Would You Swap Jobs for Your Professional Development?

What if you could switch jobs with, or shadow, someone at an organization that does similar work to yours? That’s exactly what one association professional is doing to advance both her career and her organization.

Like field trips, exchange programs provide valuable opportunities to learn new things, explore new places, and meet new people. And, also like field trips, exchange programs do not have to be relegated to your school days.

Taylor Strange, director of special programs at the Center for Nonprofit Advancement in Washington, DC, has plans to incorporate a job-exchange program into her professional development later this year.

It all started when Strange kept coming up short in her search for traditional development opportunities geared toward senior-level staff.

“You see so much available for executive directors and the man or woman at the top,” Strange said. “But it gets harder and harder for those at the senior level to find something that’s a little bit different out there. I can’t tell you how many classes, conferences, and seminars that I’ve been to, but they’re more on the basic level, and I need something a little bit higher.”

Strange was inspired by staff at a local theater company who were having trouble finding appropriate professional development opportunities within the arts industry. “They started sending a senior staff person to another arts organization throughout the country to shadow them, and I thought ‘How interesting,’” Strange said. “I wanted to take the idea and replicate it and tweak it a little so it’s a little more appropriate for my profession at a nonprofit association.”

Then she met the director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (MCN) at a conference in Las Vegas earlier this year, and things started to line up even more. “When I told them about the idea, he loved it,” Strange said.

The two later organized a call with others in their organizations and arranged for Strange to fly out to Minnesota in November to shadow the person in her equivalent role at MCN and get a feel for how the organization operates. In addition to spending time with her counterpart, for example, she’ll get to meet with staff individually and attend a board meeting. Then, the person she follows will travel to DC and do the same thing at the Center for Nonprofit Advancement.

“I really am looking forward to seeing how they do their day-to-day work,” Strange said. “We discussed having me go out there during event time and we agreed that that’s not what the point of this is. It’s more to be there during the downtime to talk about the day-to-day work and all the functions that they have in place to handle everything that they do and really dig deep into them.”

She added that the success of the exchange, as well as what makes it unique, lies in the mutual benefit each organization receives, which requires finding and making a good swap.

“I think that the most important thing in trying to accomplish this is finding the best match, and that takes time,” Strange said. “The only way this is going to be successful is if both parties get the same amount out of it.”

Strange hopes other associations and nonprofits can incorporate similar job exchanges within their organizations, including the possibility of going international—something the CFA Institute already practices.

Have you ever participated in a job exchange to further your professional development? Let us know how it went in the comments.

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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