The Organizer #24 | Growth

How should I think about learning in nonprofit work? Embrace learning for your own sake, for your team, for your organization and for your cause.

Fall in love with learning

Labour Day marks the beginning of the real New Year. It’s back to school time. It’s a fresh air, clean slate, anything-is-possible time for learning.

Labour Day marks the dividing line between the past and the future. It’s when we crack open crisp new notebooks, when we embrace new routines, new habits, new friendships, and new ideas.

No matter how old you are or what official “schooling” you do, September is the perfect time to think about what you want to learn next.

> How do you want to grow?
> What skill do you want to develop?
> What new perspective do you want to explore?

Always be learning

Social change work is hard. It requires an understanding of history, politics, economics, psychology, and group behaviour. Change requires the ability to see patterns and make plans. It also demands roll-up-yer-sleeves-and-get-er-done skills.

To do social change work well and to remain healthy, thriving human beings, we need to learn and grow continuously.

Learning isn’t just for you

Growth isn’t just for you. Growth benefits the people around you.

When you become wiser, stronger, or more skilled, your family and co-workers and constituents benefit from that growth.

When you don’t learn, grow, or improve your skills, those people have to work a little harder.

Learning isn’t just a gift we give ourselves. It’s a gift we give to our communities.

Be proactive

Social impact organizations often do a poor job supporting education and professional development. You might think it’s just your organization that lacks funds or time for training and development, but the problem is seen sector-wide.

This isn’t a “you” problem. It’s a “we” problem.

Lack of training is a nonprofit culture problem

In general, nonprofit organizations do not dedicate enough time or resources to learning.

“Investments in training within the sector are modest at best … The value of professional development is not sufficiently understood or respected in the sector,” found one Mowat Centre/ Ontario Nonprofit Network report.

The report says that one of the top reasons staff leave organizations is because of lack of training and development. It also notes that board members often lack training, support, and relevant expertise, too.

Another UK report found that 72% of employees said they needed more training to cope with present duties (the stuff they are already supposed to be doing). Yikes.

How can we accomplish our social change goals if we lack necessary competencies?

It’s time to go back to school

If want to learn and grow but aren’t sure where to start, here are a few prompts:

Think about what’s blocking you right now. What feels harder than it should be? What fills you with dread or requires extra effort? When do you feel clumsy or out-of-your depth?

Think about where you want to be in the future. What is one thing you’ll need to be good that you aren’t so good at now?

Think about your team. If you are a manager, how do you want to show up for your team? What skills or abilities could your team members develop to better support each other? What do you need to do to create time and support for these things to happen?

Think about wise governance. If you’re a board member, consider your role. How can you grow personally? What funds should you be approving so the organization can nurture its staff?

Spend some money

Organizations should be funding professional development. In places like Quebec, it’s actually law that larger organizations spend at least 1% of their payroll budget on training. Workers have a right to training and education.

The 1% rule for managers:

You can use the 1% rule as a good framework for your budgeting. If you spend $100,000 a year on salaries, set aside at least $1,000 for training. If you spend $1-million, set aside $10,000.

The 1% rule for employees:

It’s reasonable to expect the equivalent of 1% of your salary be spent on training opportunities for you. If you make $40,000, you should have an additional $400 for courses or coaching in the budget. Ask your manager what’s possible, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Or don’t spend money

If money is a legitimate barrier, don’t give up on growth. There are great free training programs available online.

Not all learning is academic

Of course learning doesn’t have to be a purely intellectual pursuit. Maybe what you really need is a wild swimming club or an improv class. You might need to practice teamwork or spend more time in nature. Maybe you need to renew your sense of social connection.

Take advantage of the moment

For a thousand reasons, social impact work is getting harder.

That’s why we need moments like Labour Day. We need learning. We need fresh starts when we can pick new goals and create new routines.

Do it while the sun shines down on your head and the air feels good on your skin. Do it this week, when anything is possible.

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