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Why Nonprofits Should Ditch Old-Fashioned Professional Development

01/31/2014 09:32 am ET | Updated Apr 02, 2014

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We've all been there: An uninspiring, mind-numbing training designed to expand our expertise. Despite management's good intentions, the workshop doesn't provide any useful information. Nonprofits continually fall into this mundane trap of offering the same seasonal workshops. It's time to shake up the traditional idea of professional learning.

The right training can positively impact an organization's growth. A team equipped with the latest knowledge can improve program outcomes, increase community engagement, and cultivate the next generation of leaders. Your nonprofit's staff members deserve the benefits of excellent professional development.

So, how can nonprofits break free from their old routines? Here are four key factors organizations should consider:

1. Relevance

Out with the old, in with the new. Employees want solutions to their most pressing needs. Comprehensive trainings are not catering to your team members' demands. Instead, offer specific resources that will help staff to solve present-day challenges. In return, your team will be well-prepared to respond quickly to community concerns.

Take the targeted approach. With a simple Wufoo form, survey your employees about their pain points. Incorporate the manager's feedback from recent performance reviews. Follow up with co-workers about comments submitted in the suggestion box. Use this data to develop classes that will move the organization forward.

2. Experience

Show, don't just tell. Immerse staff members into the problem-solving process. Guide them through the necessary steps to move from point A to point B. Give employees a backstage view of how to handle particular situations in the workplace.

In order to change behavior, you must give appropriate examples. After the slide-show presentation on effective fundraising, show participants how to create a real fundraising plan. Ask co-workers to role-play how they would manage a disgruntled donor. Let team members make a quick Vine video to learn about viral marketing. When employees feel comfortable, it will increase their confidence to perform their job duties.

3. Innovation

One man's trash is another man's treasure. Inspire co-workers to learn from one another through cross-functional exercises. An information system in the accounting department might be deemed worthless until the marketing team discovers the value in it. Foster a risk-taking environment to attain organizational goals.

Kick it up a notch with a few critical thinking activities. Play Chain Reaction, an exercise instructing team players to design a "cascading series of actions from recycled materials." Or explore the Worst-Case Scenario, a game where participants pretend they are stranded on a deserted island and must invent a creative passage for everyone to reach safety. Workshops should give employees the opportunity to think outside the box.

4. Fun

Maybe it's just me, but a five-minute dance-off could raise spirits! Leverage staff members' outside interests to create engaging presentations. Learning environments should indulge all five senses.

Fuse the office's love for the TV show Family Guy into your daylong seminars. Are "Billie Jean" and "Thriller" the go-to inspirational songs for your co-workers? Then, it won't hurt to play Michael Jackson's greatest hits during session breaks. A little excitement can bring life to the trainings.

Professional development is a critical tool to tackle challenges in your organization. However, it doesn't have to be boring! Boost the morale of your nonprofit team by pushing beyond the limits of cliché training. Your staff will be thankful.

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