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PD on a Shoestring

My first nonprofit job was at a tiny literacy nonprofit in my college town. Our office was the basement of the Religious Life Center, donated by the college. We barely scraped together our program costs even with that minimal overhead, let alone having funds for professional development. Now, in a larger organization, I'm fortunate to have access to opportunities like the GPA Conference, even traveling from far distant Maine. But I still hear from many friends and fellow members of the nonprofit world how much of a struggle it is to find the funding to grow professionally.

Having lived on both sides of the spectrum, here are some no- to low-cost opportunities for you to access training:
  • Free/Low-Cost Workshops—Often, local colleges or nonprofit centers will offer basic trainings in finance, community outreach, cultivating diversity, and other areas for little or no fee. You may need to keep your eyes peeled at public bulletins or ‘stalk' your local groups online, but they can be a great chance to get your feet wet with little investment.

  • Browse the Library—Never underestimate the public library. It's still a powerful resource for research and learning. Take a look through the shelves at your local library, or find out if they can lend books from larger cities through a regional lending program.

  •—One-stop shopping for online training. I have a long list of courses/webinars to take, from YouTube marketing to how to use Excel more effectively. The first 10 days are free, and it costs $20/month after that. You can cancel any time, so if you've got a blank spot in your grants calendar and energy to burn, you could power through a few classes to beef up your skills for a whopping $20 (or free if you only need ten days!).

  • Free MOOCs—Massive Open Online Courses took the Internet by storm a few years ago, and many come highly credentialed. While fees are common, especially for programs that offer formal certifications, there are still free ones available. The best I've found so far is Philanthropy University, which focuses on nonprofit management and leadership.

  • E-Newsletters and Blogs—Not just spam anymore. There are many newsletters and blogs out there that offer valuable learning or insights. I think these are also a great way to stay up on current events and evolving practice in the field. It can also be a way to increase your background knowledge in connecting areas: since I shifted from literacy to a marine-focused nonprofit, I get a lot of e-digests on seafood, ocean science, and climate change to build my own knowledge on these subjects.
  • Side note: For those among us rethinking their subscription choices, use Unroll.Me to quickly unsubscribe from those unwanted emails that drive you crazy.
  • Volunteer—Skilled volunteers are worth their weight in gold, and those with motivation to grow and develop those skills are even greater. If you need to improve your presenting skills, speak at local high schools about college and careers. If you're just starting out in the grants world and want more experience, see if your local dog rescue or historical society could use a hand. The possibilities are endless.

  • Board Service—Not for the faint of heart! Many nonprofits are looking for knowledgeable and passionate individuals to take on big responsibilities. It's an opportunity to take on leadership in areas you feel confident in, and to stretch your wings in places where you may not have the chance to grow in your own organization. This takes the right match and a good deal of elbow grease, but you'll get a new perspective and some great hands-on training.
How have you made room for PD with a tight budget? We'd love to see your comments!



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