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3 Tips for Using E-Learning to Train Your Nonprofit Staff

Resilience was the name of the game this past year, as your nonprofit staff pivoted where they worked, how they fundraised, the channels they used to communicate… we could go on and on.

Part of their success probably had to do with hiring such a strong team to begin with. But what really set them up for success in a year of uncertainty was the training you provided to guide them through it.

From onboarding to annual refresher courses, effective training is the difference between rolling with the punches and stepping back from the challenge.

More and more — in the past year especially — this training lives in the digital sphere, with e-learning courses used to prepare nonprofit staff members for success. But, just as with in-person training, you can’t simply create a handful of generic PowerPoint slides and call it a day.

Let’s discuss three tips you can use to ensure the e-learning courses you create for remote (and eventually, in-person) employees set your team up for success.

Highlight information that your staff needs to know.

While we’re all staying home more than ever, that doesn’t mean your staff has any more time on their plates. In fact, most probably have less.

Let’s consider John, a major gift officer for your organization. During any given workday, he’ll research prospective major donors, outline plans to connect with those prospects, email, call, and virtually meet with prospects, while also entering data into your CRM for effective moves management. He’s at home, so he might also help his children with Zoom schooling and run the family pets outside a time or two. And that’s just during the workday.

If your staff members are like John, living during a global pandemic made them busier than ever. When using e-learning to train your nonprofit’s staff, focus on information learners need-to-know. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Remove information that, while interesting, isn’t actionable. Although staff members might find the history of your nonprofit interesting, will it directly impact how they do their jobs from day-to-day?
  • Use microlearning courses to bring key information to the forefront. Microlearning courses are shorter, highly-focused courses that cover one specific topic. Use these courses alongside multi-module experiences to make sure crucial information isn’t overlooked—such as the best practices for soliciting gifts during a pandemic.
  • Present any dull, but required information in an interesting way. Use click-to-reveal, drag-and-drop, sliders and dials, and other unique formats to add a spark to your e-learning courses. Would you rather take time out of your busy day to review a text-filled PowerPoint about nonprofit accounting, or interact with a drag-and-drop form?

Not only will these tips make content more actionable for your nonprofit’s staff, but the content will also be more interesting to complete. Staff can focus on the need-to-know information and even enjoy doing so.

Provide opportunities to practice, despite being remote.

When your nonprofit was working in the office, mask-free and without the need to sit 6+ feet apart, it was easy for staff members to learn on the job. Simply turn to your right (or left, or walk down the hall to the next office — you get the gist) and ask a coworker. Your staff could bounce ideas back and forth and learn by doing.

Not sure about this phone solicitation script? Practice with Janet, the fundraiser with 10+ years of experience who has heard every objection there is. Confused about the steps you should follow when entering data in your CRM? Ask Anna, the tech expert down the hall.

This proximity disappeared when you transitioned to working from home. Create effective e-learning courses that incorporate this idea of learning-by-doing to allow your staff to practice and receive feedback at home, just as they would in the office. Here are a few tips to do so:

  • Use scenarios to immerse learners in new situations. This is perfect for the phone solicitation example. Create a scenario where your staff member can practice responding to donor questions on the phone and receive feedback on their answers. They can practice this skill without the consequence of actually being on the phone with a donor.
  • Leverage games for quick repetition of common challenges. At Artisan, we created a quick learning game for a common grammar mistake—using “Me” versus “I.” It’s a fun, whimsical experience and the multiple levels allow the learner to practice and retain the information. You can use the same idea when creating games for your nonprofit’s staff.
  • Focus on creating realistic, relatable scenarios. The goal isn’t for your staff to practice how to respond to a once-in-a-lifetime donor, a never-before-seen tech challenge, or something equally outlandish. Create opportunities to practice situations that are relevant to your nonprofit and the day-to-day work you complete.

Last but not least, consider that conversation with Janet about phone solicitations. More than likely, there are multiple staff members dealing with that (or any other example you input into this paragraph) same challenge. Should Janet coach other staff members over and over? She could, but we’d recommend creating a course that can be easily distributed across your team, to replicate the training that Janet received over and over. This way, you create training that has long-lasting value— pandemic times or not.

Make courses readily accessible for learners.

Let’s jump back to John, the busy major gifts officer from the first section. While highlighting need-to-know information in your courses will make it easier for him to focus his limited attention on those topics, what if he can’t find time in his schedule to complete the courses to begin with?

The fact of the matter is that remote (and in-office!) nonprofit staff members don’t have full control of their own work schedules. Things come up, and these things push your courses to the end of a lengthy to-do list. When this happens, you want to make sure staff members can still complete any needed training with ease.

Here are a few tips to make courses that fit well into busy staff member schedules:

  • Create a pre-test for recurring training. Let’s say you conduct annual training to refresh your staff’s policy knowledge. Work with your e-learning content development company to create an assessment that accurately reflects whether or not a staff member already understands the content. Give this to them before the training, and if learners can test out of the course then they regain that time back for their busy schedule.
  • Make training available at all times. Maintain an e-learning library containing all courses you’ve provided in the past. Whether a staff member needs to fit their training in at an odd hour, or they want to revisit and refresh their memory in the future, this is a helpful resource.

While training is important, it’s also important for your nonprofit’s staff to have a good work-life balance. The last thing you want is an e-learning course meant to benefit your staff members to be the thing that causes employee burnout!

To wrap up, e-learning courses are an effective tool to train your nonprofit’s staff both during the pandemic and beyond. However, you can’t just roll out an e-learning library of generic courses and call it a day.

With these tips, you’ll create courses that are actionable, skill-building, and accessible for all learners. Good luck!

This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.


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About the Author

Amy Morrisey is the President of Artisan E-Learning and serves as Sales & Marketing Manager. Amy started with Artisan as a contract writer/instructional designer. She was our Production Manager for four years and helped the team to double its capacity. As President, she stays focused on maintaining the high standards our clients have grown to expect. She believes that staying close to our clients, our people, and our work is a smart way to do that. One of her favorite things to do in the e-learning world is jump in with a client to write a storyboard that is creative and application-based. Before working with Artisan, Amy spent 17 years in corporate training and development predominantly teaching leadership development and coaching teams and executives. She currently serves on the board of ATD Detroit.

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