Explore how you can use e-learning in your nonprofit's professional development efforts.

This guest author post was contributed by Snowball Fundraising.

Effective training of nonprofit employees and volunteers is essential, as the sector is continuously transformed by new technology and shifting strategy.

If your organization isn’t experiencing positive effects from training—whether you’re holding cost-inefficient in-person sessions, you’re experiencing high turnover, or the training itself is ineffective—it may be time to revisit your professional development practices. Converting your existing training to e-learning experiences is a great way to do so.

Whether you need a short, comprehensive course exploring nonprofit payment processing or you need an in-depth, multi-module course exploring best practices for nonprofit fundraising in 2020, custom e-learning courses are the solution.

While custom e-learning solutions require an upfront investment, these courses have major benefits for organizations willing to invest in their futures. For example, e-learning courses:

  • Are created and delivered on your schedule, ready just as you need them.
  • Are consistent across the board, rather than different trainers putting their own “spin” on course material.
  • Are custom-built to your organization’s specific needs.

The ROI for custom e-learning courses is clear. With that in mind, let’s explore a few ways you can enhance your course offerings.

Whether you are developing a brand new course or converting existing training, consider the following ideas:

E-learning has the potential to bring your organization to the next level, whether that’s in terms of financial success, internal workflows, or even community outreach. Let’s walk through each of these top ideas along with key examples of the types of courses that work well with each.

Are you ready to get started? Let’s jump in!

Responsivity is crucial for effective professional development courses.

1. Make your nonprofit e-learning course mobile-friendly.

Over the past several years, the shift to mobile-friendly design has been evident in all categories across the web, including social networking, entertainment, and education. That’s because, as of 2019, over 53% of web traffic comes from mobile devices!

In terms of e-learning, mobile-friendly design refers to creating a course that automatically adapts to fit the browser and device it’s viewed on. Whether viewed on a desktop computer or a smartphone, the course is accessible for all learners.

There are a few different ways to incorporate responsive design into your e-learning course, including working with mobile-friendly layouts, compressing visual content to increase load speed, and prioritizing navigation to be accessible on all devices. Then, once created, it’s best practice to preview the course on a variety of screen sizes and browsers to ensure the course is truly responsive. Working with an e-learning authoring tool that is receptive to responsive design can help!

Mobile friendliness is crucial for professional development courses.

Why it works

In the past few years, investing in mobile-friendly design became a clear decision. This is because responsive design can offer these key benefits:

  • Increased accessibility: Some users may not own a traditional desktop computer, but do have access to a smartphone or tablet. By emphasizing a mobile-friendly design, you can make sure your e-learning courses are accessible to anyone who needs it.
  • Improved user experience (UX): If you want the user to enjoy your e-learning course, you need to make sure the experience flows smoothly from beginning to end. Any disruptions or unnecessary complications take away from the positive UX and distract the user from the learning materials.
  • Ability to be used on the go: Thanks to the ease with which you can bring a mobile device with you, a mobile-friendly e-learning course can be completed anywhere! That way your employees can complete courses whenever they can squeeze in some free time—including during a commute or in a waiting room.

To maximize the usage of your nonprofit e-learning course, it’s a good idea to ensure a mobile-friendly design.

Example course

Imagine you run a nonprofit that’s looking to expand your tech toolkit. If, for example, you want to teach your team about the power of text-to-give in nonprofit fundraising, consider offering a mobile-friendly course to do so.

After all, it just makes sense to provide a guide to mobile giving in a mobile-friendly format. Plus, mobile giving and text-to-give tools emphasize a lot of the same key characteristics that mobile-friendly e-learning courses do—including boosted convenience and accessibility!

Use microlearning to create effective professional development e-learning.

2. Employ microlearning techniques for specific training.

Microlearning is a relatively new trend in the e-learning industry, but it’s one you definitely don’t want to miss out on. With it, learners can explore a single topic in-depth, rather than a variety of information across multiple modules.

When you employ shorter courses, your users can take a deep-dive on one specific topic whenever they have a few spare minutes. While long-form e-learning courses can take up to several hours to complete, micro-courses can usually be completed in under 10 minutes!

Microlearning ensures your learners are engaged when learning more specific topics.

