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Advice / Career Paths / Training & Development

5 Smart Ways to Boost Your Nonprofit Career This Fall

I’ve always loved fall. I love the changing leaves, apple picking, corduroy, and, yes, even going back to school. It’s been about a decade since I finished my master’s degree, and even longer since I graduated from high school, but around this time of year, I still get that wistful feeling and start perusing office supplies with more interest.

If you’re like me, you might be nosing around for new learning experiences with the change in the weather. So to embrace my inner student, I’ve prepared a few study guides to help you move your nonprofit career forward. Just select the subject you want to learn more about, and read on for some of the best resources available.

1. Fundraising 101

One of the best places to start your studies in fundraising is the Foundation Center. The organization has physical locations across the country that host free and paid classes, as well as robust libraries stocked with every book written about fundraising imaginable. But if you aren’t near a location, you can also learn a lot online. In addition to the “how” of fundraising, the center provides research on philanthropic trends that will help you better pitch and prospect.

For something more advanced, check out the Certified Fundraising Executive program. Although the certificate isn’t essential for a nonprofit career, it is a nice addition to your resume, especially if you’d like to work at larger organizations.

2. Communication Skills

As your supporters come out of their summer fog, now’s the perfect time to capture their attention again. To find the best ways to do that, I always check out Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog. In addition to tons of articles, Kivi also offers webinars, e-books, and training about everything from social media to getting bequests. I also regularly visit Beth Kanter’s site for tips and resources on what she calls being “a networked nonprofit” online.

3. Be a Better Board Member (or Executive)

As you probably already know, nonprofits have a lot of legal restrictions and rules to follow based on their tax-exempt status. As an everyday employee, you might not to have to pay much attention to them, but if you’re gunning for an executive role or a seat on the board of directors, you’d better know the ins and outs of those regulations.

A good place to start is the National Council of Nonprofits, which does a good job of laying out the major legal issues of nonprofits and how to address them. If you’re on a board, I’d also recommend BoardSource, which offers webinars and training. If you’ve never served on a board before and aren’t clear on what your responsibilities are, this site will set you straight.

And especially with the elections season upon us—when local and state politics are more important than ever—you’ll want to make sure you don’t get into any hot water over lobbying. Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy program is a great resource to keep you on the right side of the law. (Bonus: Besides the general online resources, the organization is great about answering your individual questions.)

4. Advanced Studies

Want to go back to school in a more formal way? Many institutions offer online courses and programs that anyone can take—and that can boost your career in your field of choice. For instance, Stanford Online has courses on international women’s health and human rights and the future of education. Jeffrey Sachs is presenting a shortened version of his Columbia University course, Introduction to Sustainable Development. And Introduction to Environmental Law and Policy is being offered by UNC-Chapel Hill. You can find even more options on Coursera, iTunes U, and edX.

And if all of this isn’t enough for you, you may want to think about actually going back to school for another degree. If you’re not sure what to pursue, Idealist is hosting a number of grad fairs this fall, and all the programs represented there are perfect for building your career in nonprofits.

5. Peer-to-Peer Learning

Although all of these resources are great, don’t overlook the greatest source of expertise—your co-workers and nonprofit peers. Offer to take a colleague out to coffee or schedule a meeting to dig deeper into a particular aspect of your work. I’ve never had anyone feel anything but flattered at such a request—so go ahead and be the teacher’s pet!

Just because you’re out of school doesn’t mean that you have to stop learning. There are tons of resources out there to continue your education, formally and informally, and help move you to the head of the class.

Photo of woman climbing stairs courtesy of Shutterstock.