The Productivity Commission, in its landmark 2010 Report Contribution of the Not-for-Profit Sector, demands increased investment in training and development. This poses challenges for management and NFP boards in a sector significantly constrained by limited resources

In 2015 a major piece of research to understand and estimate the extent to which performance improves when people are skilled up. The report Learning for Purpose: Researching the Social Return on Education and Training in the Australian Not-for-Profit Sector was prepared by Ramon Wenzel, Ph.D, at the Centre for Social Impact at The University of Western Australia Business School (UWA CSI) , in partnership with the Origin Foundation and the Australian Scholarships Foundation.

The findings in this report establish support for professional development as necessary to systematically facilitate Australian NFP workers’ knowledge, skills, and abilities, and in turn to help organisations to deliver positive social change.

Learning for Purpose: Researching the Social Return on Education and Training in the Australian Not-for-Profit Sector

Three challenges were posed, by Sean Barrett, Head of Foundation, Origin Foundation, to our perceptions of Not-for-Profit organisations, funders, and decision-makers in the sector as an outcome of the report:

1. Changing public perceptions

We value the emotional over the rational. Funding and donations are often directed at front-line service delivery, due to a perception that money spent on training is wasteful and makes organisations appear less focussed on ‘final ends’. However, the Australian Scholarship Foundation argues that “improved leadership and management capability is the critical difference in creating effective and efficient NFPs.”

This report backs that up. We would be horrified if a doctor, pilot, or teacher of our children, did no more training and development after graduating; did not keep up with new development and best practice. Yet, if Not-for-Profit leaders spend on training and development they may be subject to public criticism of not focusing on ‘front-line’ service delivery.

2. Funders have to review their rules

Many corporate and business funders of Not-for-Profit agencies are reluctant to support ‘capacity building’ such as training and development. They insist that every dollar should go towards ‘the mission’ of the Not-for-Profit organisation. This is illogical and does not represent how they operate their own organisations. Investment in training and development is a given within the corporate and business sectors, as is investment in organisational infrastructure.
Many philanthropic foundations take a tactical approach to funding and have a preference for dispensing large numbers of small grants across the Not-for-Profit sector. This practice can contribute to inefficiencies within Not-for-Profit organisations.

3. Help for the helpers

Leaders in the Not-for-Profit sector can use this report to push back when their attempts at improving efficiency and productivity through training and development are criticised or refused funding.

You can read the full report here.

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