Monday, July 21, 2008

Nonprofit Professional Affiliations

In keeping in the spirit of pointing out that nonprofits, today, must be professionally run; I thought I'd post about professional affiliations in the nonprofit sector.

Whether you're a teacher, a nurse, an archaeologist, or the executive director of a cancer support nonprofit - there is an organization out there (both local and national affiliations, probably) comprised of a group of professionals working in your field, who gather to maybe discuss current issues (e.g. potential legislation, the latest best practices, or to network); or to take continuing education classes, such as learning a new skill that you could master to use at work; or to attend a forum, conference, or other opportunities that will keep you in touch with others in your profession.

You do not need to be a paid employee to join a professional affiliation that is set up to educate nonprofit workers about how to fundraise, how to market, how to manage volunteers, what the latest paradigms are in strategic organizational planning, etc. Volunteers are welcome to join and participate in professional nonprofit affiliations, too. I've met people who are volunteer board members, volunteer clerical staff, or volunteer caretakers, besides staff, at various nonprofit conferences, forums, and network opportunities.

These affiliations' memberships may seem expensive; but you must run a quick cost analysis to see that you and your organization will probably greatly benefit from what the member will learn; who the member will meet and be able to network with; what resources your organization will be made aware of that you don't know is available to it, yet; what questions you can get answered by experts in the field; what current references you'll gain access to; etc.

Like any membership, it's only as effective as you make time in your schedule for it to be; but it can be very effective - if you make it a reasonable priority in your busy schedule.

Imagine working for a nonprofit that is about to start grant writing for the first time, is needing to conduct a strategic planning session in the next year, and is wondering whether it's worth the money to hire consultants to help your organization with each process. If you attend a "Grant Writing 101" course offered by the affiliation; then attend a 'Coffee With Your Colleagues' professional networking breakfast; and finally go to a "Local Nonprofit Sector Consultants Forum" where you'll get the opportunity to learn from then ask questions of local professionals who provide consultation to nonprofits; you will have had the opportunity to inform yourself, your nonprofit's relevant leadership and staff about what you learn, and you'll have been able to ask people working at other nonprofits in your region if they've done similar work, whether they worked with consultants or did the work on their own, and if so, who they would recommend to work with. You will have gotten all of your questions answered and been able to inform yourself! These opportunities can be worth their weight in gold!

Examples of nonprofit professional affiliations are Northwest Development Officers Association in Seattle; Technical Assistance for Community Services in Portland, Oregon; or the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network in San Francisco. The Association of Fundraising Professionals is a great example of a national affiliation. These are just examples. If you look over their websites you'll see what they charge for membership (and most have 'scholarships' for nonprofit representatives working for smaller or start up nonprofits with little cash flow), what you get with your membership, and most have forums or message boards on their sites where you can post questions and answers to other members.

If you live in a region or state that is not represented in the small list, above, of affiliations - please be sure to research online or in your local phone book what nonprofit professionals' affiliation exists near you. If you still can't locate one after looking around - call your local United Way and ask them. They should know.

These memberships, when utilized regularly, will keep your volunteers, staff, and board educated in the latest professional methods; will keep you networked with your colleagues; and will allow your organization to modernize, improve, and grow.

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