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Get to know social innovation and how it can support you in your work

What is social innovation?

Social innovation – we hear this buzzword used a lot by the sector, but what does it really mean?

Social innovation pulls from a variety of sectors and disciplines – social services, anthropology, human ecology, project management, systems thinking, etc. – to address complex, social issues at the root cause.

At Volunteer Alberta, we define social innovation as “refining current ways or exploring new ways of solving problems.” It is the community-based ownership of a solution and it supports Alberta’s nonprofits in solving complex issues.

Why does social innovation matter to the sector?

The nonprofit sector is an ecosystem – we are mission-driven organizations working collaboratively across sectors as part of a larger social system. Nonprofits impact communities through the work we do and the services we provide. Healthy communities start with us!

Nonprofits address complex, social challenges from volunteer recruitment and retention to poverty and food scarcity. Due to turnover and funding challenges, we are often in a state of change. Our programs and services, even our organizations, move from growth to destruction. This chaotic cycle presents unique challenges and opportunities; it’s where social innovation thrives.

Applying social innovation tools in your own work

As nonprofits working in complex systems, we find it easier to talk about and map our programs and services in a fluid state. More often than not, this leads us to explore patterns of conservation and growth. Organizations leave little room for foresight[1] and creative destruction[2].

For an ecosystem to be healthy and resilient, foresight is necessary to navigate your organization through challenging times.

To better understand these phases and build resiliency, we can apply a sense-making tool known as the Adaptive Cycle. The Adaptive Cycle has four distinct phases:

  • Growth (development): An idea or concept is born and organizations are accessing financial and human resources to help the idea grow to maturity.
  • Conservation (maturity): Where processes, programs and services reach full maturity and are at their peak. In this phase, our organizations are often running like an established, well-oiled machine.
  • Collapse/release (creative destruction): Following a disruption to the status quo, organizations or systems let go of resources, energy, and skills from our processes, programs to allow for exploration.
  • Reorganization (exploration & renewal): new opportunities are sought, explored, and implemented. This is a time of new growth and optimism.

If you’re just starting out with social innovation or systems change, this concept can be difficult to understand. To help with sense-making, imagine you decide to become a surfer. Before anyone can surf, they need to understand the ocean (foresight or reorganization) – the ebb and flow of the waves, where they break, and the direction of the wind – otherwise, the water can pull you under. Once you understand the flow of the waves, you paddle out to catch the surf. Along the way, you make course corrections and adjust your paddling to suit the ocean (growth). Then you wait for the perfect wave – the one that will break at the right moment and allow you to ride it into shore (conservation). Once you catch the wave, you need to give yourself over to the rhythm of the ocean and keep yourself and your board balanced to stay ahead of the cresting wave (creative destruction or collapse/release).

Surfing requires several skills: the strength to paddle, positioning, timing, and balance to catch the wave and ride it into shore. And, it requires practice. Lots of practice! For new surfers, it is difficult to catch a wave and you may stay in shallow water, honing your skills by practicing on smaller waves. Once you become more familiar with the ocean and your skills, you move further from the shore.

The Adaptive Cycle is a great reflection of the current state but also leaves the necessary space for innovation to thrive. Using the cycle to make sense of a problem, experience, or program, can support new thinking or help us get “unstuck” when challenges arise. It can also support us in creating strategies or approaches to addressing key phases of transition.

The Adaptive Cycle allows us to see programs, problems, or ideas from a bird’s eye view. Where did we start? How far have we come? Where do we need to go?

Like surfing, if you start to feel discouraged with innovation and systems change, it’s important to remember that these tools are meant to encourage idea generation. They won’t solve the problem nor will they always get it right, but they will support you on the journey. Let the creativity flow!

Learn more about social innovation and access Volunteer Alberta’s Social Innovation Toolkit for easy to use templates and examples to apply in your own work.

[1] Foresight: the ability to anticipate or the action of anticipating what will happen or be needed in the future.

