Working, serving, observing. Three of the ways I gain the professional skills I need for the nonprofit community.

Posted on July 30, 2008. Filed under: Professional Development | Tags: , , , |

I’m home, sitting on the couch, mulling over the first day of our CEO 201 training, which got me thinking about the multiple types of nonprofit organizations and how I need to develop my skills to work in them.  Nonprofit organizations are complicated and directors have to tailor all organizational policies and structures according to whom they serve.  Nonprofit organizations are not cookie cutter, like many private businesses (have you heard of McDonalds?).  For that reason, it is important for anyone planning a career (or to become an ED) in the nonprofit community to do it very carefully.

As I develop my career in community service, I am being strategic about the skills I develop to ensure I am a well-rounded employee, able to work in any type of nonprofit organization.  To build my skills I have been focusing on three activities besides traditional professional development and mentoring.  I have been:

working. I have been working consistently on developing my leadership skills; this includes taking various leadership roles and assessing my leadership style with multiple assessments.  (I am Gold and a D if you were wondering)  Completing various leadership assessments has given me a chance to know exactly how I work and how to work better with other leadership styles.  Over the past year and a half, I have grown tremendously in the area of leadership.  Taking on leadership roles isn’t always a given for growing your leadership skills, pairing those roles with leadership development in the classroom or through reading makes all the difference

serving. I am currently serving on two boards, and if I had the time I would probably sit on one more for variety.  The two boards I sit on now are both membership organizations, although they do have two different focuses (advocacy and networking).  It is also truly important for all nonprofit employees to serve on another organization’s board.  Serving on another board gives you insight on the inner workings of the board of directors, and places you in the position of handling a variety of organizational issues.  Serving on boards gives you a variety of skill development opportunities.

observing. As an alternative to formal mentoring, I find it helpful to observe the experts and target them based on specific skills.   I don’t have a formal mentor, and have been looking at different ways to gain insight from those that have been doing good work in the community.  I consciously observe all those I’m working with.  And whenever I get the chance I ask those I know have mastered a skill I have been struggling with about how to fine tune my own, I do.  Another good way to learn from more experienced employees is to ask them to serve as an advisory board member on a board you serve with.  I haven’t thought much about this before, but a colleague in the League suggested it, and I am going to take full advantage.

Working, serving and observing are all very important to nonprofit employees, and I think are activities many young professionals don’t focus on as they think about their professional development.

What other tools or activities do you participate in as part of your regular skill development?

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