5 Ways to Stay Smart & Engaged

Stay Smart & EngagedShe got me…

The rain was pouring down this morning as our daughter, Charlotte, was getting ready to walk to school, so I caved and drove her. And I’m glad I did. Because as I dropped her off to join the gaggle of noisy, drenched kids waiting outside the middle school, I started thinking.

Here were all these kids crowded round the dripping doorway to march in for another day of challenge, learning and growth. I was jealous—they were walking into this incredible opportunity to be exposed to new content, to digest it in the context of what they know now, and to arrive on the far side with a fresh perspective and new skills.

Few of us have this kind of formal growth opportunity anymore, but ongoing intellectual and creative growth is our oxygen. It’s the ONLY way to ensure our marketing and fundraising content is relevant, while fueling our personal satisfaction.

My call to action for all of us fundraisers and nonprofit communicators? Let’s schedule some learning—via conversations, reading, participating—into every day, even if for just five minutes.

Here are the five main methods I use to keep learning:

  1. Reading (and watching) top picks content (blogs, e-newsletters, social media, books, videos) in the field, from nonprofits in all sectors, and from expert marketers—in the nonprofit world and beyond—and fundraisers. This helps me keep current on trends, models, needs, tools and news. Note the top picks designation. Being selective is the
  2. Scanning the world news, and processing how it’s affecting our clients’ work and impact (for you, that will be how the news is influencing the perspectives of the folks your organizations strive to connect with.)
  3. Participating in hands-on group workshops and webinars, so I’m doing rather than just digesting. For me, the doing reinforces learning like nothing else.
  4. Pushing myself to take on the next new challenge, and making sure there’s something teed up to tackle. I’m focusing right now on developing more content marketing clients (I’m in love with writing tightly-targeted content, and just can’t get enough of it, and a new small-group coaching program.
  5. Synthesizing what I learn with what I know, and sharing that out with you and other peers via blog posts, e-news articles, speaking gigs and trainings. This is the lynchpin of my learning program, pushing me to put it all together…for folks like you! For you, the equivalent may be sharing your perspective and knowledge with your team, colleagues and/or leadership.

Reclaim school as your own, starting today. Schedule it daily to stimulate your mind, nourish your soul, keep on top of the world you’re working in (and communicating into), refine your perspective, and build your expertise and impact—all prerequisites to creating the relevant content and calls to action that best engage the folks whose help you need to move your mission forward!

How do you keep learning, even when your professional development budget is zilch? Please share your learning habits here.

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Nancy Schwartz on October 22, 2014 in Professional Development | 8 comments

  • Carrie

    I try to use my commute time in the mornings getting in the work “mood” by listening to podcasts. Most are not fundraising or non-profit related, but cover productivity, leadership and professional development. I love the Read to Lead podcast that summarizes a top business book and interviews the author, as I don’t always have the time and resources to commit to every book I want to read! My evening commutes are often spent listening to more of my hobby related podcasts (knitting) or often a non-work audio book (I’ve listened to “I’m Proud of You” by Tim Madigan at least twice in the last four years!).

  • Carrie, thanks so much for sharing your path to smarts. Love the audio approach – something different is always refreshing.

  • bethkanter

    I love that you are writing about how to keep learning and engaged … I was inspired about this as part of a New Year’s resolution for 2014. I think most of think of professional development as the “add on” to our work – a class, a webinar. But the challenge really is how to embed it or extract it from your work. (http://www.bethkanter.org/learning-at-work/) I like how you have covered all three areas in this post in a very practical way.

    For that last point, synthesizing what you know. That takes reflection – it isn’t so much about the production, but having time and space to think about what you did and how to make it better.

  • Pingback: Fundraising Friday | October 24, 2014 - Pamela Grow()

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective and approach, Beth. Synthesizing is the oft-missed step indeed. Guilty of that myself far too often!

    Continually playing around with the right time-of-day for learning, that best promotes the synthesis. Keep us posted on your evolution with learning?

  • bethkanter

    I have a 20 year habit (ever since working as trainer) to spend the first hour of my work day reading or reflecting on ideas. I call this my “green time.” I have in my calendar too. Sometimes when I am traveling I can’t do it! I also maintain a “to do” reflection list where I keep tasks but also reflect on what I could better! As a trainer, I keep the discipline of writing lesson plan with a section “What did I learn” and then write up ways to improve. I use color coding. Blue-content, red-instructional process. Green-logistics. This has been really helpful for learning. I am more of a self-directed learner, but I also make sure that I take a workshop every quarter. The last five years have been focused on taking workshops on practical facilitation, instructional design, coaching, self management etc. I also pick something to practice and iterate on for the months after! I have been able to make these habits, but when I fall off wagon I find myself getting stressed or cranky. That reminds me that I have not been learning!

  • I read lots of science blogs (because I’m a science geek). I also write and play music every day. These don’t seem related to my work with nonprofits, but they are.

    Creativity and curiosity fuel my work in ways that are often surprising. Writing songs helps inspire creative ideas for social media campaigns. Learning about how dogs evolved from wolves helps me teach nonprofits why emotion is a key part of content strategies.

    The seemingly unrelated is often very relevant.

  • John, thanks for sharing your refreshing approach. I too find that delving outside the straight “professional development” realm can do wonders.

    Some of my most creative ideas for clients come while I’m swimming laps, and just not (consciously) thinking about work. To the wolves!

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