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Choosing the Right Professional Development for You

This year, I decided to do things differently and be more strategic after I returned from the GPA conference in San Diego with a notebook full of ideas and useful tools that I can incorporate into my daily work. I wanted to maximize my return on investment. How can you maximize your professional development schedule to the utmost extent possible? 

Here are some useful tips:
Step 1: Upcoming Needs
The first thing I did was assess my work in 2018 and determine what topics were most pertinent. Based on my clients' needs, I noticed that my workload into 2018 was geared more towards foundation proposals and foundation cultivation versus post-award management work. I decided that I wanted to focus on my own consulting operations and also learning new ways to boost my proposal writing. This made my choices easier to pick when I was planning on which conference sessions to attend.
Step 2: Skill Development
I know it is hard to admit that we have weaknesses, but all of us know where we have the opportunity to improve our skills. Is it writing federal proposals vs. foundation proposals? Is it developing a budget? Is it helping to create a logic model for the organization? In order for us to improve and address the needs identified in Step 1, I suggest taking a hard look at how you can build a skill set that might be lacking. You can also look at your organization as a whole and identify areas of need.
Step 3: Time
We are all pressed by deadlines, leadership priorities and strategic planning goals. This is ingrained in the work that we do and plays a huge part in what drives our work. I know it is hard to take time off to focus on ourselves, (but that is the wrong way to look at this. I actually feel that we are at a disadvantage if we do not take time to address some skill deficiencies, and we are less efficient in what we do. Professional development comes in many forms, so while a three-day conference might not be in the cards, perhaps a two-hour webinar or half-day in-person training is more beneficial and justifiable. If you try to make it a regular occurrence (let's say quarterly) and include this in your Outlook calendar as blocked time, it can feel like a deliverable itself.
Step 4: Source and Cost
\Where can you go to find great trainings? Try the GPA website to see if there are any regional conferences or webinars that might seem applicable. Ask your colleagues and find out if there are any in your area. There are many wonderful national organizations that conduct nonprofit trainings, and some may be located in your community. Try community foundations, United Way, universities, Association of Fundraising Professionals or your GPA chapter. Some excellent national organizations that focus on nonprofit training include Grant Writing USA, Center for Nonprofit Advancement, CharityHowTo, The Foundation Center, Charity Channel, The Grantsmanship Center and The Nonprofit Learning Lab. Cost is a big factor so think about how much you can spend in 2018. There are many free and low-cost trainings, so do your research and see what will work within your budget.
In the end, you have to choose what is right for you, and what will be most beneficial to your organization and/or clients.
What is your Professional Development plan going to be for calendar year 2018? What is your planning process to maximize your return on investment to boost your skills?
Rachel Werner is the Owner and CEO of RBW Strategy, LLC and provides grants and project management consulting support to nonprofits, government and business entities.