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What is the power in a network? Three ways networks support the nonprofit sector

We often talk about how Volunteer Alberta is a part of many local, provincial and national networks. But, what does this really mean for the Alberta nonprofit sector and our members? What is the power in a network and more specifically, what is the power in our network?

Recently, I sat down with our Executive Director, Karen Link, to get a greater understanding of what’s happening out in the provincial and national nonprofit landscape, and what networking opportunities we recently participated in. During our discussion, I realized how our networking opportunities (and networks in general) support, elevate and advocate on the nonprofit sector’s behalf in three key ways.

Networks help us to identify priorities, challenges and trends

On October 10th and 11th, Karen attended Ontario Nonprofit Network’s 2018 Nonprofit Driven conference to connect with like-minded people in nonprofit across Canada. The conference provided her with an opportunity to position Volunteer Alberta nationally and to broaden our awareness of what is happening in other provinces.

“By broadening our network nationally, it allows us to identify that other province’s challenges are similar to ours; that our challenges extend beyond provincial boundaries,” says Karen. “Because of these conversations, we can start to recognize relevant and current sector trends. This then allows us to prioritize accordingly and find innovative solutions, together.”

Networks help us to leverage each other’s knowledge and skill-sets

A new networking opportunity regarding volunteer screening came to us through our existing connection with Volunteer Canada’s board of directors and the Volunteer Centre Council (VCC). Last week, we sent one of our staff member’s, Daniela Seiferling, to the National Roundtable on Screening Volunteers in Ottawa.

The second of now two National Roundtables focused on looking at other provincial and national models to inform the proposed Volunteer Canada Volunteer Screening and Education Centre. Currently, Australia, Scotland and Ireland successfully administer national volunteer screening models in their countries.

“The fact that representatives from Scotland, Ireland and Australia are attending the roundtable presents us with an opportunity to learn from each other on a global scale and understand the global sector,” says Karen.

Networks help us to understand and build each other’s capacity

Back in June, we attended Alberta Culture and Tourism’s inaugural Enhanced Capacity Advancement Program (ECAP) meeting for all currently funded organizations. This meeting was an intentional effort to map out where all of the organizations are at with capacity building on three different levels: individual, organizational and system.

During this meeting, organizations identified where there’s a lot of work happening, where there are gaps, and how we could fill those gaps together.

“The Alberta Government wants to support and build greater collective capacity in the nonprofit sector. It’s a renewed effort and opportunity – to build a sense of shared ownership and explore partnership like never before,” says Karen.

Additionally, organizations identified and discussed how to link and leverage their programs and services during a second meeting this October.

“What’s yet to be determined is how will we do this? So, I asked two questions in the last meeting,” says Karen. “How do ECAP funded organizations scale up local programs and services across the province? And, what role can Volunteer Alberta play to support them in scaling up their programs and services?”

Alberta Volunteer Centre Network and final thoughts

Our opportunity to be involved in provincial and national conversations helps us to advocate on behalf of our members and the sector. Specifically, the Alberta Volunteer Centre Network (AVCN) plays a significant role in affecting and carrying out change locally and regionally.

Other networks and organizations like VCC, the Alberta Nonprofit Network and the Alberta Government recognize the value AVCN has. This is why network representation is important to Volunteer Alberta, as it is part of our same role and function.
We convene networks, connect the dots, and connect/encourage others to be part of a broader network. This is the real value of what we bring by working together; this is the power in our network.

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Member Spotlight: Stony Plain FCSS builds community resilience with local network

Strengthening and equipping communities with outreach programs can be key in connecting and creating a local network. And, when communities are connected through a local network, they know how and what type of resources they can access, as well as identify opportunities for collaboration.

Creating a ‘local network’ to end family violence

Through its various outreach programs, Stony Plain FCSS is building a local network that supports and establishes community resilience. Stony Plain FCSS’s most recent program, Cut it Out, leverages existing community relationships to create a safe haven for victims of family violence.

Stony Plain’s Cut it Out program provides education, awareness and skills to salon professionals for how to refer clients suffering from family violence to community resources, safely.

“The goal is to work collaboratively to end family and relationship violence in our community through education, awareness and support,” says Dianne Dube, Volunteer Development Coordinator.

Promoting good mental health and social well-being

Salon professionals can play a key role in ending family violence, as they are experienced listeners who see their clients regularly, and thus build trusting relationships with their clients.

