Invest in Talent Without Spending a Dime

Nonprofit leaders have usually chosen to work for an organization because they are passionate about the mission and want to make an impact. While many care about their salary and career advancement, they also care about their learning and development, so much so that some leaders would be willing to leave their job if they weren’t learning and developing.

This is good news because the nonprofit sector needs as many talented leaders as possible. The challenges we collectively face are complex, and solutions are not always apparent or easy. Leadership at all levels is called upon to make headway. Part of a successful leadership equation is development–formal and informal.  I’m not just talking about succession plans or training for the handful of individuals (or fewer in some cases) who are being prepared for formal leadership roles, but development opportunities for individuals at all levels. I’m also talking about strategic development that is connected to greater individual and organizational impact.

You don’t need me to tell you the dollars available to allocate to staff training and development are not all they could be. But, you don’t have to rely on coffers of cash to invest in people. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Set the stage for development by raising it as an issue with the Board and key funders. Make the case for development by making the logical (and empirical if you can) link between development and greater efficiency and effectiveness. Identify ways the Board could support development in the organization.
  • Develop people through challenging assignments. Give individuals responsibility and accountability. Provide new experiences and support learning from them.
  • Use information from evaluations to reflect and learn about what is working and what could be better. Connecting learning and development to impact provides direction and motivation.
  • Provide and promote positive behavioral and performance feedback. Be specific about what the person (or group) did and the impact it had.
  • Encourage staff to identify a personal board of directors that can broaden their perspective and help them be successful.
  • Be a mentor and create opportunities for mentoring.

The above ideas won’t work in every setting, and they are by no means the only low cost ways to invest in talent.

What have you tried that has worked well in your setting? 


About Kelly Hannum

Kelly is the Director of the Global Research Insights group at the Center for Creative Leadership® and a visiting faculty member at the IESEG School of Management in France. Since joining CCL® in 1993 she has managed a variety of research, evaluation, and assessment related projects. Kelly received her Ph.D. in Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro . She is also the recipient of the Marcia Guttentag Award from the American Evaluation Association and Young Alumni Awards from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Guilford College.
This entry was posted in Coaching & Feedback, Mentoring, Nonprofit Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Invest in Talent Without Spending a Dime

  1. I really appreciate what you have said above. I agree that nonprofits need leadership and personnel development just as employees do in the Corporate America. The pieces that I find missing here and that are applicable to both settings are the need to influence employees to decide to change and grow and the decision to embrace the whole person. There is no way that any of us can be successful today doing what we did ‘back in the day’. We each must learn and grow and programs need to be offered that not only improve the employees’ performance on the job but they must also consider the whole person. Tons of training budgets are poorly spent each year because we are looking for the quick fix and we fail to see the whole individual and motivate them at their level of need. I was originally trained as an educator and I quickly learned that if I wanted to get a student of any age to learn a particular skill, I had to find value in that individual and embrace the whole person. When I did that and was able to demonstrate the benefit of learning the particular skill to him / her, then I begin to have buy in for that individual to grow and develop in places that they don’t even know that they had. It is the same with adults. There must be a respect about who the individual is in totality and then the opportunity to motivate that person to be the best that they can. Corporate America or nonprofits can require training but little of it is transfered to the everday lives of our employees if we are missing these two ingredients.

  2. Kelly this is a great blog…there are so many ways that leaders and managers of non profits can incorporate learning and development as part of the every day operations. I conduct many workshops within this sector and always try to encourage the transfer of learning by encouraging leaders and managers to continue the journey started at a workshop. I think we are all tired of being expected to FIX problems in a workshop because the leaders and managers are unwilling to handle this as part of their role. Coaching and mentoring offers enormous opportunities to follow on from training as well as creating a learning culture everyday…I think your suggestions are a great start.

  3. avatar Gordon says:

    We can also develop people very cheaply though coaching and mentoring.
    Often this is a neglected resource

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