How Continuing Education Can Improve Employee Effectiveness

During the pandemic, more people than ever before started thinking about professional and self improvement opportunities. With all of the newfound time available on people’s plates, they found this was a perfect time to give themselves a competitive edge. 

While the pandemic is winding down, that doesn’t mean this drive to continue learning and developing has died down. Many professionals in the nonprofit industry have continued looking for new educational opportunities to learn new skills. 

While there are many different forms of continuing education, some of the most popular include online courses, books, trustworthy blogs, and educational journals. By leveraging these resources to provide continuing education opportunities at your organization, you can help your staff members become even more effective. 

Some of the ways that continuing education increases effectiveness for your staff members include the following: 

  1. Continuing education helps staff develop new skills. 
  2. Offering new opportunities engages your employees. 
  3. Engaging your staff retains them longer. 
  4. Continuing education develops new organization leaders. 

While you can’t force your staff members to want to improve or to take advantage of nonprofit professional development opportunities, you can provide the chance for them to get involved themselves. Provide the opportunities that your staff members can use to improve their own skills, then watch them become more and more effective, as we’ll discuss in this article. 

1. Continuing education helps staff develop new skills.

The most obvious benefit of continuing education for your staff members is the development of new skills. These skills, when relevant to employees’ positions, will directly impact the effectiveness of their work. 

There are two different approaches you can take to enhance the skills of your staff members: 

  1. You can provide opportunities to help staff members fill the gaps in their knowledge and grow in skills that they lack. 
  2. Or, you can provide opportunities for staff members to continue honing the skills they already have to help them become experts in that subject. 

Either option will help your staff members become more effective in their positions. Even if someone is an “expert” now, they may not remain that way forever. Re:Charity’s professional development article points out that jobs in all industries, but especially at nonprofits, are constantly changing. To keep up with these changes, organizations should be ready to continue teaching and learning. 

Here are some examples of different ways that developing various skills can impact your nonprofit’s strategy and effectiveness: 

  • Staff members develop better communication skills. By learning how to more effectively appeal to supporters and make connections with them, your staff members will be able to build relationships more effectively. This can drive additional donations and help your nonprofit raise more. 
  • Leaders learn how to better align professional practices with social responsibility objectives. When your leadership team develops their skills to put social responsibility policies in action at your organization, you can show supporters and prospects that you prioritize the advancement of social good in the community. 
  • Staff members learn more about the intricacies of designing nonprofit programs. The more your staff members know about how to effectively design programs at your organization, the more efficient those programs will become. More efficient and effective programs will lead to providing a greater impact on your mission. 
  • Fundraisers learn how to leverage data more effectively for fundraising. The more information you have on hand about your nonprofit’s supporters and their giving habits, the better you can reach them, customize asks to fit their preferences, and maximize campaigns. 

Oftentimes, online courses and certifications are one of the most direct learning tools you can use to advance these types of skills in your staff members. This is because there is a curriculum with targeted subject matter designed to incorporate those skills into nonprofit situations. It makes it more applicable to your staff members’ workloads. 

This Nonprofit Leadership Alliance’s nonprofit courses article even says that “applying your knowledge [learned in nonprofit courses] makes you a more competitive candidate for promotions and new positions,” showing that this resource both helps your nonprofit become more competitive in the space, but also makes individuals more competitive as well. 

2. Offering new opportunities engages your employees.

Offering additional professional development opportunities helps to engage your nonprofit’s employees in new ways, helping them feel more involved and connected with your organization. 

When it comes to the engagement of employees (and particularly Millennials) at your nonprofit’s office, the statistics speak for themselves. According to this article

  1. 76% of millennials believe that professional development opportunities are a key aspect to company culture. 
  2. 74% of surveyed employees don’t feel as though they’re reaching their full work potential because they’re lacking professional development opportunities. 
  3. 76% of employees believe that a company is more appealing if they offer professional development opportunities. 

Continuing education opportunities make up a part of a holistic compensation plan at nonprofits. While you may be saying, “professional development opportunities don’t equate to a paycheck,” that’s not entirely true. 

Professional development opportunities are an optional program that you’d provide to your staff members as a courtesy to help them improve their skills, making them a very important perk of a well-rounded compensation package. 

Just like other compensation perks, your professional development opportunities can help your staff members feel a greater sense of appreciation for your nonprofit and increase the value they see in working at your organization. This results in hard-working employees and a greater impact at your organization. 

Plus, engaging your employees helps you retain them for the long-run, which we’ll cover more in the next section. 

3. Engaging your staff retains them longer. 

Engaging your staff with professional development opportunities is an important way to retain them for the long-run at your organization. When staff members leave, especially after only working with you a short while, you need to invest again in hiring, training, and development for a new employee. 

While it is financially expensive, as you can see in relevant turnover calculators, another qualitative expense that accompanies turnover is the loss of relative knowledge about your organization. If you have one staff member who is the best at communicating with supporters and then she suddenly leaves, she takes those communication skills with her. 

Professional development opportunities and continuing education among your staff members offers several major benefits when it comes to retention: 

  1. You retain more staff members, saving money that would otherwise be spent on hiring and onboarding.
  2. Your retained staff members can continue building on what they’ve learned, allowing them to continually create more value for your organization. 
  3. Continuous development among several staff members prevents data silos in your workforce, making it possible for all of your team members to do more, retaining more information among your staff. 

Most nonprofits focus a lot of time and energy on retaining their supporters. This is absolutely key for effective fundraising. The same concept applies to your organization’s staff members. When you retain staff members, you’ll save funds on acquisition while allowing them to provide additional value and support to your nonprofit. 

4. Continuing education develops new organization leaders. 

Have you ever had a leader or executive leave your organization? It creates a unique challenge for your organization and your staff, as they need to learn how to get by without an executive for a period of time. 

Then, if you hire a new executive from outside of your organization, there’s a great learning curve for the new member to understand the standard practices, learn the culture, and figure out how the organization generally works. While they can bring a valuable outside perspective to your nonprofit, that extended learning curve creates risks of lost time and value. 

Instead, if you’ve worked on developing management skills in others at your organization, you have the choice to hire internally. 

Developing leaders at your organization can help during these transitions by eliminating the learning curve for the new leader and building off existing trust between leadership and staff members right off the bat. 

Executives leaving the organization isn’t the only instance when leadership development is important. It’s also necessary for organizational growth. Leadership development is handy for growth situations such as the following: 

  • If you expand your team, you’ll need more leaders to help train new staff members.
  • If you expand your programming, you’ll need trusted team members to take on additional responsibilities and lead new initiatives.
  • If you expand your fundraising efforts, you’ll need team members to show others tips and tricks to effectively raise more. 

Consider if your organization is working to expand your fundraising efforts to fund new programs. By developing leadership skills, your staff members will be able to make confident decisions when it comes to analyzing and leveraging fundraising-related data. Plus, they’ll be able to provide tips, tricks, and strategies for other staff members struggling in their fundraising initiatives. 

Continuing education is more than just a certification or a course completion credit. It’s a way that your organization can maximize your effectiveness and efficiency in programming, fundraising, and more. By investing in your staff members, they’ll become more effective contributors to your organization on both an individual and a team level.


About the Author

Susan Tomlinson Schmidt has dedicated her life to serving others through more than 25 years advancing the missions of social-impact organizations. Currently, Schmidt is the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance president, an organization that develops talent for the nonprofit workforce. 

She received her master’s in public administration from the University of Memphis and is a Certified Nonprofit Professional. Schmidt and her husband, David, a professional chef, have two sons, Patrick and Walker. They live in Leawood, Kansas.

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