On Training in Non-Profits

The non-profit sector has a problem: in a recent study by OpportunityKnocks.org, over 37% of non-profits reported employee retention issues; according to the Fuller Institute over 80% of pastors in the US feel unqualified or discouraged in their role as Pastors; and another recent study showed more than two-thirds of non-profit heads plan to leave their jobs within the next five years. Three different angles that point to a common problem, non-profits have a large training demand and often few qualified people to carry it out.

volunteer group

I was recently asked to teach a course on business administration at a local Bible College. In preparing for the class I  learned that the average minister spends 50-75 percent of their time on administrative duties. This isn’t extremely shocking, but the next thing I learned was: of 148 seminaries surveyed in the US, 75% teach NO administrative classes, and the remaining only spend an average of 1% of their coursework on administrative duties (business skills.) One percent. That’s like sending a fire candidate to fire academy and having the majority of their training cover polishing fire engines. Tell me that doesn’t create a training gap for the new pastor coming into a church or parish.

Another issue that non-profits face is the need to train volunteers. “Assuming a full-time employee works 1,700 hours a year, volunteer hours were the equivalent of 8.9 million full-time employees in 2011. At average private wages, volunteer time was worth $296.2 billion” (Urban Institute, Non-Profit Sector In Brief 2012) That is an astounding amount of volunteer work and translates into a massive amount of training. How does the non-profit sector handle this without wasting precious resources?

  1. Create a list of key tasks for each job and document the methods of accomplishing each part. For example, a volunteer coming in to learn how to direct traffic at an event should receive a short training document covering their task duties, basics on how to do them, and who to contact if they have a problem. It could be a single page or less for most jobs at that level, but it formalizes the expectations of them and raises their knowledge level very easily.
  2. Create continuity books for key positions. In the military, a continuity book is created for the soldier coming after the person currently in a job. It tells the new person who all the key people are, their roles, and their contact info. It is also full of tips and tricks on the job, lessons learned so the new person can avoid prior mistakes, and any other key info the current job holder thinks would be helpful. Here is a great PDF on how to make one. Imagine if every pastor coming into a church was given a continuity binder from the prior pastor, that outlined all the key people in the church, struggles and obstacles overcome, and a brief on long-term plans. It could even cover things like church traditions and personal struggles key staff had been through so the new pastor could continue to help those people. What a difference that would make for the new person coming in!
  3. Assign mentors. It’s always scary coming into a new position. Non-profits can be even more so because many lack significant structure. Having a mentor gives new staff or volunteers someone safe to speak with if they have questions or problems. The mentors can also help the new people by peer training them when needed.
  4. Perform quarterly reviews to keep staff updated on their progress. These don’t have to be formal reviews where you rate the person on likert scales and write-up long documents; they can be simple, planned conversations where both parties have time to think of issues or concerns and address them. The real key is having them at all which studies show is a big item lacking in most non-profits.
  5. Provide on-going training after the key job tasks are learned. Training is a huge component in employee/volunteer retention and will keep people engaged and interested in the organization.

Creating training can be overwhelming and the best advice I can give you is take it one step at a time. Pick a single thing you know you need to do and focus on that. When you finish, pick the next thing and do that one. Over time, you’ll slowly eat the elephant. If I can help, please contact me and I’d be happy to talk with you about it.

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2 Responses to On Training in Non-Profits

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  2. Pingback: The Proper Care and Feeding of People | Steven Potratz

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