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What does the Alberta Government think about the nonprofit sector? Tips for government relations

Have you ever wondered what the Provincial Government’s take is on the nonprofit sector? Well, you’re in luck! Last fall, the Government of Alberta (GoA) released a discussion paper called Profiling the Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector (NPVS) in Alberta.

In this paper the Government of Alberta states, “The primary contribution of the NPVS is improving the quality of life in every community in the province. The sector drives community cohesion; it builds a sense of belonging and brings people together.” At Volunteer Alberta, we couldn’t agree more.

Reading the paper, we quickly realized that it is a great tool to use when talking to stakeholders about the sector, or as a starting point for nonprofit-Provincial Government relations. So, we decided to break down some key points in this blog in case you don’t have time to read the entire paper.

Definition and structure of the sector

The first section of the paper acknowledges that the NPVS is diverse and that, “[we] are the backbone supporting vibrant, welcoming and engaging communities and Albertans… [Our sector] touches every Albertan’s life in some way.”

There are more than 26,200 nonprofit organizations that make up 15 sub-sectors of nonprofit organizations. Notably, this paper recognizes a range of nonprofit structures; from informal to structured legal forms – and many in between.

The GoA then goes on to define nonprofits using the Alberta Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector Initiative’s (ANVSI) definition. They define nonprofits as:

“Self-governing organizations that exist to service the public benefit, generate social capital but not distribute profit to members, depend to a meaningful degree on volunteers, involve participation on a voluntary basis, and are independent or institutionally distinct from the formal structures of Government and the profit sector.”

Financial and social impact

Their paper also details the nonprofit’s contributions to Alberta’s economy and communities. This includes several different calculations on the economic and social value our sector holds in delivering complex services to communities, for example:

  • “$8.3 billion in volunteer labour is donated to the sector every year.”
  • “The number of nonprofit organizations in Alberta grew by 35 per cent between 2003 and 2018, from 19,356 to 26,212.”
  • “1.4 million Albertans volunteer across sub-sectors each year.”

Regarding impact, the report endorses the NPVS as “stewards of the collective wellbeing and common good” within Alberta. It recognizes that the NPVS faces “complex issues with efficiency, empathy and innovation” with an ability to take risks and find success which would not be possible in other sectors.

Nonprofit’s relationship with Government

Overall, the GoA believes that the nonprofit sector and Government have ‘interconnected mandates to provide services to Albertans.’ And when it comes to our participation in policy work, the nonprofit sector is seen as a “bridge to everyday Albertans.”

We, therefore, are responsible for holding each other accountable. For example, the Government holds us accountable via “regulatory and monitoring powers that ensure appropriate use of funds”, while we hold them accountable through “government relations efforts, writing position papers, and occasionally through judicial review.”

Building a positive relationship with Government

The paper ends with “the Building Blocks of a Positive Relationship” borrowed from Carter and Speevak’s Deliberate Relationships Between Government and the Nonprofit Sector. These are building blocks that support a positive Government-nonprofit relationship including seven points about communication, advocacy, and policy.

Finally, the appendices contain a glossary of terms, and “The Theory and History of Government/Nonprofit Sector Relationships in Canada.” This is beneficial as a brief overview for beginners. For more information, you can check out this blog from The Philanthropist.

 

Are you interested in reading the discussion paper? Profiling the Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector in Alberta is a great foundational document we recommend anyone involved in the nonprofit sector, advocacy, or their community read. This document can be leveraged as a starting place to build your organization’s government relations strategy.

 

Victoria Hinderks

Volunteer Alberta

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For Volunteer Managers: A new approach to volunteer screening

There is a misconception that volunteer screening is only about screening people out as a form of risk mitigation. And to a certain extent, volunteer screening is meant to accomplish this; but, screening is also about screening people in, finding the right fit for any type of volunteer role. However, volunteer screening – and screening people in, is not without its challenges.

Tackling challenges with a volunteer screening learning lab

In the fall of 2018, the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO), Boys and Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton (BGCBIGS), and Volunteer Alberta completed a collaborative initiative on volunteer screening.

Together, they designed the first-ever volunteer screening learning lab; a new learning offering with the design of a social innovation lab and a traditional workshop that combines learning content connected to the issue of screening.

Instead of delivering a simple PowerPoint or webinar, the learning lab is a more holistic approach that combined learning with practical application based on participants’ organizational challenges and needs.

