Start the year with these professional development opportunities

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons/Flickr

Yes, it’s cliche, but January is the perfect time for resolutions, goal-setting, and making plans to better yourself throughout the year. Here are some events, webinars, and other activities of note to help you with your professional development this month.

Job-Hunting Help. If you’re on the hunt for a new job, and one-third of employees are, look for online resources to help you make the most of social media and learn more about potential future careers.

  • Learn how to leverage the new LinkedIn profiles in a paid webinar from Jason Alba, the author of I’m on LinkedIn—Now What??? on January 17.
  • Join #JobHuntChat on Twitter, Monday evenings from 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. EST.
  • @HFChat (Hire Friday Chat) also hosts #HFChat with career experts on Fridays at 12:00 p.m. EST.
  • NY Creative Interns hosts Creative Q&A virtual events, and on January 16 at 8:00 p.m. EST, Tina Yip, community manager for R/GA will talk about getting into and advancing in the social media industry.

Local Events. If you live in one of these cities below, check out the interesting workshops and panels taking place during January.

Free Online Events and Resources. No matter where you are located, you can easily attend several free webinars in January related to nonprofit management and operations.

Conferences. Do you have the time and money to attend a conference that’s not in your zip code? Plan ahead with a couple conferences set for early February.

Fellowship and Mentorship Programs. If you’re looking for something a little more in-depth and long term, there are several fellowships and internships in public service, government, and more that have January deadlines.

Management Training. Even if you are a bit farther along in your career or more set at your organization, there are still ways you can grow and learn.

And don’t forget to volunteer. Volunteering during your free time is definitely be one ongoing way you can boost your career, especially when the career is in nonprofits. Martin Luther King, Jr. day is Monday, January 21, and there are many volunteer opportunities available on Idealist and elsewhere for that three-day weekend.

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Non-financial costs to consider when pursuing professional development

Do you have the time for professional development? (Photo Credit: ToniVC, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Last week, we shared low-cost professional development opportunities to help you take your career to the next level, without having to break the bank. However, there are other “costs” to consider when pursuing professional development, including time and attention. Caroline Ceniza-Levine recently explored these hidden costs of professional development over at Forbes:

  • Time

The best results from joining a professional association come from regular attendance at events and stepping up to committee work and leadership roles. The dues you pay are a fraction of the investment, compared to the time you’ll spend. Even a one-time conference is a longer-term time investment than most people think because the best results come from following up and expanding on relationships started at the conference. Before you select your next professional development activity, consider the time you will spend overall, not just in the activity itself. Do you have the time to follow through?

Read the rest on

We couldn’t agree more with her points! We’re wondering: beyond finance, what do you think about before pursuing a professional development opportunity?


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Grow your expertise and not your debt: Low cost (and low stress) professional development

Last week, we shared some new ideas on how to approach your career. Today, guest blogger Eleanor Whitney provides some tips and resources on how to put your desire for professional development into action.

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by Eleanor Whitney

“Back to school” season started a few weeks ago, but the students among us are already buckling down to their books as the real work of the semester kicks in and midterm exams loom. Perhaps you feel a little left out of the learning frenzy because you are not a matriculated student.

However, just because you are not pursuing a degree or doesn’t mean you have to forgo learning or sharpening your professional skills. It’s especially helpful to know about lower cost classes if you are contending with student debt and unable to shell out more money for education. You too can learn more without breaking the bank!

Not a student? There’s still plenty of learning for you to do! (Photo Credit: CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Here are a few basic strategies to finding further professional opportunities with an affordable price tag:

Join a professional organization

Any profession you can think of, from fundraisers, teachers, graphic designers, marketers, professors, and photographers, all have professional organizations they can join that offer networking opportunities, local and national events that promote professional development, and websites full of resources.  For example, The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network supports emerging nonprofit leaders and has chapters all over the country. AIGA, the professional association for design, offers local chapters, job listings and student groups.

Go to a conference

Not all conferences are expensive affairs held at a fancy hotel. Many regional and local networks offer full or half-day conferences focused around a particular topic or theme that is relevant to your field.  For example, when I was a Museum Educator I belonged to the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER), which held monthly workshops and an annual conference. This fall the University of Wisconsin—Parkside is offering a Nonprofit Leadership Conference and every summer the Allied Media Conference is held in the Midwest and tackles issues surrounding independent and nonprofit media production.

