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From the Vault: Five Reasons to Invest in Learning this Spring!

This blog was originally posted March 17, 2015


Spring is an opportunity to invest in learning and professional growth.

Here are five reasons that spring is a great time to learn:

  1. The days are longer. The sun is up early and nightfall comes later; there is much more time for activities, making spring a great time to start investing in you. With more hours of daylight, we often feel a burst of energy with the added vitamin D, which is a great excuse to add a class or two to your schedule. Learning something new this spring will give you the time to achieve goals throughout the year, and undoubtedly by the time winter rolls around again you will see the benefits.
  2. Create momentum through learning. Learning begets learning. Possibilities present themselves to those who choose to learn, and opening up to these opportunities creates momentum to grow. Don’t think of learning like a bucket to be filled, but more as a fire waiting to be lit. So burn baby, burn!
  3. Grow personal and professional networks. Learning provides a comfortable space to meet new people and makes for a great icebreaker, giving you a common topic to talk about. Depending on what learning opportunity you choose to invest in, the potential to establish both friendship and professional connections are abundant.
  4. Digital culture makes learning easy! We live in a time where inspiration is attainable and often learning opportunities are much closer than you think. The opportunity to be “wowed” is everywhere online. The possibilities are endless and it doesn’t take a huge commitment to gain knew knowledge. There are countless online courses being offered for free, YouTube tutorials, webinars, how-to-guides and amazing newsletters that can provide you with learning opportunities. All you have to do is keep an eye for what wows you and find out more.
  5. There are lots of ways to learn. Investing in learning this spring doesn’t have to be traditional in any sense of the word. You don’t have to attend a lecture, or strive for an A+.The practice of teaching and learning has experienced tremendous growth in terms of methodology and engagement. There are countless ways to acquire the knowledge you seek, it’s simply a matter of which method is the most fun for you.

Most importantly, make it “fun for you”! For some, learning can be synonymous with the unpleasant, frustrating, and even a means to an end. By completing just one investment in learning this spring that really wows you, you can complete something to be proud of and maybe even shift your perspective (as well as gain some new skills) along the way.

Visit our Community Learning Opportunities page to find learning opportunities near you and online.

Drew Noiles
Volunteer Alberta

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Connect with an Expert: Melissa Casey, Casey Executive Coaching

Connect with an Expert: 3 powerful questions to help you get connected to experts that can help.

Volunteer Alberta is focused on supporting the professional development of nonprofit professionals.

As nonprofit network stewards we connect information, resources, programs, and opportunities with  nonprofit leaders to develop themselves and their organizations. We identify and collaborate with experts who have valuable programs and services to offer nonprofit professionals.

Expert: Melissa Casey (MEd, BA, BSc, PCC, CEC) President Casey Executive Coaching

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We connected with Melissa as she was planning to host her 2017 Leader as Coach programs, a developmental program for nonprofit leaders focused on building inclusive leadership practices and practical coaching skills. A leader-as-coach approach is centered around helping leaders, as well as staff, to develop to their highest potential.


VA: What leadership problems seem to be more common for, or specific to, nonprofit leaders?

MC: Common for leaders in all sectors, is the experience of being hired or promoted into a leadership roles without having the necessary leadership skills in hand. There can be an expectation that once a person is in a leadership role the necessary skills will automatically evolve, which, for many, is not true. The desire to be successful is there, but the knowledge and confidence in knowing how to be a leader is another thing entirely.

Another challenge, which is somewhat unique to nonprofit leaders, is the experience of leading team members who may bring incredible heart to their jobs but might lack the skills required to operate in a successful, effective, and sustainable manner. The additional demand on leaders to mentor and coach staff may be another skill that is expected and doesn’t develop magically on its own.

youngteamVA: How does a leader-as-coach-approach help nonprofit leaders?

MC: Research shows a leader-as-coach approach results in higher levels of empowerment, increased staff productivity, engagement, and, ultimately, retention. A leader-as-coach approach is centered around a leader’s desire to develop staff to their highest potential through a combination of active listening, thought-provoking questions, and examination of barriers and stuck-points.

Coaching compels people to take action. Coaching supports the development of a fresh perspective, identifies what is wanted (and needed), explores what may hold someone back, and helps create plans to eliminate barriers. Coaching for nonprofit leaders, or from leaders to staff, provides dedicated time to explore ideas in an “agenda-free” space – like having a thinking partner who will support you in examining a challenge from multiple perspectives.

VA: What are some examples of coaching questions leaders can ask?

MC: Asking powerful questions which come from a place of genuine curiosity is the base of good coaching. I encourage leaders to ask questions of their staff and of themselves, including:

  • What might be a possible solution or next step in this situation?
  • Where are you stuck? What will support you in getting to where you need to be?
  • What is one thing you could do to make the greatest difference?

I ask leaders to think about:

  • What kind of leader does my organization need today? How about in 5-10 years?
  • Am I clear about my core values? Where might I be out of alignment? What impact is that having?
  • What one addition to my leadership would make the greatest difference?
  • Where do you want (and need) your leadership to be? How might you be getting in your own way? What will support you in getting there?

