Professional Development Resources
There are several organizations that can help you advance your career in the nonprofit sector. I have chosen to highlight a few on this page. Be sure to search online for other nonprofit support organizations that serve specific sectors in which you are interested, like higher education and health.
You might also enjoy reading my blog post, “Mentoring and ‘Real World’ Fundraising.” There I discuss how I entered the nonprofit sector years ago, and I share some advice as well. Also, in the main menu of articles, you will find a new series on, “Development as a Profession.” These articles discuss my perceptions of the field, the critical role development professional play in the nonprofit sector, and the articles share my earlies experiences from “hindsight.” It may sound from the outside that being a nonprofit development executive is fairly straight forward. But I have found strength of character, patience, listening and diplomacy are key.
There are also quite a few companies that serve the nonprofit sector, that also host educational conferences of their own. Many offer certificates of completion. For instance, I have presented at the annual Crescendo Interactive conference, “Practical Planned Giving,” and it is quite solid and very well organized. Be sure to check your local universities also, as many offer grant training, both continuing education for the public, and formal degree-oriented coursework. Also, certain professional fields like higher education and healthcare have their own, specialized support groups, educational programs and conferences. Search online to find those.
Association of Donor Relations Professionals (ADRP)
ADRP was founded in 2004, however, its beginnings can be traced back to the first New England Stewardship Conference (NESC) in 1990. Far fewer advancement officers were specifically involved in stewardship then, but a small group of professionals recognized the unique aspects of their work, and understood its importance to the advancement of philanthropy. Pooling resources, they staged their first conference in order to share information with peers from other institutions.
The core purpose of the Association of Donor Relations Professionals is to advance philanthropy through elevating donor relations and stewardship. ADRP leads the profession. Its intent is to focus on the outcomes of philanthropic relationships between organizations and donors. Members are affiliated with the leading advocate for the profession and receive access to a growing network of colleagues, experts, and vendors, informational webinars on a wide range of topics; discounted registration for conference and workshop attendance; a monthly electronic newsletter; online resource of stewardship materials, procedures, and samples; and access to an international list of job postings.
Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP)
Association of Fundraising Professionals: “AFP, an association of professionals throughout the world, advances philanthropy by enabling people and organizations to practice ethical and effective fundraising. The core activities through which AFP fulfills this mission include education, training, mentoring, research, credentialing and advocacy.” AFP has a strong tie to CFRE International: AFP chapter meetings dovetail frequently with securing CFRE credentials. You may find the cost of joining AFP prohibitive (national and chapter dues, plus the monthly, or meeting “lunch” fee), unless of course, your nonprofit will cover the costs. The annual conferences are large and well organized but again, fairly expensive when you add registration fees with travel costs. Having said this, I have met some great people at AFP conferences over the years.
Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA)
APRA is the premier international organization for fundraisers who specialize in research, analytics, relationship and information management. The association grew out of the Minnesota Prospect Research Association and quickly became a national organization as researchers across the country joined to attend APRA’s first conference in September, 1988.
Today, APRA represents more than 2,500 development professionals around the world who are dedicated to empowering the nonprofit community by meeting its data and information needs (membership information may be found by clicking on the link). APRA is committed to providing leading-edge educational and networking opportunities to fundraising research professionals; establishing and promoting high professional standards and ethical guidelines; and providing advocacy and a representative voice for the profession. For a sampling of educational offerings, see: Data Analytics.
The Foundation Center and GuideStar merged in 2019 to form Candid. Via the division called GrantSpace, nonprofit fundraisers will find top notch, timely support and training for online research and grant writing skills. The Foundation Center manages what I believe is the best database of foundations and corporations, and they have done so for many years.
To watch an insightful seminar about starting a nonprofit organization, click on the YouTube link below. I receive many questions on this topic, and wanted to share this excellent presentation.
Certified Fund Raising Executive International (CFRE)
CFRE International offers the only internationally-recognized baseline professional credential for philanthropic fundraising executives. See the CFRE International website for information regarding formal fundraising certification and examination “prep” courses being conducted in cities across the United States.
I have thirty years of hands-on experience in nonprofit development and communications. From September, 2004 to March, 2017 I was formally certified by CFRE International. While I had the working and continuing education credentials to continue “recertifying,” I opted to skip the fee in 2017. The CFRE is designed for professionals with about five years of experience; I have six times that amount. While proud I secured my CFRE originally, it has not helped me secure jobs (experience and word of mouth do that more frequently).
I would also say, having taught the CFRE Review Course twice, certification is a good idea for less experienced professionals in our field. It is a mark of distinction and accomplishment. Today, I would rewrite the course to include more digital knowledge, however, and I would also place a much stronger emphasis on ethics (maybe an entirely separate section of testing on ethics). Like every other sector, technology has had a deep and lasting influence on nonprofit fundraising and communications. Our sector needs to be better at acknowledging that fact. Also – if you are looking for certification – see my listing below for GPA. They have their own program and are very highly regarded.
Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP)
The Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy program provides the knowledge and tools needed to help clients articulate and advance their highest aspirations for self, family, and society. The CAP program involves graduate-level courses (and, in the process, one can earn credit toward a Master of Science in Financial Services degree). The CAP® program is designed for self-study, leading to an objective exam in a local exam center. CAP is administered by The American College of Financial Services.
On a personal note, I was invited to participate in CAP via U.S. Trust. I have not had the time to do so, but I plan on it in the future. Follow the link to read some of the company’s reports, which are insightful.
Galvanize and General Assembly (GA)
While it is not focused on philanthropy per se, Galvanize and General Assembly can help those who have an interest in developing their social media, marketing and “tech” skills. As we all know, new technologies are helping nonprofits run more smoothly and efficiently, and to communicate more effectively. There are also educational programs available for startups that would apply handily to social good startups. Some classes may be taken in-person or online. Certification is available.
