From comic books to collective impact: The importance of ongoing professional development
I have been fortunate to practice a professional craft in many careers, ever since junior high school when my first job was selling comic books and trading cards. After I graduated from college, I served as a sales rep for a veterinary pharmaceutical company, before transitioning into a 10-year career in the nonprofit sector. My most recent career is as a full-time stay-at-home dad (or chief life-quality officer, as my wife likes to say!).
While my list of professions is quite varied, in each one I have made it a point to seek out and participate in professional development and networking to help improve my practice. Early in my career it was pretty informal. Working in the comic book store, I would make sure to talk to the sales reps who sold us products, along with visiting trade shows where I would talk to as many vendors and other shop workers as I could. Working in pharmaceutical sales, I was fortunate to receive extensive in-company training, yet I continued to seek out external workshops, along with networking with both in-company and out-of-company peers. And, while at Valley of the Sun United Way, where I also received excellent in-house training, I was able to successfully self-advocate to attend two different national conferences and several local conferences.
Through my participation in these activities, I have been a better resource to customers and clients, a stronger partner with those whom I am collaborating, and a more knowledgeable and connected peer and coworker. In addition to helping me better serve and meet my organizations' missions, I am confident that my professional development and networking have made me a more marketable professional when it comes to job searches and interviews.
I have been fortunate to have professional mentors continually emphasize the importance of these kinds of activities, and that, along with tenacity and good luck, has provided me many valuable developmental opportunities. Unfortunately, in the nonprofit sector, often because of tightening budgets, the reality is young professionals like myself often don't get to take advantage of training and networking. Especially in smaller nonprofit organizations, typically only the senior leaders, if anyone at all, has a budget to attend conferences or seminars.
Don't miss the 2013 YNPN Leaders Conference, “21st Century Leaders for the Common Good”
The Conference is on May 17th in downtown Phoenix, presented in part by the ASU Lodestar Center
I will let other authors explore the argument that as nonprofit budgets continue to grow leaner, young staff now often serve in positions with greater responsibility than ever before, and nonprofit organizations cannot afford to have these staff members working with anything less than the most up-to-date knowledge and skills. However, until this nonprofit reality changes significantly, young nonprofit professionals are left to seek out their own professional development opportunities. Sometimes, these can be covered from an organization's budget and sometimes the staff member needs to pay for them him or herself.
This reality is one of the reasons that I decided to help launch the Phoenix chapter of the young nonprofit professionals network (YNPN) over four years ago, and why I have decided to serve as the host chair for this years YNPN National Leaders Conference, coming to Phoenix on May 17th. YNPN chapters are dedicated to providing low-cost and high-quality professional development and networking opportunities to emerging leaders throughout the community. And the national conference is no different.
While we would certainly love for you to attend our conference - and trust me, it will be well worth the money - the point is, it is up to you, the young nonprofit professional, or quite frankly the nonprofit professional of any age, to seek out an advocate for your own professional development and networking opportunities. If you need to, pay for it yourself. It might be a short-term pain in the pocketbook, but I promise the value will pay off exponentially in the long run. In the meantime, go talk to your boss, or your executive director, or even the board chair of your organization, and help be one of the many voices in the sector advocating for the investment in the development of nonprofit employees' professional practice.
Meanwhile, I will keep planning the conference, coming in just a couple weeks, and if you see any stay-at-home dad professional development conferences, please let me know!
Aaron Stiner is a full-time stay-at-home dad and a self-proclaimed nonprofit nerd. He is a founding board member of YNPN Phoenix and is serving as the 2013 YNPN Leaders Conference host committee chair. His nonprofit career includes stints with Valley of the Sun United Way, the ASU Lodestar Center, and Catholic charities.