This post was contributed by Nonprofit.Courses.
When asked what kind of people need training at a nonprofit, the answer is easy.
All of them.
Effective training for nonprofits knows no bounds.
To start, every person in your organization needs basic training on the mission of your nonprofit and its history. It’s part of binding everyone together in your common mission.
However, it’s also important to focus on each person’s role and prepare them to carry out that role effectively. There are at least three types of people at your nonprofit who need effective training: board members, volunteers, and paid staff. In this guide, we’ll walk through each one, the types of resources they should be equipped with, and the overarching benefits of their effective training. Let’s jump in!
The board, in effect, is the nonprofit. They set the mission, make the strategic decisions, and assure a revenue stream to implement the mission. Every nonprofit has a board, and board members are typically volunteers.
While a board of directors might consist of experts in various operational areas, effective training for board members is critical.
The best board training starts during the recruiting process. Every board member should accept their responsibilities already knowing some of the basics, like a general introduction to the mission, meeting attendance expectations, and philanthropic responsibilities.
Once recruited, board training should be multi-layered and ongoing. The purpose of board training is to make the board member an “insider,” with the ability to make high-level decisions for the good of the organization.
They may already have the general mission introduction, but board members need the “deep dive,” including their role as a community advocate for your nonprofit. Here are a few important tasks to help you get started:
If they were recruited for a specific role, such as finance or facilities, a fellow board member or staff should thoroughly orient them on that aspect of the organization. It’s important not only for a board member to understand the existing condition of your organization, but also why it is that way and your goals for the future.
Volunteers are widely used as affordable help for nonprofits. They can bring high-level vocational and personal skills to their role which goes to drive your mission forward—whether directly or indirectly. Their educational background varies considerably, as does their motivation to volunteer. In short, there is no “typical” volunteer.
As you train volunteers in their roles, it’s important to consider why the volunteer is giving their time to your organization. Some are volunteering to gain critical job skills, while some do it for social connections. Others see it as a way to give back to an organization that helped them. For others still, volunteering is a family tradition or fills a need for visibility in the community.
Whatever the reason, remember that for a volunteer to be effective for you, you must incorporate strategic training for their role—both as a prerequisite and as an ongoing experience.
It’s important not to minimize the role of training for effective volunteer engagement, either. In his book, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, Michael Gerber points out how important the method of accomplishing a task is to establishing a brand. For example, if you run an organization that dresses women for job interviews, it is important that you develop a consistent system of service, regardless of which volunteer serves the client. You can’t leave your volunteer to “pick it up.” Formal training is best.
Nonprofits attract a wide variety of employees. As a result, nonprofit training needs are different from person to person. Let’s look at some typical paid staff members and the types of training they would benefit from:
It’s not at all unusual for someone early in their career to begin their work-life at a nonprofit. Nonprofits seek out these workers because their wage demands are low and their enthusiasm is high. Budget constraints mean that many nonprofits offer early career workers higher and broader levels of responsibility than they might find at the same career stage in a typical business. While many of these employees go into more lucrative positions in the for-profit world after an initial nonprofit experience, some make a career in the nonprofit sector.
Since early-career workers have little direct experience, they usually take advantage of introductory training opportunities. Since they can wear many hats, it’s important that they prioritize their training in areas where the nonprofit might see the most benefit. For many of these individuals, it is a matter of “you don’t know what you don’t know.”
On the other end of the spectrum, nonprofits are attractive landing places for people who have either completed their careers, or seek a major shift to some kind of more enjoyable work. They’re often looking for more meaning in their careers, or want to give back to their communities.
Career transitioners can bring a lot of valuable, transferable skills to a nonprofit. They can also bring a lot of predispositions to their work that may not wear well with their nonprofit employer or colleagues. Information on the broader nonprofit culture, and the specific culture of the particular organization, can be invaluable for success.
The amount and types of training can also vary based on their previous experiences in other roles. If an individual is moving within the same specialty from a business to a nonprofit, it’s critical that they learn the functional differences. For example, business accounting and nonprofit accounting are very similar, but have clear differences that are critical to understand early on.
If the career transitioner is also changing functional roles, such as going from sales in business to a program-based role in your nonprofit, they should expect to take more introductory training, similar to an early career person.
