4 Ways to Further Your Nonprofit Career with Continued Learning

Have you heard the expression, “You learn something new every day?” It’s true. And if you don’t feel that it’s true for you, then you should make a conscious effort to make it true, especially in the case of your nonprofit career. After all, Abigail Adams once said, “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” Continuously learning is not only vital for your role in the social-good sector, but it’s also an important aspect of a healthy organizational culture.

When you make efforts to enhance your own education as a nonprofit professional and encourage others to do the same, you can improve organizational retention, programming efficiency, and fundraising adaptability.

Therefore, we’ve compiled a couple of strategies that can help you continue your learning in the nonprofit sector. In this guide, we’ll cover the following strategies:

  1. Take Nonprofit Courses
  2. Get a Nonprofit Certification
  3. Read More Books
  4. Subscribe to Informational Journals

Here at the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, we’ve provided nonprofit professional development opportunities to individuals in the social-good sector for over 50 years. Without further ado, let’s dive into this list of potential opportunities.

4 Ways to Further Your Nonprofit Career with Continued Learning

1. Take Nonprofit Courses

Individual courses are a great way to make sure you have the tools and skills necessary to accomplish specific aspects of your nonprofit’s strategy. It’s an opportunity to take a deep dive into very distinct areas of nonprofit management.

For instance, one very popular course listed on The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance’s list of nonprofit courses is Crisis Communication for Nonprofit Leaders. This course provides very specific instructions and information relevant for communication strategies during challenging world circumstances. It’s become increasingly popular as nonprofits need to find new ways to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

While this course may not be immensely impactful for other nonprofit efforts like improving major gifts fundraising or program efficiency, it accomplishes the specific task of optimizing communication plans. Therefore, nonprofit courses are best served for professionals who have identified specific opportunities for improvement and are working to develop those skills.

While you may be looking for individual improvement opportunities, consider taking any professional development ideas and courses that you have or find to the other members of your organization.

Education is one of the key drivers to employee retention and nonprofit courses are an affordable and accessible way to offer these educational opportunities. Even if you’re just looking into courses for your own professional development journey, consider sharing good courses you might find with your organization so that others can benefit as well.

Nonprofits looking to help everyone at the organization to benefit from professional development courses, you essentially have two different options:

  1. Develop the courses yourself. If you have training materials online that you offer to nonprofit staff members, you can work with a learning management system (LMS) provider who can help you transfer that information to an interactive online format. They may even be able to help with additional research to build out the course further.
  2. Find pre-developed nonprofit courses to offer. Some organizations offer pre-built nonprofit courses that your organization can take advantage of. Be very careful in choosing the course providers when you’re looking for these opportunities. Read reviews and learn about the provider themselves to see what drives them for success. This will help you choose the most impactful courses possible.

Nonprofit courses provide a quick dive into a topic that individuals might be struggling with in their professional careers. They provide actionable activities and skills to continue your learning journey and improve as an individual contributor to the social sector.

2. Get a Nonprofit Certification

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive educational experience, you might be more interested in a complete nonprofit certification. Certifications and credentials in the nonprofit sector allow you to gain a complete understanding of the management, fundraising, programming, and other aspects of the sector. It’s especially useful for new individuals or up and coming leaders in the field.

Many professionals in the nonprofit sector struggle with whether they should look for individual courses or a complete certification for their development. In order to choose, it’s important to discuss the differences between the two:

  • Certifications often take multiple months to complete (sometimes even a year or so). Meanwhile, courses can be completed in a couple of days to a week.
  • Certifications cover a wide range of material in-depth while individual courses focus on individual and more specific topics.
  • Certifications are often used to boost resumes by showing employers a certain confirmed skill and can be used as leverage for new jobs and positions. Individual nonprofit courses are generally taken for personal improvement, but don’t have the same official confirmation as a certification.

If you have the time and are looking to drastically improve your positioning in the nonprofit world, then you might consider looking into a certification.

These in-depth and comprehensive opportunities are best used for individuals who are looking for promotions, to start their own organizations, or to make a drastic change at the organization with which they’re currently working.

3. Read More Books

When was the last time you picked up a good book? Even avid readers often make reading lists and goals to motivate themselves to pick up more engaging reading material. If you’re creating a book list for this year, add a couple of educational books that will help you learn more about the nonprofit sector so that you can enhance your skills as you read.

There are a number of great books out there about the nonprofit world that you can use to further your understanding while settling down with a good book. For instance, you may go to your local library to check out books like:

Or, if you work with (or have worked with in the past) a fundraising consultant, check to see if they have any books available. If you’ve never worked with one, that’s okay too! Explore referral lists like this one to find the names of popular consultants in the field. Then, check to see if they have any books available.

4. Subscribe to Informational Journals

Just as reading books can help you gain new perspectives and information about the nonprofit sector, so can informational journals. If books aren’t your style and you’re looking for shorter articles about specific topics, that’s where informational journals can be immensely helpful.

Generally, when most people think about informational journals, they consider academic research resources. While these are great reads with a lot of valuable information, don’t forget about the other “informational journals” available to you. For instance, you might consider:

  • Reading resources published on nonprofit industry organization websites. For instance, the National Council of Nonprofits website provides an in-depth look at diversity in the nonprofit sector. There are many resources available there for professionals looking for information regarding equality and inclusion.
  • Subscribing to nonprofit and provider blogs. Blog posts are often research-based and very informative. Before you subscribe to one, be sure to check out the reputation of the website and the writer of the blog. Make sure they have nonprofit expertise before diving in.
  • Checking out informational roundups. Many nonprofit providers and big names in the nonprofit space will provide “roundups” with the top articles and blog posts of the week or month. These are the best articles that professionals found to be the most educational and valuable for the time. It can save you some time searching for the best articles through blog rolls and websites.

Now that you know where to find articles, subscribe and start reading! You never know what you’ll find and how it’ll help you achieve your goals.

When we were in school, learning was essentially handed to us. However, as a professional in the nonprofit sector, you may need to take the extra step to search for the best methods and opportunities to fine-hone your skills. With these strategies as a starting point, you’re well on your way to becoming the best nonprofit professional you can be. Good luck!