ECVO, BGCBIGS of Edmonton and Volunteer Alberta designed the lab to help nonprofits tackle common external challenges when it comes to volunteer screening. Some of the challenges include (but are not limited to):

  • the inclusion of individuals with criminal records
  • the inclusion of individuals with disabilities
  • the inclusion of new Canadians
  • episodic and crisis volunteering
  • limited time, high volunteer turnover rates
  • increasing demand for skilled volunteer roles

Over the course of three months, four full-day screening lab sessions ran with nonprofits participating from Edmonton and area.

Building adaptive leadership and capacity with the screening lab

While the screening lab wasn’t necessarily about how to become a good leader, it reinforced strong leadership practices and capacities. The lab allowed participants to play with and explore effective strategies for their work, as well as accept constructive criticism and implement changes.

Adaptive capacity and adaptive leadership approaches mean anyone at any part in the organization can carry out change. “The screening lab was about increasing their leadership capacity to lead change in their organization relative to where they are and what the subject is,” said Annand Ollivierre, Networks & Engagement Director at Volunteer Alberta.

“The lab allowed them to evaluate their own biases – which I believe is an important part of leadership,” said Annand.

The screening lab provides an opportunity for nonprofits to become leaders in effective screening practices. This helps to build capacity for the sector when newly equipped nonprofits can share their knowledge with other organizations. At least, this is the hope with the learning lab.

What’s next for the screening lab?

Currently, ECVO, BGCBIGS of Edmonton and Volunteer Alberta are in the debrief and evaluation phase. Specifically, we are evaluating whether we should conduct another lab and when. Additionally, we will be putting together a lab report and exploring how the results could be shared with others in our sector.

It has also prompted Volunteer Alberta to look at their learning offerings, but more specifically, what is it that nonprofits want to learn? Based on initial findings, participants’ needs for more solutions for volunteer recruitment, retention and engagement may spark the next iteration of the learning lab.

At some point in the future, Volunteer Alberta may help to expand this learning offering across the province. While we do not know what this looks like yet, members can be sure that they will be the first to know about potential learning lab opportunities for their communities.

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Member Spotlight: IVC for Strathcona County’s spirit of giving

As the holidays draw near, you can feel that the spirit of giving is in the air. It’s a great time of year that reminds us of how powerful giving back and spreading kindness can be. But, Alberta nonprofits remind us each day; they model this spirit of giving by voluntarily and selflessly giving back to their communities year-round.

Throughout the year, the Information Volunteer Centre (IVC) for Strathcona County generously gives back to their community through their various programs and services. But, one program, in particular, is unique in how it supports other nonprofits in the community.

Giving to local nonprofits and their community

The ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program helps to enhance the effectiveness of other nonprofits by providing much needed equipment or items free of charge. Many of the items can be used for fundraising events, and organizations are welcome to borrow any item. Items include a cotton candy machine, an overhead projector, a bookbinding machine, just to name a few.

“I can tell you it’s wildly successful. In fact, we’ve recently received a grant from Suncor to increase our inventory as we were getting so many requests for equipment,” says Judy Ferguson, Executive Director at IVC for Strathcona County.

Impact on the community

Many nonprofits can’t afford to rent or buy this type of equipment for organizational use. As a result, the ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program helps nonprofits in the Strathcona County community to save money.

“It’s an interesting program that is very popular here in the county, and I don’t know who else could do it,” says Judy. “It’s a difficult thing for other organizations to purchase equipment like that and make it available free of charge to community organizations.”

By spending less on equipment for overhead purposes or fundraising events, it allows nonprofits to maximize their dollar for their causes. That is, nonprofits can re-allocate their funds to achieve more social good.

IVC for Strathcona County actively works to achieve inclusion and affordability, and their ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program is an example of this work. By considering the needs of the community and filling that need, they support and empower nonprofits, big or small.

The Information and Volunteer Centre (IVC) for Strathcona County has operated for 43 years. The organization gives back and strengthens its community by providing pathways to connect, engage and empower residents with volunteer opportunities and services, and by providing training and information to other nonprofits and community organizations.

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What is the power in a network? Three ways networks support the nonprofit sector

We often talk about how Volunteer Alberta is a part of many local, provincial and national networks. But, what does this really mean for the Alberta nonprofit sector and our members? What is the power in a network and more specifically, what is the power in our network?

Recently, I sat down with our Executive Director, Karen Link, to get a greater understanding of what’s happening out in the provincial and national nonprofit landscape, and what networking opportunities we recently participated in. During our discussion, I realized how our networking opportunities (and networks in general) support, elevate and advocate on the nonprofit sector’s behalf in three key ways.

