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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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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

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From the Vault: 15 Tips to Get Sponsored

This blog was originally posted October 28, 2015.


static1.squarespace.comI recently attended the Western Sponsorship Congress two day event in Calgary. I met a variety of people, sat in on some amazing sessions, and heard great tidbits from the group chats in the main ballroom.

Reflecting on all I heard, I went through my notes and found 15 insightful tips, trends, and insights to keep in mind when considering sponsorship.

CONSIDERATIONS FROM THE KEYNOTE:
Brent Barootes from Partnership Group presented some very relevant information about sponsorship in today’s world.

1. Declines in traditional marketing channels (newspaper ads, TV commercials, etc.) has freed up more money in corporate sponsorship budgets.

2. Sponsorship budgets (on average) rose from 5% in 2007, to 25% in 2014 out of the marketing budgets of corporations.

3. Sponsors want to be fully integrated into the marketing strategy of your event, cause, or organization.

4. Corporations prefer product placement or brand placement (ex. at your event) to advertisements.

5. Many corporations are looking to engage their employees in new and innovative ways to showcase their company and deliver an increased return on investment (ROI).

BREAKOUT SESSIONS HIGHLIGHTS

6. Find a sponsorship partnership that excites you – this is just as important (maybe even more important) as the amount of money that exchanges hands.

7. Building a good relationship is a fundamental part of sponsorship – the discovery part of the relationship (the first few meetings) can help both parties understand the roles, outcomes, and responsibilities of the partnership.

8. Share your cause with potential sponsors. Sponsors are looking to align with causes that will help them make their world (community/market) a better place.

9. Consider video as a way to add extra value to your communications (campaigns, emails, website, or as a stand-alone awareness piece). Video is a great way to showcase sponsors and may attract a specific video sponsorship.

10. Think creatively and offer potential themes for you and your sponsorship partner to build the sponsorship around. (Instead of offering different sponsorship levels – see tip #11) Pick something that you and your sponsor can grow together, so their sponsorship can continue year-round and not end with a specific event.

Staff meetingPANEL DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS
In my opinion this was the MOST interesting and educational session of the whole event! The panel discussion, ‘One Size Doesn’t Fit All’ featured four representatives from different businesses (Telus, Cenovus, Remax Real Estate, and North Peace Savings & Credit Union) who shared what they look for when considering potential sponsorship opportunities.

11. Don’t spend time creating the ‘typical sponsor packages’ (Gold, Silver, Bronze) – they do not work because they are outdated and not tailored for mutual benefit.

12. Pick-up the phone when approaching smaller businesses (like Remax and Credit Union). Chatting about the problem, issue, or opportunity will help both parties see possible solutions. They may offer advice or steer you to the right “pile of money” and aide you in the application process – and help build the relationship.

13. Do your homework! Be well aware of a sponsors market, product, what they do, why they do it, and the reasons why they donate. (This is especially important for larger corporations. Most large corporations have online forms – tailor your online application with the information you discover in your research.)

Bonus Tip: If you know someone within the company, follow-up with an email or phone call to make them aware of your application.

14. Know your own stuff! Know your stats, your mission, your audience, and what your objectives are. Be well prepared for meetings – you will come across as genuine and credible. Show the company how they can help drive your mission and how it aligns with their own mission and business objectives.

15. Fair Warning: It will take anywhere from 22 – 24 months for a successful sponsorship deal to close from the initial meeting to money changing hands.

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These 15 tips, along with many others, made for an extremely informative conference and I hope some of you find value in the tidbits I’m sharing. I will be applying these tips in my work going forward. Please share in the comments what tips resonate with you and share if you are applying any of them in your work.

Jennifer Esler
Volunteer Alberta

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To Mentor or Coach: That is the Question

Volunteer Alberta is proud to promote Creating People Power’s Mentor Coach program, a unique opportunity for cross-sector, experiential learning to build your leadership skills and your network! In this post, Linda Maul from Creating People Power shares some of her insights on leading as both a mentor and a coach.


The best leader I ever worked for was a gentleman by the name of Aubrey Liddiard at Mid-West Paper, and he has been my role model over the past thirty some years. Whenever I am not sure of what to do as a leader, I ask myself ‘What would Aubrey do?’ 

What Would Aubrey Do?

Aubrey definitely had high expectations for his staff. He was my biggest cheerleader when I got things right. He always approached a conversation by inviting my ideas first, believing I had a piece of the puzzle he was unaware of, that I knew something he didn’t. When I did make a mistake, he would invite conversation to ensure I understood what had happened and then expected me to correct it. If I missed a deadline, the conversation always focused on my accountability to myself and the organization to meet commitments. He taught me how to manage expectations if there was even a hint of being late with an assignment. He was my mentor and my coach, sometimes telling me what to do if it was something new for me; other times asking questions, taking a coach approach, so that I came up with my own solution.

