Nonprofit leaders have usually chosen to work for an organization because they are passionate about the mission and want to make an impact. While many care about their salary and career advancement, they also care about their learning and development, so much so that some leaders would be willing to leave their job if they weren’t learning and developing.

This is good news because the nonprofit sector needs as many talented leaders as possible. The challenges we collectively face are complex, and solutions are not always apparent or easy. Leadership at all levels is called upon to make headway. Part of a successful leadership equation is development–formal and informal.  I’m not just talking about succession plans or training for the handful of individuals (or fewer in some cases) who are being prepared for formal leadership roles, but development opportunities for individuals at all levels. I’m also talking about strategic development that is connected to greater individual and organizational impact.

You don’t need me to tell you the dollars available to allocate to staff training and development are not all they could be. But, you don’t have to rely on coffers of cash to invest in people. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Set the stage for development by raising it as an issue with the Board and key funders. Make the case for development by making the logical (and empirical if you can) link between development and greater efficiency and effectiveness. Identify ways the Board could support development in the organization.
  • Develop people through challenging assignments. Give individuals responsibility and accountability. Provide new experiences and support learning from them.
  • Use information from evaluations to reflect and learn about what is working and what could be better. Connecting learning and development to impact provides direction and motivation.
  • Provide and promote positive behavioral and performance feedback. Be specific about what the person (or group) did and the impact it had.
  • Encourage staff to identify a personal board of directors that can broaden their perspective and help them be successful.
  • Be a mentor and create opportunities for mentoring.

The above ideas won’t work in every setting, and they are by no means the only low cost ways to invest in talent.

What have you tried that has worked well in your setting? 

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