A lot of nonprofit program staff who work directly with the beneficiaries of the organization’s mission are those with state licenses or professional association certifications, including social workers, nurses, counselors, and more.
The good news for these individuals is that their training is pre-defined. However, they could have some flexibility within that definition. For example, your social workers, nurses, and other healthcare professionals could focus their continuing education training on your target population.
It’s also important for some of your licensed program professionals to take courses in management, human resources, budgeting, and related fields. Confidence in these areas can have a positive impact on the morale of the staff as a whole, and bring new perspectives to your leadership team.
Infrastructure staff, or those whose salaries will show up on the “overhead” line of a nonprofit’s Form 990, are also infinitely important to your mission and deserve their own strategic training programs. These may include accountants, human resources specialists, fundraisers, communications and marketing professionals, and more. While they may not interact directly with the mission, nonprofits rely on their efforts for building trust in the community, generating essential revenue, and recruiting the best possible staff to carry out the mission.
Luckily, there are a ton of existing resources geared specifically toward nonprofit workers. For example, accountants can take continuing education courses on nonprofit topics like fraud, gift accounting, and 990 completion.
It might also be worthwhile for an individual to consider training in areas that are outside their typical roles. For instance, an attorney educated in the basics of fundraising can be a major help in cultivating donors. Alternatively, a marketing professional who takes courses on nonprofit accounting can better address issues of financial transparency among constituents.
The nonprofit sector relies on a cadre of leaders and managers, some of whom come from programming careers, while others rise up from the infrastructure ranks, to see that the mission of the nonprofit is carried out in the most efficient manner possible.
It’s tempting to say that any nonprofit-focused course is appropriate for a nonprofit leader. However, it’s best to look at where they should be spending the most time to effectively carry out their role.
After maintaining their expertise in the program function of the nonprofit, the first among the remaining areas in need of training is revenue generation. An executive director, even one with a dedicated fundraising staff, should spend a substantial amount of time bolstering the organization’s financial position.
In tandem with seeking income, a nonprofit leader must know about accounting. The public has a significant interest in nonprofit transparency, as do watchdog groups like Guidestar and CharityWatch. Knowing where and how their nonprofit’s money is spent is as much of a marketing function as it is a fiduciary one.
And speaking of marketing, every nonprofit leader must have a “marketing eye” to drive their organization toward success. Training on how to present their organization to the public, donors, government agencies, and the community as a whole is critical.
As long as nonprofits carry out missions that are significant to our society’s well being, every type of nonprofit worker requires training in their role for your organization to effectively carry out its mission. Whether it’s a volunteer doing light office work, a board member making investment decisions, or program staff caring for a vulnerable client, each position is a specialty that requires the expertise that training brings. And with the right training resources in your back pocket, you’re sure to bring about strategic success for your mission. Good luck!
Author: Matt Hugg
Matt Hugg is an author and instructor in nonprofit management in the US and abroad. He is president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses (https://nonprofit.courses), an on-demand, eLearning educational resource for nonprofit leaders, staff, board members and volunteers, with thousands of courses in nearly every aspect of nonprofit work.
He’s the author of The Guide to Nonprofit Consulting and Philanders Family Values: Fun Scenarios for Practical Fundraising Education for Boards, Staff and Volunteers, and a contributing author to The Healthcare Nonprofit: Keys to Effective Management.
Over his 30-year career, Hugg has held positions at the Boy Scouts of America, Lebanon Valley College, the University of Cincinnati, Ursinus College, and the University of the Arts. In these positions, Matt raised thousands of gifts from individuals, foundations, corporations and government entities, and worked with hundreds of volunteers on boards and fundraising committees, in addition to his organizational leadership responsibilities.
Matt teaches fundraising, philanthropy, and marketing in graduate programs at Eastern University, the University of Pennsylvania, Juniata College and Thomas Edison State University via the web, and in-person in the United States, Africa, Asia and Europe, and is a popular conference speaker. He has a BS from Juniata College and an MA in Philanthropy and Development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. Mr. Hugg has served on the board of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Nonprofit Career Network of Philadelphia and several nonprofits.