Creating Online Courses to Increase Membership Retention with Gordon Sheppard

In this episode of the Strategic Nonprofit podcast, Trista McIver sits down with Gordon Sheppard to discuss how nonprofits can use online courses to replace in-person training, increase membership and use it as a tool to add value to sponsors.

Dive into Expert Training Solutions‘ 5 step process on how to get started creating your own online course for your nonprofit including what to consider before you start implementing and managing the program creation process.

5 Step Process to Creating an Online Course

Having a guideline of steps for organizations to follow, gives them the motivation to begin and keep going as they progress in the development of their course. This is precisely why Gordon has created the 5-Step Development plan for you to follow, complete with a 25-page checklist to ensure you’ve covered everything. 

1. Plan

The beginning stage is, of course, your roadmap for the project ahead. You’re going to be referring to this constantly, so you need to ensure you’ve comprehensively researched and planned each step accordingly. 

“Ultimately, they’re going to spend a lot of time at the planning step until they’re almost bored of planning. It has to be that exhaustive because if you don’t, when you get down the road, you’ll have missed something.”

Gordon Sheppard

Identify Goals

You need to ask yourself, “Why do you need an online learning solution?” and “How can online learning fit into the larger goals of your business or organization?” and “Does this drive your key goals?” Because, for most associations, their key goals is to be the authoritative voice of their industry.

Identify Your Audience

Who do you want to train? Your organization’s volunteers? Do you need a more optimal way to onboard new board members? Maybe you need to enhance your employees’ learning?

Write an article that describes the course in about 1500 words. Why does the student want to take it? What is the transformation that the student’s going to go through by the time they get through the end of this course?

Gordon Sheppard

Naming your course

A clear and concise name is essential for the marketing of your course and attracting your target demographic.

Set A Budget

How much money do you need in total?

Gordon Sheppard

To complete your online learning system, you need to account for every cost – so having a budget will keep you on track. Not only that, but you also need to factor in any costs from activities such as promotions, technology costs or third party vendors. 

2. Promote

This stage focuses on the ‘Proof of Concept’ process that will help you validate your goals by creating a course model. You’ll then present it to real students who will provide you with feedback about whether or not your course idea is even needed. 

Course Research

Starting this process requires in-depth industry, competitors, and market research to learn what the need is for Online Learning in your sector. At this stage, you’ll consider and share your ideas with other members to determine why this course is viable. 

Choose Test Audience

You’ll need an audience to test your course concept with so ideally you’ll need a small group of potential clients, internal team members, or volunteers who can give impartial feedback.

Now you find six members that you want to sell it to. Please do not get your mom and whatever, all these people are going to say nice things about it. You want to get people who are going to challenge it.

Gordon Sheppard

Blog Posts

It’s time to choose a test topic and write a sample blog post that represents the content you want to share; comparable to a taster for your potential audience.

Create a Video Lesson

Your concept has to be tested on all mediums relevant to the learning experience your audience will receive so, you’ll apply similar content to the blog post via video. Essentially creating a short 10-minute video lesson. 

3. Promote

Once you’ve validated the course concept, it’s time to begin your promotion plan. At this stage, you’ll want to explore paid digital marketing for the online course you just created.

Content Plan

You’ll also want to create a content marketing plan along with any images or videos needed to help market your online course. 

Lead Magnet

Next you need to create a ‘lead magnet’. Something of value you can offer your audience to capture their information so you can market to them further.

Social Media

Start using social media to promote your course via Social Media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

4. Produce

Course Content

At this stage you’ll start creating a complete content plan for your online courses while ensuring all lessons are organized and optimized for your customer’s success. 

Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to write the course.

Gordon Sheppard


At this stage you start analysing different technology options available to you. Here are AMC we use WordPress and LearnDash to create our online courses, but Teachable and Kajabi are good options too.

If you need help navigating technology options Expert Training Solutions can help by providing a consultancy on options regarding tools, software or programs that could be vital to the production of your course. 


At this stage you start scripting, filming, editing and creating the supplemental learning material like handouts.

5. Performance


Once your online course has been created it’s essential to get feedback on the product and how to improve it.

Measure Data

At this stage you’ll want to measure the data and performance of your online course including sign up metrics, course drop out statistics, customer dollar values, and more. 

Reproduce & Replicate

Once you’ve reached your end goal, you can now duplicate this model and continue to grow your content.

Ultimately, these courses can be really used for new member signups; because members are questioning all the time, “What is the value of my membership?” It gets them some good education that gets them excited.

Gordon Sheppard

Creating online courses for your nonprofit whether it’s to benefit your members or to sell a solution is a huge undertaking. It takes, time, resources and planning. Lots of planning.

More About Expert Training Solutions

Gordon Sheppard is the president of Expert Training Solutions, where he helps association leaders to produce and promote online training for their staff members and volunteers. Gordon boasts more than 25 years of experience as a Consultant Trainer, Facilitator and Marketing and Communications advisor. Alongside a master’s degree in business administration, a drama degree, and Prosci change management certification.

There’s a graveyard of online courses [out there]. They got built but they never got used.

Gordon Sheppard, Present of Expert Training Solutions

Gordon’s mission is to utilize his combined experience to help Non-Profit Organizations setting up online courses; plan, produce and execute their E-Learning programs to ensure they remain relevant, successful, and used.

Usually, there isn’t someone in this situation often to pull it all together. And that’s where I find myself with all this combined experience.

Gordon Sheppard

Next Steps

Also read:

Discover The Best Online Training Courses for Nonprofits

Online nonprofit courses are invaluable for any nonprofit professional ready to expand their skills. Move your mission forward with NPO Academy’s online training courses for nonprofits.

Get the training your organization needs, anytime, anywhere with innovative micro e-learning platform NPO Academy. 

The Complementary Model of Board Governance
Start implementing better governance at your nonprofit that allows your board and CEO to work together as a team.

Running Productive Meetings
Learn the proper structure, roles and requirements for running effective nonprofit board meetings. 

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