Take professional development into your own hands


How will you carve out time to learn and reflect? Photo: US Army (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Need professional development, but don’t have a budget for travel or tuition? Here are a bunch of free or relatively affordable upcoming trainings we’ve spotted recently – ones you can join from the comfort of your own desk or couch.

Special thanks to Ben Hastil for his contributions to this roundup.

Telling your organization’s story

Show me the money

  • Grantseeking basics, fundraising planning, nonprofit sustainability…find trainings in these topics and more at your nearest Foundation Center.

Social media

  • Social Media for Social Good events: Heather Mansfield of DIOSA Communications and Nonprofit Tech 2.0 has lined up one-day intensive social media trainings in conjunction with the launch of her book. They aren’t free, but they do benefit local nonprofits in the host cities.

Become a better manager

  • The Management Center’s upcoming “Managing to Change the World” trainings are sold out, but you can access tons of free worksheets to strengthen your delegation skills, hiring practices, organizational culture, and more.
Dig out of debt
  • This might fit better under “personal” than “professional” development, but hey – lots of us have loans to pay, and I’d bet that those take a toll on our overall morale, and thus our work performance. If your new year’s resolution was to conquer your student loans, check out Heather Jarvis and her resources for Public Service Loan Forgiveness in Five Easy Steps.
What else is on your radar?
Of course, attending conferences or more intensive trainings and retreats can also be a way to deepen your skills and knowledge. And after you take advantage of any opportunities like these, it’s important to make space to reflect on how you’ll implement your new skills, as New Organizing Institute pointed out recently.
What do you plan to do in 2012 to ensure you are growing as a professional?

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What will your intern learn this summer?


Summer interns at Inter-American Development Bank. Photo: Alex Guerrero, Flickr

By Amy Potthast.

What separates unpaid internships from other kinds of volunteering in the nonprofit sector? While well-designed volunteer programs consider what’s in it for the volunteer, internships should emphasize educational and training benefits to the intern.

As an intern, or as an intern manager, how do you ensure an internship will be educational?

  • First, agree on learning objectives.
  • Then, tie internship activities to the objectives.

What are learning objectives?
Objectives are goals for learners, and center on observable behaviors that learners display at the end of learning experience (a class or in this case, internship). Ideally, learners’ behavior will change because they’ve learned something new as a result of the internship.

Typically, objectives include:

  • A statement that begins, “By the end of this [internship], learners will be able to…”
  • A verb that describes an observable action
  • Conditions under which the learner will be able to take action

So an example objective for an intern working in a nonprofit might be, “By the end of this internship, Jeremy will be able to draft a full event marketing plan, incorporating feedback from staff during the creation and revision processes.”

How do you write learning objectives for an internship?
Good objectives take into account knowledge, skills, and attitudes. They progress from simple to more complex (as the intern gains mastery).

Consider both the intern’s and the organization’s interests—what do both need to get out of the internship in order for it to be successful?—to brainstorm ideas for what to include in a list of objectives that will guide specific activities for the internship.

Drawing on Bloom’s Taxonomy, you can establish objectives related to:Click to learn more about Bloom's Taxonomy.

  • Cognitive learning – recalling, explaining, producing, etc.
  • Skills acquisition – demonstrating, building, implementing, managing, etc.
  • Emotional development – listening, acknowledging, questioning, etc.

If the intern is getting school credit for their participation, you may have had to establish specific educational objectives in order to complete school-mandated paperwork.

Using the objectives
Once intern and intern manager have agreed on several objectives, use these to guide the intern’s activities.

Returning to the example above, with Jeremy creating a full event marketing plan, related activities that might build up to the plan’s completion could include things like:

  • Fully grasping the event in question by getting a good orientation, and participating in the event and/or in meetings to plan it
  • Researching what goes into a marketing plan
  • Talking with marketing professionals to get ideas for event outreach
  • Creating and analyzing a survey of past event participants
  • Evaluating how the event has been marketed to date
  • Drafting and getting feedback on pieces of the marketing plan
  • Revising pieces of the marketing plan based on feedback

Agreeing on objectives can help an intern understand the bigger picture of their assignments, and can gently remind intern managers that internships are, after all, about educating the intern.


Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

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