Why it works

Microlearning has become an extremely popular strategy recently, as it’s a great way to share information with teammates and employees without becoming overwhelming. These are three main reasons why microlearning is an important concept to keep in mind as you create new e-learning courses.

  • Specific skills can be isolated. The microlearning format is ideal for isolating one or two skills in a short period of time. If there are specific tasks you need to ensure learners pick up, microlearning is a great way to provide this emphasis.
  • Separates groups of small topics: Dividing courses by topic instead of mashing a bunch of categories together can be a great way to increase motivation and memory. This way, users can take their time to learn each topic instead of rushing through.
  • Reduces information overload: Receiving too much information in a short period of time can result in the poor recall of any of it. By reducing information overload, you encourage participants to pay attention and learn, rather than have information go in one ear and out the other.

Effective microlearning courses encourage learners to laser-focus on one essential concept. If you haven’t yet, be sure to look into microlearning when designing training courses for your team.

Example course

Imagine you’re looking to educate your nonprofit staff on internet security principles. While an essential topic, internet security can be less than engaging. By using a gamified microlearning course, you can provide an interesting and educational experience.

If you chose to provide employees with a variety of definitions and warnings, the information would be dull and difficult to retain. With a microlearning game (such as this one), internet security principles are taught as the employees practice.

Use gamification to ensure your professional development courses are engaging.

3. Use gamification for an engaging experience.

When you assign e-learning courses, whether training for new skills or reviewing established ones, there’s always a chance that your team will be apprehensive. It can come across as additional work piled on top of an already full schedule, especially in the midst of an already-stressful move to a work-from-home employment model.

That’s why it’s so important to make things fun whenever you can! Gamification takes elements from gameplay and brings them into the educational sphere, thus allowing participants to learn in a way that excites them.

Common gamification strategies include assigning teams, scoring points, and allowing for “winning” and “losing.”

Gamification ensures your learners are intrigued for the entirety of the professional development experience.

Why it works

Everyone likes playing games! And when the games count as working and learning, it’s even better. Here are a few reasons why gamification is so effective in e-learning environments:

  • Gamification leverages the desire to succeed. An important element of human nature is the desire to succeed. Introducing gamification allows users to explore various opportunities, allowing for risk-free “failure,” while driving toward success. 
  • Gamification introduces an emotional and urgent situation. Urgency boosts the stakes in any situation, including in a virtual e-learning course. By allowing users to become emotionally invested in the gameplay, you can boost motivation and allow learning through “real-life” situations.
  • Gamification takes advantage of friendly competition. Whether a user is striving to beat a friend or coworker’s score or simply trying to increase their own personal record, the power of competition is real! By allowing participants to continue improving their results, you can increase learning as well.

As you prepare to create e-learning courses for your organization, keep these key elements in mind. After all, the desire to win can be one of the most motivating factors out there!

Example course

For a topic that’s going to be a lot more comprehensive, it can help to break up the workshop with games. Take Snowball’s extensive guide to nonprofit payment processing, for example. This is a hefty resource full of valuable content, but you don’t want to overwhelm the user with too much information at once.

By interspersing various gamification elements, such as trivia or matching games, you can create a more enjoyable learning experience for the user and boost their memory at the same time. This way, you can easily create an overall more effective course.


If your nonprofit isn’t seeing positive benefits from your current staff and volunteer training, it may be time to pivot your strategy.

E-learning is a great way to provide engaging, accessible, and customizable educational experiences to learners. Further, while it does require an upfront investment, the benefits far outweigh any costs.

Consider incorporating any of the above ideas into your offerings as you make the transition to e-learning. Whether mobile responsiveness, microlearning, or gamification, you’re sure to create an engaging experience for learners.

About the Author:

This is the headshot of this post's guest author.John Killoran is an inventor, entrepreneur, and the Chairman of Clover Leaf Solutions, a national lab services company. He currently leads Clover Leaf’s investment in Snowball Fundraising, an online fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations. 

Snowball was one of John’s first public innovations; it’s a fundraising platform that offers text-to-give, online giving, events, and peer-to-peer fundraising tools for nonprofits. By making giving simple, Snowball increases the donations that these organizations can raise online. The Snowball effect is real! John founded Snowball in 2011. Now, it serves over 7,000 nonprofits and is the #1 nonprofit fundraising platform.