*NOTE: This is a great post from Rosetta Thurman that I found on her blog of the same name.
Even though we know that Millennials want to be supported in the workplace, most nonprofits seem to view professional development as a burden on their already limited resources. But what if we began to re-frame the conversation about nonprofit leadership development? Yes, it’s an essential part of cultivating a new generation of leaders, but it doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. Here are a few strategies that nonprofits (even tiny ones!) can implement to support their younger staff.
1. Provide a certain number of hours per month “on” for professional development.
Young nonprofit professionals often feel guilty for taking “off” from work once in a while to go to a workshop, training or networking event. Nonprofit supervisors can alleviate the stress on their younger employees by openly stating that all staff have, say, four hours “on” per month for professional development. That’s just one hour a week, spent however the employee wants to on their own growth, without being forced to use precious vacation time. That hour might be used to have a guilt-free coffee meeting with their mentor or to attend a webinar from their desk. Or they can use it all in one four-hour chunk to go to a half-day training at a local university or class at a membership association.
2. Offer a small professional development fund that all staff can access (even interns!).
While it’s great to allow young professionals the ability to have time “on” for professional development, you’ll get bonus points if you can show them the money. But again, I’m not talking big Mega Millions money here. I’m talking about an amount that is small, but significant. For example, allotting just $100 per year, per employee in the budget is enough to make an impact. $100 may not sound like a lot, but when you really break it down, it can be enough to pay for a couple webinars or local workshops. $100 also buys several new management books for staff to read and learn from, in hardcover or Kindle. It also might buy an hour or two with a career or executive coach. So even if your organization doesn’t have deep pockets, a little can go a long way!
A little can also help retain young talent, as Allie Sheldon commented in my previous post:
I am fortunate to work for an organization that values professional development and actually puts it in the budget each year! Contrary to the popular belief that developing young staff people will encourage them to leave, I am more apt to stay at this organization in part because it values and pays for (some of) my professional development.
3. Help younger staff identify mentors.
Young nonprofit professionals express over and over again how much they want someone to mentor them (preferably an older leader) throughout the career development process. The problem is that for professionals of all ages, mentorship is murky water and people with time to give are hard to come by. Nonprofit managers can help bridge the gap by connecting young people who want mentors with older, established leaders in the community who have a desire to “pass the torch.” Know a colleague who’s retiring from the field? Ask them if they might be interested in meeting with a few of your staff periodically to share their lessons learned. Of course, peer mentors are also valuable for professional growth, so facilitating those opportunities would be useful as well!
As Tracy Wright has shared about her experience being mentored in the anti- sexual violence movement:
Six years ago, to say I was timid and shy would be an understatement. Today I present, spearhead projects and even write articles. Never bragging but indeed humbled by the turn of events. With every opportunity afforded me, I enter into it knowing that I would not be in a place to be receptive of it without my investors. They pushed me my past my constraints through esteem building, access to professional development and believing in my brand.
4. Share leadership, networking and learning opportunities generously with younger staff.
This one is so easy. You know all those emails you get inviting you to do stuff you don’t have time to do? Just forward them on to your younger staff! While you might not have the desire to attend your 10th networking event this month, it would be a terrific opportunity for your junior staff to get out there and mingle with movers and shakers in the community. The same goes for board openings, committee vacancies, speaking invitations and advocacy opportunities. Pass them all along to your younger staff and see #1 to ensure they have the time to take advantage of them. Even the interns. They need love, too!
5. Require every employee to create a career development plan.
In conjunction with annual performance reviews, nonprofit managers could require a career development plan for their younger staff (all employees, really) to map out what their professional goals are for the year. Then, have a conversation about how you personally (or your team or your organization) can help. The real support comes when supervisors are willing to talk through how their staff can get to the next level, not just in their positions, but in their careers in general. This is an explicit way to support staff, yet gives nonprofit managers an opportunity to offer some parameters and feedback around what kind of professional development might be best for each individual’s goals and needs.