I’m writing this article earlier in the week than usual because I am heading out of town for a few days. No, it’s not vacation—it’s continuing education.
Like you, I don’t have time to attend training. I don’t have money to waste on training that doesn’t teach me anything new. And yes, I admit my main incentive for signing up for this training was the tri-annual renewal of my CFRE credentials.
But when I push all my excuses aside, I can’t deny the reality: Continuing education can make me a better fundraiser and increase my value to those I consult with, teach and mentor. But, like anything else, how much I get out of it depends in great part on me and my attitude.
This isn’t another article reminding you that you will get more out of training if you get a good night’s sleep and eat breakfast, or even about the importance of putting your smartphone away so you can concentrate on learning. Rather, let’s tackle the toughest thing about continuing education: getting it approved. (Even if you are self-employed like me, you have to convince yourself it’s worthwhile, and sometimes I make the most frugal boss I’ve ever had look like a spendthrift.)
Choose carefully. The closest training to your office or the least-expensive option may not be the best. (I consider free webinars an exception to this since you can always bail out quickly if you find they are not meeting your expectations and needs.) Few of us can go to every one, or even more than one or two training events during the year, so making sure the one we choose is the best for our needs is essential. A few things to consider when weighing your options include:
- How much of the conference is training sessions vs. networking, roaming the exhibit hall or cocktail parties? I have nothing against any of those activities, but making a case for continuing education is easier when there is real education being served up.
- What do past attendees say about the conference? Most options include endorsements in their marketing material, but we all know those are carefully chosen because they are the best. Do you know someone who attended that you can talk to? Getting a “real” review of the training can help you manage expectations.
- Who is sponsoring the event? Some events are little more than glorified sales platforms. That’s fine, as long as you know it upfront; this doesn’t mean you won’t learn anything. Just be aware so you aren’t disappointed.
Identify what you expect to learn at the training. When making a case for continuing education, show what you anticipate bringing back to the job. If this list is pretty flimsy, that can make the go/no go decision a lot easier. But if you have robust expectations based on what’s being offered at the event, you can better show the value of attending. Also, when you are attending, you will have “marching orders” in terms of what you expect to learn so you can focus your time on those workshops and sessions that will advance your agenda.
Report quickly on key takeaways. When you return from continuing education, immediately organize your key learnings. Whether you have to submit a report on the training to someone in the office or not, it’s important for you to identify what you learned that can be applied to your job—and to do it quickly, before the tyranny of the urgent causes you to forget half of it.
Knowing that you are going to submit a report to someone (or just “report” to yourself) helps guide you through the event because your focus will be to walk away from the training with actionable materials. This may be something you picked up from an exhibitor, a great idea you saw in a presentation or something exchanged in conversation with another attendee. If you leave the conference with little or no takeaways, you’ll know that it wasn’t a good investment. That’s unfortunate, but it’s also a learning experience—you’ve just found a continuing education option to never attend again.
Point back to the training when you do something as a result of what you learned. Whether this is to yourself or to a supervisor, it’s an ongoing way to make a case for investing in your continuing education. If it is crystal clear that investing in training you has great payback, continuing education going forward will be easier to justify.
And yes, sometimes the continuing education disappoints. Big time. You enjoyed some camaraderie and a few decent meals, but deep down you know that’s about all the value your received. Don’t use that as a reason to give up on all future training. Instead go back to the beginning and tighten your criteria for choosing what to attend.
This old dog has high hopes for this week’s training. I have gone through the schedule and highlighted the workshops I want to attend. I have downloaded the app and will set up my schedule on that (probably). I have resupplied my business cards. I am looking forward to learning more than anything else.
And if I meet that goal, you can expect to be privy to some of my key takeaways in future posts. After all, continuing education is not just an occasional event we attend; it’s a daily commitment to looking for—and sharing—nuggets that can help us become more effective fundraisers.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.