Welcome to the first edition of  Reader Response!  Do you have a question about developing a career in the nonprofit sector, navigating life in NYC, or working with social media?  Send me an email!  ajlovesya [at] gmail [dot] com. I might feature it here!

Today, I’d like to tackle a question I get regularly:

CPD Ladder What free or low cost resources can a young person interested in a nonprofit career tap into for professional development?

Understandably, as a nonprofit newbie, you’re focused not only on finding your passion but also on developing important skills to make you competitive and excellent employee.  Conferences can be expensive as can joining certain associations.  But there are many ways to grow in the sector without breaking the bank.

  • Young non-profit professionals groups: Many nonprofits have young professionals groups in order to get young adults more involved in the organization.  These groups are generally free or have very low fees and are an excellent option for professional development. Through these groups you can:  network with people in different fields and sectors who are committed to a cause; learn new and important skills like development and marketing through hands on work; give back to your community; add impressive work to your résumé.  Look at larger nonprofits for this kind of resource, like the Red Cross, or if you have an organization you love, consider reaching out and starting your own! I’ve written about this before.
  • Local colleges and universities: From conferences, to lectures, to fellowships, colleges and universities offer a variety of free or low cost activities aimed at connecting and developing local change makers.  Look at the event listings at a school near you, check out public service programs within the schools to see if they offer fellowship opportunities, and look at continuing education programs for low cost workshops and certificate programs.
  • Webinars: Many thought leaders share their expertise through social media.  Blogging is a popular medium but more and more people are offering webinars—web based workshops where you participate via webcam and phone.  These are great because you can watch from the comfort of your home and download for future watching.  Kivi Miller at Nonprofit Marketing Guide offers useful webinars regularly and Kim Klein at Grassroots Fundraising offers webinars on practical fundraising steps.  Also, look through Slide Share for uploaded presentations on a variety of topics.
  • Your job: Not just in terms of getting money for professional development (which is not always easy to come by) but in terms of taking on new responsibilities and challenges. I got into fundraising after hanging out with a friend who worked in the development office of my first job after college.  I learned her job, helped her with projects, and decided to pursue a full time position in fundraising.  Additionally, your job is a great place to put the new skills and resources you acquire into practice.
  • Blog: If you decide to blog for personal branding and career purposes, you’ll realize that you have to become a stronger writer, do a great deal of research, and engage others.  Additionally, managing your reputation is crucial skill regardless of whatever field you’re in, and the mastery of various social media tools and understanding of social media that come along with it wont hurt.  Michele Martin over at the Bamboo Project Blog, asked her readers to offer tips on blogging and they created an excellent guide to blogging.

What inexpensive resources have you all used for professional development?