Why Nonprofits Shouldn't Forget About Professional Development

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May 18, 2023

Last Updated:

June 5, 2023

A nonprofit organization is only as successful as the workers it employs. To ensure success for your nonprofit organization it is imperative to invest in your employees’ futures, professional growth, and career advancement.

Offering employees professional development opportunities is key to attaining and retaining great talent at nonprofit organizations.

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In this article, we will investigate what professional development for nonprofits is, the benefits of professional development, and strategies for successful implementation.

Overview of Professional Development in the Sphere of Nonprofits

Professional Development

Let’s start at the very beginning: what is professional development and what does professional development for nonprofits look like?

At its core, professional development involves acquiring new skills through training and continuing education once a person has entered the workforce.

Professional development allows employees to hone their existing skills and expertise in their field.

Some professional development opportunities can be actual classes offered through a university, college, or other continuing education program. Many such in-depth opportunities offer certificates that students can add to their resumes to supplement other earned degrees and academic experience.

Most major secondary learning institutions, such as Northwestern University, offer a variety of courses and certificate programs for professionals and students who have entered the workforce. Such programs will typically charge tuition and are not usually eligible for traditional forms of financial aid.

Northwestern University

However, professional development doesn’t always need to happen in a college or university classroom to be a meaningful learning experience. Leadership workshops, interactive training, mentorship programs, and industry conferences are all ways employees can learn new skills and advance their careers.

While many of these types of opportunities are offered through third party organizations, some nonprofits will offer in-house professional development opportunities.

There is no shortage of online resources for nonprofit professionals to utilize should they want to access a variety of professional development courses or trainings. Websites like Coursera offer different online seminars, courses, and even degrees and certificates through accredited universities.


Offering professional development opportunities for nonprofit professionals will help attract and retain top talent at your organization by showing you care about nurturing your employees’ careers in your organization.

Benefits of Professional Development in Nonprofits


There are countless benefits to leveraging professional development in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit organizations provide critical, mission-driven services and ensuring this work is accomplished by industry experts is crucial.

Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits that come from professional development for nonprofit organizations and how these benefits can impact employees, the organization, and the community at large.

Boost Morale and Avoid Burnout

Nonprofit work can be deeply taxing. For nonprofit staff, especially those who provide direct services or work with the public, burnout is all too common.

Rates of burnout in the nonprofit and social sectors have resulted in high employee turnover, with some studies showing that 45% of nonprofit employees were planning to seek new employment in the next five years. Of that number 23% planned to leave the nonprofit sector entirely, representing a huge loss of industry talent.

Access to professional development opportunities can boost employee morale and confidence. Offering professional development to employees is a sign that your organization recognizes their work and sees a future for their career.

Professional development can also open employees up to new opinions, ideas, and modes of thinking and inject new life into their activities and practices. Learning new things and applying them to the workday can help re-energize staff, enabling them to think more creatively.

Conferences like Create Good give nonprofit professionals the chance to come together, share ideas, and most importantly learn from innovative leaders. Create Good makes it a point to inspire sector leaders and changemakers to “create good”, reigniting employee passion for their work. Their 2023 cohort even has seminars focused on avoiding and addressing employee burnout.

Create Good

Professional development is not only important for individuals—it is also an investment in the improvement of the organization. Offering opportunities for professional development ensures that employees remain educated on industry best practices and processes that will allow the organization to carry out its mission effectively and efficiently.

An investment in professional development shows that the organization cares about providing high-quality services to the public.

Cultivate Networks

Professional development is not only an opportunity to learn new skills and grow expertise, but it can also be a great way for employees to grow their professional networks within the nonprofit industry.

Conferences and leadership summits are frequently offered by nonprofit groups, coalitions, and industry standard setting organizations. These types of opportunities draw in nonprofit professionals and leaders who can provide key references, create connections to new jobs and new work, and foster new partnerships.

Healthy partnerships are key in the nonprofit sector. Frequently, nonprofits collaborate together on opportunities and initiatives to provide holistic and comprehensive services that touch on multiple areas and require disparate expertise.

Keeping these networks active gives your nonprofit the opportunity to meet experts and come together with other nonprofit professionals to create new, impactful programs and develop innovative ideas.

Increase Retention

The nonprofit sector is not the only industry that is experiencing issues with employee retention, turnover, and burnout.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, record numbers of Americans left their jobs, frustrated by stagnant wages and little to no growth or advancement.

