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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

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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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Guest Post: The Art of Disruption – A Reflection

This post originally appeared on the Tamarack Institute blog on July 25, 2016.

Join Tamarack in Toronto this September for the Community Change Institute!


Last week, Tamarack’s Liz Weaver and Paul Born hosted a webinar on Community Change: The Art of Disruption as part of a Community Change Webinar Series. In this conversation Liz and Paul discussed some emerging ideas and strategies that are disrupting how some communities today are responding to the complex issues that they face.

There were quite a few ideas that emerged from this conversation, but three in particular stood out to me:

Number 1 | The Power of Connection

Number 2 | The Power of the People

Number 3 | The Power of the BIG 5

The Power of Connection

Liz began the conversation with the acknowledgment that in today’s society people seem to be so connected, yet so disconnected at the same time. We see this in everyday life – we are constantly connected and dialed in to one another’s lives via Text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the list goes on and on. But at times it feels that despite this constant online connection, many people are experiencing less and less real-life, meaningful face-to-face interaction.Diverse_Hands.jpg

The same could be said of the many organizations that are working tirelessly to create real, meaningful change in our communities and across the globe. Thanks to technology we see change-makers across the globe praising one another’s work, sharing their successes and supporting one another – we also see the criticism, the analysis of each other’s failures and at times, outright competition. Within the realm of community change, individuals and organizations alike are so much more aware of what other organizations are doing and what is happening in other communities, but we are not as involved or connected as we could be. Change-makers are often so disconnected in their work and when they do connect it is often very surface-level.

During the webinar, Liz reminded us that there are so many wonderful organizations doing incredible work but many are not achieving the big-scale change that they so desire. When you look at groups that are creating real traction in their communities you notice that there is something different going on and I think the answer circles back to this idea of connection.

To create real change, both in our individual lives and within our communities we need to connect – real-life, meaningful face-to-face interaction. We need to completely disrupt the ways that we have existed and worked within the realm of community change thus far and do something different.

The Power of the People

A second aha moment that came from this recent webinar was in regards to the power of the people. As Paul explored ideas of community change and disruption he was simply overflowing with the possibilities of people. Paul reflected on the ways in which Canadian citizens have completely stepped up when it comes to positive community change, citing the example of many Canadian citizens’ support of Syrian refugees. He also mentioned incredible examples of leadership happening in the realm of poverty reduction in cities like Toronto and Edmonton. We are beginning to see a huge shift in social responsibility – where people and their cities are no longer waiting for big governments to step in and take action, but rather the people and the cities themselves are becoming the leaders in large-scale social change.

Protest-1.jpgWe are in a wonderful time where it seems people are no longer waiting on the world to change – they are creating that change. They have decided to throw out the rule book and write their own. This is disruption at it’s finest.

Citizens want to be involved, so let’s involve them. Citizens want to be engaged, so let’s engage them. Paul reminds us that within the realm of community change it is our responsibility and our privilege to truly and deeply engage the people within our communities who are outside our organizations. There is definitely something to be said about the power of the people and their ability to disrupt and impact real change.

The Power of the BIG 5

During the webinar, Liz and Paul also touch on Tamarack’s five BIG ideas for making significant change:5.png

  1. Collective Impact
  2. Community Engagement
  3. Collaborative Leadership
  4. Community Development and Innovation
  5. Evaluating Community Impact

Our Idea Areas are key principles and techniques that help community leaders to realize the change they want to see. It doesn’t matter what issue you are facing – whether you are tackling poverty reduction, dealing with food access issues, wanting to improve health or trying to deepen the sense of community in your city – the thinking around these five areas and the application of the guiding techniques will help you to achieve impact.

The question we must ask ourselves is this: How do we use these five BIG ideas to create positive disruption within the realm of community change? And what does the future of these five key idea areas look like?

Collective Impact

Liz talks about the future of Collective Impact – Collective Impact 3.0 if you will – and the emphasis on evolving from a shared-agenda, to a community-wide agenda. In order to create real, disruptive change the goals of a Collective Impact initiative must be owned by the entire community, not just the folks doing the ground work.

*Liz and Mark Cabaj will be hosting a webinar on Collective Impact 3.0 – Register now! They will also be writing a paper on Collective Impact 3.0 so keep your eyes open for this!

Community Engagement

In our cities and communities, a new generation of community engagement is emerging. People want to be engaged in decisions, they want to work together and they want better outcomes for themselves and their neighbours.

Paul talks about how he used to look at community engagement in three stages: inform, consult, and involve. But over the years has discovered that we can no longer separate these three pieces, we must inform, consult and involve in one stride. Engaging citizens in every stage is a critical component of any work that will impact community in any way.

Collaborative Leadership

In the conversation about Collaborative Leadership a listener asked the following question How can we better engage business in Collective Impact initiatives?” To which Liz responded that there are business leaders “with heart.” The more important question, Liz suggests, is how do we engage those business leaders who have heart and how do we connect them with community change?

Liz suggests that the best tactic to address this issue is to:

  1. Do your homework
  2. Find the right fit and engage in real conversations (remember that thing I said about connection? It works – we promise;))
  3. Don’t stress about the “no” – focus on the positive outcomes

The future of collaborative leadership is a future with positive, cross-sectoral relationships that disrupt the current boundaries set in place.

Community Innovation

In their conversation, Liz and Paul stress that positive disruption can come at a systems level but also at the level of community programming. Often times innovation is happening right on the ground, centred within a community. This is the type of innovation that is key to real community change and this is the type of innovation that should be shared.

This is the kind of work that we want to highlight at Tamarack – both at the Community Change Institute this fall but also in our everyday work.

Evaluation

Liz says “evaluation is key but what can we do about learning and sense-making amidst evaluation?” – It’s time to take evaluation to the next level. We need to begin to think about what we can truly learn from the evaluation process and results and really make sense of what is discovered.

For me, the Art of Disruption is about engaged people and organizations rising up, breaking through boundaries and working together in new ways. The Art of Disruption requires flexibility and encourages the evolution and adaptation of perspective and practice.

I recently attended a one-day event with Paul Born in London, Ontario and at one point he jokingly began to sing a song that I feel sums up the Art of Disruption beautifully…

“The more we get together, together, together – the more we get together the happier we will be!”

 Continue Learning: 

Happy Learning!

Sienna Jae Taylor
Tamarack Institute

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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