As someone who lives and breathes continuing education for nonprofit professionals, I was excited to see that 74 percent of organizations are making learning and development a priority, according to a recent survey from Nonprofit HR.
If you're in this hopeful majority but unsure where to start, I will walk you through some of the best resources for stepping up your nonprofit professional development game. For those of you who are a part of the 26 percent who aren't making learning a priority for your organization, I'm making it my job to convince you that this stuff isn't superfluous, a waste of time and resources, or just a perk you should think about adding on at some point.
Nonprofit professional development is critical for the health of your organization. Listen up!
What exactly is nonprofit professional development?
Just like doctors must stay on top of the latest research and advancements in their field to keep their medical license, nonprofit workers should consistently keep up with the best practices and tools relevant to their role and organizational mission. This learning can take many forms and happen in various settings (and price tags)—from free webinars and relaxed “Lunch and Learns" to intensive, day-long courses.
An entire industry has formed around nonprofit professional development in the past several years. There is an endless selection of certificate programs, workshops, facilitators, books, and toolkits to fit your needs and your budget.
Why does my nonprofit organization need professional development?
I've heard all the excuses:
💸 “We don't have the budget.”
⏰ “There's no time.”
🐭 “We're too small.”
🦁 “We're too big.”
🗓 “We'll do it next year.”
My response is always, "You can't afford NOT to prioritize professional development." Here's why.
Make the greatest impact
If you work at a nonprofit, you've undoubtedly heard the familiar refrain, "We're not in it for the money." As mission-driven entities, nonprofits are in the business of making the world a better place. Don't sell yourself or your vision short by maintaining the status quo.
You should constantly be mastering new technologies, learning proven donor engagement strategies, deepening your programs' scope, and offering more equitable, culturally responsive, and effective services. Professional development ultimately favors reaching (and hopefully surpassing) your organization's goals.
Attract the best talent
Word gets around. Employee reviews on sites like Glassdoor give prospective employees a look into organizations' true culture and priorities—something they may not learn from a job description or an interview. You need to invest in their growth and development if you want the best and brightest talent. Lip service won't cut it.
Keep the best talent
Want to know what was the most cited reason employees voluntarily left their nonprofit jobs? Dissatisfaction with compensation and benefits? No! The most common reason employees leave their nonprofit jobs has to do with a lack of growth opportunities.
Take a moment to sit with that reality. Staff turnover, as you know, is very costly. We need to look at nonprofit professional development as more than just a job title upgrade; it is an investment in your organization.
How to get started
As you plan for nonprofit professional development at your organization, several considerations will come into play. A great place to start is to ask yourself some of the questions included in NTEN’s State of Nonprofit Professional Development report:
- What kinds of professional development have staff requested?
- In what areas do we need the most improvement?
- What are the best resources available for our organization's needs?
- How much does each option cost, and how time does each require?
- How much are we able to budget for individual staff to participate?
- Will all staff members have the same access to these resources?
- How will we track and share these opportunities with staff?
- Why and how might we incorporate professional development into employee reviews?
Nonprofit professional development resources
Online courses, webinars, and training 💻
With CharityHowTo, nonprofit professionals can access free webinars and courses led by experts who cover tons of topics related to social media and technology. Signing up for a membership unlocks even more course content, supplemental materials, and direct access to experts. You can choose to attend live or watch on-demand.
✅ Best for: There's truly something for everyone. You can find courses for your development and communications teams, your board of directors, and everyone in between.
💰Price: You can access a lot of excellent course content for free. You can also sign up for a monthly membership plan that includes three additional coworkers and costs between $37-$67 monthly. One way to save money is to pay annually. Plus, small nonprofits can apply to save up to 50 percent on courses!
👉 The bottom line: From the basics of grant writing to ethical storytelling, this platform is full of high-quality courses—many of which offer CFRE credits.
Developed by the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation, NonprofitReady is a free platform that boasts over 500 learning resources, including courses, videos, and downloadable guides. They also offer free certificate programs (with CFRE credits) for more in-depth training in fundraising, marketing, human resources, and more.
✅ Best for: NonprofitReady is committed to sharing resources that benefit all nonprofit employees, board members, and volunteers.