Today employees expect leaders to show up like Aubrey: to support others to be their best and to develop the next generation of leaders. Aubrey maintained control and achieved results – in fact he exceeded overall objectives year after year. However, he didn’t command employees to deliver. Instead, he inspired, motivated, and supported us to meet his expectations. He was a masterful coach and wise mentor who knew how and when to share his ideas and when to invite our input. His approach was always to start with a question first to understand what we already knew in any given situation.

What is the Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching?

To understand the difference, we need to know the definitions of mentoring and coaching:

MENTORING occurs when more experienced individuals share their wisdom and experience with staff or volunteers on a one-on-one basis. Mentoring often addresses topics like workplace culture, career growth, political savvy, specific skill development, or professional networking.

COACHING is based on the premise that the answers lie within the staff member or volunteer. Coaching is focused on the solutions the team member can create, not the answers the mentor brings. A coach will use questions to invite the volunteer or employee to tap into their own knowledge, experiences, and wisdom to move forward. Through coaching, the ability to develop and build on ideas is supported and practiced for successful execution today and in the future.

To Mentor or Coach?

Not sure whether to mentor or coach? Ask first! Always approach any potential mentoring situation with a question or series of questions to see if your employee or volunteer can solve their own dilemma or challenge. They may have insight into pieces of the puzzle that you are unaware of. Step in as their mentor only when you know the answers don’t lie within.

Still not sure about mentoring or coaching? Ready to learn more? Join Creating People Power’s Mentor Coach program, or get in touch.

Linda Maul
Creating People Power

Linda is a Professional Certified Coach, founder of Creating People Power with over twenty years of professional leadership development, eight years of executive coaching, and co-author of two books.  Her coaching practice includes a diverse group of senior leaders who are hungry to grow. If you have not experienced coaching, book Linda today for a complimentary session….you are one click away! 

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Five reasons Leader as Coach might be right for you!

As Program Manager at Volunteer Alberta, I know being a strong leader is essential for my success and that of my team, organization, and Alberta’s nonprofit sector. I am passionate about constantly growing, developing, and learning as a leader; however, it can be challenging to do so in our fast-paced sector. Nonprofits are dynamic, demanding, and constantly evolving. There is a lot to keep up with, and finding time and resources for learning is no easy task.

So when I was offered the opportunity to sign up for the Casey Executive Coaching Leader as Coach Program, I made sure to jump and grab it! In a unique partnership, Volunteer Alberta was given a spot in the program at a reduced cost in exchange for sharing the program with others.

There are so many leadership programs out there, which adds another layer of complexity to seeking out leadership learning opportunities. So why did we choose to participate in and promote this one?


Five reasons why I signed up for Leader as Coach

1. It’s tailored for the nonprofit sector

There are many great learning options out there for leadership, but, while the nonprofit sector shares similarities with private and public sector, we are not the same. Acknowledging and addressing our unique differences is integral for succeeding as a leader in our field.

Leader as Coach is designed for the nonprofit sector. All the discussions, activities, and lessons keep a nonprofit perspective in mind to ensure participants gain the most out of the course. I also get to learn alongside nonprofit colleagues!

2. It’s about leading as a coach

While Leader as Coach is great for managers, it also recognizes that anyone can be a leader regardless of their official title. This course would benefit anyone in the sector who wants to be an inclusive leader, develop practical coaching skills, and act as a catalyst for positive change and development in their organization.

The leader-as-coach approach centers on helping your whole team meet their highest potential by developing your skill as a coach. The coach approach includes active listening, thought-provoking questions, and examination of barriers and stuck-points. As a result, there are significant benefits to leader-as-coach approach such as increased staff productivity, engagement, and even retention.

3. It’s affordable

In the nonprofit sector, we understand the value and impact of a dollar. So, it is important to get all the value we can out of any professional development opportunity. And with this course, you do!

Leader as Coach is a three-session course with three additional one-on-one coaching sessions, and, with Canada-Alberta Job Grant funding, the course only costs $500.

4. It’s personal

Melissa Casey, the facilitator of Leader as Coach, is engaging, supportive, and insightful – all the amazing qualities you want in a mentor or coach. She works hard to meet her participants where they are at, and get to where they want and need to be. I left our one-on-one conversation feeling enlightened, energized, understood, and supported!

5. It’s more than a single session

If I learned anything from my four-year bachelor’s degree, it is that it takes time for information to really sink in. The challenge with one-day sessions is that, although we walk away with lots of great knowledge, once we get back to the workplace it is easy to lose sight of what we learned and how to implement it. Taking time to think, explore, and practice helps get the most meaning and value out of a learning opportunity.

Leader as Coach includes three full-day sessions, and three one-hour personal coaching sessions spread over several weeks. The pacing of the course allows for a lot of time for participants to reflect, implement, and evaluate what they learn. Spread out sessions also fit better with busy nonprofit schedules.


Want to sign up for Leader as Coach too? Register to participate in the spring session starting in April in both Edmonton and Calgary. Find out more about this program on the Casey Executive Coaching website.

Vada Antonakis
Volunteer Alberta

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