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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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Advocacy: Networking for a Cause

prl_logoThis week we are sharing a blog by Meredith Bratland, Communications Coordinator at Parkland Regional Library. The article originally appeared in their publication, Quatrefoil Summer 2016.

While Meredith focuses on advocacy for libraries, we believe her insights are valuable for nonprofits in any subsector!


Advocacy work can be a hard sell. I’ve been conducting advocacy workshops with library boards throughout the region for three years and sometimes it sounds more political, complicated, and quite frankly like hard work than it truly is.

Basically, advocacy is networking for a cause.

Advocate (verb): publically recommend or support.

Network (verb): interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.

When advocating for your library in the public sphere, you are still getting many of the benefits of traditional networking. It can be even more fulfilling because you are not just focusing on developing your own career but developing public services for your community as well.

Advocating and networking have these common characteristics that go together like peanut butter and jam:

  • Meeting and connecting with community members.
  • Building your list of contacts within the community.
  • Investing in your social capital.

Business writer Margaret Heffernan explains that “social capital is a form of mutual reliance, dependency, and trust. It hugely changes what people can do. This is more true now than ever. It’s impossible in modern organizations to know everything that you need to know. What you need are lots of people who know lots of different things. Collectively you’re smarter.”[1]

By creating a network of people in your community and letting them know you’re an advocate for the library, you can impact your library’s goals significantly because of the opportunities that arise from involving other perspectives.

Advocacy quoteThere are a few tips that make networking easier for introverts and extroverts:[2]

  1. Approach someone confidently.
  2. Have your elevator pitch, a concise 30 second message, ready and polished.
  3. Ask thoughtful questions.
  4. Be genuinely interested.
  5. Say something memorable that emphasizes or demonstrates your elevator speech.
  6. Follow up!

It can be even more straightforward by creating an advocacy plan. In the workshop, we discuss and create key messages that can be your elevator speech. We identify stories, which would act as a memorable tidbit that emphasizes the key message or elevator speech. Your entire library board will be sharing a similar message and the chance of success increases exponentially because of the connections created in each of your separate networks.

Your social capital will rise and your library’s goals and visibility in the community will improve too.

Meredith Bratland
Parkland Regional Library

 

[1] Career advice for millennials (and really, anyone) from Margaret Heffernan by Juliet Blake
[2] Practical Networking Tips for Introverts by Maricella Herrera Avila
Header photo attribution: WOCinTech

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From the Vault: What I Learned By Listening

This blog was originally posted April 17, 2012.

A few months ago I sat in on a workshops helping organizations market their volunteer opportunities to recruit new volunteers, as well as retain their current volunteers. One of my key takeaways was the need to conduct satisfaction interviews with your current volunteers – see if they’re happy in their role, happy with the way the organization works, and ask if there are any areas they’d like to expand into within the organization.

One of my volunteer activities is managing a completely volunteer-run online magazine, Sound and Noise, so I decided to apply that learning to my own organization. It had never occurred to me to actually ask our volunteers whether they were happy with their experience, which is strange because the reason I began managing the magazine was that I was dissatisfied with my own experience.

While the prospect of sitting down with our volunteers and asking for feedback on how I was doing seemed daunting, I was surprised at how easy the process ended up being. The Editor and I sat down to decide what questions we wanted to start with. I was a little wary, as the four questions we came up with seemed so basic. I wasn’t sure if we would get the feedback we wanted (or needed!) from our questions, but I decided to give it a shot.

We decided to ask:

  • General check in – what do you want to do more of? What do you want to do less of? Are there any particular skills you’d like to improve by being involved with Sound and Noise?
  • If you weren’t a writer, would you read Sound and Noise? Why or why not? What would make you a regular reader?
  • Do you find our writing workshops helpful? How do you feel about the quality of writing on the magazine?
  • How is the writing and editing process? How can we improve it?

I was blown away by the responses I got.

Happy coffee ladyOnce I bought our volunteers a coffee and sat down to chat with them, they completely opened up about everything that is right – and wrong – with the magazine. But more than that, they were more than willing to give me concrete suggestions for things I should keep the same and ways I could improve their experience. I went into my meetings expecting to hear general comments such as, “I like the atmosphere” or, “I want to improve my articles,” but I ended up hearing things like:

  • You should highlight the events you think we should review.
  • The workshops are great, but can we do more workshops about concept pieces?
  • I’m interested in helping out with the editorial process.

On top of all the great suggestions I got directly from the people who see “the other side” of the work I do, I got the sense that the volunteers were happy they were able to contribute in a different way to the magazine. In turn, asking for feedback makes it more likely that they’ll continue on as volunteers, and maybe take on greater roles within the magazine.

What about you? Have you ever conducted a satisfaction interview with your volunteers? What types of questions did you ask and what feedback did you get?