Grant Professionals Association (GPA)
The Grant Professionals Association (GPA), builds and supports an international community of grant professionals committed to serving the greater public good by practicing the highest ethical and professional standards. To achieve this mission, GPA serves as a leading authority and resource for the practice of grantsmanship in all sectors of the field; it advances the field by promoting professional growth and development; and it enhances the public image and recognition of the profession within the greater philanthropic, public, and private funding communities. If you are interested in professional certification, please visit the website for the Grant Professionals Certification Institute.
The Grantsmanship Center
My nonprofit career began in the mid-1980s when I took a week-long course at The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, California with Norton Kiritz. The Grantsmanship Center was founded in 1972 to offer grantsmanship training to nonprofit and government agencies.
“Before this time, no such training existed and small organizations often lacked the skills to compete for grant opportunities. The Center began as a local project in Los Angeles, but as word of its alumni’s successes spread, demand for trainings rapidly expanded. By 1975, The Grantsmanship Center was conducting more than 100 workshops a year across the country.”
On a personal note, the certificate of completion is a document I cherish to this day. That course was tough, but it was excellent. The knowledge gained has lasted a lifetime.
National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives
I admit, this is a new organization for me. I am intrigued by its mission. “NANOE members believe that ‘innovation never fears a challenge’ and that the greatest contribution nonprofit practitioners can make to charity is to become the creative enterprise-leaders our sector so desperately needs.”
NextAfter: Nonprofit Fundraising Optimization it as the top of its game when it comes to researching and identifying what makes online giving more successful. That is a skill everyone in the nonprofit sector needs today. I attended NIO Summit conference in 2018 in San Antonio, and I have never seen any other support organization do as well as NextAfter. This group also offers certification workshops, online courses, annual conferences and more. I recommend them highly.
NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network
If you want to keep up with the latest trends and techniques in nonprofit technologies, I recommend joining NTEN.
“We enable our members to strategically use technology to make the world a better, just, and equitable place. NTEN facilitates the exchange of knowledge and information within our community. We connect our members to each other, provide professional development opportunities, educate our constituency on issues of technology use in nonprofits, and spearhead groundbreaking research, advocacy, and education on technology issues affecting our entire community.”NTEN
Several of NTEN’s educational programs qualify for continuing education credits from CFRE International, a process that I myself initiated for them.
The annual NTC: Nonprofit Technology Conference is a wonderful opportunity to learn from experts in just a few days about the many helpful ways to make use of various technologies. I have been a speaker during prior NTCs, and each time I attend, I learn something new. The nice thing about this annual event is it is not stuffy, those attending are usually down-to-earth, and we are all trying to learn more about using technology to improve effectiveness and efficiency for social good. The event has moved online for ease of access during COVID-19 restrictions.
National Association of Charitable Gift Planners (formerly Partnership for Philanthropic Planning)
Originally created in 1988, the National Association of Charitable Gift Planning is the leading organization setting standards for charitable gift planners. It brings members together to learn, connect and advocate. It provides education and resources that enrich and advance careers. It connects colleagues at all levels through its national network—including those who defined the field. It exists to serve its distinguished profession and bring to life the art and science of charitable gift planning.
“CGP helps enrich and advance members’ work and careers through education, resources and advocacy. We are a robust network of gift planning professionals at all levels, including the leaders who defined our field, and the innovators who will transform our profession and the world.”
NonprofitReady is a signature program of the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation. “Our mission is to enable nonprofit professionals and volunteers to develop their career and do more good by providing high quality, relevant online learning resources at zero cost.” To learn about a free short course, nonprofit certificate program offered by NonprofitReady, follow the link.
Tech Impact (Idealware, ITWorks, CXWorks and Punchcode)
Tech Impact is a nonprofit, “whose mission is to empower communities and nonprofits to use technology to better serve our world. We are the place nonprofits can call to make sense of anything from large-scale technology projects, to technology maintenance and support. We have partnered with hundreds of nonprofit organizations around the world since 2003, to help each one realize the potential of technology to achieve their mission and improve outcomes.”
TechSoup Courses for Nonprofits and Libraries
TechSoup offers quality courses for nonprofits and libraries. I was pleased to help develop one focused on nonprofit disaster preparation and recovery. “Learn from experts that have deep experience in the sector and understand your unique needs.” I recommend TechSoup highly.
The business and nonprofit sectors have evolved dramatically over the course of the past few years; I believe a fresh, new approach to career development is in order! I’ve had the good fortune of hearing Rosetta Thurman speak on two occasions about advancing one’s nonprofit career. Her website provides a great deal of helpful, timely information about becoming a “nonprofit rockstar.” Rosetta has also wrote a book with colleague Trista Harris in 2011 that you might want to consider, “How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar, 50 Ways to Accelerate Your Career.” It is still ahead of its time several years later!
Many vocational or trade schools provide training for jobs that nonprofits also need and sometimes require. I hold two university degrees, but as time moves forward and after working with many nonprofit organizations, I know the value of “real world” training for specific skills.
On a personal note, on two occasions early in my career, I took vocational school courses on typing – that’s it – just typing. I now type almost as fast as I can talk, and I eliminated the need for a secretary in my now-advanced major gift fundraising work. As nonprofits strive to become more lean and efficient, these simple but genuinely helpful hands-on skills are more valuable than ever.
You might also enjoy reading, “Save Your Money, Skip the MBA, And Go To Startup Grad School Instead” from Fast Company (August, 2016). I hold two university degrees and while I am proud of them, I know several people who have thrived in life by pursuing their dreams in other ways. And many startup educational programs provide knowledge that social good startups need, too!