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Consider inexpensive — or free! — training opportunities

There's no arguing that nonprofits benefit from leadership development. To continue to support the communities you serve, you must have strong leaders ready to step up and take your organization into the future. Funding for such training isn't always readily available, though, especially for smaller nonprofits.

The good news? There are plenty of ways for your nonprofit to support leadership development without spending any money.

The 70-20-10 model

The Center for Creative Leadership advocates the following model for leadership development:

  • 70 percent on-the-job learning
  • 20 percent coaching and mentoring
  • 10 percent formal training

Using daily challenges as opportunities for staff development allows you to place less emphasis on formal training — which may be more expensive and ultimately less powerful.

Putting on-the-job learning to work

The key to on-the-job learning is involving potential leaders in appropriate projects. For example:

  • Team leadership. Ask an employee to lead a staff meeting, participate in strategic planning with board members or manage interns. Arrange for an employee to shadow a senior executive or cover a manager's duties while he or she is on vacation. Ask employees to participate in task forces or committees outside their normal scope of work.
  • Communication leadership. Assign employees to present at staff or board meetings or work on the annual report. Ask an employee to create a team building activity for a monthly meeting or take on a project that requires coordination across the entire staff.
  • External relations leadership. Arrange for employees to accompany senior executives on outreach opportunities. Encourage employees to represent your nonprofit in the community and serve on boards of other organizations.
  • Fundraising leadership. Ask employees to take part in internal strategic fundraising meetings. Assign employees to draft portions of grant proposals.
  • Financial leadership. Solicit employee input on the budgeting process and management of budget line items during the year. Suggest shadowing a financial analyst on a task.
  • Project management leadership. Ask employees to take on an organizational initiative, such as a website revamp. Encourage employees to plan and run fundraising events.

Investing in coaching and mentoring

Employees learn from the examples they see in the workplace, so exposure to the right role models is vital — and everyone has a role to play. For example, senior leaders should set an example for the rest of the organization by demonstrating what an effective leader does (and doesn't) do. Front-line managers should look for staff with leadership potential and provide them with opportunities to develop their skills.

Some organizations create formal mentoring programs to match emerging leaders with seasoned advisers. A mentoring relationship can help accelerate learning. Good mentors create a safe space for learners to reflect on their experiences and gain insights they can use to improve their performance.

If your nonprofit is too small to support an internal mentoring program, look to community partners for potential mentors.

You might also take advantage of resources such as the Center for Nonprofit Development, which provides a mentor-matching program to help connect seasoned nonprofit professionals with professionals earlier in their careers, or the Aspire Foundation, which provides free, online mentoring to women working in charities and nonprofits around the world. In the U.K., both CharityComms (for charity communications professionals) and ACEVO (for charity leaders) offer mentoring programs to members.

Finding funds for formal training

You might work with your board of directors or trustees to earmark funds for leadership development. If that's not feasible, find other ways to support the initiative. For example, you might:

  • Consider grant funding. Do an online search focusing on the specific area in which you're seeking training, rather than just searching for leadership training grants.
  • Look for online training opportunities. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers free online training on various business topics. Also consider free online courses through organizations such as FutureLearn, Coursera and +Acumen.
  • Check out classes at a local university. You or your employees might be able to audit a leadership class at a local university. Talk to someone in admissions or who teaches in an area of interest about the possibilities.
  • Make connections with corporate partners. Ask corporate partners if they might open one of their own leadership development trainings to your staff, either for free or for a small fee.
  • Recruit an executive experienced in leadership development to your board. Create a committee with a focus on leadership development training — and make him or her head. Use his or her knowledge and expertise to help provide leadership training.

However you approach it, leadership development is a worthwhile investment. Leadership development can lead to better program outcomes and, in turn, revenue generation — which will help your nonprofit remain a vital part of the community.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



The Bridgespan Group: 52 free development opportunities for nonprofit staff

Practical Ecommerce: Nonprofit organizations: Employee training key by Cathy Qori (2014)

Salsa: 6 best practices: Is your nonprofit staff training effective? by Rebecca Wyatt (2014)

Stanford Social Innovation Review: Leadership development: Five things all nonprofits should know by James W. Shepard, Jr. (2014)

Stanford Social Innovation Review: DIY leadership development by Preeta Nayak (2015)



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