More about Melissa:

melisa-circleMelissa believes that our capacity to experience limitless potential comes with being bold, daring, brave, original, authentic, and inventive. She specializes in developing visionary leaders who are invested in the principles of inclusion and want to take their organization (and their lives) to the next level.

With 16 years of experience in leadership roles, management, and results-focused strategic planning, Melissa is a Certified Executive Coach and an accredited Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coach Federation, holds a Master of Education degree and is trained in strategic visioning methods, facilitative leadership, team development, communication effectiveness, and conflict resolution.

Why we recommend her program: Continuous learning and development supports positive transformation in ourselves and our work. It can be challenging to implement change in our lives, work, and organizations, so we get excited about opportunities that build in time to have practical hands-on experience and provide transformative leadership learning.

Melissa is offering an incredible opportunity for leadership development for nonprofit professionals in the Calgary and Edmonton areas – check out more about her upcoming programs.

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Nonprofit Experiences: 5 Ways I Support Nonprofits

The nonprofit sector plays a pivotal role in our lives and communities, and impacts all of us in many facets of our lives.

Our interactions with the nonprofit sector are varied: we may work or volunteer for causes we care about, or donate to our favourite organizations. We are also personally impacted through school, religion, community, sports, recreation, and other supportive endeavors. Often, our nonprofit experiences are transformative.

Like everyone, Volunteer Alberta’s staff are deeply connected to the sector as volunteers, supporters, clients, and community members. We have started a series to share the personal impact nonprofits have had on us. Sam shared five of her personal experiences with the nonprofit sector and Cindy shared five key moments in her life as she has engaged with nonprofits and become the volunteer she is today.

Appeal to Future Supporters

Next is Daniela with five reasons she supports local nonprofit organizations. Looking for new ways to appeal to future supporters? Consider appealing to these motivations:

1. Expand my skill sets.

When I was in university, I volunteered with the University of Alberta’s Biological Anthropology lab. It was a great way to meet like-minded people who shared my passion for human history. I gained practical experience and learned about laboratory procedures and the human body.

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Although I don’t use the majority of these skills in my daily work, they have had lasting impacts, for example:

  • I have fun stories for the lunchroom
  • I’m great at removing all kinds of stains
  • I will never get the smell of formaldehyde out of my nose
  • I’m available as a teammate for any obscure trivia team.

2. Broaden my cultural horizons and learn about the history.

My family has always been a big supporter of culture and history. Every summer we traveled around Alberta, visiting small community museums and festivals. These trips are some of my favourite memories! They were adventures, awesome family time, and a fun way to visit our amazing province. It doesn’t matter how often you visit, you can always find something new and exciting and learn something along the way!

My top five favourite cultural attractions (which happen to be nonprofits) are:

Supporting these amazing spots is as easy as visiting them or volunteering with them!

3. Grow the causes I am passionate about.

Through advocacy and donating, I am able to give back to people in my life and support organizations with a worthy cause. Every one of us has been touched by illness – our own or someone we love. Following the diagnosis of a friend, I continue to support the work of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada through financial donations and awareness.

The MS Society of Canada provides support to those with MS and their families, education about the disease, and funds research to find a cure. Together, we can be the cure!

4. It’s a great way to give back to the community.

GiftI LOVE BOOKS! Local libraries are a great place to meet people, enjoy a coffee, attend great programs, and borrow books. One of my favourite places to volunteer is the Edmonton Public Library’s Christmas Gift Wrap. It’s a great way to raise money for library programs and to support literacy in our community. Also, I love seeing all the awesome gifts people get one another for Christmas (Hello, inspiration)!

5. It has expanded my family (many times over).

The Edmonton Humane Society does great work – supporting animals who need shelter, providing them with medical care, and matching them to their fur-ever home. We adopted our dog, Bear (who I hope is enjoying the rainbow bridge), and our cat, Galileo, from the Edmonton Humane Society and they have added so much to our home and our life.

Thank you Edmonton Humane Society , for providing a safe haven for our fur babies and giving them all the love in the world before entrusting them to our care! We’ll be back for a dog in the near future!


Stay tuned for more Volunteer Alberta staff experiences with amazing nonprofit organizations, and please share your own experiences in the comment section!

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Nonprofit Experiences: A Lifetime of Involvement

Our experiences with nonprofits are varied: we may work or volunteer in the sector, or donate to our favourite organizations. We are also personally impacted through school, religion, community, sports, recreation, and support. Regardless, the nonprofit sector is central to many of our lives.

A couple years ago, Sam shared five of her personal experiences with the nonprofit sector. We are continuing to share Volunteer Alberta staff experiences, turning this into an ongoing series. Up next is Cindy!

