3 Tips to Produce Memorable Nonprofit Learning

On Wednesday, we launched a new “Disaster Planning for Nonprofits” curriculum. An emergency planner in attendance ended our session with an unsolicited endorsement:

“That was a really good class. You got a lot of good information out to these people in a short period of time.”

He then implored people to take action: “Take what she said to heart,” he said.

Without intending to comment on the curriculum development methodology, he highlighted the goal of a nonprofit curriculum: good information, efficient with time, and connects with the heart. My goal is not to flood someone with information but rather to carefully curate what they need to know and present it in a way that helps them to take action. This is as much art as it is science.

How does this happen? Three tips:

1. Dive deep and then snorkel at the top: It is true that I haven’t swum in warm waters in a long time, thanks to COVID. Let’s take a mental vacation for a second to think about this idea. In developing curriculum, start by diving deep. Look at all of the fish darting from reef lobe to open water. Examine the reef itself and all of the forms of life that it supports. In other words, document everything there is to know about your topic, no matter how big or small. I often read many other interpretations of the content to see how other people have sliced and diced it, and I fill a big piece of butcher paper with all of the knowledge, skills, tools, perspectives etc. related to my topic.

Once you dive deep, spend time at the ocean’s surface to see what rises to the top. What is visible when you aren’t distracted by the detail at the bottom? With your butcher paper filled with information in front of you, take a colored marker and circle the highest-level ideas. You should have five or fewer. Everything else gets placed hierarchically under that. Disaster planning, for example, has three main things you need to do: document, gather, and problem solve. Board practice has five main chunks: purpose, roles and responsibilities, recruitment, operations, and fundraising. Whenever I see lists beyond 10 items, I pull out my marker and start bucketing into categories.

2. Stand in the shoes of your audience: What you need to know depends on you. Are you an expert or novice? Are you professional staff who gets paid to attend trainings or a volunteer who nips and tucks time around family and work? Do you have any emotion on this topic going into learning? You would not be alone if you felt fear with finance or overwhelm with board practice. However much I know about this topic… however much literature I can find that provides all sorts of fun facts about this topic… however much I want you to paint the Sistine Chapel with the crayons you have to work with… curriculum design starts with the person you are trying to move to action.

3. Build a toolbox that supports action: This is the difference between planning for a workshop and building out a full curriculum. When I talk about curriculum, I’m talking about anything that bridges someone from where they are now to where we need them to be, and often that means checklists, templates, flowcharts, a directory, or reflection questions to bring back to a board or staff. Don’t stop at teaching information since information alone won’t support a shift in habits, behavior change, and long-term growth.

These are just three tips. I’ll be sharing my full curriculum method in an online curriculum development class starting January 14, 2021. (Doesn’t it feel great to be writing the new year!) “Design for Results” is a cohort program limited to 20 people. Through learning sessions, asynchronous support, peer feedback, and one-on-one guidance, you will be able to produce a draft curriculum in time for spring.

Nonprofit people don’t have time to waste. Let’s work together to make sure you get good information out to people in the short period of time they have to spend.

And if you are interested in knowing more about “Disaster Planning in Nonprofits,” it will be widely available in January 2021. Email Nancy if you would like to schedule a workshop in your community.

Published by Nancy

I work at the intersection of learning, nonprofits, and leadership. I am a teacher, instructional designer, and nonprofit person who has worn every hat possible. I regular write, speak, and consult on learning strategy, design, and leadership.

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