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Nonprofit E-Learning: 3 Tips to Improve Your Courses

ProductivityVolunteer ManagementCommunications

By: Amy Morrisey, President of Artisan E-Learning 

As we head into the final quarter of the year, this is the perfect time to review your nonprofit’s e-learning offerings to make sure they’re in top shape for next year.

This year has brought new needs for nonprofit e-learning, from training online volunteers to providing effective education for staff members navigating new challenges in the homebound workplace.

With so much in flux, you may have realized that your e-learning is not helping to meet your current goals. With that, let’s explore a few challenges you may face with your courses as well as how you can craft custom-developed courses that combat them.

Your staff and volunteers aren’t learning key skills.

Let’s walk through a common e-learning scenario your organization might be using: e-learning for volunteer orientation.

You create a one- to two-hour course. In it, you share your history, mission, volunteer opportunities, and the key processes and rules governing regular volunteer work. That’s a lot resting on one course.

In this scenario, there is a chance your newly minted volunteers walk away missing a few critical points. Maybe they failed to understand how to correctly “clock in” for volunteer hours—something that can have major implications for grant funding down the line. Or, maybe they overlook the key messaging that they should use to connect with potential donors.

We’re not here to discourage you from investing in comprehensive, multi-module e-learning courses. Longer experiences can be valuable for team and volunteer training, and we create them frequently for nonprofit clients! But, we are saying that you should consider taking a more intentional approach when it comes to emphasizing key skills.

If there is one specific task or skill that you want staff and volunteers to walk away with, don’t bury it in the middle of a valuable, but long, e-learning experience. Instead, consider the following tips to highlight it:

  • Consider using microlearning courses. Microlearning courses aren’t just shorter experiences, but they’re hyper-focused on one specific topic. For example, you might supplement your main volunteer training course with a microcourse about logging volunteer hours correctly. This guarantees that information isn’t lost in the mix.
  • Walk learners through scenarios to emphasize key topics. Rather than telling volunteers about your communication strategies and expectations, show them how that messaging plays out in action. For example, have them experience a virtual event scenario to practice the main phrases they can use.
  • Include the reasoning behind any key points made. When you’re sharing important topics, don’t simply tell learners that it’s important—explain why. Going back to the volunteer hours example, don’t just say that it’s important to log all hours but emphasize why. Is it to secure grant funding? Is it to fulfill a challenge-based donation? Taking this extra step will drive the point home.

The goal isn’t to replace all long-form courses with short, to-the-point experiences. Instead, microlearning enables you to draw special attention to the key concepts learners need to understand. Ideally, they’ll learn that and more!

Your team isn’t finishing the coursework.

Now, let’s explore another challenge that your e-learning programming could be facing: course abandonment.

This occurs when your learners fail to complete the course, whether they’re bored and tuning out of the experience, it’s too challenging, or something else. Now, don’t rush to judgment against your team! If you’ve ever read half of a book only to put it down later or rushed through the back half of a mandatory training—we’ve all been guilty at some point—then you know the feeling.

This isn’t because your team is ineffective, but maybe your courses are. However, there are a few key ways you can ramp up the engagement with your courses to keep learners interested from start to finish:

  • Use engaging, interactive formats and variation throughout. For example, we were tasked with creating a course about pediatric sedation. To keep learners interested in the topic, we used interactive case-based scenarios that immersed learners in the decision-making process.
  • Focus on highlighting topics that learners would benefit from. Have you ever taken a course that was full of fluff and not much substance? It seemed like a poor use of time, right? Focus your course material on what learners actually need to know and will use in their day-to-day lives. For example, do fundraising directors need to know how to successfully solicit a gift or the ins-and-outs of serving on a nonprofit board? 
  • Use examples and interesting stories. Storytelling is a powerful tool for your nonprofit to share your story with donors and volunteers. The same is true for e-learning! For example, rather than telling them about the various types of impact their work can have, tell a real-life story. Is there a local shelter in your community that benefits from the donations they raise?

If you’re creating less-than-exciting courses, you really can’t blame your staff and volunteers for tuning out. It’s up to you to give them a great reason to stick around for the experience.

Your courses aren’t representative of your nonprofit.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Since you’re a nonprofit professional, we’re preaching to the choir when it comes to the importance of making a good impression. Donors giving funds, volunteers giving their time, staff working tirelessly to further your mission—it all depends on an underlying trust and faith in your organization.

Because of this, it’s crucial that your courses are genuine and representative of your organization and its values. Your strong story and carefully crafted brand narrative should be carried through any training, whether it’s through e-learning or another format.

Let’s walk through an example course. Artisan created a course for the American Red Cross, walking through completing a crucial statistical tracking form. Because the Red Cross already had an established brand, it was essential to align with it.

Here are a few ways you can create a course that’s authentic to your nonprofit itself:

  • Replicate familiar sceneries and backdrops. In our Red Cross example, we used pictures of what supply trucks and volunteers at work actually looked like. This gave a genuine look into the typical volunteer experience.
  • Carry established language and jargon throughout. In the Form 5266 example, we referred to the form by name throughout. This is how the Red Cross team refers to it, so it’s important to maintain this consistency!
  • Consider using a familiar face as the narrator. If you’re writing a course for volunteers, have a friendly-faced volunteer act as the narrator or main character. Make sure they’re wearing the familiar volunteer uniform and equipment.

You’ve worked hard to establish a clear, trustworthy brand for your nonprofit. That was the hard part! Now, just carry that brand into your e-learning for successful courses.

With the new year quickly approaching, it’s the perfect time to reevaluate your e-learning courses for success. If you’re facing challenges such as a team that’s struggling to grasp key concepts, a team not finishing the courses, or courses that are unrepresentative of your nonprofit, these tips will lead the way to more engaging e-learning courses.


About the Author

Amy Morrisey is the President of Artisan E-Learning and serves as Sales & Marketing Manager. One of Amy's 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.