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Brainstorming (attr poptech photo on flickr )

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.

Jigsaw puzzle

From Nonprofit AF: Tips from introverts for introverts on how to survive a conference

This month, we focused on and talked about leveraging and expanding networks on social media and in our Member Exclusive newsletter. But, building the foundation of your network is no easy task, let alone leveraging and expanding it!

And, if you are introverted or shy, it can be incredibly intimidating to attend conferences, approach experts and other nonprofits, conduct government relations (the list goes on!), as part of your overall organizational network strategy.

Nonprofit AF’s blog post for introverts

So to help our introverted and shy nonprofit staff, volunteers, board members and leaders, we thought we would share this blog from Nonprofit AF’s Vu Le: Tips from introverts for introverts on how to survive a conference!

“If you are an introvert, attending a conference can be an overwhelming experience. The 12-hours of networking. The constant discomfort of trying to figure out where to sit. The intrusive icebreakers that involve disclosing to strangers things that even your own family members don’t know about you! (“Dad…there’s something I should tell you. My favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate fudge brownie.”)

If the thought of spending time with hundreds of other people at a conference for several days makes you want to run home and re-binge-watch all four seasons of “Battlestar Galactica,” you are not alone. (But you probably wish to be! #introvertjokes!) People think I’m an extrovert because I do so much public speaking, but the reality is that as a nonprofit leader I have learned to use extroversion skills for my job, but that I need a lot of alone time to reflect and recharge. This is why I like, and need, to write all the time…and why I’m fully caught up on most popular TV shows.

So I asked the NAF Facebook community for tips on attending conferences as an introvert, and within hours received over 220 comments from fellow introverts. Apparently this is a huge topic, and there are many great resources on it, including:

– This post by Kishshana Palmer called “Getting the Most Out of Your Next Conference

– This TED talk and podcast by Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”

– This post by Trina Isakson called “The Introvert’s Guide to Network Building

– This post by Robbie Samuels called “’Can I go home now?’ Networking Tips for Introverts.””

 

There are a lot of great tips from his community in his post, but there were too many for us to copy onto our blog!

See the full list of 43 tips from introverts for introverts!

A special thanks to Vu Le for allowing us to share his blog content with our audiences!

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

 

 

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Guest blog: Four questions to ask when approaching small business donors

How to approach small business donors

Creating a Community Involvement Program for your Small Business helps businesses – and nonprofits – understand the components that drive a successful community-giving plan.

Now more than ever, small businesses know about the benefits of giving back. A well-executed community involvement strategy can create a proud and united employee culture, attract new customers and engage existing ones, and improve brand reputation. Really, building relationships with the nonprofit sector should be a no-brainer for companies looking to gain a competitive edge.

And yet, approaching a business for support can be one of the most awkward situations for any nonprofit. It can be an intimidating conversation, filled with uncertainty about expectations and etiquette surrounding a potentially sensitive topic.

But these conversations don’t have to be uncomfortable. When approached transparently and respectfully, nonprofits and small businesses can come to understand objectives on both sides and find common ground to build the foundation for a mutually beneficial partnership.

The community involvement toolkit from Alberta’s Promise, Creating a Community Involvement Program for your Small Business, breaks down the giving process into bite-sized segments for small businesses interested in supporting their community. The toolkit is a free resource available for download online. Here are four questions drawn from the toolkit that your nonprofit should consider asking when approaching local businesses for support.

What are your business’ goals for giving?

Before a business can even think about building a relationship with your nonprofit, they must identify their own internal objectives of giving back. Help them understand the “why” behind their community involvement strategy, and what they hope to gain.

Goals may include generating positive publicity, improving company morale, winning new business, developing the future workforce, or tackling issues that matter most to employees and customers. For an extensive list of giving objectives, check out page 9 of the toolkit.

What causes matter most to your business?

Alberta’s Promise – Pink Shirt Day

Small businesses simply can’t support every nonprofit that comes knocking, so it is up to them to narrow down the causes they want to support. If they have already defined their giving priorities, it will be easy to recognize whether or not your nonprofit’s cause aligns well.

For example, if the company believes in supporting education, your child literacy program may be a great fit. However, if the business has not defined their giving priorities, help them identify causes that connect with what they do, what they stand for, and what customers and employees value. Read page 11 of the toolkit for more on identifying giving priorities.

What resources are you interested in giving to the causes you care about?

Like any business activity, a community involvement program must be tied to a set budget and pool of resources. Find out what the business has to give, and remind them that giving can take all forms – not just financial support.

Employee volunteering, offering pro bono services, donating the use of meeting space, extending purchasing power, or launching a new product in support of a cause are just some of the creative and strategic ways in which businesses can support local nonprofits. See page 21 of the toolkit for more great ways to give.

Is there an opportunity for our organizations to work together?

Relationships should make sense for everyone involved. And community giving should never be a one-way transaction. Brainstorm ways your organization would be able to further the business’ giving objectives.

Would you be able to promote the company’s community giving to a large social media following or in your monthly newsletter? Could you offer unique teambuilding opportunities for the company’s staff? In exchange for event sponsorship, could you offer the company exclusive perks like media opportunities and complimentary VIP tickets? Get creative, and go into your conversation with a mental list of possibilities.

One final tip when approaching small businesses: don’t forget to communicate the impact of your organization. A well-rehearsed elevator pitch that is customized to your audience has the potential to spark a great conversation, a partnership, or even other donor referrals down the road.

