4 Free Professional Development Opportunities You Might Not Be Thinking About

It’s so easy to get caught in the day-to-day of our jobs and think of “professional development” as something that only happens at work or that requires a lot of extra time or money (or both). However, with just a little extra effort you could be finding opportunities that help you advance your skills and position you as a thought leader in your field, whether that is fundraising, grantmaking, accounting, monitoring & evaluation, communications or one of the many other roles that make social good organizations successful. 

Here are four opportunities you may not have thought about that won’t cost you anything (or very little), or that you may have thought you weren’t advanced enough in your career to try. But these opportunities are for everyone who has experience and expertise to share! 

1. Start blogging 

Check if your favorite social good blogs accept external submissions. For greater chance of a successful pitch, think about what topics or points of view you haven’t seen published recently on those blogs and explain how you could approach that topic in a way that would benefit readers. Here at npENGAGE, we always love to receive new ideas from professionals who have expertise to share (check out our submissions guidelines). And if you do feel like you are too new to the field to get published on your own, ask a more senior colleague if they would be willing to co-author a blog article with you. A great example of this is one we recently published here, Starting a Recurring Giving Program: Tips from the Major Hospital Foundation, where KaLeigh Hurley-Lee, the administrative assistant at the Major Hospital Foundation and a relatively new nonprofit professional, partnered with her executive director to write a fantastic article that is helping a lot of other organizations! 

Some membership associations also provide opportunities for members to contribute their expertise on their blogs or in their member communities. Make sure to explore all the benefits any organizations you are a member of provide, and even if you don’t see blogging as a benefit, send them an email to see how you might be able to write an article for their blog or newsletter. 

And don’t forget about LinkedIn! LinkedIn provides an easy way to self-publish articles that you can share with your contacts and/or with the entire LinkedIn community. Don’t forget to use relevant hashtags to make your posts visible for those looking to read content on the topics you are addressing. 

2. Join a reference program 

Many technology vendors run reference programs that allow them to connect prospective customers with current ones for the purpose of sharing their experiences with the solutions. While this obviously provides a benefit for the vendor, it can also really benefit those acting as references too! It positions you as an expert on the solution and allows you to grow your network by talking to other professionals, both in your area and beyond. You should be able to set parameters around how often you’d like to be contacted – for example, even just one or two short calls each month. 

If you are passionate about a tech solution your organization uses, reach out to your account representative or check the company website to see if the company runs a reference program you can be involved in. If you are a Blackbaud customer, you can sign up here

3. Apply to speak at conferences 

Already have plans to attend an industry conference? Look at the conference website to see if they are accepting session proposals – since you are already planning to attend, you won’t have extra costs if your session is accepted. If it’s a conference you attend annually, make sure to mark down on your calendar when the call for sessions for the next conference will open. You don’t have to be an executive with 30+ years of experience to speak – in fact, if you think about conference sessions you’ve gotten the most out of in the past, they likely included ones led by your peers!  

4. Attend local networking events 

Sign up for email newsletters from local chapters of industry associations to get notified when an event is going on in your area. Many of the networking events are free (or very low cost) and give you a great opportunity to connect with other social good professionals in your area. Many also include an educational component, such as an expert panel, so you walk away with new knowledge AND an expanded network.  

Your technology vendors may also host user groups in your region that provide you the chance to learn more about the solutions you are using in addition to networking with peers.