What Are You Learning?September 27th, 2010
People never stop learning. In one form or another, we all continue to discover, absorb and conclude, whether we do it in a classroom or not. Ideally, organizations realize the need for employees to continue keeping up with current trends and they budget for this. Unfortunately, this isn’t typical, so what’s one to do?
Of course, everyone should grow and learn new things on the job, but some jobs require a steeper learning curve than others, because the evolution of their field is moving more rapidly than others. Annual Giving is one such sector, since technology affects this part of fund raising more than, say, Planned Giving. Certainly new laws on estate planning are important for professionals to know, but it’s doubtful that they are changing as quickly as the landscape of social media, for example. Often one feels that if you blink, you might miss something.
A recent study by Guidestar on the economy’s effect showed that five of the top six ways that nonprofits used to reduce costs were related to staffing, salary and benefits, which surely translates to less funds for training as well.
Couple this with the fact that when training budgets are doled out, Annual Giving professionals typically receive the smallest allowance, and you have a double whammy of those in need of the most training having the least means to receive it. Seth Godin makes a good argument about how the old business model of worker and employer is disintegrating, and stresses the importance of a worker being “fast, smart and flexible” in our new, emerging economy.
Here are but a few examples of items that Annual Giving professionals will need to add to their toolbox:
• Facebook has a reputation for changing its features on a regular basis. Facebook Places is one of the newer features to learn.
• Twitter is rolling out several major changes, including the ability to view photos, video and past tweets without scrolling.
• Video – It’s going to be more than just creating something on YouTube or Vimeo and inserting it into an email or posting it onto your Facebook page. Soon, every individual, company and organization will be able to have its own web-based “tv” channel.
• RSS (Real Simple Syndication) or text messaging – see some examples of how it can (and is) being used, including a non profit example. How can you use RSS to keep in touch with your constituents?
• SlideShare - Beth Kanter has great suggestions. Although I clearly don’t utilize it enough, you can see results of various polls I’ve taken on social media habits from audiences over the years.
• LinkedIn is changing the specs on its site, upgrading the social networking and other features a great deal lately. What will that mean for how you market yourself online?
• Technology requirements to handle all of your applications and other needs. The Seattle Public Library launched a matching gift campaign, and their site crashed soon after the campaign began, in response to the outpouring of the unanticipated support.
Patrick* made a point to sign up for as many classes as his organization – and professional society – offered during his first year on the job, in order to learn as much as he could. He wanted to be well versed, and take full advantage of what the company (and his membership) had to offer.
At the end of his first year, he had raised a great deal more money than his predecessor and also implemented some successful new events, etc. He arrived at his performance review with a list of his accomplishments and a calendar of the trainings that helped him learn how to achieve said tasks, as well as a proposed schedule of upcoming courses.
He was stunned at his manager’s reaction: Instead of praising him for having a good plan and learning so much, he chastised Patrick for having taken so many courses: “I had no idea you were spending this much time out of the office!” His manager denied Patrick’s proposed training schedule for the new year, and said he would have to cut it by half.
“When I asked ‘Why?’ since I had clearly raised more funds,” Patrick recounted, all I could get was, “‘It doesn’t look good for you to be gone that much.‘”
Patrick made a point in the future only to highlight the end result (his accomplishments) and not the means of achieving them (his training) during performance reviews.
Ramona* also met with difficulty over getting training. She knew that budgets were tight, so she rarely asked to go to seminars, but there was one that she felt was very valuable and was not terribly expensive, so she asked to attend.
When she approached her director, he only pretended to review the materials and listen to her argument, but turned her down almost immediately. Ramona decided not to give up just yet, and searched the seminar website for scholarships, since she couldn’t afford the entire cost herself. Finally, she contacted the conference organizer when she found no scholarship application online, and explained the situation. She was successful in getting a free admission to the two day conference!
Ramona made a point to network with others in her professional society – locally and nationally – and had a friend in the nearby city, within a day’s driving distance. She arranged to stay with her friend, rather than pay for a hotel.
Because her manager hadn’t bothered to notice the details of the conference during her initial request, Ramona simply put the dates down as a vacation request, stating that she was “visiting a friend,” and said nothing more about it. She returned with more skills – and contacts – to put in her professional toolbox. She knew enough about her manager’s dynamics to realize that he wouldn’t reward or praise her for her resourcefulness, but most likely subtract future opportunities from her if he knew she had received this training.
While neither Patrick’s nor Ramona’s situations are ideal, they each found ways to continue developing their skills professionally, working around the limitations set before them. Although it’s important to invest in yourself when necessary, it’s also essential to know when to draw the line and realize if you’re simply not being supported – and never will be.
What then, are some tangible, low-cost actions that Annual Giving professionals can take, to sharpen their skills and become more knowledgeable about this profession that seems to be moving at the speed of light?
• Network within the profession – Joining a professional society such as AFP, AHP, APRA, CASE, NTEN, etc. is advisable. Connecting with others who are dealing with similar issues can be invaluable.
• Invest in a mentor relationship – Ask someone you admire to coach you in an area you’d like to learn more about, but also offer your skills to another who is eager to learn.
• Research scholarships – Many organizations offer scholarships for membership and/or conference attendance. Investigate and use these applications sparingly, since they’re often only valid once.
• Take online courses – A great deal of training is available online, and because there is no space to rent or perhaps a limit on attendance, the cost is often very low or even free. The Bilou Calendar lists many courses related to Annual Giving, and you can subscribe to it.
In the end, you have to drive your career and determine its direction. You’re learning new things constantly, regardless. The question is, what do you most want to learn?
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown
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