ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - 10:00am
posted by
Leslie Beecher,

Instructional Designer
ASU Lodestar Center  

In today’s world, job roles are constantly changing and new challenges arise in the workplace. Professional development is a great tool to combat these issues and allows all individuals to continue to thrive within their organization. Additional training to individuals can also assist in expanding their knowledge on certain subjects that may be beneficial to them in the future.

Over the past four years, I have worked as an instructional designer in the for-profit education world and am excited to have transitioned into the nonprofit sector. While working in the for-profit sector I had access to the latest technology, studies, and methods to develop professional development courses for organizations such as Meritus University, University of Phoenix and Lockheed Martin. I was able to develop dynamic, innovative, and knowledgeable courses using e-learning tools such as Articulate, Camtasia, Microsoft Office, and worked with graphic artist to develop custom interactive multimedia instruction (IMI). During my time at Lockheed Martin I witnessed many software updates to critical machinery at airports across the country. Because of these updates, professional development courses/training had to be created and administered to airport personnel so that they could effectively continue to use the machinery. However, professional development does not only offer training regarding software updates or how to use a new tool, but professional development is a great way for professionals to enhance and build upon prior knowledge.

While at University of Phoenix, I specialized in the development of faculty workshops for our online faculty members. Many of the workshops and courses I created for our faculty members had nothing to do with how to perform his/her role as an instructor at University of Phoenix. Instead, these workshops and courses offered faculty members opportunities to learn about the latest adult education research, tips and techniques to make their jobs more efficient, and how to find/use additional resources in their courses.


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Now that I have transitioned to the nonprofit sector, I am noticing that with advancements in technology, social media, and economic instability, the need for professional development in the nonprofit sector is rising. People working in the nonprofit sector need more training opportunities in various areas such as marketing, public relations, fundraising, strategic planning, board development, grantwriting, leadership/management techniques, etc. With tools such as social media and online resources advancing so quickly, hands on, successful experience allows professionals to stay up to date within their organizations, versus trying to find the information on their own. Research shows that guided learning is the most effective way to acquire a new skill and that is what professional development training offers: the chance to acquire a new skill set to benefit an individual’s nonprofit organization. Professional development also offers individuals a chance to learn this new skill from someone who has successfully applied it to his or her own nonprofit organization. Thomas Harvey, The Luke McGuinness Director of Nonprofit Professional Development stated:

Leadership in this sector is changing. For example, the human service part of the nonprofit world historically recruited leaders who were educated in such program specialties as social work or psychology. Now, there is a very definite trend toward awarding the top executive positions to individuals with business expertise and experience.

The reason more and more positions in the nonprofit sector are being awarded to those individuals with a business background is because in order for nonprofit organizations to prosper, they must be organized and managed as a business. However, individuals with business backgrounds do not always have the knowledge-base required to manage a nonprofit organization. Participating in professional development courses specific to the nonprofit sector can help close this gap between for-profit and nonprofit professionals.

Remember, professional development is not only meant to address a need for knowledge or to acquire a new skill, but to also anticipate the future needs of individuals in their current roles. Professional development in the nonprofit sector today is no longer considered a want, but a need.

Leslie has a great depth and breadth in instructional design, having worked as an instructional designer for Arizona State University, Lockheed Martin and University of Phoenix/Apollo Group for nearly four years. She has developed curriculum for high school, university, and corporate training courses. She earned a master's degree in curriculum and instruction.

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Yes Leslie, as you point out nicely here, there is certainly a need for professional development in all operating areas of nonprofit organizations. I believe that extends to individuals charged with governance- such as Board members- and even volunteers. This does, however, represent a challenge- especially for smaller nonprofits short on time and money. It is not unusual for continuing education to be viewed as an extra expense rather than an investment for the future by these smaller nonprofits. With limited (or no) funds available, employees (of whom some are lower paid) are many times forced to pay for their own professional development. A second problem can also materialize: taking the time to pursue professional development activities can be viewed as conflicting with more essential work duties. Getting better is an investment that every nonprofit- including smaller ones- should embrace. Nonetheless, these obstacles remain in place and the need to survive today- as opposed to the need to thrive tomorrow- sometimes drives the process.

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