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Evaluating your nonprofit's employee development and training practices

Why are nonprofit employee development and training important? We all pay lip service to the notion that our nonprofits should provide employees various opportunities to learn, grow and excel in their jobs and in their careers. Often, however, employee development is looked at as an expendable “extra” when we are striving toward mission delivery in our nonprofit.

Employee training is fundamental to your nonprofit workplace

Do you have policies and practices in place that intentionally support employees to create an exceptional workplace, resulting in employees operating at the top of their potential?

Gone are the days when employees simply work for a paycheck, especially at a professional level. The way employees view a job and its role in their lives is evolving. Research tells us that employees seek engagement with purpose and mission in the workplace, especially in a nonprofit.

A 2014 survey, The 7 Key Trends Impacting Today's Workplace, conducted by the employee engagement firm TINYpulse involved over 200,000 employees in more than 500 organizations.

One specific question the survey asked was: "What motivates you to excel and go the extra mile at your organization?" Employees could choose from 10 answers. The results were as follows:

  • Camaraderie, peer motivation (20 percent)
  • Intrinsic desire to do a good job (17 percent)
  • Feeling encouraged and recognized (13 percent)
  • Having a real impact (10 percent)
  • Growing professionally (8 percent)
  • Meeting client/customer needs (8 percent)
  • Money and benefits (7 percent)
  • Positive supervisor/senior management (4 percent)
  • Belief in the company/product (4 percent)
  • Other (9 percent)

A culture that actively supports employees’ doing the best possible job, with leadership and peer recognition for that work and the opportunity to grow rank in the top five, well above money as a motivator.

A 2018 Harvard Business Review article reviewed an employee survey conducted by Facebook. Facebook found that those employees who stayed at their jobs “found their work enjoyable 31 percent more often, used their strengths 33 percent more often and expressed 37 percent more confidence that they were gaining the skills and experiences they needed to develop their careers” than those employees who voluntarily terminated employment with Facebook.

It’s up to nonprofit leaders to provide employees with opportunities to excel at what they do and to support learning and growth. And, as these studies indicate, no matter how much you pay these same employees, they will move on to a better workplace if you do not. In today's workplace, employee development has a clear and direct link to successful nonprofit governance, progress, mission delivery and outcomes. So how do you ensure you have the right programs in place?

The components of employee development and training practices

  • New employee welcome and orientation
  • Ongoing training and development
  • Promotions and transfers

New employee welcome and orientation

Employee development begins with Employee Welcome and Orientation. To help your employees excel, they need to have a complete picture of your nonprofit’s mission, operations and understand their own role in the organization. This is also the time to review your employee development and training policies/programs and to provide specifics on what training is available and when.

Below is a checklist will help you ensure you cover the following topics:

  • Initial employee job goals and objectives are established, communicated and understood by new employees
  • Ongoing training and development policies and philosophies are clear
  • processes available for assessing the immediate training needs and individual development needs?
  • If available, mentoring programs for new employees and, if yes, is eligibility clearly communicated to employees?
  • Is there ongoing training or staff development for established employees and, if yes, is eligibility clearly communicated to employees? (Training may include internal or external one-on-one sessions, group training or online training.)
  • Is specialized training offered to managers and supervisors and, if yes, is eligibility clearly communicated to employees?
  • Are your training and development programs designed to meet specific objectives?
  • If yes, how are the results of these programs evaluated?
  • Are accurate records maintained for employee participation in training or development programs?
  • Is there a process for assessing future training and development needs? (This may include surveying employees to determine the areas in which they believe training is needed).
  • Is a specific person/position accountable for education, training and development activities? Provide contact info for that person or department.
  • Does the organization encourage involvement in related professional associations and attendance at relevant conferences?
  • Is there a policy outlining eligibility for promotion or transfer?
  • If yes, does the policy provide selection criteria for choosing among employees who have equal qualifications and indicate who makes the final decision?
  • Does the policy specify how pay rates are determined for promoted or transferred employees?
  • Are internal candidates considered for promotion before outside applicants?
  • If an employee fails to perform satisfactorily after a promotion or transfer, is a return to the prior position offered?

What are the best types of ongoing training programs?

What training or mentoring you offer is largely a question of your financial and resource situation. That doesn’t mean is you are a start-up or small that you cannot provide training and the ability to grow as a professional. For smaller nonprofits, the most feasible options for training may be mentoring (with either a senior staff, a board member or a supporter of your organization). There are also many very affordable online training programs in all areas of operations. Conferences (online or in person) may also be a great opportunity to attend classes and seminars designed to build skills.

Larger nonprofits may have the resources to involve employees in educational classes, off-site development training in their specific roles or in certification programs. Some nonprofits with larger budgets provide the opportunity to offset all or some tuition expenses related to attaining additional, related degrees.

Be creative and forward thinking in providing employee training programs

Networking and business relationships expert Keith Ferrazzi recommends seven ways to improve employee development:

  1. Ignite managers’ passion to coach their employees.
  2. Deal with the short-shelf life of learning and development needs.
  3. Teach employees to own their career development
  4. Provide flexible learning options.
  5. Serve the learning needs of more virtual teams.
  6. Build trust in organizational leadership.
  7. Match different learning options to different learning styles.

Employee recognition

When employees take the time and effort to engage in extra training and development opportunities, do you recognize and reward their efforts? Recognition can come in many forms, from pay raises and promotions to a shout out at an employee meeting or a certificate of commendation from your Executive Director. As much as the employee benefits from training, your organization benefits, as well, so make sure to recognize and reward those individuals who are always striving to learn and improve

The ROI of employee development and training

In general, your organization hopes to see less employee turnover and better employee performance when your nonprofit offers employee development opportunities. These metrics are easy to track and well worth the time (via employee turnover data and associated costs, as well as annual performance reviews). You may choose to use the resulting data as a good reason to increase your employee development budget in future.

Quantifying the “happiness ROI” of employees is a bit more challenging, but can be accomplished with anonymous satisfaction surveys and, again, a close analysis of performance by those who take advantage of training opportunities.

Following HR best practices and nurturing a commitment to employee development will pay off.



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




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