How can you help your team acquire knowledge and skills they need to plan work and set boundaries? To learn new knowledge and feel accomplished as a person? To learn new skills and have more variety in the work? Learning can be so helpful, inspiring and motivating. And very often we think that as nonprofit we do not have money or time for that. But that is not necessarily true! So how can you make learning possible in your nonprofit?


What learning?

There are many different ways of learning. Most of us will think of a building first. A school or university where learning happens. But not all learning happens there.

Next, we may think of a training we attended for work. Again, in a room that is organized specially for the learning process. And yes, we can learn there (although very often what we learn evaporates swiftly, too).

(Social) Learning on the job is much overlooked and undervalued. At your desk, or in a meeting or exchange with your colleagues. Learning in small bites, that you can directly test and use in real life. Learning with and through others. This is actually a very effective way of learning, and it does not really receive the attention it deserves.

Why learning?

Embedding learning and having up-to-date skills and knowledge in your organization helps you to:

  • Be resilient as an organization in the face of (new) challenges.
  • Stay current and have innovative answers to needs and trends.
  • Do a better job for your community.
  • Keep your team motivated through professional and personal development.

It can also help keep your team healthy if they are able to manage their workload well.

What is the cost of learning?

Learning has two cost components:

  • Cost of the time your team needs to invest in learning, if you are covering this time as work time.
  • Cost of the learning programme: the cost of the teacher or expert, cost of materials, cost of the venue, etc. etc.

Different types of learning have a different cost level and different composition of costs involved.



What is the cost of not learning?

We tend to focus on the cost of learning and how we may not be able to afford that. But it is also good to think about what it will cost us if we do not make learning possible.

  • What if you are not ready for new challenges because your team does not have certain knowledge or skills?
  • What will it cost if you can only repeat what you did before, because your team does not have up-to-date knowledge and skills?
  • Can you imagine how you could have pivoted during COVID without having skills for online meetings? How much time would you have lost in figuring all that out on the spot?
  • What is the cost if the community you serve is no longer satisfied with the quality of the work?
  • Or what will it cost you if you do not have knowledge that you need to run your organization in line with best practices, standards and the law? If you make mistakes and get fined. Or if you need to hire experts to make things right for you?
  • What will it cost you if your team is demotivated and if people leave?

Not investing in knowledge and skill development can have many negative consequences that can be very costly, too.

How to cover the cost of learning?

What you can do to cover the cost of learning depends on your specific situation of course. But here are some ideas:

  • Include a training for the team in your project design as part of the necessary preparation for the project work.
  • Allow team members to participate in trainings in the project to learn.
  • Share costs of a workshop with a peer organization.
  • Ask your partner organizations if they can host a team member as an intern.
  • Foster on the job learning in your team by promoting knowledge and skill sharing.
  • Set a target for annual investment in learning and include this in the calculation of your fees.
  • …. and there are many more ways to make it possible!


My key tips

  • Formulate very clearly what your organization gains by providing learning opportunities.
  • Be very clear about what your organization can lose through providing learning opportunities.
  • Set a clear target for learning per year.
  • Brainstorm with your team about ways how the costs can be minimized and covered.

How I can help

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