5 Fundamentals You Need To Know When Developing Nonprofit Curriculum

November 3, 2023

Higher Education

A women can be seen developing nonprofit curriculum


Developing a curriculum for a nonprofit organization requires careful planning and consideration. Whether you’re running a charity, an educational program, or a community initiative, a well-designed curriculum can make a significant impact on your organization’s success. Before you dive into the nuances of curriculum development, you must first understand the following fundamentals. 


Create for your target audience when developing nonprofit curriculum

Any project you begin will fall short of its goals if you don’t know the ins and outs of the end user. What are your target audience’s aspirations? Who are they? How will they benefit from taking your course? These are the individuals or groups you aim to educate, empower, or serve through your nonprofit curriculum. Here are some key points to consider:
Demographics and Background
Begin by gathering information about the demographics of your audience. Are you creating a curriculum for children, adults, seniors, or a mix? What is their educational background, socio-economic status, and cultural diversity? This knowledge will help tailor your curriculum to their specific needs.
Learning Preferences
Assess how your audience prefers to learn. Some may thrive with hands-on activities, while others might prefer reading materials or attending lectures. Even when you create digital resources, you can leverage tools like H5P to create interactivity within your curriculum. When we partnered with the Wabash Heartland Innovation Network (WHIN) to develop a free, digital agriculture resource for K-12 students, we created a tabletop dice game to engage students. Understanding these preferences elevates your curriculum. 

Needs and Challenges


Identify the unique needs and challenges your audience faces. For instance, if you’re running a nonprofit for underprivileged youth, their needs differ from those of an adult literacy program. Your curriculum should address these specific concerns. One way to better understand the needs and challenges of your target audience is to conduct surveys. Before developing any resources, look at your end user from all angles. Ask them. They know their needs best. Would they rather have a digital resource? Maybe only if they have access to stable devices and WiFi connectivity. For others, a hard copy resource may be cumbersome.


Setting Clear Learning Objectives


Once you’ve gathered insights into your audience, it’s time to set clear learning objectives. These objectives outline what participants should be able to achieve after completing your curriculum. Here’s how to go about it:




Ensure your learning objectives are specific and measurable. Avoid vague goals; instead, make them precise. For example, “Participants will be able to read and understand financial statements” is more effective than “Participants will learn about finances.”


Alignment with Mission


Your objectives should align with your nonprofit organization’s mission. If your mission is to reduce illiteracy, your learning objectives should reflect that goal, such as “Participants will achieve a 10% improvement in reading comprehension.” Proper planning ensures that your curriculum stays on course. One method of in-depth planning is to create SMART goals. This resource, developed by the University of California, can help guide your plan.


[ DOWNLOAD: “How to Write Smart Goals”




Ensure your objectives are relevant to the needs of your audience. This focus helps keep your curriculum focused and valuable. Throughout your curriculum development, you must revisit the information you’ve collected about your target audience. At any point you have wandered from their needs, rethink. Consider their needs. Always.

A women can be seen developing nonprofit curriculum

Curriculum Design and Content Development

Creating the curriculum itself is where the rubber meets the road. It’s vital to design a curriculum that is well-structured, engaging, and aligned with your learning objectives. Let’s get started:




Arrange your curriculum in a logical sequence that builds on previously acquired knowledge, which makes it easier for participants to grasp new concepts and skills. Creating a seamless curriculum is vital. Users learn more when each step lends itself to the next.


Engaging Content


Craft content that is both informative and engaging. Incorporate visuals, real-world examples, and interactive activities to make the learning experience more enjoyable. For example, if you’re using lecture slides, are they engaging? If not, we have some tips for you. If you host live Zoom meetings, are they well thought out? There are several ways to create modern learning experiences: embed a podcast within your content, add a YouTube video to break up text, or link to a relevant article to break up the monotony of reading text.




A good curriculum is adaptable. It should be flexible enough to accommodate different learning styles and paces. This inclusivity ensures that all participants benefit from the program.


Engaging Teaching and Learning Methods


Creating a well-designed curriculum is only part of the equation. The methods used to deliver the Content are equally important. Here’s how to ensure your teaching and learning methods are engaging:


Active Learning


Encourage active participation and critical thinking among your learners. Group discussions, case studies, and problem-solving exercises promote engagement. One way to engage your participants is a collaborative structure called “Think, Pair, Share.” Often found in K-12 settings, this strategy applies to those developing nonprofit curricula. This technique is carried out as you might think: Give participants time to think about a given question, have them partner with another user, and then discuss their findings. What about an online setting? This strategy works in digital modalities as well. You can set up a discussion board, filter users into smaller groups, allow the group to synthesize their findings, and finally, have each group share their findings in a larger forum. 

Participatory Education


Engage your participants in the decision-making process regarding the curriculum. Allow them to provide feedback and input on what works best for them. In each curriculum you develop, you learn what your target audience needs. Provide plenty of avenues for them to connect with your team. Emailing simple feedback is excellent. Surveys work, too. 




Consider the accessibility and inclusivity of your teaching methods. Ensure that individuals with disabilities or different learning abilities can also participate effectively. When creating online resources, following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is a must. A new version of the guidelines was released on October 5, 2023. 


Assessment and Improvement Strategies


Developing a curriculum is not a one-time effort. It’s an ongoing process that requires regular assessment and improvement. Here’s how to ensure your curriculum remains effective:
Continuous Evaluation
Implement a system for evaluating your curriculum’s effectiveness. Collect feedback from participants, instructors, and other stakeholders to identify areas for improvement.
Data-Driven Decisions
Use data and performance metrics to make informed decisions about necessary adjustments. Data can highlight areas of strength and areas that need enhancement. Find a platform that allows you to monitor how students are engaging with each chapter or module. One important metric is the average time students spend in each chapter of your curriculum. This indicator is vital to understanding where more considerable changes should be made. 
Iterative Approach
Be ready to iterate your curriculum based on feedback and data analysis. This demonstrates a commitment to continuous improvement. Each time a cohort completes the curriculum, you’ll gain valuable insight to make changes to better match the learning outcomes. 
Developing a nonprofit curriculum is a multifaceted process that demands a holistic understanding of your audience, clear learning objectives, well-designed Content, engaging teaching methods, and a commitment to assessment and improvement. By considering these five fundamentals, you can create a curriculum that not only aligns with your organization’s mission but also empowers your learners to make a positive impact. Your dedication to creating an impactful curriculum will contribute to the overall success of your nonprofit organization and the communities you serve.


A women can be seen developing nonprofit curriculum
Nonprofit Curriculum


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