By engaging volunteers to provide necessary information and education to salon professionals, Stony Plain FCSS equips salon professionals to recognize and respond to signs of abuse. This valuable and educational service leverages salon professionals’ unique relationships with clients as

“We provide many programs that promote good positive mental health and social well-being. We are enhancing inclusion and diversity by spreading the news of how we can be an all-inclusive community, how can we do better, and how to remove barriers to inclusion,” says Dianne. “And that’s what the volunteer centre strives to promote is supporting volunteerism because that’s what makes a healthy community.”

Stony Plain FCSS launched the program in early fall of this year, in partnership with other agencies and volunteers in the community. “I think the impact our organization has is that we are connecting the community,” says Dianne.

Located in Stony Plain, AB, Stony Plain FCSS supports families and individuals in all life stages through prevention-focused programs, to promote and maintain social wellness for a healthy community.

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Member Spotlight: Volunteer Airdrie breaks down barriers to volunteerism in their community

Finding solutions that suit your community may not be easy. But, when you approach solving complex issues with a mindset of abundance versus scarcity, multiple solutions tend to present themselves.

This is how Volunteer Airdrie approached redesigning their programs and services within the past few years. By looking at what opportunities were available and identifying gaps in their community, Volunteer Airdrie realized they needed to shift their focus to serving Airdrie residents.

“We really started focusing on where can we fit in and came to the conclusion that a lot of residents struggle to find the right volunteer opportunity quickly and efficiently,” says Dave Maffitt, Chair of Volunteer Airdrie’s Board of Directors. “So, we redesigned our focus to help our residents to break down barriers.”

Creating a user-friendly way to find volunteer opportunities

One way Volunteer Airdrie is helping residents break down barriers to volunteering is through the development of the Better Impact MVP Software; a free online tool that allows residents to create a profile on the website based on their age, availability, interests, qualifications and much more.

“The system allows Airdrie residents to do searches based on those criteria. For youth, somebody under 18, the system isn’t going to show them volunteer opportunities that are restricted to adults,” says Dave. “It’s growing rapidly and it’s starting to get additional members on a daily basis.”

Engaging youth in Airdrie’s nonprofit community with LEAD

In their community, Volunteer Airdrie is also breaking down barriers for youth engagement through the Leadership Empowerment and Achieving a Difference (LEAD) program. LEAD is a ten-week program that is free of charge for youth grades 7-12 with ten in-class sessions and 20 hours of community service or volunteering.

In LEAD’s in-class sessions, young people learn about topics like problem-solving, organizing and planning, teamwork, conflict management skills and personal wellbeing to help them develop youth leadership skills to use while volunteering or out in their community in other ways.

“Kids often get exposure to a number of different opportunities and causes, and start to get an appreciation for the needs in Airdrie and some of the causes that are may be more meaningful to them,” says Dave. “In the long term, it attracts them to come back and continue to volunteer with that organization after they have finished LEAD. It’s been a big, big success!”

Overcoming volunteer age restrictions for youth

Despite nonprofits’ minimum age requirement policies, Volunteer Airdrie has also been able to match young teens with group volunteer opportunities successfully at local nonprofits by providing appropriate adult supervision.

“So, that’s where we step in because we can open a lot of doors for these youth, especially the 12-14 year age group,” says Dave. “It’s really difficult for them to find meaningful volunteer opportunities since most nonprofit organizations have policies in minimum age requirements that are in that 15-16 year range.”

Volunteer Airdrie will continue their youth engagement initiative by opening a youth volunteer centre next year. They hope the centre creates a caring environment for kids that provides them with community service opportunities that are meaningful to them.

Located in Airdrie, Alberta, Volunteer Airdrie is the recognized volunteer centre for the City of Airdrie and the immediate surrounding area of Rocky View County, Alberta. Volunteer Airdrie’s mission is to empower Airdrie residents to invest in themselves and their community through volunteerism.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

Special thanks to our summer intern, Navi Bhullar, for sourcing and helping to storyboard this Member Spotlight.

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From Nonprofit AF: Tips from introverts for introverts on how to survive a conference

This month, we focused on and talked about leveraging and expanding networks on social media and in our Member Exclusive newsletter. But, building the foundation of your network is no easy task, let alone leveraging and expanding it!

And, if you are introverted or shy, it can be incredibly intimidating to attend conferences, approach experts and other nonprofits, conduct government relations (the list goes on!), as part of your overall organizational network strategy.

Nonprofit AF’s blog post for introverts

So to help our introverted and shy nonprofit staff, volunteers, board members and leaders, we thought we would share this blog from Nonprofit AF’s Vu Le: Tips from introverts for introverts on how to survive a conference!

