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The following is a guest post by Matt Hugg, president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses, an on-demand educational resource center for nonprofits.

Can virtual learning be your new nonprofit superpower?

Smart nonprofits take virtual learning and run with it. The most successful nonprofits are the ones who educate their staff. This isn’t new.

Whether you’re an organization founder or the latest in a long line of leaders, you know that if your team doesn’t move from “novice” to “expert” pretty quickly, your mission can suffer from antiquated techniques and lack of funding.

While it might be possible to survive this way, you risk missing out on substantial benefits that can drive your mission forward.

Avoiding failure and striving toward success requires a commitment to education and training, and that’s tough. There might be significant demands for your nonprofit’s time and money.

Training feels like a luxury when you’re wondering whether the state will come through with a promised grant, you can’t find enough staff to carry out your flagship program, and your building needs essential repairs. Besides, how can you afford to let someone go to a conference? Their time away impacts your program, and their travel seems like a paid vacation to everyone left behind.

But if you’ve been in the field for more than 5 minutes, you know that nonprofits are no stranger to the scarcity of time and money. With budgets cut to the bone and demand for services through the roof, how can you keep your staff up on the latest technology and techniques to deliver your mission as efficiently as possible?

Two words: Virtual Learning.

If it’s at all possible to see a silver lining in our recent work-at-home world and its aftermath, it’s that virtual learning, online education, e-learning — whatever you call it — is quickly moving into the mainstream.

This is HUGE for nonprofits. Here are five key reasons why:

  1. You can save time and money.
  2. You can keep your staff safe.
  3. You can learn from anywhere.
  4. You can see increased impact.
  5. You can learn through recorded content.

Let’s walk through these main benefits that virtual training services can offer your organization.

1. You can save time and money.

No hotel. No meals. No flights, rental cars, or mileage. It’s a budget officer’s dream!

And time? Even driving across town kills a day in some cities, let alone a cross-country air flight. With travel, it’s common for a one-day seminar to take three workdays of staff time.

But with virtual learning, nearly 100% of the time invested in training has a direct benefit going back to your organization. While cutting your accommodations budget and travel time is great, it should be the least of your reasons to move to virtual learning.

2. You can keep your staff safe.

Until an effective prevention or treatment is developed for COVID-19, safety will remain a top concern for anyone considering an in-person gathering. But safety doesn’t stop there. While not likely, travel can bring other risks as well. I’ve had colleagues that were in car accidents, robbed in their hotel rooms, and mugged on the streets while in an unfamiliar city.

All of these scenarios are unlikely, but they do happen, and are worth considering. (Oh, and while you’re being safer, let your insurance provider know. That can make your accountant happy, too.)

3. You can learn from anywhere.

In your office, at home, to and from work… your classroom is anywhere you can get an internet connection, and on just about any device. You can even use this location flexibility to give your staff a treat. How about a bonus “home day” to attend an online seminar?

Why should you care if they hang out in bed all day watching webinars on their big screen television? As long as they come back to work fully educated on what they need, let ‘em learn from home!

4. You can see increased impact.

A lot of online training is provided “by the site,” not by the person. That means you can gather as many people as you want around a screen and get the information to a group of staff at once – making it a real per person savings.

What’s really great is that a common staff experience like this allows participants to compare notes and discuss how the training applies directly to your nonprofit’s circumstances — which can be nearly impossible to do at an exclusive conference.

5. You can learn through recorded content.

Virtual learning through pre-recorded content can even bring more value to your nonprofit. You and your staff can fit training modules into down time in your day or even hit the “repeat” button if you don’t understand a concept! By creating your own “playlist” of recorded training content, you can hear different views on a topic or walk through a sequence of videos that build a set of skills.

All of the above is great, but for me, there’s one more that makes virtual learning most exciting. It’s the possibility for “just in time” learning.

Let’s say you come into your boss’s office and they want a plan for a new program to launch in 72 hours. Conferences and seminars might cover the topic, but they’re not happening this week, or even this month.

A quick search can bring you exactly the virtual learning experience you need to get started — whether that’s a five minute video, a half-hour podcast, or a full day’s online course — all in the comfort of your own office.

Virtual Training in a No-Brainer

Virtual learning can be a major advantage to you, your staff, and, most of all, the mission you serve. Being able to take advantage of expert’s knowledge from around the world, affordably, at a moment’s notice, from wherever you are, is one of the miracles of our time. And it’s easy to do. While broadband internet service isn’t universal, it’s very common. Just about any computer, tablet or even phone can handle what you need to take advantage of the technology.

So, what’s stopping you? Your people need the training. You have access to the technology. Your mission will see a tremendous benefit. Taking advantage of this new age could be one of the most important steps for the long-term success of your nonprofit organization.


About the author: Matt Hugg is an author and instructor in nonprofit management in the US and abroad. He is president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses, an on-demand eLearning educational resource for nonprofit leaders, staff, board members and volunteers, with hundreds of courses in nearly every aspect of nonprofit work.

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