you can do for them. So why are you leaving gifts on the table that can make a major difference in their lives? 

To start, you need to understand that your donor isn’t just a major gift, and their major gift isn’t the entirety of their philanthropy. You need the whole picture. 

In The Four Decisions, fundraising veteran Dan Shephard leads you through four choices that will help you see the whole donor instead of just their major gift. That’s a huge step toward a long-term relationship that will benefit your mission, and your donor, for years to come.

8. Impact Method™, by PivotGround

The Impact Method™ is a system of tools and processes that helps you get an organized strategy, optimize your capacity, and thrive with a process of continual improvement. It gives you the framework and methods to build the context that makes sense for you, your nonprofit, and those you serve.

This is critical in your ability to seek major gifts. 

A strategic plan tells you and your donors that you know exactly why you need major gifts. While you could ask someone for any amount of money, the first thing they’ll likely ask is why. A strategic plan puts the answer in the context of your mission. 

For example, if you offer after-school programs for children, you could say “we need a basketball court.” The donor might get it since they know your nonprofit works with kids. Yet you’d be much more successful if you said, “Our mission is to help children of our impoverished neighborhood to complete school and find a brighter future. When a child walks home from school, they have a choice: hang out and get in trouble or come to our rec center. We need to give them an incentive to come here so they’ll be in a safe, fun environment, and meet role models who can help them to succeed in life. A basketball court can be a great magnet for these kids and a tool for positive life lessons.” 

Just by comparing these two statements, you can surely see the difference and understand the power that is offered in the latter. A strategic plan shows your donors you have direction. It gives them confidence that you have the expertise to carry out your mission—and that their money will be well spent.


Seeking major gifts isn’t easy, but it's not impossible, either. Just a few years ago, most people learned by trial and error, making lots of mistakes and even losing their jobs because of it. 

That’s not true today. The eight programs above, and so many more available on Nonprofit.Courses, give you exactly what you need to solicit major gifts for the most important cause in the world: yours.

So, dive in! Define a major gift. Begin training your fundraising team. Start identifying people who love your mission—and have the means to make a transformational difference. Find out who knows them and forge an introduction. Make them insiders by showing them your great work and amazing results. Then make your ask!

If you don’t, you’ll both be disappointed—you for not doing the most for those you serve, and your donor for not fulfilling their dream of impacting a cause that makes a difference to them and the world.

To learn more about effective nonprofit fundraising operations and major gifts officer training, be sure to check out our other educational resources: 

Get started with Nonprofit Courses for your major gifts officer training.

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.

The Seven Recruiting Principles of Highly Effective Nonprofit Boards, by Nonprofit Utopia

Learn about seven recruiting principles of highly effective nonprofit boards, including culture, character, competence, connections, composition continuity and collaboration.

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:

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.