Jenna Marynowski
Volunteer Alberta

Look Up

Creating Alberta’s best future through social innovation

A couple weeks ago, Volunteer Alberta held our AGM during the Impact for Sustainability Conference. We were thrilled to have guest speaker Kate Letizia on the agenda to share with us The Future of Social Innovation in Alberta. We envision a high-functioning, impactful, and resilient nonprofit sector emerging through the social innovation ecosystem in Alberta. We want to know:

How can we work together to develop the dynamic relationships required to maintain stability, while taking the risks required to explore and test innovative approaches?

Future Social InnovationIf you missed our AGM and would like to learn more about Kate’s presentation, you can check out the full report from ABSI Connect: The Future of Social Innovation Alberta 2016 or the summary report. Created by ABSI Fellows Kate Letizia, Aleeya Velji, and Lesely Cornelisse, the report seeks to answer the question “How can we do better at solving complex social and environmental problems in our province?”

Kelsey Spitz, administrator and advisor for the ABSI Connect Fellows, shared some of the insights she learned from the report in a blog. You can find her whole blog on the ABSI Connect website – Here is an excerpt from her post:


Here is what I learned from the ABSI Connect Fellows…

Alberta is rad(ical).

TogetherAlberta has a rich tradition of social innovation. It is the province of the Famous Five, who secured women legal recognition as ‘persons’ in Canada, leading to a radical shift in our social relationships and in Canadian jurisprudence. It is the only province where the Métis have a legislated land base, with the goals “to secure a Métis land base for future generations, local autonomy, and economic self-sufficiency” (Source: Alberta Indigenous Relations). And it was the first province to develop a formal interface for non-profit sector leaders to address high level, sector-wide issues directly with government officials – the Alberta Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Initiative.

Alberta has consistently been the home of key justice and equality movements, from the United Farmers of Alberta to the Pembina Institute.

What is common to all of these milestones? Each transforms a critical relationship, introducing a new status quo that advances, in some way, inclusion, openness and deeper collaboration.

Author Thomas King (and a former professor of Native Studies at University of Lethbridge) writes, “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (The Truth About Stories, 2003). The stories we tell about ourselves matter; they inform how we see, show up and act in our daily lives. The Fellows amplified Alberta’s story as a leader in doing what it takes for community well being and equality, shedding light on an inspiring legacy of operating at the radical edge of innovation.

It is time to raise a barn together.

While there is this rich history of social innovation in Alberta, one contemporary pattern the Fellows surfaced was in the opposite direction. Today, the social impact ecosystem celebrates and rewards individualism over collective action. There has been a shift toward communities of heroes, rather than heroic communities. Short time horizons for results and a focus on individual agency undercuts an otherwise deep interest in collaborative action and isolates successful initiatives embodying this approach.

Old manListen to speak.

When the Fellows began their journey last summer, social innovation was a vexed concept in Alberta, specifically in Calgary and Edmonton, where their efforts were concentrated. Some folks considered it a critical new process to advance long sought social change, others considered it an empty fad, others still saw evidence of neoliberalism in the approach, and yet others felt it was either a useful or obnoxious term to describe the kind of breakthrough work they had already been dedicated to for years.

The Fellows started from a place of deep listening, inviting each person they spoke with to share what they thought the value, definition, and possibility of social innovation is. In doing so, the Fellows killed two birds with one stone: they discovered that there is a common direction that people want to walk together (toward solving root causes) and, by listening and resourcing, they empowered the work of a diverse array of actors in both their current work and towards that common direction.

The Fellows learned that it absolutely matters to have a shared story, but that story must be accessible, inclusive, inspiring and democratic. Here is how I heard it: our common ground is in our deep dedication to aligning our social change efforts with our fundamental intent. If the goal is to solve something, then we focus on solving it. If the goal is to change the status quo, then we reimagine it. There is a growing movement of processes, models, approaches and shared learning that will help us align intent with action, whether we must invent, innovate, adapt, adopt or collaborate to get there.

Social innovation is the stuff of culture.

With little or no preconceptions of what they would be sharing back with community at the end of their term, the patterns and opportunities the Fellows identified through emergent learning all relate to the cultural elements shaping how and why we seek to forge solutions to our most complex challenges.

Plan 2What they heard and learned strikes at the heart of how we think about, enact and vision impactful social change. What we call it matters less than identifying the systemic patterns shaping how we go about it and working to break the patterns holding us from our core intent.

Like any journey without a map – and solving complex social and ecological problems is as far from having a map as possible – we must constantly check-in on our direction and our path, referencing the changing landscape, the local know-how, resonant examples, our experiences, the experiences and stories of others, and our own courage to try a path untested. With an appreciation that we alone do not have the answers, but the answers are out there, we can make a concerted effort to contribute to their collective creation.

Thank you to the Fellows for leading and inspiring a unique inquiry, learning journey and community. Thank you all – especially the funding partners, hosts, advisors and contributors – for your time, contribution, support, insights and partnership. The journey continues with the Fellows’ insights offering pathways forward and a true shock of the possible.

 

Kelsey Spitz
ABSI Connect / Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National

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