Give a lunch for professional development

Image of a man drawing for Ideas for Nonprofit and Fundraising Professional DevelopmentI run into so many nonprofit leaders who don't "have time" for professional development. "I have so much to do I don't have any time for myself."

One of the interesting things about self-talk: what we say over and over, especially with emotion, can hypnotize us. It may not change the world around us, but what we believe can definitely impact how we perceive reality.

We all have 24 hours in a day. And we all need to do what Stephen Covey calls "Sharpen the saw." If our cars and tools need preventative maintenance and tune-ups, how much more do we?

Invest one lunch per week in professional development

What if you gave up one lunch hour a week for learning to be better at your job? If you work 50 weeks, that's over one full 40-hour work week solely focused on reading and learning to be your best!

I already can hear you saying, "Lunch hour? Hold on Marc. I don't know what you mean by 'lunch hour.' I need to go google that." No worries. Even if you did a 30 minutes at one point in the week, it will make you a better employee and more valuable for your for your nonprofit.

How to use that lunch time

When I was employed by a nonprofit hospital, I made it a habit of investing one lunch a week in professional development. Here are some things I did over those years:

  • Read good books

    I love reading books. So I'd go to a place where I could read for a focused time:

    • my desk when I had a door
    • a coffee shop (as an extrovert, it's easier me to focus with noise and people around)
    • even my car (seriously)

    If you're not sure what to read, I try to list some leadership books over at this Amazon store. (Of course you can also check some books I've written at

  • Took people I respected out to lunch

    Ever since college, I've had a practice of inviting leaders I respect out to lunch. I'd let them know what I really liked and asked if I could take them out to lunch to learn how they got so good at it.

    Hint: If you offer to take someone out for lunch or coffee, pay for the coffee or lunch! It's incredibly disrespectful to invite someone out and then not pay. And it reflects poorly on you. I shouldn't have to mention that. But if I had a dollar for every time someone's asked out for coffee or lunch to "pick my brain" and left me with the check, I'd be able to make much larger gifts to charity. Just saying.

  • Started my own podcast

    At one point, I was having a hard time keeping this weekly commitment. So I decided to do a bi-weekly "radio show" to make sure I hit at least every other week.

    So I set up a show on BlogTalk Radio. I identified 100 people in the nonprofit field that I wanted to learn more from, and invited them to join my on my radio show. I made sure they knew my attended audience was a nonprofit fundraising professional, probably listening to this at her desk. I told them that the show was something I did for free but I might collect the recordings and sell them at some point. I also told them that they'd be able to download the entire mp3 after the show and were free to post it to their website or use it in anyway they wanted.

    So for a period, I was talking with some of the best and brightest in the field. Katya Andresen, Jeff Brooks, Don Philabaum, Jay Love. And I was approached by cool groups including some of the Osmond family for a tool they were creating. You can see them all at:

    My basic structure was the same:

    • "How did you get into helping nonprofits?"
    • "Tell me about _____" (whatever they were known for)
    • and "Any final thing that you would say to the one-person development professional listening to this interview?"

    I'd also ask my network on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn (and would on Google+ if that had existed at that point): "If you could ask [insert guest name] ONE question, what would you ask?" This added some flavor into the interview too.

    Hint: You are a better interviewer when you don't know as much as your guest. This is your opportunity to make your guest look good. So it's good to know what books they've written and where they work. But you help your audience learn from them when you are not the expert; when you ask your guest to explain what they mean. This saves you a ton of time! It's good to know their books, but it's ok to not have them memorized.

  • Talked to my coach

    I'm a firm believer in executive coaching. I've had a coach since the 1990's. One of the best uses of a lunch was talking to my coach. She was outside of my chain of command--she couldn't fire me or ding my performance report--so I found it easier to brainstorm and explore program changes.

    If you don't have a coach, there are lots out there. You can check out lists at International Coach Federation and the International Association of Coaching. I offer one call coaching or longer term offers versions: (I'll ask my colleagues to post links to their coaching pages in the comments too.)

Other things you could do

That's a list of things I did. Other ways to invest a lunch a week could be:

  • reading blogs,
  • taking a webinar from,
  • watch Movie Mondays either by signing up for the free email or buying a DVD or Movie Mondays Pro subscription,
  • start a "support group" or "networking group" with other colleagues in your area.

The ideas are endless. But they are worthless unless you act on them. So choose one and do it.

What would you choose? And what would you add?

Remember to look in the comments for links to other nonprofit coaches.

About Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the CEO of The Concord Leadership Group, the author of Ask Without Fear! and director of The Nonprofit Academy. A coach to leaders around the world, Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.
To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to


  1. : - ) I am eating my lunch as I read this. I started using my lunch hour to read blogs about fundraising, communications, and regional news about 2 years ago. It's a great way to keep on top of things and gives me a mental break.

  2. Thank you Marc! It's really easy for us to get focused on the tasks at hand and forget to look up and absorb new knowledge and ideas. This is great advice -- an easy way to wrap your head around professional development and budget your time without feeling like you you should be doing something else.

  3. Love this article, Marc! I'm always sharing professional development opportunities with my coworkers when they come across my desk. Our staff is growing, and I eventually want to do a weekly or monthly Brown Bag Lunch n' Learn series for anyone who is interested. Thanks for posting this--great tips!

  4. I've now started asking my colleagues who coach nonprofit professionals to post their contact information here. There are a lot of amazing individuals doing this!

    • I coach EDs and development officers. They usually take a lunch time or coffee break (60 minutes) and meet me in the library of the Arizona Inn or over the phone to talk about their current concerns. I have seen amazing progress in the areas of organizational structure, major gifts, board governance, strategic planning and just plain happiness - from doing a great job!

  5. So I'm going to be the lone ranger on this one, I guess. I disagree with using lunchtime for professional development. Especially Brown Bag lunch n' learns that are so popular. Schedule professional development into your time during other hours. Lunch time is that. Lunch. An opportunity to get out and oxygenate your blood cells. Use this time to enjoy the food that has been provided for you to nourish your body and nourish your soul. Create a positive energy around your food. The energy we have around our food is absorbed by our food; you take that energy in, strengthening you, if it is positive. Reading is fine, but not reading for work. Writing is fine, but not for work. Perk up someone's day. Ask a co-worker to take a stroll with you. We've lost the connection to slow down and regroup. We've lost for what "lunch break" was intended. I say this as someone who can put in 20 hrs a day and think nothing of it. I meet people during the lunch hour, but I call it what it is, a meeting. When the meal comes, I don't talk work. I connect on other levels. Amazing what you can accomplish when you get to know someone. It's a lifestyle choice and one that has paid off abundantly.

What would you add?