Professional development pays off manyfold

NONPROFITS INC.

January 11, 1993|By LESTER A. PICKER

Last week I spoke of the importance for nonprofit managers to take time early in 1993 to plan for their own professional development throughout the year. By extension, it makes a great deal of sense to promote that self-nurturing to the entire staff.

Naturally, financial constraints prevent nonprofit organizations from being able to grant every wish from every staff member's professional development list. A conference here, a certification course there, and pretty soon we're talking real dollars.

Adding some low-cost options can help. One of the best -- and oldest -- is to set up a professional reading schedule for yourself, or to jointly develop one with colleagues or staff. Then structure a regular discussion series covering issues raised by the author. Every hour spent by staff in reading and spirited discussions over professional issues pays the organization back manyfold. It also sets a tone in the workplace that values professional development and makes it part of the daily work culture.

Two recent releases by Jossey-Bass Publishers (350 Sansome St., San Francisco, Calif. 94104) would make fine additions to the nonprofit employee's reading list for 1993. The first is "Profiles of Excellence," by E. B. Knauft, Renee Berger and Sandra Gray. The authors believe that excellence in nonprofit operations depends on four critical factors. They are: a clearly stated mission, a dynamic leader, a focused and committed board and the ability to raise the financial and volunteer resources needed to achieve organizational goals.

In this little book, the authors profile several nonprofit organizations that exemplify these four factors in action. While each organization is unique, every reader will find parallels to his or her own situation.

Another good book from Jossey-Bass is "Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations" by John M. Bryson. This work is a thoughtful, insightful and uncommonly well-presented approach to a subject that I find to be easily misrepresented and poorly understood.

In particular, Mr. Bryson's book should be required reading for every board member, executive and department head of a nonprofit organization contemplating a strategic planning process. Then again, those folks probably know they should be prepping for the marathon event.

It's those nonprofits with no idea of how strategic planning can help position them for the future that probably would benefit from this book the most.

Last week, I touched on the value of a group of executive peers from noncompeting agencies meeting every month to discuss issues of common concern. An effective use of the peer support concept would be to form such a group from executives of agencies about to start the strategic planning journey. Peer support and sharing common planning war stories can make a world of difference in keeping the process in proper perspective.

While it would be far simpler to imagine that self-development activities are confined to nonprofit staff, the truth is there is an equally strong need for boards of directors to focus on their own development.

Why not make 1993 the year that your board finally develops that manual for new (and experienced) members?

Believe it or not, developing a board manual can be immensely satisfying work for a board of directors (more on this topic in a future column). But, in 1993, the job is made easier due to the work of a Maryland company, Aspen Publishers Inc. (7201 McKinney Circle, Frederick 21701).

The 1993 Board Member Manual is a jewel of a workbook, designed to help a nonprofit board check its effectiveness against well-established standards.

One of its best features lies in its ability to serve as a framework around which a working board could develop its own manual. Such a manual could be used both as an orientation for new members and a reference for more experienced ones.

Whether on the staff or board of a nonprofit organization, make 1993 the year you attend to your own development needs.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md, 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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