Info You Can Use: In House Professional Development

I came across a piece by the Bridgespan Group about creating professional development opportunities for non-profit organization staff members when you don’t have the money to send them to conferences.

Some of their suggestions included cross-training, job shadowing and stretch assignments which give people responsibilities outside their usual scope so that they can begin to develop in areas they are lacking.

One thing that caught my attention was the suggestion that employees be given the responsibility for organizing internal gatherings. In addition to having employees take turns organizing and running staff meetings, the article discusses companies where the staff arranges for speakers and other activities for in house professional development, training and team building exercises.

As I was thinking about this idea and who might the staff invite to speak or provide training, it occurred to me that this practice might be helpful in promoting greater understanding between non-profits, their boards and the community.

One of the first thoughts I had was that board members might either attend or be speakers at these events. The experience might either be very informative and help the organization move forward or reveal the gaps in understanding.

This is where things might get tricky. In the best possible situation, board members might come to an understanding of how the organization is run and the challenges it faces. Staff might learn new practices for the way forward.

On the other side, people may realize there is a huge lack of understanding. Staff may realize that a board member presenting a talk has no concept of the business model non-profits follow as they encourage the organization to embrace practices to move them toward greater profitability. How to approach them diplomatically and clarify matters may not initially be clear. However, it may provide a realization that a better board education program is needed.

The same thing can happen involving the public sphere. Staff may become aware of new trends applicable to their organization. Using these talks as an example, the non-profit staff could turn around and create/join a speakers bureau to raise awareness about their organization.

Finally, having read many excellent arts social media postings and blog entries by arts leaders, it is clear there are many very intelligent, well informed people out there in the non-profit world. If they are able to get up in front of their own company and speak objectively (rather than with a subtext about where the staff is failing to live up to expectations) about general philosophy and practice in their industry, I would bet those they work with would see them in an entirely different light.

It is so easy to get bogged down with the day to day details of running the organization, few in the organization may be aware of breadth of knowledge and passion their colleagues have. People may suddenly realize they have a unexpected source of expertise and inspiration readily available.

Of course, no matter what you do, you run the risk of he internal development/training sessions being entirely inappropriate and boring. But you can get that at a conference you pay to attend, too.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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