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  Training and Development Potpourri

Canadian FundRaiserBoth staff and volunteers need guidance to do their jobs well

What should a nonprofit organization invest each year in training to develop volunteers and staff? The answer is at least 3% of operating expenses.

More than a decade ago, the Canadian Society of Association Executives encouraged nonprofit organizations to invest 2% of operating expenses annually into staff professional development. There was no similar advice for volunteer training, although a research report for CSAE on operating performance indicated that only .3% of operating expenses were devoted to the development and training of boards.

Why should nonprofit organizations make this investment? After all, don’t members pay dues (or donors contribute) expecting benefits that will improve the membership or result in a broader, positive outcome for society?

Consider the benefits and implications of investing at least 3% of annual operating expenses in upgrading staff and/or volunteers.

Volunteers are responsible for the organization’s achieving and advancing its mission and are legally accountable as corporate stewards. Yet the vast majority of volunteers come to this significant responsibility with no formal training in what it means to govern effectively, or in-depth experience with governance better practices.

Ongoing training for volunteers serves many purposes. It is an incentive to serve as a volunteer. It has been recognized that among the motivators which attract people to volunteer is the opportunity to learn new skills and gain new competencies. For existing volunteers, training affords the opportunity to develop future member-leaders. It is an opportunity to develop and grow personally while making a contribution to one’s peers and to society.

Type of training

What type of training should organizations provide to volunteer leaders?

The first type of training is at the entry level, where orientation is provided. Orientation must take place at a specific time with tangible materials. Orientation will include explaining the role of the volunteer, and relationships such as the interaction with staff, other committees, and the board of directors. The goal of orientation is to be clear about the time commitment; scope of the task; expectations, outcomes and responsibilities; and available resources. Orientation helps the volunteer to become engaged by providing a complete overview of the organization and how his/her individual contribution is going to make a difference.

Another level of training is ongoing development. It is here the established leaders (eg, the officers and the nominating committee) can identify the pool of talented and qualified future leaders, develop their skills, and evaluate existing volunteers for more senior roles.

Ongoing training includes board training in governance but also in specific skill development (eg, running an effective meeting; interpreting financial statements; creating a risk management plan). Informal mentorship opportunities may also be introduced where the experienced volunteer is teamed with a newcomer.

Volunteer training

Some examples of volunteer training opportunities that may be undertaken:

  • volunteers acting as official spokespersons receive media training
  • volunteers presenting to community audiences or to government receive coaching on effective presentation skills
  • members who chair committees are taught how to run productive meetings (have a plan, have outcomes, have a timeline) where participants feel engaged and excited, and meaningful work is being accomplished
  • individuals serving on the board of directors learn about governance best practices, how to create meeting agendas that foster continuous improvement, and how to self-evaluate the board’s performance with specific metrics
  • senior volunteers who are in line to become the board chair/president receive specific leadership training in partnership with the chief staff officer.

Just as organizations must evaluate staff, the board has an active role to play by evaluating itself and identifying, at least once or twice each year, the leadership skills and training needs it requires to become even better.

Staff development

Every board of directors expects its chief staff officer to bring to it sound information and well-researched options, and to be conversant with trends affecting the organization and their implications. Given the pace of change in the world, no employee can meet this expectation if skills are not being upgraded continuously.

There is a win/win for nonprofit organizations committed to training and development. Employees acquire new knowledge and perform more effectively. Their careers are enhanced (career marketability; career performance; career income). Employers receive increased quality of work, enhanced productivity, and new skills to meet organizational goals, leading to higher member satisfaction. Indirect benefits include higher staff morale and increased employee retention.

So what is the commitment of employers to ensure their staff are prepared to meet the evolving needs of the organization, especially those staff in positions of leadership?

Leader Quest informally asked several leading organizations and association executives their current practices in staff training, and their view on investing 3% of operating expenses in leadership training and development (staff and volunteer).

The highest investment was found with a health care organization in Ontario that spends 2.5% annually on staff and volunteer development. Most were in the 1% range.

Executives comment

Dan Stapleton
, former CEO of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario and now director of corporate services for the Real Estate Council of Ontario, said the investment target is "a good practice to set as a standard. The amount for staff training is essential in a knowledge management environment."

Diane Brisebois, President of Retail Council of Canada, also supports the commitment of organizations to a “strategic plan as it relates to staff training, desired outcomes, measurements, even identification of appropriate training.”

Consider that in 2000, the Conference Board of Canada found that 63% of employers felt most of their employees had the necessary skills to do their jobs. Yet, when asked about evolving needs, only 9% of employers said their employees will have the required skills to perform effectively three years or beyond into the future.

Among adults in the workforce who are participating in continuing education, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that Canada lags behind other western countries, including the US, the UK, Australia, Germany and Sweden.

The Human Resources Council for the Voluntary/Nonprofit Sector provides a number of resources to help organizations make the case and start the process to invest in staff and volunteer training. Its web site is www.hrcouncil.ca.

Call to action

Here is the Leader Quest call to action which all boards and senior staff are encouraged to discuss:

Have a specific development plan each year with action steps for the board of directors, for individual key volunteers such as the president-elect or chair-elect, and committee chairs, and for staff. The areas for training will naturally flow from the performance management system or job evaluation process. However, it must be a partnership. Match what people want to learn with the skills and the knowledge the organization needs to be more successful.

Take up the 3% of operating expenses challenge for training and development. How it is spent on staff and volunteers (eg, 2% for staff and 1% for volunteers) will be determined by priority needs. Many organizations will define their investment in policy, and with specific monetary limits per individual (or level), for example, clerical/administration personnel at $500 per year, supervisors and managers $1,000 to $2,000, chief staff officers around $3,500. These figures will include professional memberships and conference registrations.

This article originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of JobExpert, a quarterly newsletter of Leader Quest Inc., and is reprinted with permission. Leader Quest provides HR counsel and services to nonprofit organizations on either a contract basis or for ad hoc requirements. For more information: Jack Shand, 877/929-4473, hr@jobexperts.com.

Canadian FundRaiser
Canadian FundRaiserSince 1991, the Canadian FundRaiser™ newsletter has been updating nonprofit managers twice-monthly on news, trends, tips and analysis of developments in the fields of fundraising and nonprofit management.

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