GuideStar Blog

The Value of Structured Professional Development

Green chalkboard with Please do not disturb written on itI firmly believe that an effective leader never stops learning. When learning stops, stagnation begins, which is bad for the leader (be that person staff or board) or the organization he/she serves. But just how much does a leader get from the periodic webinar, networking opportunity, or conference? And how does multi-tasking behind the anonymity of the webinar or working through emails during presentations affect the value of the time we spend on professional development?

I’ve recently had the opportunity to participate in two structured professional development opportunities—one on the receiving end and the other on the delivery end. Both reinforced the value of structure to professional development, even for a seasoned leader.

The Receiving End

Last year I made a commitment (of time and financially) to participate in a group that would require my full engagement four times during the year. Each session was a two-day, out-of-town immersion experience, one that required my fellow participants and me to keep our phones in our pockets. I realized after the fact that if I hadn’t committed to following this structure, I would have made excuses and not attended parts of the program. I’m glad I didn’t miss anything. Engaging fully in the sessions led to learnings I would not have otherwise received. This was a much deeper learning experience than I had been getting from less structured opportunities.

The Delivery Side

I had the opportunity to serve as faculty for a multi-course program leading to Certified Education Foundation Leaders. Again, this was a structured professional development opportunity that required a commitment of time and money. Being on the delivery end required me to think through how to make my portions of the program worth the investment the participants were making in it. How did I create a top-notch learning experience, i.e., infuse the necessary structure? I drew on my own past experiences to come up with the following tenets:

  • The time commitment had to be flexible. Each professional needed to be able to complete the work on his/her schedule and around his/her day job.

  • The content needed to be delivered in a variety of ways. I needed to provide various learning assets as well as allow for peer learning by adding a cohort structure to the training.

  • Assignments needed to be pertinent and immediately applicable to the participants’ jobs. Relevancy was critical for the time investment.

  • Topics had to be presented sequentially. This organization forced accountability and assured individuals progressed through all topics without missing anything.

The feedback we received from the participants shows these guiding principles were on the right track:

The course has been absolutely so much more than I thought it would be, just an incredible amount of important, RELEVANT, immediately applicable information and learning.

—Deborah Lund, Pine-Richland Opportunities Fund

The class (and cohort structure) has helped me build a network of peers that have been completely open to exchanging what has worked and what hasn't worked in their organizations

—Suzi Bruin, Executive Director, Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation

As a long-time executive director, I wondered how much I would get out of the program. I was surprised to find I learned something new almost every week, usually from one of my peers in the cohort. The other surprise was how many projects on my long-term “to do” list I was able to check off because they were required assignments i.e. an updated Board Manual and more effective Board Orientation. It provided a good ROI for every dollar and minute I invested in it

—Robin Callahan, Executive Director, National School Foundation Association.

Closing Thoughts

If we agree that professional development is important to busy leaders, then we should look at how to maximize the experience for the time and expense invested. Structured development, if done right, can pay back the investment.

Bill HoffmanBill Hoffman is CEO of Bill Hoffman & Associates, LLC, a Tampa-based consulting firm with national-level independent sector expertise in educational engagement strategies, on profit leadership transitions, and organizational and board development. Bill has senior-level nonprofit management experience in education, having been the president of one of the nation’s top K-12 education foundations; functioned as interim CEO for prominent national and state education and philanthropic associations; and led national, regional, and state boards of directors. He is also an adjunct professor at National University, teaching Non-profit Leadership and Board Development

Topics: Nonprofit leadership Professional Development