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Becoming a 21st Century Nonprofit

In the 21st century, nonprofits are under increased scrutiny and competition. It might feel like you are facing off against other charitable organizations – for funding, for volunteers, and even for clients who utilize similar programs and services. So what can you do to make your nonprofit stand out? How can your organization be successful in the 21st century?

Below are the top four traits of successful nonprofits who are embracing the changes, challenges, and opportunities of the 21st century:

1. They engage in collaborative relationships:

To thrive, nonprofits need relationships. They must connect and collaborate with other nonprofits, as well as work across sectors – with government and business.

Collaboration offers the opportunity to better understand our work and our sector. We can see the areas that need improvement, the gaps in service delivery, and the potential avenues for partnership when we look at the big picture.

Understanding that everyone, regardless of their background, has ideas and perspectives to bring to the table is the first step to engaging in collaborative relationships.

Organizations open to collaboration with other like-minded organizations create meaningful workspaces and deep, systemic change in their communities!

 

2. They build trust:

Organizations are more likely to be trusted by their stakeholders when they are well connected and communicate clearly. So how can your organization build trust for those they serve, engage, and work with?

A consistent brand:

Organizations with integrity are consistent – in their marketing, in their words, and by living up to the expectations of their clients, stakeholders, funders, volunteers, staff, and community. They have a strong sense of vision and purpose. They are unified and the entire organization both believes in and works to support the overall goals.

In understanding their brand and their role, these nonprofits are better able to actively promote their organization and work with other organizations to maximize shared goals.

Having a consistent brand makes a stronger organization.

They know their audiences:

Part of building a successful brand is knowing your audience. Your brand is democratic – it isn’t just chosen by your organization, but also by your funders, donors, clients, volunteers, and other supporters. Organizations will build more trust when they communicate with each of these audiences in a responsive, understanding, and connected way.

Awareness and engagement build relationships and support

 

3. They are innovative and purpose-driven:

Organizations that invest in branding, building trust, and being open to collaboration exude a sense of purpose and relentless innovation. Purpose-driven organizations don’t wait for opportunities to fall into their lap – they seek out opportunities for growth. They tap into the latent energy of the organization and encourage others to be passionate and purposeful.

Employee engagement is key to success! An employee is engaged when they believe in the overall purpose of an organization. They will strive for success and will be passionate about meeting goals.

 

4. They support a passion for growth:

Part of being a purpose-driven organization is not pigeon-holing your staff. Employees are highly skilled and have a variety of interests. Development – personal and professional – is key to overall success because it taps into staffs’ passions and drives.

Employees in the nonprofit sector want to make a difference and are passionate about their work, but the sector experiences high turnover. It is easy for staff to burnout from heavy workloads, move onto higher paying jobs, or seek out workplaces with better benefits.

One way to keep employees engaged throughout their career is to invest in professional development. Encourage staff to pursue their interests and learn a new skillset – their professional and personal development will bring passion and purpose to their work. Staff will be more likely to be engaged, contribute, and stay with your organization.

 

What are some other characteristics of successful 21st century nonprofits? What is your organization doing already? Let us know in the comments!

Daniela Seiferling
Volunteer Alberta

Thinking Woman

What does volunteering mean to Canadians?

Ahead of National Volunteer Week, Volunteer Canada, IPSOS Public Affairs, and Investors Group released their study “Recognizing Volunteers in 2017.” At first glance, we thought the study would be about volunteer recognition: how organizations can celebrate and recognize their volunteers in new and meaningful ways. Instead, this study identifies common trends in Canadian volunteerism.

As an organization who promotes the value of volunteerism, we understand how difficult it can be to capture data and share the value of volunteering for community. This study gave us some food for thought and some valuable takeaways that we want to share.

Common Definitions

Volunteer Canada offers four categories of volunteering and giving:

  • (Regular) formal volunteering: Giving unpaid help (at least once a month) through groups, clubs or organizations to benefit other people or the environment.
  • (Regular) informal volunteering: Giving unpaid help (at least once a month) as an individual to people who are not relatives.
  • Social action: Giving unpaid help to support a community event, campaign or project.
  • Charitable donation: Donating money to charitable causes.

These categories are helpful for distinguishing the different ways someone might support your organization or community; however, they are not all widely used by Canadians:

There is momentum building globally to expand the definition of volunteering to include informal volunteering, organic movements, and the many ways that people put their values into action. Canadians continue to perceive volunteering as a vital part of communities, and while they engage in community in diverse ways, they do not necessarily consider informal activities to be volunteering.

Canadian Opinions on Volunteering

So what do Canadians think about volunteering? For this report, IPSOS Public Affairs surveyed 1200 Canadians aged 16 and over in 2016. The poll found that Canadians greatly value volunteering: 87% felt that our society would suffer without volunteers, and 75% felt the economy would suffer without volunteers. At the same time, respondents considered helping family, random acts of kindness, and improving one’s community as more important than volunteering.

Some other interesting findings from the survey include:

  • 75% of Canadians view volunteering as an easy activity.
  • 75% of Canadians are very willing to volunteer in times of crisis.
  • 68% would be more motivated to choose an employer with a strong volunteer culture.
  • 82% of Canadians believe that all Canadians have something to offer.
  • 72% of Canadians agree that communities thrive when people know each other.

