Working for a nonprofit, whether as a staff member or a volunteer, opens a wide variety of opportunities. You can make a meaningful difference in the world in an area you love. To make the most effective impact, however, you need effective training and education in a wide range of areas. To see the bigger picture and where your important work fits in, consider education in these seven areas:
Nonprofits are all about their missions. As a volunteer or staff member, you’re likely there because of the mission. But it’s not good enough to say, “I want to stop cancer because my grandmother had it,” or “I enjoy music and I want others to, too.” That’s good. It’s well-intended. But it’s not what the people who benefit from your mission deserve. They deserve expertise.
Becoming expert in your mission’s discipline enables you and your colleagues to see beyond the obvious benefits of your nonprofit’s role. You work for a concert hall and enjoy music. Great, but why? Are there psychological benefits? What determines your audience’s preferred genre? How does the business of music impact what you can offer and when?
It’s a good idea to direct your nonprofit team (both paid staff and volunteers) toward any online courses relating to your nonprofit mission so that each individual has a solid foundation of knowledge to build from. The more expertise you build, the better you can offer exactly what your clients want and need.
And speaking of clients, what are their lives like? It’s essential to see your mission from your client’s point-of-view. If you work in a home for people with spinal cord injuries, can you work a day in a wheelchair? Now you see the physical barriers and emotional obstacles in their life from their point-of-view. You may not be able to see everything, but you get a taste of what you need to do to serve them better. Your empathy will give power to your advocacy.
That being said, you might want to invest in some high-quality online courses to better educate your team on your client base.
Nonprofits run on revenue. Don’t be afraid of this. There’s a revenue-earning method for every nonprofit, and every personality. Start with knowing your options, and determine what makes an option best for you. Do you have volunteers who love to go to parties? Consider events – whether in person or virtual. How about entrepreneurs? Maybe your nonprofit should consider a business venture, like a thrift shop? Are you writing geeks? Then grants.
And don’t be afraid to volunteer to help raise money. Consider that in the worst-case scenario, you might have to ask. But how long does it take to say, “can you help our mission with a gift….?” And for your prospect to respond? Ten seconds, tops. But you even don’t have to do that to help. Can you provide an introduction? Can you give a tour? Can you write a thank-you note? There are LOTS of ways to help raise money that has nothing to do with asking.By providing access to powerful online resources about fundraising and revenue-building to educate your team, you can ensure everyone knows how they can help most effectively.
You have money from all that great revenue generation. Now it’s time to spend it, right? Not so fast. You have a budget, and maybe that’s a pledge over time, so there’s cash flow to worry about. It’s essential to grasp the basics of how money moves through your organization. But it doesn’t end there. For a nonprofit, accounting is about more than budgets and cash flow. It’s about transparency.
If world peace was declared on the same day someone accused your nonprofit of misspending funds, which would take the headline? Peace would wait.
In the end, nonprofit accounting is about the public’s trust. It’s never enough to say you spent your money right. You have to prove it through proper nonprofit accounting. And to avoid mistakes and scandals like these, it’s a good idea to make sure your whole team has a basic knowledge of key accounting basics such as through educational online resources.
Technology isn’t about big information systems anymore. It’s about having the skills to express your nonprofit’s mission through a PowerPoint, or sending out a short video about your nonprofit’s latest accomplishment on Facebook. Can you leverage the latest program to ask for donations through a text message, or hold a committee meeting on video?
These aren’t optional skills anymore. Luckily, there’s an online course or two available for pretty much any tech skill you might need to learn!
It annoys a lot of people to think that everything is about marketing, but it is. How you answer the phone. The signature line on your email. What you tell your neighbor about your nonprofit. The furniture in your waiting room. They all form an impression of your mission and your competence to deliver that mission – whether your phone-answering skills have anything to do with your mission or not!
But nonprofits carry a special burden in their marketing. While in most businesses, the person or company who pays for your service or product is the same one who uses it, chances are in a nonprofit, they’re different. The “customer” using the service, whether you call that person a client, patient, student, constituent, or something else, pays at most just a part of the service provided. Others tend to pay the rest.
For example, a homeless person probably won’t be asked to pay for their night’s lodging in the shelter. The nonprofit would ask a donor or earn the money through their annual holiday ball. Even students at nonprofit-backed universities or patients at nonprofit hospitals don’t pay the full cost of the services provided. Donors, bookstores, gift shops, food service, and insurance, and donors all pick up some of the tab.
So, it’s not just that a nonprofit does marketing, it’s important to consider to whom they are marketing – the one who uses the service, or the one who pays for it. The right online resources can help you make those distinctions and learn more about implementing an effective marketing strategy.
By their nature, nonprofits are about leadership. All nonprofits exist to address, and take leadership, in some area that either government or businesses don’t. Was there a disaster? The Red Cross is on the ground. Is pollution running into a neighborhood creek? Look for your local watershed association to take the lead. Does your school need a playground? How about the parent-teacher organization?
There’s also leadership within your nonprofit. Nonprofits are known for being very “flat” organizationally. In other words, when compared to business and government, there tend to be fewer people in the hierarchy. Why? There’s great pressure to put as much as possible into the mission itself.
What’s that have to do with leadership? Ever hear a nonprofit worker say, “I wear many hats”? Nonprofit staff and volunteers are asked to take on many more responsibilities than the equivalent person in other organizations. Therefore, in some form or another, everyone is a leader in some aspect of their work. They may not be standing at the head of the organization, shouting “charge!” but they could be one volunteer leading a team of others, or a staff person leading a team of staff and volunteers on a special project. In nonprofits, there’s leadership room for everyone.
And what encourages nonprofit volunteers and staff members to take the next step to becoming nonprofit leaders? You guessed it—online courses.
So here’s the big question: can you run, work or volunteer for a nonprofit without the above? It’s possible, but as you get to know your clients and their needs, you’ll want to serve them more effectively.
You’ll want more expertise in your mission, to see things through your community’s eyes, find money to do more, build the public’s trust in your work, use technology more efficiently, communicate your mission farther and wider, and better lead your team.
It won’t happen all at once, but it can happen by embracing ongoing education for you, your friends, and your colleagues.
About the Author: Matt Hugg
Matt Hugg is an author and instructor in nonprofit management in the US and abroad. He is president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses (https://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.