52 Tips in 52 Weeks: Professional Development

July 6, 2020

So much of our experiences in the last few months have been out of the ordinary. So many intense, long work-days with short turn-around projects, presentations, and meetings—working diligently to meet the needs and challenges before us. One of the things that strikes me as truly extraordinary during the recent months working remotely is how much time I have invested in acquiring new skills, delving into topics and technologies for which my expertise was initially fairly elementary (or a brand new subject area), and generally learning as much as I could in a very short timeframe. I have had the opportunity to read multiple books and watch numerous webinars on new topics to increase my knowledge and expertise at the start of 2020, something I would not have expected to have the time to do this year. I had proposed a professional development plan for myself and for those whom I supervise at the start of the year, but what we’ve done so far in terms of growth and development has far exceeded any of my expectations and specific plans. When I review the robust (truly extraordinary!) numbers of individuals who have participated in programs and course offerings hosted by my organization over the last few months, I am certain that I am not alone in ramping up efforts to learn and develop during this unprecedented time.

The Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector has always had a special focus on professional development. In fact, since the outset of the Standards for Excellence initiative in 1998, the program’s benchmark related to written, board-approved personnel policies has stated that “employee growth and development” should be featured in each nonprofit’s employee handbook, along with other important topics like “basic elements of the relationship (e.g., working conditions, telecommuting (if applicable), employee benefits, vacation, and sick leave). The policies should address orientation to the organization, employee evaluation, supervision, hiring and firing, grievance procedures… confidentiality of employee, client, and organization records and information.” Many nonprofit leaders are likely looking at professional development with a slightly different lens these days and encouraging their team members to take advantage of opportunities for growth in ways that may not have been outlined in detail at the start of the fiscal year. Given the changing landscape of our work environments, we have to stay flexible and responsive to new needs, and make sure our staff are learning the new skills they need to be successful in this new “normal.”

The Standards for Excellence educational packet on Personnel Policies, Employee Orientation, Compensation, and  Evaluation includes a helpful Model Employee Handbook. The Model Employee Handbook, just updated and re-released in 2020, provides a comprehensive set of personnel policies including topics such as career development, workplace practices, leave policies, benefits, and insurance coverage, communication, compensation, and much more. The Standards for Excellence Model Employee Handbook also includes a comprehensive section on forms and additional information that can be customized and implemented in any nonprofit organization.

This educational resource packet and the full series of all packets  – including sample policies, tools and model procedures to help nonprofits achieve best practices in their governance and management – can be accessed by contacting a Licensed Standards for Excellence replication partner, one of the over 150 Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultants, or by becoming a member of the Standards for Excellence Institute.

We share our sincere wishes for your continued good health and patience as we all navigate these challenging and uncertain times.

Amy Coates Madsen is the Director Programs for Maryland Nonprofits and the Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, a national initiative to promote the highest standards of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management, and operations, and to facilitate adherence to standards by all organizations. The Standards for Excellence Institute is a program of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations where Amy has served for more than twenty-four years. Amy is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the association’s comprehensive ethics and accountability program and efforts to replicate the program nationally. She serves as a frequent trainer and writer in the areas of board conduct, program evaluation, program replication, fundraising ethics, and nonprofit management. She has taught courses on nonprofit ethics and accountability at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies Certificate Program on Nonprofit Management.