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The nonprofit sector is a unique industry where a passion for the greater good and earning a paycheck come together. For this reason, nonprofit leaders tend to be visionary, passionate individuals who are growing their management experience. Coupled with a dearth of funds for skills training, nonprofits often aren’t in the position to offer the type of career development found in a for-profit company.

It’s no secret that in today’s fast-paced nonprofit setting, you have to take responsibility for your own professional development. So, how can you grow your career, gain the skills to move up in the ranks and have a greater impact?

career development

1. Map out a career path

Having a long-term game plan for your nonprofit career and setting specific goals will help keep the bigger picture in focus. Where do you ultimately want to end up and with what organization? And how would you go about achieving this? This is basically mapping out a career path, a loose guideline for getting from A to Z. It mustn’t be a set of rigid rules – Leave space for opportunities that will surely come your way and shouldn’t be ignored.

2. Cultivate your contacts

According to the Bridgespan Group, a total of 85 percent of senior job openings come through individual endorsements or connections. The professional network that you’ll develop as you start your nonprofit career can be your biggest resource. By building a strong network of individuals, you will have access to experts, learning opportunities and networking events. Keep in contact with key people who are willing to help further your professional growth.

Go to events sponsored by other organizations that interest you. Network; because it’s the word-of-mouth recommendation that secures you that plum position. Through networking, connect with individuals who support the missions of nonprofits, connect with resources for learning and career development and hear about new professional opportunities.

3. Never stop learning

Continual learning is the best way to become a valued asset to your organization, and a great way to generate new ideas and strategies for fundraising and non-profit management.

There are many ways you can continue to educate yourself. Keep up with the books and publications that are currently having an impact on the nonprofit sector, become a CFRE (Certified Fundraising Executive), take a fundraising course, and stay current with the information put out by the big industry watchdogs. Be proactive by networking and educating yourself simultaneously; attend all the conferences you can and join professional organizations. And don’t discount classroom learning and pursuing certifications; these require some spending but give a great return on your investment.

Make it a habit to expand your knowledge of the nonprofit sector by consistently looking for opportunities to learn. There is always something more to absorb as you grow your career, this knowledge will make you a valued asset to your industry.

4. Go the extra mile

One of the best ways to get noticed is to be the individual who’s willing to go the extra mile. Do more and do it better. Are you ready for bigger challenges and greater responsibility? Take responsibility for your current projects and workload first.

Go beyond the basic job description and find ways to get the work done better. Put systems in place that will allow you to work more effectively and maximize projects for efficiency. “Own” your projects by finding ways to take control of the outcomes.

Always do your utmost to accomplish more than expected in every position you fill. This approach of taking on extra responsibilities and stepping up to new tasks enables you to expand your skill set in each position. This approach may mean more hours but going beyond your job description can open up wonderful experiences that enhance your career development.

5. Solve a manpower problem

Is your department a model of efficiency but understaffed? Why not investigate the possibilities of a professional internship. What responsibilities could be handled by someone in a junior position?

By guiding and counseling an intern, you will be contributing to your own career growth and adding practical skills. Any responsibilities an intern can handle will also allow you to take on other challenges. Look into the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, (formerly American Humanics) or get more information on internships here.

6. Become a leader

Position yourself as a potential leader by behaving like a leader. Look to take on new responsibilities and challenges, inspire colleagues and give functional input on strategy and tactics. Find new solutions to increase your nonprofit’s efficiency and take every opportunity to keep up with the issues of nonprofit leadership.

Your State Association of Nonprofits is a great way to stay up-to-date with issues that affect nonprofits. Leadership programs are just one of the resources offered by State Associations to help nonprofit professionals grow their careers.

Implementing these strategies will give you the flexibility to navigate and explore your career path across diverse industries. For example, a nonprofit professional taking on new opportunities in social enterprise will discover these six factors are valuable for advancement and well worth the investment.

Adding to an already hectic schedule is always difficult but make space to explore these resources and kick your career development up a notch.

What have you done for your  professional development lately? Any tips to share with fellow readers?

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