As Daniel Pink says in his famous TED talk, mastery is important for job satisfaction. People want to get better at what they do and feel it. They want to become experts in something – or at least to feel they are developing expertise over time. This is also true of nonprofit staff and volunteers. So how can you facilitate learning in your nonprofit?

Foster informal and social learning

My key tip is to foster informal and social learning in your team.

Very often, people equate learning with following official curriculums or courses with certificates. And for most nonprofits it is challenging to set aside time and money for that. Some nonprofits have a budget for professional development, but most smaller ones don’t. Especially not at the start of their operations, when learning is most crucial.

If learning isn’t formal, many of us feel it doesn’t count.

For me that is very weird.

Because of the context of working in a nonprofit.

Nonprofits are pioneering with topics, approaches and values

Most of you are doing something that’s new for your area. Or you are using a new approach to something that’s already being done. Or you want to bring in different values to the type of work you’re doing that others are also doing.

Basically – you are pioneering. You are a frontrunner. Maybe a trendsetter, too.

You find new ways to engage with your community. Discover new tools to communicate and campaign. You learn about new developments ahead of time, to be able to pivot quickly if an emergency happens.

So why would you focus on formal education when that is almost never trendsetting, frontrunning or pioneering? When that is almost always focusing on the old ways?

You might get a certificate out of it, yes.

But will it help you get better at what you do?

For many things, I don’t think so.

I think incorporating learning into everything you do is a much better way to use time, energy and resources in your nonprofit.



My 3 tips for facilitating learning in your nonprofit

Here are three key tips for how you can facilitate learning in your nonprofit.

Create a culture that appreciates that learning happens through reflection on things that didn’t go as planned. (Others would call these things mistakes). 

If something seems to go wrong, your conversation focuses on what happened and how, instead of who is to blame. The conversation zooms in on where tweaks can be made to obtain a different, possibly better, outcome.

Reserve time for reflection on what is being done, and what happens (or happened) as a result of that. 

You’ll also focus on collecting information and understanding data and causality, instead of guessing and following routines only. This is something that your team should engage in as a team. And it helps if you encourage individuals to focus on reflection, too. If that’s too hard, you can invite team members to find a buddy to reflect with.

Invest in a practice where people train each other on the job in new things they learn and discover as they go.

You may have a person on your team who knows all there is to know about TikTok (for instance). Let them train the team on TikTok.

Or let someone be a shadow-for-a-day to learn from observing a colleague handling sensitive communication with the community, or dealing with finance. This could even lead to new ideas for better collaboration between for instance project staff and finance staff.

There truly are uncountable possibilities for matching skills and knowledge within your team and for creating better practices out of learning from each other.

If you can apply these three main tips your team will be on fire with all the learning they can do. Both together and through and on the job as individuals.

To make sure your team will perceive learning on the job, and from each other, as mastery, please compliment your team wherever you can. And don’t forget to set aside time for celebrating every step of the way.

How I can help

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