Professional Development

4 Free Ways to Invest in Your Professional Development Right Now

As most associations have discovered, adapting learning practices and methods during a global pandemic is certainly unprecedented. But what about our own learning and professional development? While some of us are squarely focused on our physical and emotional health and economic stability, others have been fortunate enough to have some time to think about our future career prospects, and how we can better align our skills with those required for new or evolving roles. As a self-confessed professional development enthusiast, I’ve utilized several different ways to sharpen up my toolkit

Consider Online Courses and Certificates

Last year, I completed an Executive Leadership certificate program with Cornell University and a Professional Fundraising certificate program with Boston University. While neither of these programs was a small investment in time and money, they are worthwhile in that I gained knowledge to apply to my current role, as well as learnings to help eventually take me to the next level of leadership in association management.

If investing in virtual university programs is out of reach, there are plenty of free certificate programs being offered in response to COVID-19. For example, Cvent, Inc., a software-as-a-service company specializing in meetings, events, and hospitality technology for for-profit and nonprofit organizations is offering free Event Professionals and Hospitality Professionals certifications. These certifications are designed for event management professionals who want to display their expertise in the Cvent platform. Normally priced at $295 each, courses are free through August 31, 2020.

Create Your Own Curriculum

Whether it’s delving further into your professional passions or polishing up some of your weak spots, there are numerous ways to construct an individualized learning plan tailored to the methods and tools that best assist you in building and maintaining knowledge. Personally, I love to read and in the past two years, I’ve read more than 100 books on association and nonprofit management, business, and professional or personal development.

Podcasts are another personal favorite and there are plenty of great ones focused on association professionals, including ASAE’s Stronger by Association, Association Chat, Association Forum’s CEOnly Podcast, Conversations by Association, and Successful Associations Today. While my podcast listening has gone down a bit since my commute went from 60 minutes to zero, I find it’s still a great way to make chores and walks feel doubly productive.

Build Your Own Personal Advisory Board

While I’ve participated in formal mentoring programs for association professionals, I’ve found that no mentoring experience has been more powerful than building my own personal board of advisors. From Abraham Lincoln’s ‘team of rivals,’ to Ronald Reagan’s ‘kitchen cabinet,’ leaders have long understood the benefits of establishing a cohort of admirable colleagues to provide wisdom, inspiration, perspective, and accountability. If you don’t have one already, begin taking inventory of your network and noting your top shelf (kitchen cabinet) and negative (junk drawer) relationships.

My own advisory board consists of a women’s network of peers in similar association roles, career stages, and ages who can understand and empathize with what’s going on in my career right now. It also consists of more senior leaders, who can help light the path on the way to achieving future career goals. 

Give Back and Gain More

The most valuable career experience I’ve gained is wisdom and connections formed through volunteering. Although the current environment necessitates almost exclusively remote volunteering experiences, virtual volunteering can be a great way to dip your toe in the volunteer waters if you’re a volunteer novice. Consider reaching out to local nonprofits, state associations, or national organizations for association professionals like ASAE or Association Forum. While there are generally annual calls for volunteers to serve on committees or taskforces, many organizations are now openly looking for volunteers open to ‘micro’ volunteering opportunities that are ad-hoc or project-based.

To gain more comfort with volunteering, I began my volunteer journey by applying for a seat on a task force that aligned well with my existing experience and skillset. Since then, I’ve branched out by serving as a committee co-chair, a board member, and a speaker and author for various association-focused organizations. You can as much or more than you give when volunteering.

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