[2] Creative Destruction: the undoing of long-standing processes and/or programs to make way for innovation or to use resources in new ways.

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

 

volunteerstock

Member Spotlight: Propellus gets innovative with volunteer recruitment (and you can too!)

Volunteers needed is a common phrase and challenge that nonprofits know all too well. With the lack of data on Alberta volunteerism since 2013 and the migration to the digital age, Alberta nonprofits have been left in the dark on how to reach volunteers today, especially youth.

But, thanks to Propellus, Calgary’s volunteer centre, Alberta’s volunteer recruitment landscape is changing. In 2018, Propellus officially launched a new website called VolunteerConnector, Alberta’s first platform that connects volunteers with available opportunities shared by nonprofits across Alberta.

Propellus creates Alberta’s largest online volunteer recruitment platform

On VolunteerConnector, volunteers can search by region, causes they care about, time commitment, and skills they can provide! And, the number of regions across Alberta grow each day; currently, there are nonprofits sharing volunteer opportunities from Calgary, Campbell River, Cochrane, Cold Lake, Comox Valley, Edmonton, Hanna, Innisfail, Lethbridge, Okotoks, and St. Albert, just to name a few!

“VolunteerConnector is a simple and easy to use tool that helps nonprofits with recruitment in multiple geographies,” says Janet Rock at Propellus. We provide micro-sites for every organization, so that means even organizations that don’t have websites have a web presence. We also get to do the heavy lifting of marketing volunteering so organizations don’t have to!”

Thanks to the support of the Alberta Volunteer Centre Network (AVCN) and Propellus’ hard work on the platform, VolunteerConnector is now Alberta’s largest volunteer recruitment platform.

“VolunteerConnector is one of Google’s top landing pages and in the top 10% of websites in Canada, says Janet. “That means it gets a lot of visits – 885,000 in 2018 in fact. It demonstrates that it does what we hope it does – connect people to opportunities to volunteer, easily.”

What VolunteerConnector’s data can tell us about volunteer trends in Alberta

But VolunteerConnector is more than a volunteer matching platform, it is also a valuable resource of volunteer data for nonprofits across Alberta. In 2019, Propellus released three unique reports from data they collected from the platform:

According to Janet, up-to-date reports like these can support nonprofits by providing information on volunteer recruitment trends; research that can spark new ideas and ways of reaching the volunteers you want and need to reach.

“Implement our research in training for volunteer engagement and recruitment. It’s the first time real-time information has been available in our province, so it means we can help people learn about volunteerism as trends change.”

Specifically, Propellus’ recent data provides insight into volunteer opportunities that volunteers are interested in now, how to recruit volunteers in unpopular areas of interest, and what motivates Albertans to volunteer.

“Volunteers want to be part of causes in a way that I think we’ve really not understood before. In the past volunteers wanted to see the impact they were making,” says Janet. “Now I would articulate that volunteers want to belong to a cause, to find personal meaning in a volunteer role. So, organizations should be asking themselves if that’s the currency they are dealing in. Are they able to provide meaningful opportunities for volunteers?”

Propellus’ next steps for

And, Propellus plans to use their research and feedback from volunteer centres to continue to update and enhance VolunteerConnector. In the next eight weeks, upgrades to the platform will include:

  • A simpler search that focuses on causes and skills including easier to find flexible opportunities.
  • Dashboards with real-time reporting information for volunteer centres.
  • Volunteer centres as landing pages in the regions they serve. This will help increase volunteer centres’ profile to share more information about their centres.
  • Online applications for volunteers to apply directly to organizations. Volunteers can use their profiles to apply to any organization of their choosing, making their experience more seamless between organizations.
  • Automatic tracking for volunteer hours which will then be reported back to the volunteer centres’ dashboards.

Are you interested in posting your volunteer opportunities online? Learn more about how your nonprofit can get started with VolunteerConnector!

