07/13/2013 04:33 EDT | Updated 09/12/2013 05:12 EDT

Director Training Is 20 Years Behind the Times

Non-profit organizations (NPOs) are governed by a board of highly skilled directors. While significant advances in technology and education have taken place over the past few years, director training has essentially remained the same for the past 20 years.

It goes something like this...

The old lecture format still dominates: an expert shows up, clicks through some PowerPoint slides for an hour or two, some literature is distributed, maybe a case study is reviewed, and then the class is dismissed.

To anyone who has suffered through this type of 'training', it's not news that this format is broken. The pearls of wisdom are quickly forgotten, no real skills are developed, and 'business as usual' takes over again. The reality is that most people learn best by actively doing, not passively sitting back and listening.

Currently training directors is very costly. The industry is driven by high-priced consultants, expensive universities, and a few costly training institutes. It's not unusual for a weekend seminar to cost thousands of dollars for a single attendee.

Large organizations can spend tens of thousands of dollars to train their boards. This high-cost of training means that director education remains inaccessible to most non-profits, simply because it is so expensive. Yet the need for qualified directors remains.

Though many volunteers are interested in serving on a board, assuming directorship is nothing to take lightly. Directors need to have real skills to properly navigate the risks of a dynamic landscape with many different stakeholders. Working with staff, volunteers, donors and wide networks of interests takes special capabilities. Directors need to master real skills that are not easy to come by, such as: governance, fundraising, marketing, and finance, just to name a few.

So how will volunteers acquire the skills to become effective board directors?


Online education is a growing trend that has yet to reach the board of directors. There are very few director training programs that can be accessed online. However in the near future, basic content around leadership, governance, fundraising, and marketing will be available to anyone with the interest to learn - for free. Because it is online, volunteers won't have to wait to sign up to expensive courses taught on a rigid time-frame. Volunteers should be able to access this information anytime, anywhere, through the web.


A shift away from lecture-based format towards an active learning model will accelerate the adoption of director skills. Most people learn by doing, not just passively sitting back and listening to an expert. Changing the learning format to focus on real-world scenarios, and requiring volunteers to actively play the role of director provides people with experience they can take from the classroom and apply in the real world right away. Under the watch of an expert instructor, who provides constructive feedback, volunteers can more quickly adopt and apply real skills that they will need to be effective board leaders.

It's time for non-profit boards to benefit from the advances in technology and education that are making high-quality training accessible to more organizations. The days paying exorbitant fees to access director training are numbered.