Think local

Your local public library, community college, Chamber of Commerce, Business Improvement District, Y, or arts council may offer professional development classes and networking opportunities you never knew existed. I’m always looking to see what the New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries have on offer. It’s exciting to see what free resources are out there!


Volunteering is a great way to share skills you already have, apply them to a new field, or try your hand at something new while giving back to the community. A great place to start looking for volunteer opportunities is, of course, Idealist. Other organizations like Catchafire and Taproot connect professionals with nonprofits who need a specific skillset – like design, accounting, marketing, etc – to help complete a project.

Hop online

The Internet has opened up how knowledge can be shared. Here are just a few options of organizations that offer low-cost professional development classes that are driven by social networking and crowd sourcing: is a “community marketplace for classes” that offers practical courses taught by working professionals. You can search classes by location or sign-up for online classes that include an in-person workshop component. You can also offer to lead sections yourself. Recent classes cover topics such as digital strategy workshops, sustainable business development, to building happiness at work. Local classes also give you an opportunity for meeting creative, professional and curious people from a variety of fields.

For those looking for a do-it-yourself approach to professional development, is run by the creative barter organization Trade School celebrates “practical wisdom, mutual respect, and the social nature of exchange” and operates on a barter basis. If you have a skill to offer, and skills you want to learn, you can organize your own Tradeschool and get started!

Pursuing professional development can refresh your perspective, enable you to bring new ideas to your current position, and inspire you to explore a new professional direction.

What types of low-cost professional development have you found particularly interesting or effective?

Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She currently is a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of the forthcoming book Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, which will be released in the spring of 2013 on Cantankerous Titles.

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Five ways volunteering can help your career

Many of us volunteer to help solve a pressing problem in our communities. But did you know that the time you give to an organization can also be a great professional development experience?


Volunteering not only helps people in your community; it also helps your career. (Photo Credit: RISD Museum, Creative Commons/Flickr)

If you’re eager to advance your career, consider the following benefits of volunteering:

  • Develop new skills: Volunteering is a great way to develop a skill you may not use often in your day-to-day work.
  • Apply the skills you already have in new contexts: Sometimes we need new challenges to keep our skills sharp. Volunteering your time and talent to help an organization outside of work will allow you to leverage your skills in a new way.
  • Expand your network: People who are already involved in your target field are likely to know of new opportunities and can recommend organizations and people for you to get to know.
  • Explore new career paths: Volunteering can provide an entry-point to a new career. By volunteering, you can expose yourself to different kinds of organizations, roles, causes, and more.
  • Demonstrate passion to hiring managers: We know that hiring managers like to see genuine interest and understanding of the work their organization does, so it never hurts to have hands-on experience in the field you’d like to enter.

To ensure your volunteering experience helps you move your career forward, we’ve put together a few questions you should ask before taking on a new volunteer opportunity:

  • What are your personal and professional talents?
  • What skills would you like to apply in new ways? Keep sharp?
  • What skills or knowledge would you like to gain or learn from your volunteer experience?
  • Are you interested in contributing skills related to your career? Or would you prefer to do something entirely different?
  • Who do you want to work with, get to know, learn from?
  • Are there particular roles, careers, or organization types that you’ve been wanting to explore?

Has volunteering helped your career? Share your thoughts and experiences below!

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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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Cheap or free trainings this fall, from diversity to data


What webinars are on your calendar this fall? Leave a comment to let us know. (Photo: Mark Hillary, Flickr/Creative Commons)

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

Deepen your storytelling skills

When: October 5, 3:00-4:00pm EST/12:00-1:00pm PST

What: Craigslist Foundation will host a “campfire conversation” conference call with Joe Lambert, founder and director of the Center for Digital Storytelling. It’s free for Craigslist Boot Camp participants and $5 for others.

More info and RSVP:

Use data to drive your decisions

When: October 6, 1:00-2:30pm EST/10:00-11:30am PST

Guidestar will host a free webinar on The Seven Steps for Data-Driven Decision Making with Sacha Litman, founder and principal consultant of Measuring Success. It’s free.

More info and RSVP: click here.

Working in study abroad or intercultural communication

Small Planet Studio recently tweeted about several upcoming trainings for people who want to work in international education, intercultural training, or consulting. Explore their menu of offerings here.

