Seven training trends from the not-for-profit sector

Organisations are adjusting to a new, post-pandemic normal, and that includes training procedures. Matt Hugg explores the new processes that are emerging.

While any kind of business, government, or organisation is looking to get as much value from their training as possible, not-for-profits are particularly sensitive to this need. 

That’s because they’re often scrutinised by government agencies and watchdog organisations for their ratio of mission to non-mission expenses, otherwise known as overhead. Although overhead has a bad reputation, it includes a lot of necessary, legitimate expenses – such as accounting, office equipment, and staff training. 

In this year following a pandemic and recession, financial pressures on not-for-profits are especially intense. Social service organisations have seen a major increase in client demand, along with significant additional expenses brought on by public health and safety measures. 

On the other end of the spectrum, many organisations that rely on public attendance for their mission and revenue, such as theatres, museums, and galleries, have shut down. Those that survive aren’t going to be eager to put money into training as soon as they get on their feet again.

All in all, the past year has reduced charitable giving and had a negative impact on other funding sources, such as grants and events as well. 

The past year has reduced charitable giving and had a negative impact on other funding sources, such as grants and events as well. So where does all this leave training?

So where does all this leave training? For not-for-profits, resources will be tighter than ever before. But the need is just as great! Therefore, here are seven key trends we can expect in the upcoming year.

Virtual training isn’t going away

In fact, we can expect a major expansion. After all, there’s the convenience factor. Any organisation, not-for-profit or not, is seeing that it’s much easier to have somebody take a course or webinar online than it is to send somebody away, if even just across town for a morning.  

Then, there’s the cost. Even if the programme itself is the same price as a seminar across town, removing transportation, meals, and other travel expenses can make a big difference in the budget. Given the pressures noted above, virtual training will continue to be the preferred method of staff training for many organisations.

Hybrid models will emerge

Organisations that offer training, such as professional associations, will likely do more virtual training and adopt hybrid models for future events. 

For example, a fundraising association might hold its annual conference with keynote and breakout sessions. However, each session within the overall event will be live-streamed to an audience who chooses to stay back at the office – whether for expense, convenience, or safety reasons. 


However, it’s important to note that this puts professional associations in a bind. Major conferences traditionally offer significant revenue generation in tickets for attendance and vendors. Sponsors may not be as attracted to a hybrid conference model or will demand reductions in fees because they will not see as many live attendees. 

Expenses can also increase due to the technology required to live-stream and archive so many sessions. Between decreased revenue and increased expenses for the major conference, this can have a ripple effect on the association’s ability to offer additional educational programming throughout the year. 

Free webinars will increase in popularity

Not-for-profit vendors (such as software providers and consultants) have always been aware of their client’s sensitivity to expenses, and even more so in the past year.

Historically, bigger vendors have offered free educational opportunities for not-for-profit sector clients and prospects.  Even when these educational programmes were not directly related to their product, the free webinars and podcasts were great content marketing opportunities, allowing them to keep their brand top-of-mind for when organisations were making their buying decisions.

With smaller businesses getting more familiar with video communication and other content marketing tactics, the number of vendor-led webinars will only increase. This can be a fantastic resource for not-for-profits looking to train their team at an affordable cost, and one that can be expected to grow in popularity in the near future.

Pre-recorded microlearning will expand

Education providers (through practical experience), and learning researchers (through scientific observation), have both concluded that shorter-form training experiences allow for better information retention. 

Shorter audio and video training content also fit better into the learner’s lifestyle, whether they’re consumed over lunch, on the way to and from work, while cooking supper, or dozens of other in-between times during the day. 

In fact, many not-for-profit training providers even index their pre-recorded content by timespan just to meet this need. This niche is expected to continuously expand as demand for content grows to meet the overstretched not-for-profit worker’s lifestyle as an easy, engaging learning solution.

Podcasts will also remain popular

For many of the same reasons as microlearning, podcasts are expected to remain a popular choice within the not-for-profit sector. Podcasting (like webinar creation) has become a great conduit for vendors to build their brand awareness and for veteran workers to stay active and give back to their profession. 

Nearly every aspect of not-for-profit work is covered in one podcast or another, making it a convenient and accessible way to learn the basics – from accounting to fundraising to marketing and more.

Costs will shift to staff members

Unfortunately, lean and tightening not-for-profit budgets might mean that staff who want or need training may have to foot the bill themselves. 

While not-for-profit staff are not known for their robust incomes in the first place, this will put a particular burden on staff whose licenses or certifications require ongoing training, such as social workers, accountants, and fundraisers. 

Nearly every aspect of not-for-profit work is covered in one podcast or another, making it a convenient and accessible way to learn the basics – from accounting to fundraising to marketing and more.

However, some vendors see this as an opportunity to leverage as they add professional certification hours to their resources or offer the credits at discounted prices. Because budgets are so tight, it’s a good idea to look for free and low-cost training resources whenever possible.

Not-for-profits will take training in-house

Now that everyone seems to be more comfortable with video interaction, expect to see a small but growing number of not-for-profits begin creating in-house training programmes. 

While this may be a bit time intensive, the technology costs are low because of the ubiquity of desktop cameras and inexpensive software. Plus, creating a training seminar is a good professional development opportunity for their staff that can be tailored to the organisation’s specific needs. Then, one of the key benefits of this approach is that these resources can be archived for ongoing use. 


Cutting back on training, or at least paid training, comes with a risk. A sizable number of not-not-profits serve missions that require highly skilled personnel, and insurance companies and regulatory agencies often demand not-for-profit service providers keep their workers up on the latest techniques.

Clients look for the same! Even putting off training as an emergency measure could come back to haunt them as they try to catch up in the post-pandemic world.

There’s no doubt that not-for-profits will continue to need staff and volunteer training. More than ever before, the cost will be an issue. But as with everything not-for-profits do, they will be creative to meet the needs of their clients, donors, and the public with appropriately trained staff within the tightest possible budget.

You just need to know where to look. Good luck!


About the author

Matt Hugg is president and founder of the education and training website, Nonprofit.Courses


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