January 23, 2020
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New nonprofit leader uses online training from The Allstate Foundation to align staff on business fundamentals

The Allstate Foundation Nonprofit Leadership Center offers online learning at no cost.

Kelly Holm is the deputy executive director of programming at Little City Foundation, an organization that serves children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Kelly Holm’s jump from the corporate world to the nonprofit sector was not by design. After spending 13 years at Motorola Solutions, she found herself at a crossroads. “I had begun to wonder whether my corporate job was giving me the fulfillment I needed at that point in my life.” said Holm, deputy executive director of programming at Little City Foundation, an organization that serves children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Around the same time, Holm began serving on the board of a small, local nonprofit that provided support services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The opportunity allowed her to put her business skills to good use. “I saw that I could make a difference, which was exciting,” she said.

Holm left her corporate job in 2015, still unsure what to do next. In the meantime, she continued her work on the board, with the nonprofit merging with Little City in 2016. Things suddenly got clearer for her career-wise because that same year Holm joined the Little City staff. “I was in the right place at the right time,” she said.

Nearly three years in, Holm said that being a part of Little City and the work it does in the community has changed her. Holm has changed Little City as well, thanks to the business acumen she brought to the role. Not long after she joined the organization, she sought out training for a group of 12 staff members she calls “Next Gen leaders.” She wanted to give them a baseline of knowledge about the business side of running a nonprofit, with the goal of having everyone operating within a consistent framework and using a common vernacular.

Nonprofit Management Essentials offers online learning at no cost

Money, of course, was a consideration. “We knew that every dollar spent on training would be one less dollar spent on the people we serve,” Holm said. “But when we were told about an online program, Nonprofit Management Essentials, offered free of charge by The Allstate Foundation, we knew we found the right solution.”

Launched in late 2018 in partnership with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management, Nonprofit Management Essentials is geared to emerging nonprofit leaders and those new to the sector. It consists of online modules in leadership, management and stakeholder engagement, all taught by instructors from the Center for Nonprofit Management. To date, more than 4,000 nonprofit employees across the country have benefited from the free online program.

[Read more: 5 proven ways to be a better social entrepreneur]

Considering that public and private support of nonprofits tends to focus on building and expanding programs rather than on investing in their core infrastructure and leadership development, even well-funded organizations may have difficulty finding sufficient resources for talent recruitment and training.

“It can be a challenge for nonprofit organizations to prioritize professional development, given the scarcity of resources in the sector, said Liz Livingston Howard, executive director of the Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management. “We are proud to support The Allstate Foundation in helping ensure nonprofit leaders are set up for success.”

Nonprofit Management Essentials provided in three formats

The Nonprofit Management Essentials program is conveniently offered in three distinct formats to accommodate individual learning styles and time restraints:

On-Demand: Participants can choose to go through the program independently, choosing what they want to learn and proceeding at their own pace.

Online Connection: Participants may also choose to be a part of an eight-week facilitated online learning experience with an assigned cohort.

DIY Facilitation: A third option, added recently, is similar to what Holm organized for her team. It provides participants with the skills they need to facilitate training within their own organizations to address their unique needs and opportunities.

Nonprofit Management Essentials has benefited Little City

Holm and her colleagues have been impressed by the effect the program has had on her team. “Morale has improved, and people are more engaged in their work and the organization,” said Holm. “They have embraced the notion that while a nonprofit is driven by a mission, it is also a business that must be run well to effectively serve that mission,” Holm added.

According to Holm, participants have been using what they learned in their day-to-day jobs and bringing it to other parts of the organization. The participants have even launched a book club, so together they can expand their business knowledge and discuss ways it can be applied in their work. Plans also are being discussed to introduce the coursework to new employees as part of the onboarding process, with past participants serving as facilitators.

Executive Leadership Program targets seasoned leaders

As a precursor to Nonprofit Management Essentials, the Executive Leadership Program was launched in 2014 in partnership with the Kellogg School of Management’s Center for Nonprofit Management. The year-long, in-person program is offered free of charge to selected nonprofit leaders with 10 to 20 years of professional experience (inclusive of leadership and nonprofit requirements). Cohorts of up to 30 people participate in the program each academic year. In addition to classroom training, it includes executive coaching and opportunities for peer networking.

Holm is a member of the Executive Leadership Program class of 2020. She said she is enjoying the opportunity to network and learn from leaders of other organizations outside Little City’s area of focus.

“Providing access to high-quality professional development opportunities, such as Nonprofit Management Essentials and the Executive Leadership Program, is beneficial for nonprofits and communities alike,” said Kate Nack, Director, The Allstate Foundation. “Helping nonprofit professionals, like those at Little City, acquire the skills and capabilities they need to succeed gives them the power not only to transform their organizations, but also their communities and the nonprofit sector as a whole,” Nack said.

More information is available at https://allstatefoundation.org/what-we-do/develop-nonprofit-leaders/resources/. For updates on The Allstate Foundation initiatives, follow @allstatefdn on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.