The Value of Professional Development (#allianceconf Part 2)

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So the conference is wrapping up and I have enjoyed myself immensely. Except for the aforementioned heat. But anyway.

One aspect of this conference that is both interesting and different than other conferences I've attended is the backdrop of the economic crisis. 

This context is changing the way all capacity builders do their work with organizations. And its affect on the workshop titles would be funny if it weren't. Presenters have added some version of "In These Times..." to every title. The conference's attendance is also lower than in past years. Now that's not just the effect of the economy, those in the know understand that the Alliance itself is in a bit of a transition period, but I would ascribe a good portion of the blame to the cost of attending conferences in general - it's not cheap once you add up airfare, lodging, food and conference fees.

At lunch I was asked what other conferences I'm attending, and I had to say, "none". And then I had to have a good think about that. Financial reasons are at work when I say I'm not attending other conferences, and neither are my colleagues. And yet my organization sells services to organizations that might also be too expensive for them "in these times". And then I had to think about the worth of professional developmentRight now I'm privileged to manage a program at VV called the Executive Directors' Institute. It's a relatively expensive program in terms of price tag, although a lot comes with this year-long program, so I have no doubt about its value. That said, we recruited for the program before the economy really crashed, and I worry about recruiting for it in 2010. My guess is that the current participants may not have registered if the program had started six months later than it did. And my guess is also that they would say now - during this crisis - is the absolute best time to learn better ways to run their organizations. To learn about assessing program mix and refocusing on the mission and all the other things that can help organizations serve their communities with ever decreasing resources.

So why is it that when we are most in need of learning new and innovative ways to run our organizations, we are least likely to spend the dollars necessary to learn these skills? It's a tough question that I don't know the answer to. Charity Village published a document (Training in Tough Times) talking about the business case for professional development, and I recommend it. [And please note the title per my earlier comment.] But I still understand what a difficult decision it can be to pay for learning opportunities when so much else is at stake.

I'm afraid I don't have much of a conclusion to this meandering stream of consciousness, other than to say I am grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference - at which I've met ridiculously smart people, learned practical new things and had the opportunity to think about how to do my own work better. I hope that everyone in the sector - even "in these times" - is able to create some space for learning opportunities. Because we should all always think of ways to improve how we impact our communities. In these times and all others, as far as I'm concerned.

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