Learning to teach: how to create an educational course for the third sector to have maximum impact
By Anna Nishnianidze, Head of Communications, Zagoriy Foundation
Zagoriy Foundation has successfully implemented a pilot educational course to deepen knowledge of fundraising within the Charity Match1 capacity building programme for non-profits. Anna Nishnianidze, one of the course lecturers and Head of Communications at Zagoriy Foundation, shares her thoughts on why the sector needs such courses and how to correctly estimate the resources and energy need when creating any communication project to make it last.
Retrospectively, the history of Charity Match began long before we even thought of creating a course. When implementing our grant programme, we saw that the non-profit sector often lacks the knowledge and competencies to properly fill out a grant application, create a project plan, develop its communication campaign, build long-term partnerships and communicate effectively with donors. We constantly receive requests to explain the grant process, give comments to grantees, and analyse applications. We knew there was demand for such a course long before its launch.
What principles helped us create the course and what conclusions did we reach during its implementation? In this article, I have collected the things my colleagues and I foresaw and the unexpected discoveries.
1. "Do it well or don’t do it at all"
This is an unofficial motto of Zagoriy Foundation’s team, which helped us get a quality product even at a pilot stage.
We were guided by this principle when creating the course, and here is what we got as a result:
- Charity Match is a convenient platform for online learning that displays the training blocks of the course, contains handouts, tests participants, and provides feedback from mentors on each homework assignment;
- We made sure that the shooting and editing of the course videos was of excellent quality;
- All handouts are made in a unified style. Our designer counted the exact number of A4 pages she designed: 263 pages! We could’ve made a book with this!
- We organised chats and weekly live broadcasts with guest experts.
2. Objectively assess the human capacity so that the demand for the product does not exceed the capabilities of the team
Charity Match 2021 was a pilot project, so we wanted to see if there was a demand for such a learning programme. After receiving applications from 133 organisations, we were pleasantly surprised. This showed immense trust in our product, even if no one knew what it was.
We planned to select 40 organisations – after all, the project was conceived as a pilot and our human capacity was limited. However, when we started evaluating the applications and the motivations of future participants, we wanted to support almost everyone. Thus, we admitted 60 organisations to the programme.
We had 100 participants, 60 organisations, and 9 mentors. We knew it would be difficult to give feedback to everyone but learning without doing homework and receiving feedback did not make any sense to us. Hence, we faced the challenge and immersed ourselves in hundreds of emails with homework. Each mentor spent two to ten hours giving feedback on the homework for each block. Even if some members of the team had to work on weekends, we see that these efforts paid off.
3. Timing is everything
At the beginning of the course, we gave the participants a week to complete the first learning block, including the tasks. When we set such terms, we relied on our own sense of the complexity of the content. However, after the first week, we received many messages from participants who did not have enough time, so the extension of deadlines seemed the only solution. We decided that the quality of knowledge is a priority for us, therefore, we agreed to make concessions. Thus, the course lasted two and a half months, instead of one.
4. Not all assumptions work in reality
Networking was one of the components of the course. We had set up group chats for this purpose, and the team of mentors tried to initiate networking, discussions, and exchange of views. However, it did not happen, and it took us a while to accept that fact.
Why did this happen? I can only assume that the representatives of non-profit organisations are not used to cooperating with each other. Unfortunately, relationships with colleagues in the field are still often perceived as competition.
5. Sometimes the real result is even greater than expected
The course programme consists of five blocks with homework after each of them and a thesis presentation at the end. A new block opens only after 75% of the previous block has already been processed. Only those who sent at least three of the five assignments were allowed to present their thesis and obtain the course certificate.
We expected to get less and less homework with each block and estimated that 20-30% of all participants would receive course completion certificates. After all, the course is free, and the practice of online education shows that free products are rarely taken seriously.
The Charity Match course has become a pleasant exception: 50% of our participants have obtained certificates.
We expected technical inconveniences and complaints due to the online format, but it was the other way around. In their feedback, the participants noted that they found the process very convenient, and thanks to the attention from the mentors, we achieved an atmosphere of involvement and learning despite the online format.
Looking at the results, I can say that the pilot programme was beneficial for both participants and mentors. In the process of creating a new project, you always face something that you have not done before, and you learn to do it well. It is by going beyond what we know that we can achieve growth and development.
Taking into account our previous experience in grantmaking and the active interest of participants in the course, we decided to extend the programme for at least one more season. The educational course has become an organic tool for achieving the mission of Zagoriy Foundation – to develop a culture of giving. After all, the professional work of non-profit organisations is what will help us get there. Already, there are significantly more people who want to gain knowledge on how to improve the efficiency of their organisations than we were able to cover during one course. This further underscores the sector's deep need for knowledge dissemination, and we look forward to continuing to share our experience with our colleagues abroad.
1. Charity Match is a three-component program. The first one is an educational course where participants deepen their knowledge of fundraising. Components two and three focus on the implementation of a fundraising plan, but are not compulsory – the participants can finish educational course and get the certificate.
Head of Communications Department at the Foundation and Ukrainian Day of Good Deeds #GivingTuesday. She has experience in managing creative projects and launching large-scale information campaigns.