PMA Consulting, LLC

Professional Development as a Key Component of a Nonprofit’s Strategic Plan

As an institution, we often reflect on how far the nonprofit profession has come – from bleeding hearts to operational visionaries and social change agents. However, to bank the gains you’ve made in serving your constituents while providing cross-functional leadership that transforms your workplace and its performance, you must continue to invest in better outcomes through professional development.

If there’s one thing PMA has learned from its community partners, it’s that the demands on, and challenges facing nonprofit professionals are increasingly complex – inheriting threats and opportunities that require creative and dynamic responses. Professional development doesn’t belong in the “nice to have” category but instead is essential to a nonprofit’s success, and a rather compelling investment when presented within the framework of a broader strategic agenda. Therefore, nonprofits are advised to develop a clearly defined professional development plan, emanating from an abundantly understood organizational vision and compatible with leadership’s long-range strategic plan.

Why invest in professional development? Most nonprofit leaders recognize that professional development is vital, often citing at least one of 6 motivational drivers:

  1. Mission & Values
  2. Efficiency
  3. Risk Management
  4. Staff Retention
  5. Continuity
  6. Professionalism, Professionalism, Professionalism

Yet, they sometimes struggle to articulate the organizational case – the value of the investment/benefit to the organization in terms of long-range goals, objectives and overall strategy for maintainable success. Simply put, professional development must contribute to your organization’s strategic plan, as it is not enough these days for nonprofit professionals to be good housekeepers (i.e. delivering cost savings, administering tender processes and keeping tidy files).

How do I make the organizational case? As is the circumstance of any strategic plan, the foundation of the organizational case for professional development derives initially from “30,000 foot” questions:

  • What do you want to see from your staff?
  • What do your stakeholders want to see from your staff?
  • What does your staff want to see in itself?
  • What is the gap between what is seen and what needs to be seen?

Moving forward, your organizational case ought to be expanded to demonstrate how the goals and objectives of your nonprofit’s professional development plan align with that of the broader strategic plan:

  1. Getting the best your staff has to give (Mission & Values) – Ongoing professional development is critical for both the individual and the organization, facilitating proactively, professionalism, teamwork, effectiveness, loyalty and greater outcomes. In short, it can achieve whatever objectives you need it to and transform the way your staff operates for the benefit of your strategic plan.
  2. Get more for less (Efficiency) – The nonprofit environment is moving faster all the time and professionals face ever increasing complexity and volatility. Communication is faster, stakeholders want more, and there is less time to deliver. Professional development improves productivity and delivers outstanding value and a competitive edge for nonprofits in these rapidly moving times.
  3. Cost of not investing in professional development (Risk Management) – Without ongoing professional development, your organization’s strategic plan will fall short of competing nonprofits and initiatives, and perhaps ultimately abandoned by your staff and their corresponding volunteers.
  4. Staff placing enormous value on development (Staff Retention) – The majority of nonprofit professionals are more committed to employers who invest in their training and development. A lack of training and development opportunities will convince them to look for another organization.
  5. Your organizational memory is retiring (Continuity) – Baby boomers are now retiring and many nonprofits will lose a significant proportion of their most experienced professionals over the next five to 15 years. Generations X and Y are not nearly as experienced, and often lack the formal qualifications and accreditations to interpret and implement a strategic plan. As a profession, it is essential to retrofit the next generation of nonprofit leaders with globally benchmarked skills, practice and standards.
  6. Professionalism in itself delivers greater value (Professionalism) – Professionalism, which incorporates best practice and ethical standards, also minimizes mistakes, enhances confidence, creates options and maintains improvement, delivering the greatest possible value to the achievement of strategic goals and objectives.