Cindy has shared some of the key moments from her life as she has engaged with nonprofits and become the volunteer she is today. Here are her 5 key personal experiences (and a step-by-step guide for a lifetime of involvement!):

1. Start with Family: The County Clothes-Line Store was where I first formally volunteered! The organization receives donations of clothes to sell to the public (specifically offering affordable pricing to those unable to spend a lot) and the money goes into the CCL Foundation. The Foundation funds various programs and scholarships in Strathcona County. My mom volunteered there and brought me along. I was fairly young, so folding clothes, ragging, and tidying up was often what I was asked to do.

Jazz2. Benefit from Nonprofits: I was a band girl growing up. I enjoyed music, I was good at it (or so I heard!), and I had a great time hanging out with my friends. One year, I happened to be the right age to play with a number of amazing musicians. Between my school’s jazz band, jazz combo, and concert band, we were often entered into band competitions and sometimes lucky enough to go to MusicFest Canada, a national competition. It was great fun! At that time, I didn’t realize it was a nonprofit – now I can recognize the amount of work that went into organizing it all. Some of my band friends continue to play, while others, like me, have taken different paths, but still appreciate what music has brought to my life.

3. Fulfill a Passion and Get Inspired: My friend’s son is a virtuoso cello player (check out his YouTube channel!) and has received support from the Anne Burrows Music Foundation. I have volunteered for their casino several times. I choose to support them because I believe in their mission of supporting upcoming musicians, I have a direct connection to someone benefiting from their work, and I actually met the very inspiring namesake, Anne Burrows, through my piano teacher many years ago.

4. Have Fun: At Fort Edmonton Park I was fortunate to volunteer for an organization I love, while supporting local tourism. My role was scaring people. To be clear, this was in costume during their Halloween event: Spooktacular. We had the opportunity to build the scenarios and create the scenes ourselves, and then the fun of entertaining guests throughout the event. I am definitely hoping to volunteer with them again in the future.

5. Be Recognized: Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival has such a wide variety of positions open that there is something for everyone! I worked with the finance team and we had a lot of fun, including daily team challenges from the Festival. The Fringe also has good processes in place for volunteer orientation and recognition – including Fringe Bucks for hours volunteered (to purchase show tickets). It’s fun, I get to see a few shows and participate in the festival, and support the organization’s due diligence!

Stay tuned for more Volunteer Alberta staff experiences with amazing nonprofit organizations, and please share your own experiences in the comment section!

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Are you successfully sharing your data with your Board?

Have you ever wondered how to use all the data your organization collects to measure your success and report to your Board? How do you show whether the organization is doing a good job?

Organizations and their Boards define what a ‘good job’ looks like with a series of objectives. These objectives, known as strategic directions or goals, are included in an organization’s strategic plan. One way to measure these strategic directions is to examine how successfully the organization’s services are being delivered using the data your organization collects.

Volunteer Alberta has five strategic directions. One of our strategic directions is to ‘Facilitate knowledge exchange and access to learning opportunities to strengthen organizations’.

Using this strategic direction as an example, we’ll investigate two foundational considerations to report on meeting this strategic direction by using data that we collect. The key is to ensure the data tells a meaningful story to the Board.

Selecting a performance indicator

Web Stats1Do you want to tell your Board the number of participants at a training session? Or do you want to tell your Board about whether your clients are more skilled or confident following a training session?

The answer is… it all depends.

The rule of thumb is both. Report outputs when your initiative is new and you are just beginning to gather data. Report outputs and outcomes when your program or tactic has been in place for a reasonable period of time.

Outputs: the scale or number of actual activities that your organization undertook (ex. number of participants at the training session, or the number of training sessions). Outputs answer the question ‘What happened?’

Outcomes: the value or impact of your program (ex. what people got out of the training session). Outcomes answer the question ‘Why does it matter?’

When starting a new program or initiative (ex. a training session), the number of participants and sessions are meaningful for the Board. When a year or two of the training has passed, outcome-based measures become more relevant. By year two and onwards, the Board wants to know whether participants are more confident, for example, or can apply something new to their jobs as a result of the training. Regardless, outputs (the numbers) are always required for context as they show the scale of the service (and any growth).

Reporting the performance indicator

Using our data, outputs, and outcomes, how do we report to the Board on our progress and achievement of our strategic direction: ‘Facilitate knowledge exchange and access to learning opportunities to strengthen organizations’?

There are multiple programs and initiatives Volunteer Alberta works on to contribute to this strategic direction, and we report on several different performance indicators to share our progress with the Board. One performance indicator might be ‘% of participants who feel they can apply something new to their job that they learnt at the training session’.

Data over several years is especially powerful as it shows trends. If this indicator % reduces, then it may indicate that the training is not as useful as it once was, or alert us that it may be time to review and update the training material.

In addition to numbers, data also includes additional context and stories. Ex. Did the facilitator change? Is there a particularly inspiring story from a participant that we can share? How is the organization’s communication plan impacting this particular training opportunity?

With the data your organization is already collecting, it’s likely that you have a good amount of outputs and outcomes, along with additional information that you can share with your Board and truly measure the success of your work against your organization’s strategic directions.

Have more questions about reporting data to your Board? Ask in the comment section!

Susan Gulko
Volunteer Alberta Board of Directors

Header photo attribution: WOCinTech

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