6 Low-Cost Professional Development Ideas for Nonprofits

Let’s be honest. When it comes to the precious resources in the small to mid-size nonprofit, the first place we turn to is far from professional development. However, the greatest resource most of our organizations have to offer is those who are committed to working for us and our mission day in and day out. So, why is it professional development is a nonprofit issue?

Listen also to Rueben Mayes speak at this TEDxWSU meeting. In this video, Mayes talks about that at some point in their lives, everyone will be asked to raise money for something. It could be a high school event, a sports tournament trip, or some campaign. He addresses the topic of fundamental elements of successfully raising money for various causes and his keys to successful fundraising.

There is no doubt at all it is first and foremost a question of resources, financial and otherwise. You may not have professional development (or training) as a line item in your nonprofit’s budget. And, if this is the case, funding for training may be the responsibility of your program director to find the resources from within their individual budgets.  So how can we develop our teams when money is scarce?

1. Find out what you have. Every organization, regardless of size, has hidden talents. We just fail to ask. Survey your team to discover hidden talents. Do your employees have friends or relatives who are subject matter experts and might be willing to share their talent with you? You don’t know until you ask.

2. Buy books. I know this sounds obvious but you can take a different approach to motivate others to enhance your overall professional development. As the leader of the small or mid-size nonprofit, you must drive the professional development process. Stay tuned in to the leading nonprofit and leadership books of the day.

Buy a copy to give to an employee and say, “I’d like you to present a summary at the next staff meeting in two weeks.” Now, you do not have to turn this into a “book report” but an opportunity to share key points. Provide appropriate recognition in the annual review process to those who take on the task.

3. Have your team read blogs. A wealth of solid information resides on the internet by cutting edge nonprofit professionals. Have a small one-person development office?  Learning effective ways to enhance your social media campaign? There are just so many excellent examples.

4. Barter! Yes, you read this correctly. Barter for the training you need for your small or mid-size nonprofit organization. You have identified the skills you have in-house (See #1 above!).  Now, try to find a peer organization who has a person who can provide training for your team.  The fact that our community does not communicate as well as we should with one another is a constant nonprofit issue.

5. Your Board of Directors. Those committed to your success and the success of your mission are the volunteer members of your board. They are already giving you their time and are likely supporting you financially. Who are what can they deliver for you? Have you asked?

6. Create a learning environment. This is not easy, but nonprofit leadership has never been easy.  You must become the champion of professional development for your nonprofit organization.  Continually ask people what they have learned new this week. Eventually, they will begin to surprise you with the answers you did not expect. Value learning. Celebrate learning. Encourage learning.

At the end of the day, you must take charge and take responsibility for the development of your team. We live and work in a knowledge-based society and economy. We must adapt to remain competitive, even in the Third Sector. I will leave you with this: What can you do today that is absolutely free that will enhance learning in your nonprofit tomorrow?