According to a study published by Execu|Search Group 86% of surveyed employees said that they would change jobs if they were offered more opportunities for professional development and 66% stated that there is not enough support for employees who wish to take on leadership or management roles.

Offering professional development opportunities makes your nonprofit organization more competitive in the job market, ensuring employees you hire remain in their position and helping bring in top talent to fill open positions. Investing in professional development is an immensely effective way to show staff that they are important and your organization cares about their career advancement.

Achieve Better Outcomes

The primary reason employees seek out professional development is to improve their skills and become more effective at their jobs. For nonprofits, this translates to improved outcomes across your organization.

If your employees are tackling workplace challenges creatively and with a variety of resources to draw from, your organization is more likely to achieve success.

For employees who provide direct services this means improved outcomes for participants and programs, giving staff the opportunity to solve problems in new ways and stay on the cutting edge of industry best practices that produce the best results.

This can also mean improved outcomes for the community!

At the end of the day, nonprofit organizations are engaged in work that betters the lives of others. If employees at nonprofit organizations are well trained and have access to the information they need to do a great job, they are more likely to succeed at advancing the organization’s overall mission.

These are only some of the ways that professional development benefits nonprofit employees, organizations, and the broader communities in which these entities operate.

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Challenges in Implementing Professional Development Programs


There is no question that professional development is an asset for nonprofit organizations.

However, implementing successful professional development programming is not as easy as it may seem. There are several pitfalls organizations may run into when attempting to kickstart their own professional development programs.

Funding is a major hurdle for nonprofits when it comes to developing a robust professional development program.

So many nonprofits already struggle to stay afloat and meet even the most basic needs of their employees. It can be a challenge to find and sustain funding for professional development opportunities.

Luckily, Instrumentl is here to help nonprofit organizations secure funding to support professional development through grants that will sustain operations for years to come. Instrumentl’s innovative prospecting tool can connect your nonprofit with flexible funding through general operating grants and even help you identify funding that will fund professional development projects at nonprofit organizations.

Instrumentl can help connect your organization with grants that are specifically for building capacity at your nonprofit!


Explore Instrumentl’s website and check out the most up to date grant opportunities designed to directly support professional development initiatives at nonprofits.

Capacity is another hurdle to overcome when implementing professional development programs at your nonprofit organization. Nonprofits rarely have the ability to fund an entire full-time role that is invested in developing training or identifying curriculum for staff to take advantage of.

Successful professional development often requires staff time to identify employees who need these types of opportunities and to ensure that they have access to the right resources.

Thankfully, there are many free resources that nonprofit leaders can easily point their employees to. Even if your nonprofit doesn’t have the capacity to develop or organize professional development opportunities on its own, simply creating a list of free resources and giving your staff time to pursue those resources can be a huge help.

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Strategies for Successful Professional Development


Challenges aside, there are many things nonprofit organizations can do to create a highly successful professional development program. Even with shoestring budgets and resources, nonprofits can still work to provide their employees with the resources and support they need to thrive.


As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life and that is no less true when it comes to professional development.

Employees should not feel that they have limited offerings or very few avenues in which they can grow their careers. Nonprofit organizations should utilize several resources to promote employee growth from web tools, to in person conferences, to secondary education degrees and certificates. Allow your employees to take more than one path as they advance professionally.

Look to local organizations, government entities, libraries, and other local groups for free webinars and other tools you can use to provide staff with learning opportunities that will help them grow.


No employee is the same and neither is their career trajectory.

Managers should work with their direct reports to identify personal career goals and objectives and determine what professional development tools or resources will be most helpful in meeting those goals.

Forcing employees into a box is demoralizing and will create an unfavorable workplace culture. Put the power in the employees’ hands and allow them to choose which development opportunities align with their needs.


Your employees are the backbone of your organization and they deserve benefits and services that are valuable. Do not simply spend a few minutes on Google and go with the first professional development resources you find.

Research different opportunities, programs, conferences, and training to understand what they are about and how they will support your staff. Ask other organizations and sector professionals you trust what resources or tools they use to help their employees grow their careers.

As you get started, consider Instrumentl as a high-quality resource for information sharing, learning, and professional development. Access blogs, webinars, and other materials that will set a strong foundation for a robust fundraising program.

Wrapping Up: The Next Steps

Professional Development

Professional development for nonprofits is vital.

It is necessary for nonprofit organizations to retain top talent, attract best in class employees, and create a healthy workplace culture.

Learn how you can leverage Instrumentl’s fundraising tools and compendium of fundraising resources, courses, and training to further your organization’s professional development initiatives today.

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl team

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