5 Reasons to Pursue Professional Development During COVID

COVID-19 disrupted many aspects of our day-to-day lives. Many people started working from home while others lost their jobs completely. While the companies selling toilet paper and bicycles thrived, other businesses and organizations felt the harsh realities of the economic downturn. 

Now that we’re a little ways into the pandemic, you’ve likely adjusted to the new realities that it’s created for all of us. Similar to many other nonprofits, your organization probably reworked its events to create new virtual opportunities for your supporters, and as a leader at your organization, you may have even taken part in various virtual opportunities yourself. 

One of the many opportunities that individuals are considering is continuing their professional development with additional learning opportunities in the nonprofit sector. 

If you’re considering taking advantage of professional development opportunities during COVID-19, you’re not alone! There are many reasons for different audiences to pursue these options, including: 

  1. Nonprofits can better engage staff members. 
  2. You and your staff can learn new, relevant skills. 
  3. Individuals can make productive use of newfound time.
  4. You can identify additional online opportunities. 
  5. Your mission will emerge stronger after the pandemic. 

Ready to learn more? Let’s start with our first reason to leverage available professional development opportunities during the pandemic: engaging staff members.

1. Nonprofits can better engage staff members. 

For nonprofit leaders, engaging staff members can be challenging under any circumstance, but during the pandemic, it has become immensely difficult.

Have you noticed that it’s increasingly tough to keep up with coworkers after the transition to working from home? Many organizational leaders are finding that they’re not only unable to keep up with others’ workloads, but they have trouble keeping up with one another on a personal level as well, making discussion and collaborative work activities more difficult. 

However, when individual contributors feel more connected to the mission, to your organization, and to one another, they’ll work more efficiently and effectively. 

One of the most productive ways to engage staff members is by helping them develop as individuals. For instance, you may choose to sponsor online training courses for your staff or assign a book for them to read regularly. Make sure to offer times when the group can get together for discussions about whatever type of resource you choose to incorporate. This accomplishes a few key outcomes:

  • Everyone is able to virtually gather together for insightful conversations, making them feel more connected to one another. 
  • You’re able to host discussions about how you can implement the information you’re learning in productive settings at the organization, making a tangible difference. 
  • You’re engaging your staff members more, leading to higher retention rates and lower hiring costs. If you’re not concerned about turnover, you may consider checking out the cost of losing employees with a cost-of-turnover calculator to get a feel for the actual expense. 

No matter what position you hold at your nonprofit, whether an executive director or a brand new fundraiser, you can benefit from professional development resources during the pandemic. However, you can also help your entire team benefit from those same resources. If you find one that you particularly enjoy, introduce it to your team so that everyone can continue learning. 

2. You and your staff can learn new, relevant skills.

The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated several gaps in nonprofit strategy across the sector. Take, for instance, a dog shelter that worked primarily out of the office before the pandemic began. This shelter has regular volunteers who came in each week to help take care of the dogs. However, when volunteers were no longer able to come in, the shelter may have realized that their communication with these volunteers was solely reliant on in-person interactions. 

In the case of this organization, they would need to learn more about using online communication platforms to connect with existing volunteers and keep them engaged with the nonprofit. They may also see an added benefit in that the organization could enhance their volunteer recruitment strategies when they’re better equipped to communicate digitally. 

Many organizations are running into similar challenges and are recognizing new opportunities to learn new skills and incorporate them into their strategies and optimize their operations for the future. 

Many of the skillsets and prospective optimizations that nonprofits can make to their strategies are related to digital engagement and communications. However, don’t limit yourself to just these topics! Look for other gaps in your strategies that can be addressed through educating your team. 

Not only is this beneficial for your organization, but it also helps create a more well-rounded compensation package for your staff members. Of course they appreciate the regular paycheck, but according to Astron Solutions’ guide to nonprofit compensation, the best structures are those that “lay foundations for sustainable growth by encouraging employee retention and long-term engagement.” As we’ve already discussed, providing professional development opportunities is an ideal way to do this! 

3. Individuals can make productive use of newfound time. 

If you’re like so many other individuals during the pandemic, you’ve likely found yourself with a lot more free time on your hands. Cutting out the time commuting, going out to eat or to the mall, and generally staying home more has led to a definite increase in our Netflix consumption. 

While working from home has led to the implementation of new tools and best practices that save us time, many of us are getting tired of watching movies or shows and are looking for more productive ways to spend our time. 

Fulfillment and productivity go hand in hand. Finding productive activities helps us feel happier and more fulfilled because we’re accomplishing something. Meanwhile, happy and fulfilled individuals are more productive by 12%, according to one study. Therefore, finding new ways to make productive use of your time can lead you to greater fulfillment in life and, in turn, you’ll become more productive. It’s all a cycle! 

Professional development is a productive use of your time because it allows you to become better at your job and create a better world by working toward your mission. 

4. You can identify additional online opportunities. 

They say that when hard times hit, you have to look for the silver lining. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that learning opportunities have become more accessible than ever before. With so many online courses available, you never need to leave your home to gain access to awesome professional development resources. 

Organizations and companies have shifted many of their resources online so that people can still access valuable information remotely. When you’re looking for these opportunities, make sure you consider the most valuable resources that will help you both now and in the future. For instance, this Nonprofit Leadership Alliance referral of top nonprofit courses lists some of the best topics to cover, such as: 

  • Equity at nonprofits
  • Leadership for social impact
  • Crisis communications
  • Nonprofit program design

All of these courses can be completed online and can impact your nonprofit’s strategy both now and in the future. For instance, learning about leadership skills will help your executives and board members lead the team through the crisis and on into the future. 

These are just a few of the top potential courses! The virus has led to a lot more learning availability online, so be sure to take advantage of these new opportunities. 

5. Your mission will emerge stronger after the pandemic. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, you were probably strategizing to “make it through the crisis.” This is the approach that many organizations and many businesses all took in those first few months. However, the longer it lasted, the more important it became to start recognizing how to not only get through the COVID-19 pandemic, but also how to emerge stronger after it ends. 

You can set yourself up for future success by acknowledging the trends that will stick around and accounting for those trends permanently in your strategy.

For instance, remember the example from section two about the dog shelter that needed to learn about online communication strategies? Well, one potential action that would ensure this skill is permanently implemented into their organization’s operations is to require all newly onboarded staff members to learn about effective online communication strategies as part of their training. This guide explains how different organizations can use tools like LMS platforms to standardize training on topics such as this. 

Other trends that you might consider for the future include: 

  • Virtual experiences. Nonprofits can provide virtual experiences so that donors and supporters can receive firsthand and up-close viewpoints of your mission and why it’s important. By learning how to implement these experiences into your strategy, you can make your mission more real to more people by showing them what it looks like.
  • Flexibility in operations. Your nonprofit may have reacted quickly and appropriately to the pandemic, or you may look back and consider how you could have improved upon your reaction. By learning how to remain flexible as an organization, you can better react to other difficult situations in the future. 

While you could look at the pandemic and say, “well, 2020 was a wash,” a more productive mindset is to look at what you’ve learned and what you can continue learning (when you invest in professional development opportunities, you’ll learn quite a lot!). Then, consider that future and how the information you’ve consumed will help you not only get you through this period, but will also help you succeed later on. 

The pandemic has made 2020 an incredibly challenging year. However, instead of taking a negative approach to the pandemic, move forward by looking for opportunities to become a better version of yourself.
By looking for new ways to develop as a professional, you can create a better you, develop a stronger team, and advance your mission further than ever before.

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