Your Own Best Resource: Five Ways to Invest in YourselfBill Hoffman | Connections, November 2012
As a busy nonprofit executive, one of the last things you think about is yourself. Work time is spent solving the problems of the day or, if you’re really on top of things, the problems of the coming weeks or months. But just like we have to make time for our physical and mental health, we should also be working on our career health. That means preparing yourself better for the job you’re in, as well as the job you aspire to. The double payoff for your self-regard: greater results for your organization as well as greater self-satisfaction.
Here are five simple strategies for investing in yourself:
1. Seek a mentor.
Mentors are for everyone, not just developing professionals. The leader of an organization, especially, needs a trusted friend who knows how to give frank feedback, a major key to self-improvement. Typically, the higher you are in an organization, the fewer people you’ll find to provide that feedback, and because the mentor-mentee relationship requires a tremendous level of trust and candor, you probably can’t turn to the employees reporting to you or the board members you answer to. It takes effort to find the right candidate and develop the relationship that leads to a great mentoring partnership, but the payoff is worth it.
2. Engage with a professional group.
A great way to broaden your perspective is to get involved in a professional organization. It may be related directly to your job, or to an area where you want to develop. But don’t just join, get involved: attend the meetings, volunteer to help with programs, or even serve as an officer. You’ll be amazed by the return on your time - especially what you’ll learn from fellow members outside of official presentations or newsletters. And no matter how senior you are or how large your organization, there are opportunities to learn “new tricks” from the smaller members of the group. (Trying to find the right group? Ask your colleagues - they’re probably already members.)
Become a voracious consumer of information. There is a wide variety of high-quality work on leadership, management, development, and other issues for leaders in the sector, so be eclectic in your choices: check out reading lists, and ask your board members and colleagues for recommendations. Don’t neglect the big-ideas books which push the concepts of philanthropy and its potential, like Do More Than Give by Leslie Crutchfield, John Kania and Mark Kramer. And don’t be afraid to look outside sector-specific fare: many of my best ideas have come from books that were not specifically targeted to nonprofits.
4. Volunteer on a board.
Serving on a board is an invaluable experience that will serve you throughout your nonprofit career. If you’re a senior staff member at a nonprofit, you probably have the qualities other community non-profits are looking for in a board member: you know the scene, you understand the challenges facing nonprofits, and you can offer a unique but relevant perspective. Sitting on the other side of the board table will give you new insight into your own board and a better idea of where they’re coming from.
5. Commit to lifelong learning.
There is nothing selfish about working to become better at what you do.
Learning can’t be left to chance: it requires continuous and conscious effort. For that reason, you must commit to lifelong learning. It’s a mindset that, once established, you’ll find fully self-reinforcing: rather than taking time away from your organization, time spent learning will actually improve the time you spend on your organization - because it improves you. Start with your annual goals, by setting benchmarks for your professional development, and giving them as much weight as your organizational goals. And don’t just write down your learning goals, but everything you do to meet them - always a powerful reinforcement tool.
Though we may feel guilty spending time on ourselves, there is nothing selfish about working to become better at what you do. Even if your current position fulfills all your life’s goals, you can’t continue to make an impact without continuous improvement. It may take time and effort, but investing in yourself will pay dividends for you, your organization, and everyone involved in your work.
Bill Hoffman, CEO of nonprofit consulting firm Bill Hoffman & Associates, has more than 30 years of sector experience and membership on a number of nonprofit boards.