Thanks to Matt Hugg for this wonderful guest post. Matt is the founder of Nonprofit.Courses, an on-demand, eLearning educational resource for nonprofit leaders, staff, board members and volunteers, with hundreds of courses in nearly every aspect of nonprofit work. We're happy to tell you our first-ever on-demand program, Fundraising in a Crisis 2020, is now available on Matt's comprehensive platform. And PS, Matt has decades of experience as a nonprofit professional, academic, and author.
How can you tell if you’re not a “learning” nonprofit?
People just do their jobs.
If your nonprofit staff, volunteers and board members aren’t talking over coffee about a new way they learned to carry out a mission task… if they aren’t emailing each other a video link on a new technique for next month’s social media fundraising campaign… if you don’t have someone pushing for budget money to carry out a marketing technique they learned about in a book they read, you don’t have a learning nonprofit. Everyone’s just doing their jobs. While that may seem like heaven today, it will be a different place when you run out of ideas for tomorrow.
A learning nonprofit is about ideas.
Let’s face it. Not every idea is good, let alone affordable. But if you don’t have people supporting your mission – paid and volunteer – who generate ideas on better program delivery, more efficient revenue generation, improved communication with the public, clients and donors, you won’t be around very long, and neither will they.
And let’s face it, in the middle of a pandemic, with an unstable economy and social issues swirling about, you need all of the ideas you can get.
Besides, it’s no secret that staff, board members and volunteers who learn stay with you longer. Why? They get value out of working for the mission of a learning nonprofit. You meet their needs through ongoing personal growth and mental stimulation, and in return, they fulfill your mission’s needs through better services and increased income.
Pandemic or not, it's a nice win/win.
But how do you build that long-term learning culture? Here are ten things you can do to get started.
1. Set an example.
2. Ask about what they learned.
3. Include all levels of staff in learning.
4. See that learning occurs throughout your organization.
5. Integrate learning.
6. Go with their interests.
7. Don’t expect miracles.
8. Embrace all ways of learning.
9. Recognize learning.
10. Budget for learning.
One more thing — we’ll call it a “bonus hint.” Encourage teaching. Even the newest employee or volunteer has something to share with your nonprofit. In fact, some of the greatest ideas come from people who are new to a discipline. They haven’t been entrenched with the processes and traditions, and they bring new perspectives from past, unrelated work. Regardless, newbie or veteran, nothing gets someone to learn more than having to teach someone else. Give everyone an opportunity to teach, even if they’re reluctant. It’s a real growth experience.
So how do you know whether you’re succeeding? Listen. The first sign of a learning organization is when staff talk to each other about what the other learned. Do you hear these conversations in the halls (or the virtual meetings)? Do they approach you with ideas based on things they read or saw in their professional development? Better yet, did you hear of someone’s professional development experience second hand? That’s telling you that others are paying attention, too, and that you’re on your way to building your learning nonprofit.
But that’s not the most important sign. Your recruiting budget will shrink as your people stay longer. The longer your income-generating staff stay, the better relationships you’ll build with funders – and the more money you’ll get. The longer your program staff stays, the more efficient your program delivery will become and the less money you’ll spend. And for both income and programming, you’ll get ideas on how to do things better, which will lower costs and raise revenue.