How to upskill without going on a training course


Charities are constantly having to adapt to change. Whether that’s due to funding cuts, restructures, the pace of technological change, a rocky political and economic climate, or all of the above.

Deloitte’s Human Capital 2017 report shows that successful organisations are those that can pivot quickly, learn rapidly and help their people adapt to new ways of working.

These are the principles which underpin ‘agile’ – an approach which can positively impact charities. Agile principles can also be applied to the way we work.

Agile working principles

Agile working involves empowering staff to work flexibly and remotely, with the aim of helping them to be more motivated, productive and efficient. As the saying goes, ‘work is an activity, not a place.’

This is especially relevant for charities. Getting bang for your buck from tight budgets and helping your team maximise their performance is vital in any organisation where your main asset is your people.

Using agile principles can help you thrive in a volatile climate. So why don’t more people apply agile principles to the way they learn?

How charities can apply agile principles to learning

1. Know where you learn best

The average charity office is full of distractions, like anywhere, whether it’s those unanswered emails or colleagues asking you questions.

With the advent of smartphones, you might find that the best time to learn is on your commute. Learning isn’t always about taking a day out of your diary to go on a course. 15 minutes of reading useful articles on your way home can help you get up to speed with new developments.  

Our top tip: use an app like Evernote or notes on your phone to collate links to useful articles and videos to catch up with on your commute.

2. Focus on quality, not quantity

In the same way that a short, high intensity workout can be as effective as a longer exercise session, go for the burn with learning and development.

It’s all about identifying the problem you’re trying to solve and then finding quick-fire learning resources which deliver results. Added bonus: it’ll be quicker to build this into your day too.

Our top tip: identify the problem you are trying to solve and then find good learning resources that will help you upskill quickly. For example, need to stay abreast of fundraising regulation? Charity Digital News have plenty of good articles.  

3. Learn from and with your peers

Think about all the amazing insights your charity colleagues could share. Why not ask to shadow a colleague for the morning who you’d really like to learn from?

Similarly, if your team are to be the best they can be, they need to take every opportunity for peer learning.

An approach I’ve seen work really well is to build it into meetings. Rather than going around the table every Monday morning at your charity to share information, make meetings short and regular (one of the hallmarks of agile is daily stand-up meetings). Keep the meeting focused on quick updates, what we have learned, and what we could do even better.

Our top tip: Book in a one-to-one coaching session with an inspiring colleague. Change the emphasis of meetings to focusing on rapid updates, next steps and what everyone can learn from developments. Look at how agile can help you make meetings more productive  

4. Get managers on board

If you want your team to learn and improve continuously it has to be led from the top.

Ideally your CEO and leadership team need to model this behaviour. The best way to get them on board – especially in a charity where budgets are tight – is the business case.

By encouraging staff to own their learning and development and take responsibility for driving it forward, they’ll have a more engaged team who actively want to get better at what they do.

Our top tip: work closely with your leadership team on how managers can support and encourage staff to learn everyday. Managers should make this a focus of meetings with team members. It can be as simple as having a standing item like, ‘How can your manager help you learn? What did you learn this week and what will you do differently as a result?’

5. Get people in your charity excited about learning in a different way

Testing, learning and improving their knowledge every day is the modus operandi of most tech companies. You could ask someone from such an organisation to come in and talk to your charity about their approach.

Our top tip: put a call out on Twitter or LinkedIn to find a tech company which uses agile and ask them to come in and talk to your charity about the way they learn.  

The future

The world charities work in is changing fast. An agile approach will help us keep our skills sharp to tackle the many challenges that the future will throw at us.

I’d love to see a point when charity workers feel empowered to take the time to learn something new every day in an easy, accessible way.


Martin Baker is CEO of Clear Lessons Foundation, a free video learning platform for charities which offers more than 1,200 bite-size educational, learning and development opportunities for the 13 million staff and volunteers currently working in the sector.

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Martin Baker is CEO of Clear Lessons Foundation, a free video learning platform for charities which offers more than 1,200 bite-size educational, learning and development opportunities for the 13 million staff and volunteers currently working in the sector.