3 Ways to Prioritize Professional Development in the New Year

Philip Manzano • Nov 26, 2016

Make long-term goals, use newly developed skills, and encourage interdepartmental collaboration. The post 3 Ways to Prioritize Professional Development in the New Year appeared first on Keela.

For nonprofits, the act of prioritizing staff professional development doesn’t always come easy. In a sector that is consistently overworked and underfunded, aligning to the ever-changing needs of communities and donors, it can be difficult to find the time, money, and focus for the professional development needs of your team.

If you’re just getting started this process may be slow and difficult, but we’ve compiled three great tips you can use to work towards the effective prioritization of professional development in the nonprofit workforce. But first – why do we need professional development, anyway?


You may have been avoiding professional development in the past, and your excuses may have looked a little like what Victor Lipman wrote about in the article Why Employee Development Is Important, Neglected and Can Cost Your Talent:

  1. “Here and Now” Mentality
  2. Lack of Follow Through
  3. Lack of Time

But we must overcome these obstacles because investing in your employees can give you a lot of benefits:

  1. People care if you take a genuine interest in their future.
  2. It helps build loyalty, and loyalty increases productivity.
  3. Good talented people naturally want to advance, and appreciate meaningful support in the process.

Still, need convincing? When working for an organization that may be underfunded, overworked, or understaffed, you may often find your team members filling in for roles outside of their job descriptions. Your program manager may be taking on human resources tasks or your communications team may be asked to take responsibility for donor relationships. When human resources are short we turn to each other for help and support. This is why it is so important for nonprofit professionals to be in a continual state of learning.


The HR council shows the top areas of professional development interest for nonprofits have been board governance, grant seeking, proposal writing, sustainability, and fundraising. There is also continued interest in the topics of leadership and core managerial skills. Niche training, such as conflict resolution, does not get as much demand for professional development. 

Despite the good intentions of your managers, you still may have found yourself in a boring training that took way too much time and proved completely irrelevant to your actual job. You’re not alone. If you want all employees to be excited and invested in their professional development, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Send your employees to training that supports the long-term goals of your organization, and their individual professional development strategy.

If an employee is setting their own professional goals, has a vision of where they want to be in a few years, and has set a clear roadmap of how to achieve that goal, their professional development days will become exciting stepping stones to something bigger. By creating long-term professional development goals with your employees you can tap into their passions – what they really want out of life. Investing in this will make them happier employees, and can get you a great leader. Professional development must be ingrained into the long-term strategy of every employee in order to combat the “here and now” mentality.

When creating new training for your employees a simple survey can go a long way. Get feedback on what people really want to learn, see how that lines up with performance reviews, and stay relevant.

2. Make sure you capitalize on the training and expertise your employees are getting.

You’ve sent your employee to training on results-based management. Now what? If you are not going to put what they learned immediately into action, you can almost guarantee that their acquired learning is going to fall as quickly from their brains as trigonometry. Have clear post-training strategies in place that allow your employees to share what they have learned with other team members, or allow them to work on a specialized task. This will help your employee practically apply their new skills within your organization, and not just through theory.

3. Never underestimate the power of interdepartmental exposure.

Say your fundraising department is in need of a few extra hands this giving season. Now also say you have a communication team member that wanted to develop her web copy skills. BINGO. Here’s an opportunity for you to give a team member cross-exposure that helps to tangibly develop a skill she wants while supporting your fundraising department in writing grants and campaigns. 

It’s well known that some of our best learning experiences definitely do not happen within a classroom or training setting. If your employee wants a skill that is already present in your organization, send them out to get their hands dirty. 

No matter how you go about promoting professional development this year, remember to always engage your employees deeply in the process, have long-term goals, and always have fun.

The post 3 Ways to Prioritize Professional Development in the New Year appeared first on Keela.