This is a great foundation of passion and interest for nonprofits to continue to build on!

The survey also explored the barriers to greater involvement that Canadians face. The main barrier is lack of physical or social opportunities (ex. lack of time and resources; friends and family not volunteering), followed by lack of physical or psychological capability (ex. lack of skills or knowledge). These insights provide opportunities for nonprofits to be flexible and meet volunteers where they are at. For instance, from the poll:

  • 60% agreed people would volunteer more if it was organized by their employer.
  • 68% agreed people would volunteer more if they could do it as a family.

Does your nonprofit currently offer employee-supported volunteering (ESV) opportunities or volunteer work that could be done as a family? Volunteer Canada has more resources on both styles of volunteer engagement on their website.

Find out more about “Recognizing Volunteers in 2017” – read the full report for more statistics and insights about volunteering in Canada.

Twitter

From the Vault – Microvolunteering: the benefits and drawbacks

April is a busy month for volunteerism! April 23-29, communities across the country will be celebrating volunteers and volunteerism for National Volunteer Week.

volunteer-lethbridgeBut first, Saturday, April 15 is Microvolunteering Day – an opportunity to learn more, get involved, or offer microvolunteering opportunities.

Last year, Volunteer Lethbridge promoted Microvolunteering Day as part of their National Volunteer Week celebrations, and shared with us some the benefits and drawbacks of Microvolunteering.

We originally shared the following post April 6, 2016.


From the Microvolunteering Day website:

“Microvolunteering is bite-sized, on-demand, no commitment actions that benefit a worthy cause.”

Some examples of microvolunteering include:

  • Tweeting about an organization or event
  • Baking a cake, knitting a hat, or writing a card for a cause
  • Picking up garbage in your community
  • Participating in a survey or research project
  • Signing a petition
  • Helping a senior with their groceries or yard work

I talked to Chelsea Sherbut, Volunteer Lethbridge’s Development Coordinator, to learn more about microvolunteering and what Volunteer Lethbridge has planned for the day.

Sam Kriviak: How is microvolunteering different from traditional volunteering? What are the benefits and drawbacks of microvolunteering?

Chelsea Sherbut: Unlike most normal volunteer opportunities, there is no application process, no screening, and no real commitment with microvolunteering. Usually you don’t have to go to a specific place to do it. It can often be done for home on your own time. You can see that there can be a lot of benefits!

Some drawbacks are that volunteers might miss out on making some of the “real life” connections that you get with traditional volunteering, and it’s not the kind of volunteer opportunity that improves your résumé. It still can be tremendously impactful, though, and is a fantastic option for people who feel like they are too busy to volunteer.

SK: What about for volunteer-engaging organizations?

CS: For organizations, microvolunteering offers a way to create more engagement and an easy platform for people to get to know your organization better. It’s a good opportunity to expose people to your mission and slowly build an ambassador for your work!

It can also be a lot easier to attract volunteers for these kind of opportunities. We often talk about eliminating barriers to volunteering and this is one great way. If you can create an opportunity that requires as few barriers as possible you’ve made it almost impossible for a prospective volunteer to say no!

Creating microvolunteering opportunities isn’t without challenges, but if you are creative, there are a lot of potential ways to use volunteers on a micro-scale: research and data collection, citizen science, online petitions, donations of specific items, brainstorming (i.e. naming your new exhibit/campaign), social media marketing, clean ups, etc.!

SK: Along with many other community celebrations, Volunteer Lethbridge is recognizing Microvolunteering Day as part of National Volunteer Week. What are your plans for the day?

CS: Yes we have a very busy week, so this one is a bit low key. Our main plans are:

  • to highlight a different microvolunteering opportunity each hour throughout the day on social media;
  • to complete some microvolunteering actions in our office.

SK: Why did you feel it was important to celebrate Microvolunteering Day? How does microvolunteering benefit Lethbridge?

CS: We want everyone in Lethbridge to consider themselves a volunteer. Microvolunteering is one super simple, super fast way to get involved that EVERYONE has time for. We’d also like to start building an awareness of how agencies can be creative when they are coming up with ways to engage more volunteers.

SK: If people are interested in microvolunteering, where can they go for more information or to get involved?

CS: For people outside of Lethbridge, check out the Microvolunteering Day website. In Lethbridge, check out our Facebook page on Friday, April 15th for a ton of great ideas and opportunities all day long! We would love to hear what micro-actions others in the province are doing too!


Thank you so much to Chelsea from Volunteer Lethbridge for sharing with us!

Do you have plans or ideas for Microvolunteering Day? Let us know in the comments! Places to find out more:

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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

Save

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Four Ways to ‘Be the Change’ We Want to See in the World

This blog was originally published by Imagine Canada on March 7, 2017.


The nonprofit sector is unlike any other.

We exist to protect the values of equity, inclusion, ethics, accountability, transparency, compassion, human rights, justice and sustainability in society. We advocate for our governments, public institutions and corporations to respect these values. We fight for values-based systems change.

