As a nonprofit professional, you’re always looking for ways to improve your community as well as your skills in the nonprofit sector. Therefore, you may have started thinking about pursuing a certificate in nonprofit management.
Whether you’re looking for a long-term career in fundraising or are considering starting a nonprofit of your own, it makes perfect sense to search for more information about nonprofit management to store in your personal knowledge bank.
When it comes to professional development in the nonprofit sector, there are several options that you might choose to pursue. While a certificate in nonprofit management is certainly a very highly regarded option, it’s not the only way that you can continue to learn and grow.
This guide covers the various professional development options that you may choose to pursue and how to determine the right fit to continue your learning journey. Here are the topics we’ll dive into:
- Traditional certification programs
- Online training opportunities
- Experience in various roles
As you continue your venture as a nonprofit professional, you should never stop learning. Look for opportunities to continue educating yourself about new trends and opportunities that can advance organizations’ missions as well as your own personal career.
Let’s dive in.
Traditional Certification Programs
If you’ve considered professional development opportunities in the nonprofit sector, one of the first things that likely jumped into your mind is a traditional certification program. These types of programs are often completed on college campuses and in traditionally academic-style environments.
However, many of these certifications are now taking place in the virtual sphere as a result of the pandemic. This makes many of the courses even more accessible for nonprofit professionals looking to learn at their own pace. For example, the CNP program requires students to study and take an exam that can be completed entirely online and at the pace that best suits the learner.
These courses are fairly time-intensive and generally end in an exam. However, one of the many benefits of traditional courses is that you’ll receive a “physical” certification at the end of the course. Oftentimes, this certification is now distributed digitally rather than a physical document. But don’t worry! You still have the option to print the certificate at home.
The completion of a certification can be used to build out your resume, can be leveraged for new job positions or promotions and is a nice reminder of all that you’ve achieved.
You might consider looking into an official, traditional certification program if you:
- Enjoy and learn best in the classroom environment. Whether you’re learning in a traditional classroom on a college campus or in an online classroom, those who enjoy academia-style learning environments will likely thrive in a certification program.
- Want a comprehensive understanding of nonprofit management. Because certification courses cover a wide breadth of topics regarding nonprofit management, completing an entire course provides a comprehensive and overarching understanding of the entire subject.
- Are looking for new ways to build out your resume. While you can add individual courses or other research you’ve conducted on your resume, certifications are a very concrete addition to your list of achievements. You can draw on what you learn and leverage the certification to show that you’ve become an expert in the subject matter.
If you’re looking to learn and enhance individual skills (like communication strategies, fundraising techniques and strategic planning tips), you may want to hold off until the next section. However, if you want to get a breadth of knowledge around an entire field of study, the traditional programs are the better fit for you.
Try asking your employer if they’d be willing to sponsor your pursuit of a certification if you choose this option for your professional development. Many organizations offer development sponsorships as a part of their total compensation package.
Online Training Opportunities
While nonprofit management certification programs present an incredible learning opportunity, it’s important to recognize that it’s not the only way to continue your path of education. You can always learn specific skills that you’d like to use to enhance your own understanding of various topics by taking one-off classes.
These classes are often much less time-intensive than a full certification course. Plus, they allow you to take a deep dive into very specific topics that you may take interest in. For instance, you might decide to take a nonprofit course on the subject of communication if you feel that you would benefit from additional knowledge on the subject.
You might decide that individual courses are the right path for you if:
- You have less time to devote to studying. While a full-length certification program might take up to six months to complete, you can finish an individual course in a couple of days and still learn quite a bit. Many of these courses are also available virtually, making them a very accessible option for professionals looking to enhance certain skill sets.
- You have a specific topic you’d like to learn about. Sometimes, you don’t need an entire course load of subject matter to learn the skills and topics that you need. Often, a single course on that topic will give you adequate (and many times an even deeper dive into) understanding of the subject at hand.
There are other benefits of investing in individual nonprofit courses rather than a full certification program. They’re often less expensive than a certification program and more accessible.
However, you need to be careful about the selection process you use to find the perfect course(s) for you. The last thing you want is to purchase a class in which you don’t learn the information you need to know. Therefore, be sure to check referral lists, look over reviews and learn about the organization that’s offering the class.
According to this guide to nonprofit courses, you should be careful of courses that advertise themselves as “free.” But you also shouldn’t assume that the most expensive course will automatically be the most informative. It’s better to rely on the organization’s reviews and reputation rather than on price alone.
Experience in Various Roles
While there are many options that you can pursue that allow for formal classroom-type learning, you shouldn’t forget about the experience you can gain on the job. When you work at nonprofit organizations, you gain invaluable experience and insight into the different roles at nonprofits and the needs of organizations.
There are several ways that you can gain new experience at an organization as a current nonprofit professional:
- Ask for new assignments. If you currently work at a small to mid-sized organization, consider talking to other team members to see if you can get involved with activities outside of your normal workload. Not only does this show that you’re willing to help out in different areas of the organization, but you’ll come to understand various aspects of your mission and how different teams work toward fulfilling it.
- Take training for different roles. If your nonprofit uses a learning management system to train staff members (or volunteers) for various roles, consider asking to take a couple of extra training courses. This article explains how classes on LMS platforms allow for standardization of training across the organization, which means you can count on the training class to be comprehensive. Leveraging the resources already available at your organization is a great place to start learning new skills.
- Try out new positions. If you’re not happy in your current position at an organization, start thinking about where you would like to use your skills in the future. Once you have a spot in mind, express your interest in working on that specific team. Experiencing different roles can help you better understand your own strengths and weaknesses as a professional and gauge where you want to find yourself in the future.
Bloomerang’s donor database guide explains the importance of building out donor profiles for the benefit of nonprofits. In the same way, you need to make sure you’re building out your nonprofit professional profile to expand your skills and understanding of the sector. This means both building your understanding of relevant nonprofit topics and your experience in different positions.
When nonprofit professionals start thinking about development, their minds often immediately jump to certification programs in nonprofit management. While these are incredible opportunities, they aren’t always the most impactful and effective methods of learning.
Before you choose how to develop your skills as a professional, think about your own needs. What is it you want to learn? Why are you considering a certification? By first analyzing your needs, you can make a more informed decision on how you’ll learn more about the nonprofit sector.
Kristine Holferty is the chief marketing and sales officer for the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, where she is dedicated to using her extensive expertise to help social enterprises and social impact professionals develop their leadership capacity. In addition to her work with The Alliance, Kristine is the founder of Ignite Everyday, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of women in their careers, and serves on the Certification Governing Board for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, which oversees the certification programs offered by NASM, a division of Assessment Technologies Institute and the Athletic and Fitness Association of America. Kristine volunteers as a reading mentor in the Lead to Read KC program and as a coach for At Coaching for Everyone, delivering complimentary coaching and leadership support to traditionally underserved and under-resourced populations. Kristine spends her free time in the great outdoors, running adventure races across the globe with her husband, two boys and two dogs. For more information on the NLA's mission and Leaderosity, check out the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.