Nonprofit Executive Leadership Training: Why Continuing Education Helps Organizations Thrive


At nonprofits and for-profits alike, continuing education is a tool to help professionals expand their knowledge, learn the latest technology, and uncover new solutions to old problems. Specialized nonprofit leadership development programs and nonprofit executive leadership training are effective ways to help professionals meet the unique challenges of the nonprofit sector.


Third Sector Company’s Board Chairs Academy and Interim Executives Academy are nonprofit leadership development programs that offer a cohesive, informative, and affordable way to further your education. Learn about our thoughts on nonprofit leadership training and explore some options for continuing education for nonprofit leaders.


Introduction to Nonprofit Leadership Training


Third Sector Company’s purpose is to foster leadership continuity solutions that help systems, organizations, and individuals to advance sustainable community causes. Understanding why continuing education is important for nonprofit leaders and exploring the skills and tools you need can help you get started in this process.


The Importance of Continuing Education for Nonprofit Leaders


Nonprofits are formed to create social benefits. In order for the Internal Revenue Service to grant an organization “nonprofit status,” it must, among several other tests, prove that it is rooted in having social benefits on some level.  


These levels can range from very small and local to very large with worldwide impact. In order to survive and thrive, nonprofits must be in touch with the contemporary world and the communities they serve.


Continuing education is a primary tool for quenching the thirst for new knowledge that every nonprofit must possess in order to find the energy to take on some of the most complex problems and issues facing society today.


Key Skills and Tools in Nonprofit Leadership Training


For-profit and nonprofit executives alike must have strong leadership skills to achieve their goals. How they apply these skills is what differentiates leading an organization from leading a company. Key competencies successful nonprofit leaders must have include:


Motivating Volunteers


The nonprofit business model relies heavily on volunteers. A nonprofit leader must know how to motivate paid employees, just like the for-profit sector.


However, the need to attract, engage, retain, and recognize volunteers is something that does not exist in the corporate world.  


Leading for Impact


Nonprofit leaders must think about leading for impact versus leading for production. For-profits constantly watch the bottom line of production in terms of units. The nonprofit world can distribute lots of units, but if those units don’t do any good, it’s not good leadership. For example, handing out a lot of books is not an effective way to increase literacy if people do not know how to read.   


Building Financial Capital


Fundraising and sales are two very different methods of sustaining an entity. While the science of sales may seem similar to fundraising, the process is entirely different. The majority of both for-profits and nonprofits have consumers, but most nonprofits have consumers who can’t afford what they are offering.


Most investors in for-profits are seeking a financial return. Most investors in nonprofits are seeking a social and, usually, a personally edifying return.


Selling is about activity. Fundraising is about advocacy.


Continuing Education for Various Nonprofit Roles


In our experience, most nonprofit leaders have a hunger for knowledge. Those who want to be in a leadership position in the future appear to have an even greater interest in education. Every aspect of nonprofit management is as dynamic as the management of for-profit organizations.  


Continuing education also encompasses learning new tools and technologies across organizational roles. Changes in accounting practices and reporting, new employment laws, effective use of social media, new database apps, CRM software, and theories of leadership are just a few topics that fill the continuing education marketplace.  


Everyone working in the nonprofit sector — those who are serving the community, advancing society, working with people, and being responsible stewards of people’s valuable time and donated money — can benefit from continuing education. At Third Sector Company, we believe that the most thriving nonprofits seek to cultivate a “learning culture” that benefits everyone involved.


Incentivizing Continuing Education for Nonprofit Leaders


Every nonprofit should incentivize continuing education for their leaders. The most valuable commodity we have to make lasting change in society is what people can do, not what money can do. With limited budgets, understaffed organizations, and little time to spare, education easily and naturally falls to the bottom of the list of priorities. Unless a nonprofit takes a stand about the role of continuing education, it runs the risk of it becoming an afterthought and, more importantly, a benefit available to some but not all.  


In order to create a culture of learning within an organization, leadership often needs to budget time and money toward educating its people. Third Sector Company has customers who require the strategic governance learning of Board Chairs Academy before new hires in an organization start their appointments.


Nonprofit Leadership Development Programs


Nonprofit leadership training can heighten your organization and equip your team with the skills they need to serve their cause. We offer many programs, including professional interim executive training, support for interim executives, succession planning workshops, and more.  


Nonprofit Leadership Training With Third Sector Company


Third Sector Company has many programs and workshops that help nonprofits better serve their communities and society by fostering leadership continuity. These include:


Board Chairs Academy: Supporting Volunteer Board Members


Since 2006, this program has trained over 400 cohorts of board leaders representing nonprofits in the United States and Canada. Because many board members do not have experience in nonprofit business models, continuing education is vital for them to understand the difference between moving companies forward and moving communities and society forward.


Interim Executives Academy: Helping Short-Term Leaders Succeed


Interim Executives Academy is designed to help nonprofit chief executive officers act as agents of change during times of leadership transition. Interim executive leadership is a highly specialized skill that requires ongoing education on working with structures and mobilizing community efforts.


Our Approach


Third Sector Company’s programs are based on a cohort learning model, and we encourage multiple representatives from each organization to participate in trainings. This expands the opportunity for team members to implement concepts and principles from this training together, ultimately creating more impact. Our tuition for Board Chairs Academy is based on a “per organization” versus “per pupil” basis. We encourage up to ten representatives to engage with our classrooms as learning laboratories for their entire nonprofit.  


These programs create an opportunity for staff and volunteers to participate in discussions and share their experiences with other nonprofit leaders.


We also believe that continuing education does not happen in a single session; learning needs to evolve and be reinforced. Consequently, our workshops are usually five or six sessions. This gives the learning ongoing application and review and offers a sequencing of activities that can lead to authentic advancement for nonprofit organizations.


Additional Opportunities for Nonprofit Leadership Training


Beyond workshops and classes, we recommend the following methods for nonprofit leadership training.


Visiting Other Organizations


Staying in the office may not be the best approach to finding solutions to complex issues such as poverty, illiteracy, racism, homelessness, teen suicide, and violence. Taking “field trips” and visiting other organizations in communities that are doing similar work is an excellent way to learn more about your industry.


Regular field trips to other organizations allow nonprofit leaders to see their work in action. They also enable leaders to form relationships, ultimately creating a sounding board and lifelong advisors on subject matters of common importance.  


Finding Mentors


Engaging with a “peer coach” enables a nonprofit leader to set aside time to dive into a conversation with a trusted colleague and advisor. At Third Sector Company, we highly recommend that the peer coach be someone from the nonprofit sector because of the subtle, but very important, differences between leadership styles and practices between the for-profit and nonprofit worlds.  


Leveraging Your Network


Creating a roundtable or study group of several colleagues to meet regularly is another way to continue your education within your network. This can also be a chance to discuss common issues you all may be facing and put your heads together about solutions to similar organizational problems.


To learn more about nonprofit leadership training and Third Sector’s nonprofit leadership development programs, contact us today!