Needless to say this is challenging work – especially when paired with the pressures of fundraising, fiscal prudence and accountability. After spending the resources and energy needed to balance these priorities, there is often little left to look inwards – to ensure we have internalized the values we are asking other institutions to uphold.

While this is something that has long been in the back of my mind while working in the sector, it was during a trip home over the holidays that I had the chance to give it some greater reflection. When visiting with my father, I noticed a pile of wrapping paper on his desk. I asked where it came from and he said it was a ‘thank you’ from one of the organizations to which he donates. At first I thought nothing of it, most charities have a Christmas campaign to thank their donors.

But as I saw the paper go unused over the holidays and make its way to the recycling bin, I began to think about the broader implication of a child-focused humanitarian organization giving away a paper-based product.

A growing threat to children in the Global South is climate change. In many low-income countries, children experience the greatest impacts through rising sea levels, extreme weather, desertification, disease, and food insecurity. And one of our greatest defenses against climate change is carbon offsetting through reforestation. So, if we are thinking in systems – is the give-away of a paper-based product at odds with the values of a humanitarian organization whose majority of work is done in the Global South?

I reflected on my time working in the nonprofit sector and other examples of decisions that didn’t fully align with the espoused values of the organization or consideration of the broader system: giving away wasteful items at fundraising events; using images and stories of children in developing countries without consent in marketing materials; and creating internships that only the privileged can afford.

And I began to ask myself, if we are advocating for corporations and governments to change their practices so that systems change can occur, should we not be asking the same of ourselves? How can we support organizational cultures that will work with intent to enact our espoused values?

Here are four ways nonprofits can move towards being an organization that lives the change it wants to see in the world:

1. Internalize your Vision, Mission and Values:

Most organizations have a clearly articulated vision, mission and values. These are used to communicate with the public and inform programming, but they can also be used to guide how every department functions. For example, if your organization’s vision focuses on child-wellbeing – do you ensure a work-life balance that would best enable your staff to raise healthy and happy children? If inclusion is one of your organizational values, do you have a Board with diverse representation and meaningful participation, including from the communities you serve?

Take Action: Have each department reflect on how the organizational vision, mission and values guide their work and design actions. For example, if equity is one of your values – how will your volunteer managers ensure internship opportunities for people with diverse socio-economic backgrounds? Key performance indicators and targets should be assigned to each action and regularly monitored.

2. Hire for Values Alignment:

As the nonprofit sector becomes increasingly professionalized, hiring to secure specific skills and expertise is important, but hiring for values alignment is still just as important for values-based organizations. And this is true for every position in the organization, from the Board to volunteers. Once your organization has aligned the work of each department with the values of the organization, it will be easier to hire individuals who can demonstrate a commitment to the vision, mission and values through their work experience.

Take Action: During interviews ask questions that will give insight into value alignment with your organization and the position.  Ask the interviewee to give an example as to how they enacted one of your organizational values in a previous job. Present a scenario that would require the interviewee to make a decision and ask what considerations they would give to arrive at a decision.

3. Always Think in Systems:

Many of us are familiar with this way of thinking at it applies to program design. However, this approach to planning can also be applied to the design of internal processes and events. Being social and/or environmentally focused organizations, it is important that our decision-making considers the interconnectedness of society, the environment and the economy. As demonstrated with the example of the child-focused organization and climate change, we as a sector cannot address one of these elements without considering the others.

Take Action: Next time your organization is planning an event, campaign, process or policy – take some time to map out how it impacts the broader system. For example, if your organization does a lot of travel, what are some ways you could consider people, the environment and the economy in your planning? Could you actively engage in carbon offsetting activities such as using more telecommunications or encouraging staff to rent the most fuel-efficient vehicles?  Could you source local food for catering, and stay in locally owned hotels?

4. Create Cross-Functional Collaboration:

In every organization I have worked for, there have been times of tension between the programming and fundraising teams. Sometimes programming staff can feel the fundraising campaigns are at odds with the organization’s mission and fundraising staff can feel the programming staff are too restrictive in creating creative campaigns. This is not necessarily unhealthy but it can reveal gaps in clarity on the organizational values and how they apply to each department. And when not addressed, it can lead to internal dysfunction and disillusioned staff. By providing opportunity for cross-functional training and collaboration, all staff will have the opportunity to see how the organization lives their values across each organizational function. This will lead to a more aligned organization.

Take Action: Create cross-functional teams during the planning stages.  Programming staff should participate in planning for fundraising to help ensure the campaigns do not clash with the programming goals of the organization and fundraising staff should participate in programming meetings to help design scalable and marketable programs.

Each of these steps will lead to the creation of a beautifully aligned organization – one with engaged employees, efficient decision-making, safe spaces for risk-taking and innovation, cohesive teams, and unwavering confidence.

But more importantly, as our sector shines the light on our governments and corporations – asking them to look at their practices to create systems change, we will only be more influential when we are walking the talk.

As Mahatma Gandhi is so often quoted, “Be the change that you want to see in the world”.

Carissa MacLennan

Not-for-profit Web Consulting & Digital Marketing by Adster Creative