Ready to forge some amazing local partnerships? Download the community involvement toolkit and add it to your arsenal of resources for approaching local businesses.

 

Alberta’s Promise makes community investment easy. The organization helps businesses in Alberta direct financial gifts, volunteer hours, and in-kind donations to non-profits that support the well-being of kids and their families. Learn more at www.albertaspromise.org.

Adison Wiberg

Marketing Communications Coordinator at Alberta’s Promise

 

Member Spotlight: How Network Leaders connect, collaborate and improve communities

Volunteer Lethbridge’s unique approach to community collaboration

Network leaders play an important role within the nonprofit sector. They create spaces for citizens, volunteers and organizations to collaborate and support one another. Volunteer Lethbridge is a nonprofit Network Leader in Alberta that promotes and fosters the value of volunteerism, community and the nonprofit sector.

Currently, Volunteer Lethbridge is working with the City of Lethbridge on mapping the assets of their community, to bring value to the city and the organizations they serve. This approach will assist in pinpointing the assets within the community and provide the opportunity to identify some of the gaps that could be filled to meet the needs of their community better.

“The city is really moving forward in a dynamic way to map the assets of our community and then be able to evaluate and see what are some of the trends, where are some of the gaps, and what are some of the programming that we need to develop,” says Diana Sim, Executive Director at Volunteer Lethbridge.

This Network Leader mindset encourages Diana to seek partnerships and potential connections to benefit nonprofits, volunteers, Lethbridge residents and their community as a whole.

“Our mission is about building connections and empowering individuals and organizations to enhance volunteerism and grow volunteer capacity,” says Diana.

Leveraging networks to help nonprofits grow in capacity with SCiP

One way Volunteer Lethbridge helps local nonprofits grow volunteer capacity is by promoting and leveraging the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCIP)* in their community. SCiP connects nonprofits with post-secondary students by facilitating internship opportunities for students to apply their skills and knowledge.

“As a Network Leader, we receive supports to be the local champion of SCiP and skilled volunteerism,” says Diana. “Over the past few years, I’ve leveraged SCiP in developing relationships with our local post-secondary institutions. The win-win-win ripple effect continues beyond what we see.”

By promoting SCiP in their community, Volunteer Lethbridge increases awareness of volunteerism and builds the future workforce of nonprofits by providing students a first-hand experience into the value of working in the nonprofit sector.

“SCiP interns really support the work of diverse agencies. It provides opportunities for students to gain experience and it helps relieve extra demands on staffing resources. More is accomplished with more people,” says Diana.

Connecting students with volunteer opportunities

Volunteer Lethbridge holds two volunteer fairs each year; one in September at the University of Lethbridge campus. The fair helps students discover ways they can connect with the community through volunteering and participating in SCiP, and prepares them to be a part of the community beyond their studies.

“Promoting SCiP always peaks interests, as students learn ways to gain valuable work experience and benefit financially as well,” says Diana. “Student engagement in the community is a great way for students to build their network, get to know the community and enrich an organization.”

*Administered by Volunteer Alberta and funded by the Government of Alberta

 

Over the years, Volunteer Lethbridge has established a solid reputation as a leader in the voluntary and nonprofit sector. Their services continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of nonprofit agencies, individuals and the community at large.

Navi Bhullar

Volunteer Alberta Intern

Young team

Leadership Takes Many Forms

The Casey Executive Coaching Leader as Coach Program is a developmental program for nonprofit leaders focused on building inclusive leadership practices and practical coaching skills. A leader-as-coach approach helps leaders, as well as staff, to develop to their highest potential.

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. Our Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) Coordinator, Tim Henderson, signed up for the program to develop his mentorship style. Tim found the concepts, theories, and techniques, introduced by Melissa Casey, helped him to understand what kind of leader he is and how he can use his skills to better help others.

We asked Tim what he learned from the course. If you choose to take the Leader as Coach Program you may learn something similar, or you may focus on your own learning goals instead!


VA: What did you experience from the course?

TH: It was fascinating to hear from the other participants in the group and get a sense of the roles they play in their own organizations. We discussed what leadership meant to each of us and found each person in the group had completely different strengths and weaknesses. What was interesting to see was how those traits shaped their respective leadership styles.

Hearing the stories of others helped me appreciate my own strengths, but they also helped me understand the steps I can take to improve my weaknesses and become a better leader.

Throughout the program we were given a number of opportunities to practice ‘active listening’ in both one-on-one and group scenarios. This type of listening helped us build trust amongst ourselves and ended up paving the way for more fruitful conversations as the course progressed.

VA: What did you take away from the course overall?

TH: Overall, I learned that leadership takes many forms. Every personality is different, but through active listening, anyone can provide leadership in their organization. We all have something different to bring to the table and, if given the tools, we are all capable of stepping into leadership. Through this program, Melissa (our host), provided these tools. Coming back to my organization after finishing the course, I found that I was able to connect and communicate with my colleagues more effectively.


Leader as Coach is designed for the nonprofit sector. Continuous learning and development supports positive change in ourselves and our work. Implementing change in our lives, work, and organizations can be challenging, so we get excited about opportunities that build in time to have practical hands-on experience and provide transformative leadership learning! Tim would recommend this course for anyone who is looking for personal or professional development related to leadership.

Do you want to sign up for Leader as Coach? Register to participate in the fall session beginning in October. This program is offered in both Calgary and Edmonton. Find out more about this program on the Casey Executive Coaching website.

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