Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

Nonprofits need long-term HR vision too: Professional development and the Nonprofit employee.

katesunnersAuthor: Kate Sunners


According to research from the UWA’s Centre for Social Impact on Work Learning, nonprofit employees are significantly less likely to undertake professional development. Only 58% of non profit employees undertook professional development in 2014, while data from the ABS in 2009 shows the national rates of work-related training to be 74% overall and as high as 80% in the public sector.

The Australian Institute of Company Directors suggests that some nonprofits are restricted not only by a limited professional development budget, but also by concerns that spending it will affect relationships with funders who ‘want to know that their money is going straight to the front line’.

While it is understandable that nonprofits running their budgets down to the last cent often prioritise service delivery to their target audience over developing and enhancing skill sets among employees, it is a trend which can be detrimental to the long-term sustainability of these organisations.

Over and over again we see the great outcomes achieved by NFP staff as their skills develop and their confidence grows. One of the most common pieces of feedback we receive, from both early-career and experienced fundraisers, when we deliver grants training is that they are going away reenergised and inspired about their role. The better they are equipped with skills and knowledge, the more they can achieve for their cause.

There are also longer-term and less tangible benefits to staff skilling. Surveys [1, 2 ] and research show that a lack of support for professional development from employers is a key motivator for a large proportion of Gen Y workers and millennials to resign. Considering that the average for achieving a return on investment on newly hired employees is around 18 months this means over the long term nonprofits might be seriously losing out financially by putting PD and workplace learning too far down on the priority list. There is perhaps some correlation between high staff turnover in the sector, fear over investing in short-term staff, and low PD spending, which could become a vicious cycle.

A good start to turn this trend around is to start having conversations within the organisation and with funders about the necessity for professional development opportunities, and the need for a professional development budget to provide for work-related learning and support the personal investments made by employees themselves. The start of a new financial year might just be the most opportune time to begin having these conversations!training

More and more funders understand that professional development is a capacity-building exercise that is the responsible thing for your organisation to do in order to fulfil its mission in the way that will have the most effective, long-term impact. It’s important the sector continues to have conversations about the flow-on benefits to be achieved through increasing the pool of well-educated professionals working, and staying within it.

There are also funded scholarships out there to help NFP employees get the skills they need, including the Fulbright Professional Scholarship for Non-Profit Leadership which gives emerging leaders the chance for professional development in the US with a US charity, and the Leadership Professional Development Grant for senior fundraising and development staff in the arts.

There are many forms of low-cost professional development, too, from industry bodies, including FIA events, a chance to listen to industry representatives and connect with peers, and the FIA mentoring program which is open to members.

Don’t forget there’s always plenty to learn from the experts. Skilled volunteers with knowledge in everything from legal advice to marketing and events, PR and HR are available from a number of corporate offices such as NAB, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as places like Good Company that match skilled volunteers with charities.

Having a strategic plan of exactly what your nonprofit employees need in terms of professional development and skilling is a great step toward ‘defining and packaging skilled volunteering opportunities for corporate employees’, as well as understanding exactly what funds need to be put aside each year for employee PD opportunities.