Take Charge of Your Professional Development

by Aloma Arter

If you already have a mentor in the nonprofit sector, you’re one step up on making your way in a growing field. But if your goal is to become a nonprofit leader, navigating how to get to the next level may prove to be a bit challenging.

Unlike many other sectors, there isn’t a strict career path for becoming a nonprofit leader. Having such a goal will require you to become resourceful and also allow you to be in charge of your professional development.

Though there are not many formal nonprofit leadership programs, they do exist. The Developing Leaders Program for Nonprofit Professionals is one such program, which is offered by Columbia University. For a cost of $4,500, attendees gain “formal training in fundamental elements of strategic management, including how to use financial data for strategic decision making.” The program also covers critical areas in leadership, such as “the planning and implementing of organizational change, negotiating effectively, and self-awareness.”

There are several online options you may want to consider if you have time, budget, or location restraints. Many colleges and universities offer online certificate programs in nonprofit management. And sites like Lumity offer online, self-paced courses, ranging in topics from budgeting to fundraising to leadership in a nonprofit (as well as a certificate program) at low costs. An online search of free nonprofit webinars may also prove fruitful.

Formal education isn’t your only option for professional development. The Bridgespan Group, with the input of six senior nonprofit leaders, offers the following tips in the article How to Develop Yourself as a Nonprofit Leader:

  • Volunteer - The leaders agreed that “volunteering to help with an event or a special project—particularly those that cut across functional boundaries—can help provide the sort of well-rounded experience that leadership roles require.”
  • Focus on Your Informal Connections - “Join any group that can put you in touch with people you can network with or learn from. If I were in a junior role, I’d seek out people like me at other organizations,” says Maureen Curley, president of Campus Compact.
  • Think “Big” - “A big part of career growth is looking at a broader landscape of where your skills can be applied… and being able to see the dotted lines that connect different fields,” says Richard Tagle, chief executive officer of Higher Achievement.
  • Move Up By Moving On - “You need to balance out the opportunities that present themselves elsewhere with a need to stick it out where you are and create a legacy that the organization is better off for your having been there,” says Stephen Pratt, chief executive officer of MY TURN, Inc.

Do research your options and explore the many opportunities available to you. The road to a successful career in the nonprofit community can be an exciting and rewarding journey. One that is all for the greater good!

For more on this topic:

Six Strategies for Young Nonprofit Employees to Become Next Generation Leaders

Professional Development Opportunities for Nonprofit Staff

9 Professional Development Ideas

How Much is Nonprofit Professional Development Moving to Online Education?

About the Author: Aloma Arter is a Media and Professional Communications graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a writer for New Place Collaborations, LLC. A reformed fashion addict, she now spends her time writing, walking her dog, beating her grandmother at Scrabble, and seeking awesome adventures.