“If you are an introvert, attending a conference can be an overwhelming experience. The 12-hours of networking. The constant discomfort of trying to figure out where to sit. The intrusive icebreakers that involve disclosing to strangers things that even your own family members don’t know about you! (“Dad…there’s something I should tell you. My favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate fudge brownie.”)

If the thought of spending time with hundreds of other people at a conference for several days makes you want to run home and re-binge-watch all four seasons of “Battlestar Galactica,” you are not alone. (But you probably wish to be! #introvertjokes!) People think I’m an extrovert because I do so much public speaking, but the reality is that as a nonprofit leader I have learned to use extroversion skills for my job, but that I need a lot of alone time to reflect and recharge. This is why I like, and need, to write all the time…and why I’m fully caught up on most popular TV shows.

So I asked the NAF Facebook community for tips on attending conferences as an introvert, and within hours received over 220 comments from fellow introverts. Apparently this is a huge topic, and there are many great resources on it, including:

– This post by Kishshana Palmer called “Getting the Most Out of Your Next Conference

– This TED talk and podcast by Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”

– This post by Trina Isakson called “The Introvert’s Guide to Network Building

– This post by Robbie Samuels called “’Can I go home now?’ Networking Tips for Introverts.””

 

There are a lot of great tips from his community in his post, but there were too many for us to copy onto our blog!

See the full list of 43 tips from introverts for introverts!

A special thanks to Vu Le for allowing us to share his blog content with our audiences!

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

 

 

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Preventing and addressing gaps when engaging skilled volunteers

What does Volunteer Alberta mean by skilled volunteerism?

At Volunteer Alberta, we often speak of and promote skilled volunteerism and the value skilled volunteers can bring to nonprofit organizations. But what do we mean by “highly skilled volunteers”?

Highly skilled volunteers include any volunteer that offers specific skills, knowledge, or expertise in an area where not all volunteers could help out. Highly skilled volunteer roles go above and beyond more basic tasks like photocopying, filing, sorting, delivering, registering kids, soliciting small donations, or handing out refreshments. Instead, a highly skilled volunteer might offer pro bono legal advice, create the annual financial reports, conduct client research, or design a new logo for your program.

Nonprofit organizations often engage highly skilled volunteers on their Board of Directors or to help provide services that would otherwise be too expensive. Highly skilled volunteers can also ease the burden on paid staff who often take on many roles due to limited budgets.

While skilled volunteerism is a great way to build capacity into your organization, we must not overlook the potential gaps that may arise when we engage skilled volunteers.

Imagine Canada’s blog, ‘Re-thinking the way we share skilled expertise: the pro bono paradox’

I recently came across an interesting blog from Imagine Canada regarding the paradox of pro bono skilled volunteerism. That is, what gaps can skilled volunteerism create and how do we prevent and/or address them?

Here are some highlights and key insights from the blog:

“In many cases though, the application of pro bono skills can be a double-edged sword. If strong project management plans are not designed ahead of time (and in collaboration) with the nonprofit and the skilled volunteer, the experience runs the risk of creating more challenges than good…

Here are two things to think about that will support a better planning paradigm, and allow nonprofit leadership teams to focus on the longer term outcomes required.

1. Shift our mindset away from transactional volunteerism to longer term strategic bench strength

We should shift the focus away from transactional experiences used as a stop gap measure to an operational issue at the nonprofit, to designing the mechanics of the pro bono experience ahead of time and defining the ways each volunteer can help to empower a nonprofit leadership team to come from a place of strength when articulating what is actually required in the long term strategy (vs. the gift of what a volunteer sees as necessary today).

Much like designing an effective job description, nonprofit leadership teams and the volunteer can set up skilled experiences in ways that deliver a strong return on impact, integrity and investment for all involved. We must be thoughtful and learn how to map key competencies and capabilities required for the nonprofit’s organizational success, and how to say ‘no’ when necessary without impacting the interest of the volunteer to continue to be engaged.

2. Put the focus on skill development and cross-sector learning opportunities

We should also explore how a pro bono experience can be designed in ways that help to uncover new skills a volunteer might have (beyond what they do at the office day to day) and look at issues from as many angles as possible. In Volunteer Canada’s recent study Bridging the Gap, a survey of employer supported volunteers indicated that they were motivated by experiences working with nonprofits that helped them develop new skills, and some indicated they did not want to volunteer doing the same job as they do for work.

Thinking this way can help to get everyone excited about “what’s next” and ongoing engagement vs. having a one-off pro bono based experience where the recommendations become a dusty report on a shelf or the to-do list.”

Read the full Imagine Canada blog.

Check out our Highly Skilled Volunteers page for resources!

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

 

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