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I’m always interested in finding out how different organizations pursue a learning agenda. I talked with Connie Hawk, Director of the Licking County Foundation in Newark, Ohio, who oversees a staff of six. Here’s how Connie inculcated a learning culture inside this community foundation.


Q: I understand the Licking County Foundation (LCF) has a team approach for staff professional development. How did this approach develop – intentionally or organically over time?

A: It was a bit of both! There’s a culture of learning, sharing, curiosity, and openness to trying new things at LCF. Our team approach helps a small staff take advantage of the many and varied professional development opportunities available to our field. These opportunities are shared by everyone at weekly staff meetings to gauge interest. Sometimes, we’ll decide to participate together—like watching a webinar (always better with pizza). Sometimes, we’ll divide and conquer—attending individually and then sharing insights with the team. Sometimes, we’ll invite others in our community—board and committee members, donors, nonprofit partners, and other funders—to join us as we learn.


Q: How do you identify priority issues for staff learning?

A: Key factors are: LCF’s strategic and succession/leadership development plans, Licking County’s community blueprint, opportunities/challenges/initiatives which bubble up and we’re asked to get involved, trends, new things we’d like to try—and, importantly, individual staff interests/growth.


Q: What have been some of the outcomes of this kind of professional development approach?

A: There’s been a rippling effect. This team approach extends to sharing best practices or new ideas with our community. LCF has a robust series of workshops which are offered to area stakeholders. For example, last year, teams of nonprofit board and staff members attended a series of six workshops to strengthen their organizations and our community through endowment building. We also partnered with an area university to host a workshop on civil discourse skill-building at the public library. This year, we’ll focus on succession planning and board development. One of our staff members has taken the lead in organizing a successful women’s leadership conference. Another staff member leads a youth philanthropy program. LCF has become a go-to for best practices and new ideas.


Q: What advice would you share with other foundations based on this team effort in professional development?

A: Be open to and encourage all kinds of learning—you never know where ah-ha moments of inspiration will come from. Make professional development a priority for not only your own organization, but for sharing it with your community. Include it as an operational budget line item with each staff member having an equal share of this learning pool. Allocate strategic grant funds annually which are restricted to offering capacity-building opportunities for the community. Professional development creates possibilities!

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