How to Build a Professional Development Plan for the New Nonprofit Landscape

Learn how professional development can keep your nonprofit team feeling valued and empowered in a year of turnover and uncertainty.

The new year brings a whole host of challenges, from the ever-changing nature of COVID-19 protocols to the continuation of the headline-making Great Resignation. While nonprofits are well versed in the art of the sudden pivot, many leaders are seeking new and better ways to ensure their staff is prepared and supported in their ability to serve their mission at a time when nothing feels certain. 

For this week’s webinar topic, Resignation-Proof Professional Development Development, we rounded up nonprofit leaders and content creators who dedicate their work to making life better for folks in the social impact sector. Our panel featured: 

Mitch Stein (Moderator), Co-Founder & CEO of Pond

Lauren Elicks McCort, Chief Program Officer at Youth INC. 

Taneshia Nash Laird, CEO at Newark Symphony Hall 

Jon McCoy, Founder & CEO at We Are For Good

Becky Endicott, Co-Founder & Chief Storyteller at We Are For Good


From hard truths to how-tos, this critical conversation can give you and your team the motivation and next moves you need to make 2022 a breakout year for growth and staff satisfaction. 


First Thing's First 

Before we could dive into the many benefits of professional development, we first acknowledged the biggest challenge that’s been plaguing the social good sector for years: Turnover is more prevalent than ever. While this is a difficult realization, there are ways to future-proof your organization’s culture as one that thrives through staff appreciation and loyalty.


Check Yourself: Is Your Culture Creating Burnout?

With ultra-lean staff and overstretched budgets, we tend to squeeze everything we can get out of the people who make our mission possible. But is that benefiting us in the long run? 

Adopting a reactive response to the pains of the Great Resignation could be costing your nonprofit valuable relationships with staff members who were once very much enthusiastic about supporting your cause. Instead of heaping unassigned to-dos on the already-full plates of a skeleton staff, be bold in asking for what you really need: more helping hands.


Ask for More Resources

"But it’s overhead.” We know. But now is the time to challenge yourself - and your board - to take a radical approach to the way you look at overhead. The truth is that “overhead” is people. When donors say, “I want my money to go to the mission,” it’s people who are responsible for planning, executing, and measuring the effectiveness of the very operations that support your mission, day in and day out. In short: investing in people is investing in your mission.


Champion Pay Equity 

As for the folks on your team today: are they being paid enough? Better yet, are you? If you’re underpaid as a nonprofit leader, that means your entire team isn’t getting the wage they deserve, either. Advocating for yourself means advocating for your team. 

Leverage pay transparency from other organizations as proof for why funding should be allocated to employee wages and salaries. Then, pay it forward and publish pay ranges for your organization’s open roles. In addition to supporting the shift to pay equity for other nonprofits, you’ll also attract candidates who are ready to accept what you have to offer. 

Need more funding? Apply to grants and be bold about your ask for better pay and a culture of investing in the people power that fuels your mission. 


Bolster Your Benefits Package

Today’s workforce is writing the rules. If your benefits package doesn’t meet their demands, they’ll find a new job or pass on your open opportunity. Now’s the time to review your benefits, perks, and policies. Not sure where to start?

  • Offer flexible work locations, fully remote options, or hybrid
  • Let employees choose when they need time with unlimited PTO
  • Provide coverage for mental health services 

You can also ask your employees what type of benefits they would value most, including professional development.


How to Build a Professional Development Plan for the New Nonprofit Landscape 

People no longer glorify the grind of working. They want to spend their time and talents in a community that enriches their lives, celebrates their identities, and supports their dreams. They want to feel valued and invested in. And one way to do that as we seek to adapt to life post-2020 is professional development.


Make a Case for Professional Development

Convincing your board is easier than you think. In fact, professional development garners the highest ROI (Or, as we like to call it, “Ripples of Impact”) in your budget.

Think about it this way. When you invest in strengthening and expanding the skill sets of your team members, your organization can:

  • Save time by equipping staff with better processes and tools
  • Empower new people to lead and concept effective initiatives
  • Retain junior staff members by activating their full potential
  • Break down systems that bar staff members from growth 

By going all-in on professional development, many organizations have raised more revenue, grew their donor base, and retained their valuable employees. You can’t afford to pass on it.


Identify Skill Gaps and Create a Professional Development Plan to Fill Them

As we just mentioned, professional development doesn’t just benefit your employees. If anything, it does more for your organization. If you need to provide your board with an extra nudge, conduct a skills gap assessment to support your professional development program. 

Whether you hire a consultant or rely on someone in-house, your skills gap assessment can reveal critical needs within your organization for roles and skills that will make a measurable difference. Once you gather your data, make it actionable through a professional development plan that includes:

  • Individual growth paths 
  • Group training and retreats
  • Measurable outcomes for each initiative

Afraid they’ll learn and leave? Don’t sweat it. If you invest in your staff members, they’ll feel appreciated and flex those newly-acquired skills when and where you need them most.


Give Staff a Budget of Their Own to Choose PD Classes

Inspire staff members to pursue their own learning journey with a quarterly or annual stipend for professional development. This will not only provide them with the opportunity to pursue their interests within the fundraising space, it will also show them that your organization believes in them and wants to sponsor their growth.


Curate Free Professional Development Resources

The internet is amazing when you’re looking to learn - especially in the nonprofit space. With a quick search, you can access tons of free online resources to help you and your team level up in your skill sets, pursue completely new avenues, and collaborate with like-minded people around the globe. At the end of this post, we’ve listed just some of many completely free and highly recommended conferences, videos, blogs, podcasts, and more. 

Compile a list of resources that align with your nonprofit’s professional development plan and share it with your team. You may even want to schedule time for team members to engage with the resources specific to their growth paths. That will let them know it’s okay to take time to learn, and in turn, create a culture that thrives on investing in people.



Encourage Cross-Training and Stretch Assignments as Growth Opportunities

Chances are, a number of your staff members have know-how to share with other folks on your team. Inviting them them to cross-train other employees or providing employees stretch assignments that encourage collaboration benefit both the people involved and your organization by:

  • Giving in-the-know team members a leadership role
  • Teaching junior staff new skills and processes
  • Safeguarding your operations with backup help when necessary

While these practices may slow things down for a day or two, they’ll be well worth it. At a time when sick leave and turnover is at record highs, you’ll feel secure knowing that no aspect of your operations is at risk of failure should someone fall sick or leave the organization. Not to mention, your team will be more collaborative and ready to roll with the next big shift on the horizon. 


Align Your Professional Development Around Your Values

And as we seek to navigate the world that’s changed so much in the past two years together, we need to take time to learn what’s different, how we’ve adapted, and how we can work with one another to support the new ways we think, communicate, and live. So in the spirit of moving forward, ditch the old habits that will keep us back. Instead of cutting prof dev, invest in it. 

Create a community around professional development. Rather than opting to allow employees to go at it on their own, do it together. Take on classes with folks at all levels. Join in online workshops that connect you with other nonprofit professionals near and far. Share your learnings with everyone on your staff, because education is for everyone, and we can only do better and be better by continuously embracing opportunities to grow. 

Let this be the year that your frontline folks feel trained, valued, and ready to meet the moment - no matter what that moment may be.


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