Published: 30 May 2013

Take charge of your professional development

A recent salary survey revealed that charity communications staff would like more support for their professional development. As budgets have tightened and workloads increased, it’s no surprise that professional development has slipped down the priority lists.

The only person who can take charge of developing your skills is you. I realised this a few years ago, and once I did, it enabled me to ‘think big’ about what I wanted to do.

Seven ways to take charge of your professional development

1. Map out your goals and what you need to do to get there

Where do you really want to be in five or 10 years’ time? What is your ideal job, and what would you like it to lead to? A great starting point is brainstorming what success means to you. Be ambitious and allow yourself to dream about what you would like to achieve. I recommend including as much detail as you can, including factors such as work life balance, salary and ideal organisational culture. Then review what it would take to get from where you are now to where you want to get to. This will help you focus on your skills gaps. The next step is to work out how to develop the skills you need.

2. Get a mentor

A good mentor can supercharge your professional development. They will act as a sounding board for your career, from day-to-day workplace issues to long-term plans. In my experience, a mentor should ask you thoughtful, challenging questions which will help test your ideas. CharityComms has a brilliant mentoring scheme, which I’ve used for the last five years.

3. Stretch your training budget

As well as actively seeking out the best events and conferences that you can get for your money, check what else you are entitled to through individual and organisational memberships. You may be eligible for discounted entry to seminars, as well as other benefits. There are also plenty of good free events out there, such as digital charity meet up NFP Tweetup.

4. Be creative

Never assume that some professional development opportunities are out of your reach. With a bit of imagination you can often get what you want. For example, I was looking for coaching recently but the fees were too expensive. By asking around my network I was able to find someone who offered to coach me for free. A well-known charity sector blogger recently told me that he offers his services in exchange for free attendance to charity conferences beyond his training budget.

5. Use social media

One of the main complaints I hear from charity communications professionals is that they are too overloaded to keep up-to-date with developments. Social media is a quick and easy way to stay abreast of useful articles and ideas. I rely on my Twitter timeline to see what’s happening. The groups on LinkedIn are also a valuable source of tips and discussion. I particularly like the UK Charity Lounge group. And according to this article, Pinterest, Slideshare and YouTube can be useful professional development tools too.

6. Become a blogger

I can’t advocate this enough as a method of harnessing your own professional development. Blogging about what you’ve learned, whether it’s sharing some tips, a current work case study, or a communications development you feel strongly about can help you reflect on your ideas and experience. You can either offer to guest blog for established sites or set up your own. And if you enjoy sharing your ideas by blogging, you might want to think about speaking at a charity communications event.

7. Volunteer

Offering pro bono advice to other charities can help broaden your skillset. Local charities often need marketing or communications help. Why not offer to give your local community centre some advice about their use of social media, or their next annual report?

In the current volatile climate, taking the reins on your own professional development will help you feel more in control of your career in charity communications. What could be more exciting than investing in your future?


Zoe Amar, director, Zoe Amar Digital

Zoe Amar is founder and director of Zoe Amar Digital, a charity marketing and digital communications consultancy who've worked with Action Aid, CAF, Crimestoppers and many other great charities. She also blogs for The Guardian. Zoe shares charity marketing resources over at www.zoeamar.com and @zoeamar