How to Create Professional Development Goals for Nonprofits featured image

How to Create Professional Development Goals for Nonprofits

By: Matthew Bock

~ 3 minute read

Professional development is essential for any organization, whether it’s nonprofit or for-profit. But let’s be honest, finding and keeping resources these days is like trying to catch a unicorn. Nonprofits, in particular, often face the challenge of limited economic resources. Unlike their for-profit counterparts, who might have a bit more cash to throw around, nonprofits need to be super efficient with their spending. No one wants to waste money, but for nonprofits, every dollar counts even more. So let’s talk about how to create development goals in the nonprofit space without losing your mind or your budget.

Why have Development Plans for nonprofits?

Building development plans is crucial for organizational growth, innovation, and retention, especially for nonprofits. A well-structured development plan for your employees helps to nurture talent from within, fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement. This not only keeps employees engaged and motivated but also drives innovation by equipping staff with new skills and perspectives. Plus, let’s face it, retaining talented employees is much cheaper (and less of a headache) than constantly recruiting and training new ones. As a nonprofit, you often operate on a tighter budget, so having a dedicated team that grows with your organization can be a game-changer. Developing employees ensures stability, sustains institutional knowledge, and ultimately contributes to the your mission more effectively.

Steps to Creating a Development Plan

Creating a personal professional development plan when you’re a nonprofit can feel like trying to climb Everest, but it doesn’t have to be that hard. Here’s a simple roadmap:

  1. Set a Clear Goal: What do you want to achieve? For each employee, identify if the goal is skill development (technical, interpersonal, managerial), performance improvement, creative innovation, collaboration, or another goal.
  2. Define Success: Agree on what success looks like. Your employee development plan should include a statement of “We will know we’ve succeeded when…” Make sure it’s something you can actually track or measure, that will have a positive impact on your organization. 
  3. Keep It Simple: Your goal should be tangible and realistic, not some pie-in-the-sky dream. Just start with one thing at a time.
  4. Identify a Sponsor: Make sure there’s someone responsible for overseeing the plan. Both the leader and the employee should have clear responsibilities.
  5. Set a Timeline: Have a clear deadline and identify the resources needed to achieve your goal. 

Following these steps will make your development plan as real and timely as your morning coffee.

Examples of Development Goals for Nonprofit employees

Development goals can be specific to the role an individual is performing at your nonprofit. They should align with what’s most critical to the organization, making them seem less like extra work and more like a natural part of the job. Goals could include:

  • Skill Development: Pick a particular skill that will enhance the employee’s performance or personal impact such as technical expertise, interpersonal skills, adapting to change or resilience, digital literacy or AI knowledge.
  • Certifications & Training: Consider a workshop that gets someone certified in a set of skills or competencies such as delegation, resource management, talent optimization, or trauma-informed care. Explore certifications for software and systems such as salesforce, microsoft office, or project management software that your organization uses.
  • Shadowing or Peer Mentoring: Learning from someone who’s already in the next role within the organization or preparing to mentor others within the organization.
  • Special Projects: Projects that align with organizational needs but also help hone personal skills.

Remember, personal development doesn’t always mean climbing the corporate ladder. Sometimes it’s about broadening skills in a nonlinear way.

What Makes Development Different for Nonprofits?

Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. Resource constraints. Nonprofits often can’t compete with the budgets of for-profit companies when it comes to developing top talent. Understanding your talent and how they want to be coached and managed is crucial. As a nonprofit, you might not have the robust departments that for-profits do for talent development and acquisition. It’s all about scale and making smart investments in developing professional talent. 

For many nonprofits, especially the smaller ones, having access to tailored software technology can be a game-changer. Software like the Predictive Index can supply ready-made templates for development conversations, along with quick and easy management tips that save time and effort. When you use simple tools to jumpstart the process and involve your employees in creating their development plans, you’re on the right path.

What Success Looks Like

You know you’ve built a solid development plan when you see these elements:

  •  Clear, measurable goals
  •  Tangible success metrics
  •  Realistic timelines
  •  Active involvement from leadership (and buy-in from the employee)
  •  Adequate resource allocation
  •  Regular progress tracking

Not too scary, right?


Creating professional development goals for nonprofits doesn’t have to be a nightmare. By setting clear, realistic goals and involving the right people, you can build a development plan that works. So, roll up your sleeves and get started.



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Matthew Bock

Catalyst for change, this problem-solving captain loves tennis, dogs, and Hawaiian retreats. Known for brewing office beer and believing in constant self-improvement, he's always present and ready for reinvention.