Propellus is the Volunteer Centre of Calgary that connects nonprofits with volunteers. Their biggest project is VolunteerConnector which is Alberta’s largest volunteer recruitment platform and Alberta’s up-to-date data source for trends in volunteerism! They are also one of the founding members of the Alberta Nonprofit Network (ABNN)

Youth @ the Table Team

Why engaging youth in board governance is important according to the Youth @ the Table team

Launched this year, Youth @ the Table is Volunteer Alberta’s new youth engagement initiative. The program aims to create governance opportunities for young people ages 18 to 30 who are interested in the nonprofit sector.

Participants will be paired with a nonprofit board in their community and spend six months learning directly from a mentor on the nonprofit’s leadership team. Over the course of the program, they will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to influence operations and strategic directions. By sitting at the decision-making table, youth will lead the nonprofit sector into the future and create space for young people to influence social issues in Alberta.

Hear from the Youth @ the Table team about why they believe engaging youth in Alberta’s nonprofit sector is important:

What is your role at Volunteer Alberta?

Eunice: I am the Youth @ the Table Coordinator! I help figure out the logistics of our overall game plan.

Lauren: My role is the Youth @ the Table Project Manager. I lead a great team who has been working hard to develop and implement the Youth @ the Table project!

Navneet: I’m the Senior Coordinator, Marketing & Communications! I curate our social media, draft external communications, and lead strategic directions on branding.

Have you ever had any governance experience? What was it like?

Eunice: Yes! I participated in the Non-profit Board Internship, a program run by Community Service-Learning at the University of Alberta. I was paired with interVivos, a nonprofit that provides forums for emerging leaders in Edmonton. I sat on a board for 8 months as an intern it really elevated my confidence and my ability to connect with professionals.

As a young person trying to navigate what comes next in a fast-paced world, developing communication, leadership, critical thinking and decision-making skills are crucial. I am now a more well-rounded community member. I know what goes on at the decision-making level of groups who shape our community to be better and more livable and I can ask meaningful questions, and really understand the avenues where real change can happen.

Lauren: I am relatively new to governance! During my first year at the University of Alberta, I served a term on the Alberta Mentorship Program (AMP)’s Executive Committee. It gave me the opportunity to volunteer with various organizations like the Mustard Seed and local initiatives like The Youth Restorative Justice Project.

Before and after AMP, I’ve asked myself “how do I get more involved in nonprofit organizations?”. I didn’t know how or where to seek out governance opportunities. Looking back, I think to have a program like Youth @ the Table would have really benefited me because Youth @ the Table bridges that gap between nonprofits who are looking to engage youth and youth who are looking to take action and get involved.

Navneet: During my time as a student at the University of Alberta, I was involved in a wide range of board and governance roles. I served as a Team Leader at the Campus Food Bank for a couple years then as a Member at Large on The Gateway Student Journalism Society’s board. I loved these roles because I got to go beyond the day to day operations and be part of major decisions such as which fundraisers to approve and how to transition the newspaper into a magazine.

Currently, I sit on the Winspear’s Young Leadership Council and get to do similar work. I provide input on how to make guest experiences more youth-friendly and engage young people in musical endeavours. This work is incredibly rewarding because I get to express my ideas and watch them get implemented to improve an organization that I care deeply about.

Why is getting youth (18-30 years old) involved in governance so important?

Eunice: This age group makes up the biggest chunk of Canada, I think finding opportunities for people in this age bracket to exercise their passions and channel their energy would only benefit society as a whole. It’s about time that folks who fall in this age bracket are recognized as important knowledge keepers, not just receivers.

Lauren: We are experiencing so much change in our world right now, I think there has never been a more important time for young people to get involved in decision-making, not only in the nonprofit sector but in every sector. I think as we continue to make space for them in these conversations, we will begin to recognize how much knowledge they have to contribute and how passionate they are about social issues.

