NFPs could increase their impact by prioritising staff learning: new research

NFPs could increase their impact by prioritising staff learning: new research

How do you prioritise professional development in your organisation?

It’s not always easy to find the budget for training and development of staff, but according to new research on Australia’s NFP sector, failing to invest in this area could be significantly affecting your organisation’s success and impact.

Researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA) have embarked on ground-breaking research – entitled “Learning for Purpose” – to explore how the knowledge, skills and abilities of NFP staff impact on an organisation’s ability to affect social change.

So far, the results are clear. Lead researcher Ramon Wenzel has found that organisations that prioritise professional development and build the knowledge and capacity of their staff perform better overall.

However in a sector that has traditionally focused more in the delivery of services for clients than on staff – and it must be recognised, is chronically under-funded – many organisations fail to provide adequate training and development for their workers.

NFP professional development is inconsistent

103 not-for-profit organisations participated in the preliminary research and UWA found that, not surprisingly, many organisations were not prioritising professional development.

Over one third senior executives (33 per cent) in not-for-profits have no professional development budget which often means that in some small organisations, staff were paying for their own learning.

For those organisations that do offer professional development, only 58 per cent of employees participate, and organisations with either small (<1 million) or large budgets (>$20 million) engage just 55 per cent of their staff in training.

staffpdimage01

So, while the NFP sector does engage in some professional development, it’s not nearly enough.

As the report summarises;

“…Access to professional development appears highly variable in different types of NFP organisations and locations and for different groups of staff. While there is a large spectrum of available professional development activities, it is employed with varying intensity.”

Good professional development works

While the UWA research is only in it’s preliminary stages, the benefits of staff learning to organisations are already becoming clear.

“In surveying 103 senior executives about their Australian NFP organisations, significant positive associations were found between organisational human resource development practices and policies, percentage of staff engaged in professional development, various dimensions of organisational competence and capability, and organisational performance.”

This association is in large part due to the direct impact that professional development has on individual staff members.

When comparing a group of NFP staff and volunteers that underwent six months of training compared to a control group of directors that did not, researchers found that self-efficacy was significantly higher in the group of “learners” as indicated in the table below.

staffpdgraph3

A culture of people investment is needed

As the researchers point out; “NFPs are being increasingly challenged: they are ever more held accountable to deliver better quality services, adapt to new regulatory frameworks, develop complex strategies, compete for limited resources and clients, manage shifting volunteer and donor preferences, and face increased costs and decreasing funds.”

In order to meet these challenges, the researchers argue that the whole sector needs to shift from seeing professional development as an overhead, and towards seeing it as an investment.

However, for the sector to successfully facilitate systemic staff learning in their organisations – funders and policy makers will need to come to the table, too.

“…Funding strategies typically focus on programs and services, but are less concerned with funding the development of skills and talent actually required.

The message to all is: professional development is not accidental or something that can be postponed but to be considered as a deliberate element that every NFP organisation must realise.”

Does your organisation provide a professional development budget? Tell us about how it affects you and your colleagues’ work!

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