Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Professional Development Through Peer Engagement

Professional Development Through Peer Engagement
Nonprofit Professional Development:
Stretch Your Strategic Capabilities through Peer Engagement
By Norman Olshansky: President
NFP Consulting Resources, Inc.

A true professional is always looking for ways to improve their practice, to be more effective and to keep abreast of new trends which could affect their work. Nonprofit professional work can often be lonely, with few opportunities to exchange ideas with others who have similar backgrounds and responsibilities. While there are many online networks and professional associations, they are usually accessed from a “distance” and opportunities to attend conferences and seminars, for face to face exchanges are often limited due to distance and cost.

Some have found mentors with whom they can truly let their hair down and confidentially discuss the issues and challenges they face professionally and personally as part of their nonprofit work. Unfortunately, too few are able to engage in such a relationship.

For many years I have been intrigued by The Executive Committee (TEC) groups within the for profit world. TEC has been around since 1957. Its successor organization is Vistage International. (http://www.vistage.com/)

Groups of CEO’s or other similarly employed corporate executives are assigned a facilitator/coach who meets with the group monthly for a full day and with each individual member of the group in between group meetings for a two hour session. The facilitator/coach is also available by phone and email for support. Groups also participate in multiple workshops during the year with expert Vistage resource speakers.

Needless to say, the program is expensive. They charge about $12,000/year per participant. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we created a similar model for the nonprofit sector, (but less involved and expensive). Why couldn’t a local Nonprofit Executive Group, Fundraising, CFO, Grantwriting, Marketing or other focus group of professionals be formed in your city or region. Individuals who participate should be serious about wanting to learn and grow and be willing/able to take the time necessary to participate.

Each group should be no larger than 8-10 individuals. While we may not need to be as time intensive as the TEC groups, participants should make the commitment of time and engagement a high priority, if it is to be successful. The participants learn from each other in addition to the input from the coach/facilitator. Speakers can be brought into the group meetings periodically to focus on areas the group wants to address. The group members bond with each other and are in touch with each other between meetings for additional supports and help with problem solving.

The participants determine what needs to be discussed, what skills and resources can be shared and what topics should be covered. Topics often go beyond best practice exchanges, skill development and/or knowledge subjects. The groups can be helpful with each other on issues related to personnel, interpersonal relations, time management, supervision, self motivation and so much more. Sessions can cover any or all aspects of nonprofit leadership and management based upon the needs of the participants. Ground rules for participation need to be developed and enforced related to attendance, who can participate, doing homework, confidentiality and financial commitment.

Ideally the group should hire a facilitator/consultant to provide leadership, organize sessions and guest speakers. The ideal facilitator/consultant could also act as a coach, be in touch with participants between meetings and enhance the quality of participation based on their own expertise and reputation within the nonprofit community. The cost of the facilitator/consultant could be shared by the participants.

Given the value of such groups, local foundations/funders may see this as a tremendous opportunity to promote capacity building and professional leadership development.

Whether it be though ongoing mentoring, coaching or “TEC” style experiences, professional development needs to be a high priority for all of us involved professionally within the nonprofit sector.

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