Navneet: Young people are our future leaders. This fact, though obvious, is all too often overlooked in many sectors. By failing to include this age group at decision-making tables, we fail to prepare for the future and lose opportunities for growth in our sector. For young people to gain the skills necessary to tackle the world’s most complex social issues, we must break down the barriers that prevent them from being heard. Young people bring diverse perspectives and innovative ideas to the table — it’s important that they are taken seriously!

Do you have any last thoughts about engaging youth in the nonprofit sector?

Navneet: Governance can often be an intimidating concept that seems reserved for those who are interested in politics or traditional leadership roles. With Youth @ the Table, we want to break down this perception of governance and push decision-making spaces to be more open and inclusive. For progress to happen in our sector, we have to make sure young people have access to the board rooms in which decisions are made.

Are you between the ages of 18-30 and interested in making a difference in your community? Apply for Volunteer Alberta’s Youth @ the Table program by June 15th, 2019! Learn more.

Vegreville Pic 1

Member Spotlight: Vegreville & District FCSS inspire youth to engage in board governance and nonprofit part 2

Youth engagement has been a hot topic in the nonprofit sector and community for the last several years. Nonprofits want to know how to reach young people and keep them engaged. Especially when it comes to getting young people at decision-making tables to support succession planning for the nonprofit sector.

But, youth engagement goes beyond describing and understanding millennials or generation Z. It’s about creating unique opportunities for youth to have a voice and bring fresh perspectives that fill existing gaps for nonprofits and your community.

This is exactly what Vegreville and District FCSS is doing with their Youth Making A Change program. Youth Making A Change (YMAC) successfully engages students in grades 10 to 12 in board governance, and as a result, encourages succession planning for the future of our sector.

Last year, we covered how Vegreville and District FCSS engages youth in board governance through this program, so we decided to provide an update of how their program is making a difference in their community.

Inspiring youth to get involved in governance and nonprofit

YMAC inspires, equips and mobilizes youth to take action to make changes in their community and learn new skills through service. When Vegreville & District first created YMAC, there were no programs in which youth were taught about leadership and community engagement, and also given a first-hand board and community project experience.

While most youths have the opportunity to join in sports, or other after-school activities, there was not a space for youth who possessed an interest in volunteerism and leadership skills in a more formal setting. YMAC was able to fill that void by creating a safe space for the students to come once a week and take action in bettering themselves and their community.

“The program has been effective for the youth,” says Julie Gottselig, Manager at Vegreville and District FCSS. “When going through their evaluations, 8 out of the 10-youth said that they feel that because of YMAC, they can make a difference in their community. Having this program available in the community is vital to help inspire youth and show them that they can make a difference.”

As a result, many young people that participated in YMAC now volunteer in the Vegreville community. A few students even mentioned that they want to work in human services after they graduate thanks to the program. That is, YMAC inspires young people with a hands-on opportunity to learn and understand the value and impact of the nonprofit sector.

Impact on Vegreville nonprofits

According to Vegreville and District FCSS, YMAC Board Mentors appreciate and see the value of having a youth member on their board as it brings in a fresh face and new ideas. One Board Mentor said this about their experience:

“It’s inspiring to have young people be interested in not only being a part of their community but also giving back to it. It’s great to see them being involved in such an impactful way.” – Joanna Karczmarek, Board Mentor at Vegreville Food Bank

Because of these positive experiences through YMAC, many Vegreville nonprofit boards request to have youth join them for the next YMAC intake. Other Vegreville nonprofit boards even get a second youth member to join them in the following years!

How nonprofits can engage youth in board governance

To engage youth in board governance in your community, Vegreville and District FCSS recommends providing appropriate training for your board. The training must teach board members on how to be mentors for youth.

More specifically, being a mentor means knowing the different ways to make sure youth are comfortable and have an enjoyable experience as a board member themselves.

“This can include not putting the youth on the spot or forcing them to participate in a conversation, warning them when a topic may become intense, and offering them words of encouragement throughout the meetings,” says Emma Murray, FCSS Child Youth and Family Programmer.

