The Case for Professional Development
Today’s blog post is written by Christy Warren, Senior Manager of Education, PatronManager.
I worked in the box office for a non-profit arts center for over twelve years. I understand what it’s like. A typical day in the box office might involve any number of tasks from building new events in your ticketing system to interviewing potential box office staff to drafting next year’s annual budget… all while there are also three performances happening that day! It’s a lot. And I’ve seen similar workloads for my colleagues over in Development, Marketing, and Operations.
We venture into this line of work because we are passionate about the arts, right? We love music, theatre, dance, art exhibitions, etc. So even when it’s super busy, we still know deep inside that our work is vital to keeping the arts alive, and we sacrifice a little of ourselves in that mission.
While this post isn’t going to change your workload (or your stress), I’d like to remind you about something you may have forgotten because of everything you’re doing on a day-to-day basis. You are a professional and you are deserving of professional development.
Author and non-profit consultant, Janice Chan writes: “The worst part about treating professional development for non-profit employees as a luxury is that it undermines the fact that we are professionals.” Woah. But it’s true. It’s very common for employees to view learning as a luxury, especially when you’re just trying to keep your head above water. But professional development is named as such because it’s intended to pull you out of your daily grind and force you to think about your work differently. It’s experiential learning. So when you return to work, you have a new experience that can be applied to make your work better, stronger, and dare I say, easier.
You may find that slowing down long enough to identify your needs is hard. Or, if you’re lucky enough to know what you need, you may struggle with advocating for professional development, especially because it typically infringes on the two most valuable resources for non-profits: time and money. Regardless of your situation, I’ve laid out a few steps below that can help you get started on your professional development journey:
Let’s start with something low-impact. Research usually doesn’t cost anything, except a little time (which yes, is precious). Sometimes you may find everything you need in your research and not need to go any further than this step. I usually start by searching for blogs, podcasts, online communities, videos, etc. Having coffee (or wine) with someone in a position you aspire to is another option. It gives you the chance to pick the brain of someone who’s been in your shoes, and also widen your network. One of the online communities I’ve joined recently has a monthly meet-up in my area, so it’s great to have that human connection when I’m able to go. It feels good to know I’m not alone, but also to brainstorm and learn from others who understand what I’m going through.
Build Your Case
Your research might unveil more formalized courses or workshops that could deepen your understanding of the topic you are interested in learning more about. If that’s the case, you may need to advocate for yourself in order to take time away from work or have an expense approved. Remember, you are a professional and you are deserving of experiential growth.
For free solutions, you just need to advocate for time. Talk to your boss about carving out some hours in your schedule to make the course work. Since cost isn’t a hurdle, you just need their buy-in to shift your workload. Maybe a specific project can take a little longer than originally planned or maybe a colleague can take over a certain task for a few weeks. Personally, I took an online course once that met for an hour each week, and I just needed my boss to be okay with me hiding behind a closed door every Thursday at 3:00 pm. (Spoiler alert: she supported me.)
If there is a cost, it becomes more important to tailor your message so that it resonates with your boss and the organization as a whole. What’s in it for them? Your research should have identified what you will gain from the course/workshop, so bridge the gap and explain what the organization will gain from you learning those things. Will you be able to solve a specific business need? Will you be able to add a new skill set to the organization where there is currently a void (i.e., a certification)?
I know a couple of Development employees who once sought certifications in project management and event planning so they could be better equipped to plan a large-scale gala fundraiser for their organization. Could they have done it without the certification? Probably. But with it, they were able to anticipate potential snags, have contingency plans, and keep stress manageable. After all, the same Development people who planned the event also needed to “work the room” so donors would bid generously in the silent auction. If they had been stressed, or details were overlooked, they might not have been as effective and the organization might not have brought in as much money. So while the benefit of receiving professional development wasn’t felt until after the event, they needed to anticipate this outcome way back when they advocated to seek their certification.
Make It Happen
Fast forward and let’s assume you advocated and received approval to take advantage of the professional development opportunities you found. Congratulations! Now, you need to take this opportunity seriously so you can deliver on your promise.
First things first, block the time you need off on your calendar. You earned it; now preserve it.
Next, communicate and seek help from others. Let people know you are going to be unavailable at certain times, and recruit help for tasks that cannot wait. It will feel scary to leave unfinished tasks back at your desk, so this will help mitigate that anxiety and help you stay on track.
Then go forth and learn with an open mind. Remember the time away from your daily tasks is a time to refresh and think about your work in a different way.
Put It to Work
Once you get back to your desk or have completed the course, be sure to share what you’ve learned. Believe it or not, this also benefits you. People learn best when they teach others, so by sharing information with others, you are solidifying the knowledge you gained for yourself at the same time. Plus, you are modeling the type of person you want on your staff: one who appreciates learning and growth. This can be the start of changing the culture of your organization or department.
It would also go a long way to prepare a brief synopsis for your boss of what you took away and plan to implement. After all, they approved this, and knowing it was worth the time and money will help you and other employees with future requests.
Professional development aides your career as well as your organization. If you are able to implement a new process based upon the skills you’ve learned, chances are that process will stay with the organization much longer than your tenure. You have given a piece of yourself in honor of your passion for the arts. Consider yourself the ultimate donor.