As a nonprofit professional, how do you learn? What does professional development look like when you are busy delivering programs and managing mission-critical tasks?

We know it can be frustrating to find the time to invest in your professional development, and difficult to know which providers are best for you. That’s why we developed a unique education program for and by nonprofit professionals.

Our approach is informed by new research, which found that nonprofits find great value in online learning. We recently partnered with Cornerstone Foundation to publish a report investigating the way nonprofits use technology to support education—internally with staff, board, and volunteers, as well as with external constituents. Here are a few key findings and what they mean for the ways your organization could support your ongoing learning.

#1 – Webinars are the most popular form of technology-based learning, followed by eLearning courses, and video. Among these options, webinars were viewed as the least effective.

What is popular (or easy, or widely available) isn’t always what is best for you. When we are short on time or looking for content that’s easy to access, we often look to webinars for our educational needs but find they often aren’t really meeting our needs. Prevalence and availability may drive our decisions but are they aren’t helping us find valuable content.

How to avoid the trap: Consider how you best learn and prioritize your learning styles over ease of finding available content. If you or your team prefer more structured content (eLearning courses), or know you are more visual (video), vet potential learning opportunities based on the type of delivery to be sure your investment (even if they are free, your time isn’t!) is worth it.

#2 – Technology-based learning is viewed as more cost-effective than in-person learning, however the perception is that it takes about the same amount of time to develop.

When evaluating our return on investment for professional development, we often look at the final product: Its delivery or access costs and if the content helps us with our work in the immediate future. The cost to develop the content should be part of the equation, especially when the training is internal – content is developed by your staff and delivered to your staff.

How to avoid the trap: Don’t assume that the number of participants dictates cost-effectiveness. Evaluate all trainings (whether they are for internal or external audiences) to understand if participants found them effective and whether content would have been better received in another format. If you are employing a format that isn’t working for participants, consider the preparation may be the same for a more effective method.

#3 – Technology-based learning is most often used with employees, with nearly 80% receiving training at least “sometimes.”

Educating our constituents may be core to your programs, but ensuring that your staff have the knowledge and skills they need to deliver those programs, raise funds, and administer your organization will be critical to your success. Online or digital training content is an important part of supporting staff, volunteers, and board members.

How to avoid the trap: Training staff often starts on Day 1 when a new staff person joins the organization. We know that it is most effective when it doesn’t end on Day 1, too. Be sure that you have planned and budgeted for all of your staff to continue participating in learning internally – as your systems upgrade, as new features become available, when you launch a new program, or even plan your next campaign.

At NTEN, professional development is our mission. From the Nonprofit Technology Professional Certificate to online peer groups to our annual Nonprofit Technology Conference, we strive to create ways for you to stay on top of the latest trends and strategies for using technology to meet your mission. If you were not able to join us at bbcon, you can view our session in the pop-up lounge here!

To explore these findings and the full report, download Online and in the Office: The State of Technology-Based Learning in the Nonprofit Sector for free.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy is dedicated to educating and supporting organizations in using technology to create meaningful community engagement and make lasting change. Whether it is by connecting individuals, organizations, campaigns, or possibilities, Amy hopes to facilitate the nonprofit technology sector transitioning into a movement-based force for positive change.

In addition to serving as NTEN’s CEO, she is a speaker, author, and trainer having worked with groups and spoken at events around the world. In 2013, she co-authored Social Change Anytime Everywhere: How to implement online multichannel strategies to spark advocacy, raise money, and engage your community with Allyson Kapin. She previously co-authored Social by Social, a handbook in using social technologies for social impact, and has contributed to various other publications about social change and technology.

After opportunities to live and travel around the US and beyond, she is happy to be back in her native state of Oregon. Offline, Amy is hiking, biking, or exploring with her husband and dog, with a preference for Oregon’s coast or wine country.

 

Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!