Volunteer management, social media, online donations, diversity, and more…

The folks at Idealware have a range of offerings this fall, from $40 trainings on how to choose donor and volunteer management systems to free eLearning sessions on Facebook, Twitter, and the “technology pyramid.” Explore the options at

And of course there’s always NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network. In October alone, they’re hosting a dozen events ranging from Diversifying Your Office Culture to Beyond Apps: Mobile for Nonprofits. Prices vary, and it helps if your organization has an NTEN membership. Read more at

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Be a "Career Entrepreneur" with help from two Idealist alumni

One of my favorite things about working here is that when our colleagues move on from Idealist, they tend to keep us posted about their big new (ad)ventures.

Case in point: Steve Joiner, co-author of The Idealist Guides to Nonprofit Careers, and Cathy Wasserman, who wrote some of the chapters in those Guides and our popular “Ask Cathy” column. They’ve recently teamed up to offer trainings, webinars, and retreats to help attendees find careers they’ll love.


Cathy Wasserman and Steve Joiner

In a recent blog post over at 21st Century Worklife, Cathy writes:

You don’t have to sell yourself anymore, force yourself to fit into jobs and organizations, or be three different people: you on the job, you at home, and you looking for a job. Imagine all of the time and energy you’ll be freeing up by not doing work and life “costume changes” day after day.

I talked to Steve recently, who added:

When I speak to job seekers, I tell them two important things:

1. One, you’ve got to ‘own’ your career. No one is going to care about it more than you.

2. If you want the ‘silver bullet’ that will land you your dream job, here it is: You need to do some quality reflection to understand your skills and values and then to figure out how you can really make a difference in the world.

We describe this worklife attitude adjustment as Career Entrepreneurism.

Wondering how to do that self-reflection? If you can make it to New York on April 16-17, you can join Cathy and Steve for a retreat called Reclaiming Work: Realizing Your Potential and Finding Peace of Mind. Follow that link to learn more and to get a $100 discount if you register by March 31.

For more on self-assessment, you can also check out What is Your Career Path in the Idealist Career Center.

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Career Corner: Don't throw away that thank you note!

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

From Flickr user stopnlook (Creative Commons)

I know you probably didn’t enter mission-driven work so that you could tally up your good deeds, but collecting and tracking information and evidence will help you in your current job and during your next career transition.

Documenting your work can help you quantify and illustrate your work to your current employer; evaluate the success of your projects, programs, and performance; increase the likelihood of success for the people coming after you; and help hiring and admissions teams evaluate your potential.

Let’s think about that last point. Imagine you’re on a hiring team and sizing up candidates. Whose application will be stronger — the person who tells you she has achieved many things but ultimately wants you to take her word for it, or the one who shows examples of her past work so you can see for yourself?

Here are seven things to collect:

  • Numbers — anything from clients served and volunteers recruited, to social media impact. If you can quantify it, do!
  • Media attention — press clippings, audio and video interviews with you, screen shots of blog posts, list of media mentions.
  • Kudos to you — thank you notes, recommendation letters, positive comment cards and performance evaluations.
  • Work samples — writing, curriculum units, screen shots, event materials, volunteer position descriptions — whatever makes sense for your job.
  • Project management evidence — agendas and planning.
  • Photographs — of you in action, of people engaged in your programs.
  • Communications — emails, promotional materials (social media releases, flyers, public service announcements), volunteer recruitment ads, newsletters, or blog posts you authored.

…But don’t save them to your work computer!

Many people work on their organization’s computer and when they leave their job, don’t take the time to save work samples and other important documentation. Don’t let this happen to you. Here are some alternatives:

  • Save documents to your own computer if you have one.
  • Send documents to your personal email account (try something like Gmail, which has a lot of storage capacity and is free and accessible from anywhere).
  • Upload to a flash drive or burn to a CD.
  • Upload to a document server like Google Docs,, Dropbox, or
  • Upload photos to Flickr or Picasa.
  • Upload video to Youtube or Vimeo.

When posting things online, choose to set privacy options where possible, and/or password protect your documentation.

Have you put together portfolios of your work? Or do you have a horror story to share about what happened when you didn’t save your work? Share your experiences by leaving a comment!

Browse all of the Career Corner archives here.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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