Networks help us to identify priorities, challenges and trends

On October 10th and 11th, Karen attended Ontario Nonprofit Network’s 2018 Nonprofit Driven conference to connect with like-minded people in nonprofit across Canada. The conference provided her with an opportunity to position Volunteer Alberta nationally and to broaden our awareness of what is happening in other provinces.

“By broadening our network nationally, it allows us to identify that other province’s challenges are similar to ours; that our challenges extend beyond provincial boundaries,” says Karen. “Because of these conversations, we can start to recognize relevant and current sector trends. This then allows us to prioritize accordingly and find innovative solutions, together.”

Networks help us to leverage each other’s knowledge and skill-sets

A new networking opportunity regarding volunteer screening came to us through our existing connection with Volunteer Canada’s board of directors and the Volunteer Centre Council (VCC). Last week, we sent one of our staff member’s, Daniela Seiferling, to the National Roundtable on Screening Volunteers in Ottawa.

The second of now two National Roundtables focused on looking at other provincial and national models to inform the proposed Volunteer Canada Volunteer Screening and Education Centre. Currently, Australia, Scotland and Ireland successfully administer national volunteer screening models in their countries.

“The fact that representatives from Scotland, Ireland and Australia are attending the roundtable presents us with an opportunity to learn from each other on a global scale and understand the global sector,” says Karen.

Networks help us to understand and build each other’s capacity

Back in June, we attended Alberta Culture and Tourism’s inaugural Enhanced Capacity Advancement Program (ECAP) meeting for all currently funded organizations. This meeting was an intentional effort to map out where all of the organizations are at with capacity building on three different levels: individual, organizational and system.

During this meeting, organizations identified where there’s a lot of work happening, where there are gaps, and how we could fill those gaps together.

“The Alberta Government wants to support and build greater collective capacity in the nonprofit sector. It’s a renewed effort and opportunity – to build a sense of shared ownership and explore partnership like never before,” says Karen.

Additionally, organizations identified and discussed how to link and leverage their programs and services during a second meeting this October.

“What’s yet to be determined is how will we do this? So, I asked two questions in the last meeting,” says Karen. “How do ECAP funded organizations scale up local programs and services across the province? And, what role can Volunteer Alberta play to support them in scaling up their programs and services?”

Alberta Volunteer Centre Network and final thoughts

Our opportunity to be involved in provincial and national conversations helps us to advocate on behalf of our members and the sector. Specifically, the Alberta Volunteer Centre Network (AVCN) plays a significant role in affecting and carrying out change locally and regionally.

Other networks and organizations like VCC, the Alberta Nonprofit Network and the Alberta Government recognize the value AVCN has. This is why network representation is important to Volunteer Alberta, as it is part of our same role and function.
We convene networks, connect the dots, and connect/encourage others to be part of a broader network. This is the real value of what we bring by working together; this is the power in our network.

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Member Spotlight: Stony Plain FCSS builds community resilience with local network

Strengthening and equipping communities with outreach programs can be key in connecting and creating a local network. And, when communities are connected through a local network, they know how and what type of resources they can access, as well as identify opportunities for collaboration.

Creating a ‘local network’ to end family violence

Through its various outreach programs, Stony Plain FCSS is building a local network that supports and establishes community resilience. Stony Plain FCSS’s most recent program, Cut it Out, leverages existing community relationships to create a safe haven for victims of family violence.

Stony Plain’s Cut it Out program provides education, awareness and skills to salon professionals for how to refer clients suffering from family violence to community resources, safely.

“The goal is to work collaboratively to end family and relationship violence in our community through education, awareness and support,” says Dianne Dube, Volunteer Development Coordinator.

Promoting good mental health and social well-being

Salon professionals can play a key role in ending family violence, as they are experienced listeners who see their clients regularly, and thus build trusting relationships with their clients.

By engaging volunteers to provide necessary information and education to salon professionals, Stony Plain FCSS equips salon professionals to recognize and respond to signs of abuse. This valuable and educational service leverages salon professionals’ unique relationships with clients as

“We provide many programs that promote good positive mental health and social well-being. We are enhancing inclusion and diversity by spreading the news of how we can be an all-inclusive community, how can we do better, and how to remove barriers to inclusion,” says Dianne. “And that’s what the volunteer centre strives to promote is supporting volunteerism because that’s what makes a healthy community.”

Stony Plain FCSS launched the program in early fall of this year, in partnership with other agencies and volunteers in the community. “I think the impact our organization has is that we are connecting the community,” says Dianne.

Located in Stony Plain, AB, Stony Plain FCSS supports families and individuals in all life stages through prevention-focused programs, to promote and maintain social wellness for a healthy community.

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