According to Vegreville and District FCSS, providing this training is what makes YMAC possible and successful. Beyond training, they also recommend getting youth involved in being a part of events and planning. They find YMAC students enjoy boards more when there are specific events that give them an opportunity to show their more creative side during board meetings.

Vegreville and District FCSS is a nonprofit organization that prevents crisis and takes care of the social well-being of the community by offering low/no cost programs and services to the Town of Vegreville and the western portion of the County of Minburn.

Do you want to learn how to get youth to join your board? Contact Vegreville & District FCSS for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Member Spotlight: Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO) educates nonprofits about ‘risky business’

In Alberta’s nonprofit voluntary sector, usually, our top priority is social good. We try our best to make our communities more vibrant, safe and overall better places to live for all Albertans. But, while we have good intentions, we may not always realize the unintended risk that comes with the work we do.

Risk for nonprofits can range from volunteer screening to human resources, working with disadvantaged populations to program failure, reputation management to legal liabilities and inappropriate insurance coverage, everything in between and more. But, what do we do when the unexpected happens and we don’t have the required tools, resources or plans to mitigate and overcome the risk?

The many ways ECVO educates nonprofits about risk

This is why familiarity with risk management is essential when it comes to the operation of any nonprofit or charity. And luckily, there are capacity building organizations like the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO) that provide education and guidance on not only managing risk, but also foundational knowledge for nonprofits in their community.

ECVO’s ongoing learning events include topics like bylaw refreshers, board member training, human resources training, policy-making, and more. All of which are foundational topics that nonprofits need to know and support risk management strategies.

More recently, risk was the topic at hand at Think Tank Conversations, an initiative that sees the city’s volunteer managers gather regularly to discuss their challenges and co-create solutions.

Author and entrepreneur Paul Shoemaker leading a breakout session at Fail Safe, October 2018.

Participants brainstormed processes and tools to assist them in their volunteer management work, and also completed risk assessment exercises. One key takeaway from their conversations is that risk is unavoidable and the only solution is to be prepared and to have a plan.

And part of the planning process means learning from previous failures. In 2018, ECVO held their first-ever Fail Safe Conference, a conference that creates safe and supportive spaces to discuss various aspects of failure—how it happens, how to learn from it, and how to use it to create success for your organization.

How ECVO manages risk in their programs and services

It is a fitting conference as one risk that ECVO faces most frequently is the potential failure of a program or service according to Russ Dahms, Executive Director at ECVO. “The risk relates to investing resources and not achieving an outcome, as well as possible reputation risk,” says Russ.

So how does ECVO mitigate this risk? “We consult with trusted advisors and may test proposed programs or services with representatives from the intended target market,” says Russ. This is a smart way to trial new programs before investing in a full launch.

What ECVO recommends for your risk management strategy

But programs and services are only one aspect to consider. Russ recommends that as part of your risk management strategy, nonprofits and charitable organizations should include cyber security, and to find a reputable and capable cyber security company to work with.

In addition, Russ suggests that organizations review their policies to confirm that there are sufficient guidelines to support decision making around mitigating risk. He also recommends making sure your insurance provider has a complete understanding of your organization’s activities so that the insurance policy properly covers risk.

“In addition to general comprehensive liability insurance, director and officer insurance is a must,” states Russ. “Cyber insurance is quickly becoming a standard insurance inclusion.”

ECVO intends to offer another workshop on risk management in the fall of 2019, giving nonprofits the chance to learn more about risk management strategies and to be prepared for the unexpected.

The Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO) is a member-based nonprofit organization serving the nonprofit and charitable organizations in the Metro Edmonton Region. Their vision is a strong, vibrant community strengthened by an effective voluntary sector working with government and business.

Looking for more information related to risk management and volunteer screening? Check out our Volunteer Screening Program for more information.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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