💰Price: Experts and organizations donate their content to the site, so everything is free.
👉 The bottom line: Sign up for a free account to get on-demand access to certificate programs co-authored by experts.
Skillshare is a popular site where you can learn almost anything. They now have an entire nonprofit platform with several virtual classes covering marketing skills, analytics, public speaking—you name it. The courses are broken into short, digestible video modules and provide supplemental downloadable materials.
✅ Best for: Organizations looking for shorter, more focused content courses.
💰Price: Their starter package offers a 50 percent discount for small nonprofits, costing $79.50 per user per year. Custom pricing is available for larger teams.
👉 The bottom line: With over 35,000 classes to choose from, Skillshare is bound to have a course that meets your needs; however, sorting through all of that content to find the right fit may take some time.
The Management Center
The Management Center primarily serves leaders in organizations dedicated to social justice. This highly regarded organization went fully online during COVID-19 and now offers all of its training, coaching, and professional development resources virtually.
✅ Best for: Managers—it's in the name! They also have lots of offerings for non-managers, including cohorts specifically for BIPOC staff.
💰Price: Course offerings are based on a sliding scale—generally between $75 and $650 per person—depending on your organization's annual budget.
👉 The bottom line: For nonprofits with progressive values, the resources here are likely worth the investment. Their courses are also more accessible than most and include live transcription.
Advancement programs 🏎
University programs and graduate certificates
Continuing education courses (not to be confused with master's degree programs in nonprofit management and policy—which there are many) have exploded in recent years within higher education institutions. State schools like UCONN and SUNY Purchase—and even Ivy League schools like Harvard and Stanford—now offer continuing studies and certificate programs for nonprofit professionals looking to grow their skills. Course topics range from social media and grant writing to board development, capital campaigns, and diversity and inclusion. Depending on the program, courses can happen online or in person.
✅ Best for: People who prefer a more structured learning environment and classroom setting.
💰Price: Pricing typically depends on the length of the program. Certain à la carte options can be as low as $79 at a state school, but a single course at a private university can cost several thousand dollars. Multi-course certificate programs can run you $900 per credit, though several schools offer some form of scholarship.
👉 The bottom line: You can access a lot of the content in these programs through less expensive and time-consuming online courses. But, a certificate from a university can look great on a resume. And if you opt for the in-person setting, the networking opportunities are sometimes more valuable than the course content itself!
Books and publications 📚
Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results
This book from The Management Center is highly recommended for new and seasoned managers getting their first reports.
✅ Best for: Nonprofit managers.
💰Price: You can buy a new paperback edition for $20–$35 on most sites that sell books.
👉 The bottom line: This book is the gold standard for nonprofit leadership. Whether or not you currently manage a team, consider adding it to your reading list ASAP.
What began as a print journal has become a dynamic online hub for some of the best research and thought leadership in the nonprofit space. Content from Nonprofit Quarterly often explores themes around racial and economic justice and the role of nonprofit leadership and philanthropy.
✅ Best for: Organizational leaders who value self-reflection and want to lean into challenging conversations.
💰Price: You can access many articles for free on the website. For full access to all digital content and their full archive—as well as monthly and on-demand webinars—a subscription costs $199/year or $19/month. A yearly subscription for the print magazine is $59 and also gets you digital access.
👉 The bottom line: If you want to stay up to date on the most relevant information and analysis in the progressive nonprofit landscape, I recommend snagging a subscription.
Professional development can (and should) look different for every nonprofit. How it's structured may also change from year to year. No matter the size, budget, location, or purpose of your organization, what's critical is that leadership makes learning a priority—for both management and staff.
Invest in the time and resources nonprofit professional development requires and clearly communicate that this is a priority to your team. A great way to build buy-in for professional development is for staff to see their executive director participating in it too! Register for a CharityHowTo webinar or Givebutter event to discover just how much you and your staff can grow.
Kurt Steiner is the founder and CEO of CharityHowTo, NonprofitLibrary, and Nonprofit-Apps. CharityHowTo started in 2008 and is a community of several hundred thousand nonprofit professionals who attend the highest quality live and on-demand training available in the world.