5 Ways to Develop Your Professional Skills

At Fractured Atlas, we put a lot of emphasis on cultivating a strong staff, and that means investing in their continued growth and education. Each of us gets an annual stipend to be used on blue sky educational opportunities. Over the past few years we’ve developed a running list of great professional development opportunities that we recommend to each other. We thought it would be great to share some of these resources that we’ve found helpful and valuable. Some of these resources are New York-specific since our headquarters is in NY, but many of them are not, as we have staff located all over the country.

1. Lynda.com
There are a lot of places to take online classes. Skillshare, P2PU, Code Academy, Khan Academy are all great resources for those looking to learn a new skill. But few online platforms have the amount of depth and variety of high quality online lessons on everything from web design to film editing. Lynda’s teaching platform is built around easy-to-follow video tutorials. Classes are split up into several videos of manageable lengths so that you can watch them piece-meal as they fit your schedule.

2. In-Person Courses: General Assembly, 3rd Ward
If on-line, at-your-own pace courses are too passive for your taste and you prefer a little more structure, in-person courses can be a great solution after work. Both General Assembly and 3rd Ward have both been popular among Fractured Atlas staff. General Assembly specializes in teaching technology and business development skills, particularly to people doing the 9-to-5, so classes and workshops are often during after work hours and on the weekend. 3rd Ward has many similar course offerings, but is focused more on artists with classes also covering everything from jewelry making and woodworking to comic illustrating and web development. If you’re not in New York, General Assembly has locations in cities all over the world like Berlin, Hong Kong, and Sydney in addition to many US cities like Los Angeles and Washington D.C. 3rd Ward also has a location in Philadelphia.

If none of these resources are available to you, definitely consider your local college or university’s Continuing Education offerings. Fractured Atlas staff have taken courses at NYU, Baruch College, and Columbia University to name a few.

3. Books
Okay, so this is a no brainer. But the market for business books is very saturated. It’s hard to know which book to choose! These three books have gotten high marks from Fractured Atlas staff:

How to Measure Anything: Finding the “Intangibles” in Business by Douglas W. Hubbard

Anything can be measured. This bold assertion is the key to solving many problems in business and life in general. The myth that certain things can’t be measured is a significant drain on our nation’s economy, public welfare, the environment, and even national security. In fact, the chances are good that some part of your life or your professional responsibilities is greatly harmed by a lack of measurement-by you, your firm, or even your government.Building up from simple concepts to illustrate the hands-on yet intuitively easy application of advanced statistical techniques, How to Measure Anything reveals the power of measurement in our understanding of business and the world at large.

The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need by Ellen Karsh and Arlen Sue Fox

This book is designed to help nonprofit organizations craft proposals for grants from foundations, companies, and government agencies.

The book includes a proposal checklist, a glossary of terms, sample grant forms, and a list of Web sites that provide information on grants offered by foundations, corporations, and the government.
—from the Chronicle of Philanthropy

Ellen Karsh, a writer and former director of the Mayor’s Office of Grants Administration, in New York, and Arlen Sue Fox, associate executive director for development at Sunnyside Community Services, also in New York, significantly update this edition from 2005 by including interviews with grant makers about how the current economic crisis is affecting their giving and how grant seekers can improve their chances of garnering support.

Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson

“[Crucial Conversations] draws our attention to those defining moments that literally shape our lives, our relationships, and our world. . . . This book deserves to take its place as one of the key thought leadership contributions of our time.”
—from the Foreword by Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

“The quality of your life comes out of the quality of your dialogues and conversations. Here’s how to instantly uplift your crucial conversations.”
—Mark Victor Hansen, cocreator of the #1 New York Times bestselling series Chicken Soup for the Soul®

4. Conferences
Conferences are a great way not only to be exposed to new ideas and keep up with the latest trends, but they’re also a great way of increasing your visibility with like-minded people. Two conferences that Fractured Atlas staff have regularly attended over the years are the National Arts Marketing Conference and NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) Conference. If you can’t afford registration fees, consider exploring volunteer options. Oftentimes, conference organizers will allow volunteers to attend some sessions in exchange for volunteering.

5. Workshops/Intensives
One-off workshops or weekend-long intensives can often be more cost effective than a long-form class. They also require less of a time commitment than traditional courses and benefit from your undivided attention, unlike online courses where you can easily distracted. Fractured Atlas staff have recently attended these workshops, and found them very helpful:

Undoing Racism Workshop - People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond:

The People’s Institute is a national and international collective of community organizers that work with communities across the country and the globe helping communities expose the systems of racism that permeate much of our society. They organize workshops all over the country and often help interested organizations bring the workshop to their communities:

Undoing Racism is our signature workshop.  Through dialogue, reflection, role-playing, strategic planning and presentations, this intensive process challenges participants to analyze the structures of power and privilege that hinder social equity and prepares them to be effective organizers for justice. The multiracial team of organizers/trainers includes more than 40 men and women whose anti-racist organizing expertise includes years with civil, labor and welfare rights struggles, educational, foster care, social service and health reform movements, as well as youth and grassroots community organizing. An average of 10-15 groups per month participate in The People’s Institute Undoing Racism®/Community Organizing process.

Business of Arts and Culture - National Arts Strategies:

This series of team-based seminars conducted by National Arts Strategies are one of the most highly lauded of its kind. While this program scales more towards mid-sized to large cultural organizations, we would be remiss if we were to neglect mentioning this valuable resource:

When you need to build a new web site, design an exhibit space, or even drive a capital campaign, you can turn to consultants to drive the project. But there are fundamental decisions — about your programming, audiences, financial plans, staff — that can never be handed off to an outsider. The team-centered seminars in the Business of Arts and Culture™ give your team the time and new tools to create these critical organizational answers.

Each team seminar is an intensive working session that helps your organization quickly make sense of challenges and find new ideas. The series brings the best management teaching in the country directly to the arts and culture field.


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