Building a Core Professional Development Plan: Investing in Annual Memberships

The post "Creating a Professional Development Fund (& Why You Need One)" talked about the importance of setting aside a portion of your income each year to pay for professional development activities. Maybe one year you'll want to increase your professional library and purchase several reference books, while another year you may want to attend some in-person training courses or conferences. However, another option for professional development is to purchase an annual subscription to a service you can use all year long.

While you may not want to tie up your entire professional development budget on annual fees, there are a couple of good reasons to consider adding at least one or two annual subscriptions into the mix:

  • Ongoing access: Conferences can be informative, inspirational, and great networking opportunities but they are over in a couple of days. Additionally, there is good chance you won't look at the handouts you received during the conference ever again (despite lugging the conference binder home, convinced that you will!). All of this can add up to a conference having limited effect on your day-to-day work. However, if you subscribe to an ongoing service--which could be something as simple as an annual membership to The Chicago Manual of Style Online ($35/year) or an annual membership to a professional association such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals (annual dues range from $50-$250)--you'll have the benefit of being able to access information and an online network of colleagues for a full year.
  • Commitment to Development: If you invest in an annual subscription, you will have at least one resource you can tap into to develop your skills and increase your knowledge base. It doesn't have to be expensive, and it may not be a resource that you use every day, but by investing in an annual service or membership you're giving yourself an option for skills development.  Moreover, because usually annual memberships are paid in a lump sum, you'll probably try to get your money's worth and look for opportunities to use the service in the coming year.

If you can only afford to make one annual investment in your professional development this year, one of the best services out there is ($25-$35/month). offers a range of online courses, from how to use specific software programs to improving your time management and public speaking skills. They even offer courses on grant writing and nonprofit management.  No matter what your skill level or your job responsibilities, you are guaranteed to find courses, relevant and of interest, on  Another advantage of's video database is that you can use it as an online reference guide. Each course is broken up into short segments so you can quickly locate the one tip or piece of instruction you need for the task at hand.