Professional Development for Fundraisers: We Can Do More!
Is enough being done to educate, train, and share best practices within the fundraising profession? Our success and credibility as fundraisers rest on ensuring professional standards. Young fundraisers need and expect to be provided with opportunities to advance and hone their skills. On-the-job management and mentoring are vital, but should be supplemented with formal training, peer information-sharing, and educational programming. Other professions recognize and embrace this – are we there yet?
The benefits of professional development are plentiful. Keeping up with “cutting edge” thinking and technology is both satisfying and empowers nonprofit staff to better serve their organization and donors. Employees are loyal to employers that invest in their future and that are prepared to support their careers and professional development. Moral of the story: Training and development is a win-win for both nonprofits and their staff.
Within the fundraising profession, we have yet to establish and universally adopt industry standards for training and development. The current leader in this regard is CFRE International. CRFE’s Certified Fundraising Executive certification is a credible qualification which requires a mixture of formal higher education, continuing professional development, practice, and performance. The certification also requires candidates to pass a written exam. Fundraisers who aspire to attain and maintain this certification will benefit greatly from a continued investment in professional development by their employers.
For the most part, the responsibility still falls on individual organizations to seek out, appraise, and offer training programs for their fundraising staff. The good news? There is a range of options. A good start is webinars and online training. To further develop staff’s potential, there are the options of conference-based programming or working with a training organization to fully customize a curriculum for your specific organization.
Web-based training is a cost-effective option
As the leading industry organization, The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) drives thought leadership and plays an important role in informing and educating on relevant topics faced by fundraisers at all levels in their careers. Organizations like AFP, as well as many independent training consultants, offer a wide range of educational programming.
Online webinars and training programs offer multiple benefits. First, they are generally less expensive than in-person alternatives. Secondly, they allow for greater flexibility. Trainees can attend at their convenience rather than at a set time, and from the comfort of their office or desk. Also, these programs are usually short and do not require a huge time commitment or investment. Webinar topics that are well-suited to the medium include online giving, event management, and donor data segmentation.
However, these online programs do have some drawbacks. They are not generally customized to the style and culture of an organization and allow for very passive participation; it is all too easy to “multitask” while “attending” an online training program and come away with less new knowledge than intended.
Conferences provide educational, as well as networking, opportunities
Nationally and internationally-affiliated organizations (like the YMCA, for example) may offer conferences and educational programming for staff. While the investment in travel costs and time can be significant, these conferences provide unmatched opportunities for information-sharing. Spending time away from one’s desk, with peers from other regions, enables collaboration and networking in ways that can’t be duplicated in classroom-based instruction.
Additionally, industry sector-based conferences, such as those offered by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, provide excellent programming for fundraisers serving educational institutions. The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy similarly offers coursework and conferences for those in the healthcare sector.
Customized training offers significant benefits
Another option for nonprofits is to engage a private trainer or firm to develop a single program or a series of customized programs. Partnering with an experienced trainer provides the benefit of their knowledge and ability to diagnose an organization’s specific needs. They will be able to develop a range of customized solutions. Even smaller organizations that don’t have the budget for annual programming can identify staff training needs and develop tailored coursework a few times a year.
In an industry that has historically suffered from high levels of staff turnover and burn-out, in-house training programs add value that can help with staff hiring and retention. They can help make teams more productive and staff more fulfilled. Nonprofits have a responsibility to train, develop and empower their staff to make better decisions. If we, industry leaders, want to turn the tide of high staff turnover, stagnant results, and disengaged donors, we must invest in our front-line fundraisers.
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