Free Online Courses Can be a Great Help to Nonprofit Leaders

Web-based training provides a simple, convenient way for organizations to train their people. What’s more, many such courses are free.

Free online training can be a huge help to nonprofit leaders.Online courses can be quite robust, and quite a few specifically target nonprofit users. This gives nonprofit leaders a golden opportunity to stretch their training budgets — especially in light of studies showing that nonprofits often neglect professional development to save money. For nonprofits and social enterprises that are just starting out, such offerings are a godsend.

These are some of the best and most popular free online education programs nonprofits can tap into:

This online learning initiative is offered by the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation, a nonprofit that provides electronic learning and social media tools to other nonprofits. has an advisory group of leaders from the nonprofit community, and its curriculum covers subjects identified as most in-demand by the sector. Those include courses in development, leadership, accounting and finance, operations, marketing and communications, volunteer engagement and program management. Visit the site.

Google Partners

The online search giant offers a host of resources for connectivity, community building and e-learning. Signing up for Google Partners gives you access to a wealth of courses, particularly in marketing.

For starters, you can become a certified user of two must-use Google tools for the marketing and advertising communities: Google Adwords and Google Analytics. Signing up gives you access to free study materials and free exams. Visit the site.

Nonprofit Micro-eMBA

This handy e-course was developed by Carter McNamara, a nonprofit management consultant. It is a free, self-paced program for what McNamara calls the “nonprofit entrepreneur,” people in the process of launching a nonprofit.

Accordingly, it covers how to start a nonprofit, the chief executive’s role, management and leadership training, forming a board of directors, strategic planning for nonprofits, marketing, taxes and finance, fundraising, employee/volunteer supervision and ethics for nonprofits.  In its individual, self-taught mode, the program is free. The eMBA can also be offered through organizations and in groups and classrooms, for a fee. Visit the site.


This online learning provider offers a variety of free and low-cost training modules. Among the free courses are several covering search-engine optimization (SEO) for the web. For both experienced marketing pros and novices, these classes cover content writing, metadata, keyword research, social media and other key topics.

Other free courses include Java for beginners, a 60-minute accounting tutorial, financial modeling, investments and Microsoft Office tools. Udemy offers plenty of other paid courses, and the tuition is quite low. That factor makes it a great resource for budget-conscious organizations. Visit the site.

Firespring, the first “B corporation” certified by the state of Nebraska, was founded by nonprofit guru Jay Wilkinson, who also delivers all of the site’s free e-seminars. They promise to quickly provide information to help you build a better nonprofit.

Firespring works exclusively with the nonprofit community, and all of its courses are geared toward nonprofit users. Topics include website development, creating a blog, online tools for engagement, fundraising and countering donor attrition. Visit the site.

Philanthropy University

This organization boasts lofty credentials thanks to affiliations with the University of California’s Haas School of Business and NovoEd, a pioneering online education company. Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva, teaches a course on social entrepreneurship.

Other subjects include modules on fundraising, scaling nonprofit impact, organizational building and strategy, financial modeling and leadership. All courses can be taken at the student’s own pace, and upon completion you’ll get a certificate of accomplishment from UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Finish all seven and you’ll receive a Certificate of Completion in Social Sector Leadership. Visit the site.


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