Side-by-side photos of professional development training formats

Survey Reveals Majority of Nonprofit Leaders Ready to Attend In-Person Professional Development in Fall 2021

Team NLC News

Now that many Americans are getting vaccinated, the Nonprofit Leadership Center (NLC) wanted to know how nonprofit leaders feel about participating in professional development training events in our post-pandemic environment. During May and June 2021, we invited NLC class participants from the past two years and active nonprofit CEOs to share their preferences and comfort level with in-person and virtual classes. Here’s what the survey revealed and what the Nonprofit Leadership Center plans to do next to support nonprofit leaders.

Survey Findings

  • The majority of respondents (82%) say they will be comfortable attending in-person professional development training by fall 2021. Only 8% said they are not comfortable with in-person classes and don’t know when they will be.
  • The majority of respondents (63%) say they prefer both in-person and virtual training formats and plan to participate in both. 18% said they prefer in-person over virtual, while 16% said they prefer virtual over in-person.
  • Overwhelmingly, nonprofit leaders say the most significant benefit to in-person professional development is networking and connecting with others in a more personal and collaborative way. They also cite the ability to focus better and stay engaged without distractions.

“In-person training offers the possibility for more engaging interactions with others and professional relationships that will continue after the event.”

“There is less temptation for distractions and an ability to focus on the training content.”

  • When it comes to attending virtual training events, respondents said the most significant benefits are convenience, accessibility and safety.

“Virtual events allows for flexibility in scheduling. Even on a busy day, I can fit in a two-hour virtual presentation because it doesn’t require a commute.”

“Lack of geographic limitation permits diverse participation and access to speakers and experts beyond local.”

“I am normally very shy to express my ideas in person. Virtual classes help me speak up, and the small breakout groups let me get to know participants.”

  • Of the 200 respondents who said they would attend an in-person training class during 2021, they expect measures to be in place to ensure their safety:
    • 61% expect tables/chairs to be arranged for social distancing
    • 50% expect a limited number of participants
    • One in 3 reported wanting masks to be required for all participants, while 15% would expect trainers to wear masks
  • Three in 4 respondents are comfortable participating in groups of at least 25 people. About 24% say they have no concerns with class size and are comfortable being in groups of 50 or more.
  • Of the 68% of respondents who cited at least one barrier to attending an in-person class before the end of 2021, cost (33%), the commute (31%) and job duties/time (30%) are what would most likely hold respondents back from participating in face-to-face training events. Other barriers noted in open-ended responses were a surge in COVID-19 cases and the uncertainty around who has or hasn’t been vaccinated.
  • When it comes to the training topics nonprofit leaders say they need now, the top five in priority order are:
    1. Diversity, equity and inclusion
    2. Improving/strengthening organizational culture
    3. How to lead more effectively
    4. Fundraising/fundraising innovation
    5. Demonstrating impact
  • When asked what they need most to succeed, leaders shared the following:
    • Self-care/balancing work and personal life
    • Communicating impact
    • Tools to combat pandemic fatigue; latest updates on COVID-19 guidelines and best practices
    • Strengthening culture and teams — team building and how to be a strong team
    • Managing remote workers
  • Respondents said the best time of day to participate in both in-person and virtual classes is the morning (8:30 a.m. to noon). However, 30% say they don’t have a preference when it comes to virtual training events and can participate anytime.

Implications & Next Steps

Based on these survey findings and to continue meeting nonprofit leaders where they are, the Nonprofit Leadership Center will take the following actions during 2021:

1. Test select in-person classroom training beginning in Q4, with socially distanced seating following current CDC guidelines, with up to 18 participants.

Available classes include:

2. Continue offering virtual events for select classes and certificate programs to support increased access to professional development for nonprofit leaders.

3. Offer increased training opportunities in the top areas identified by nonprofit leaders, including diversity, equity and inclusion; organizational culture; effective leadership; fundraising innovation; and demonstrating impact. NLC recently launched the Advancing Racial Equity on Nonprofit Boards Fellowship program as one way to improve DEI within nonprofit organizations and our communities while equipping and elevating more professionals of color to serve on nonprofit boards.

4. Publish more articles, downloadable resources and digital content in the areas that are of most interest to nonprofit leaders.

About the Survey

This online survey was fielded between May 27 and June 10, 2021. It was sent to nonprofit professionals who had taken a professional development class through the Nonprofit Leadership Center during the past two years and to nonprofit CEOs actively engaged with NLC. Questions explored the comfort level and preferences associated with in-person and virtual professional development training classes. There were 261 survey responses, with 220 fully completed surveys. Of all respondents, 92% live in the Tampa Bay area, with 58% in Hillsborough, 37% in Pinellas and 5% in Pasco or Polk Counties. Nearly half of respondents (44%) identified as human service organizations, followed by education and health care.

Explore Upcoming Training Classes

The Nonprofit Leadership Center offers nearly 100 professional development training classes and certificate programs for nonprofit leaders each year. Explore our event calendar and register for an upcoming class.

WATCH NEXT: 2020 State of the Nonprofit Sector Report from NLC CEO Emily H. Benham


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