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Strengthen Your Brand, Strengthen Your Work

With about 25,000 nonprofits in Alberta alone, there is plenty we can all learn from one another. From our triumphs to our tribulations, we can all learn a thing or two from other nonprofits to apply to our own work in the sector.

Jennifer Esler, the previous Communications Manager at Volunteer Alberta, has been working and volunteering in the nonprofit sector for many years. With this experience under her belt, she has lots of valuable advice to share with other nonprofit professionals. We captured some of her wisdom about nonprofit branding:

What is your brand?

Jen found one of the most important things she learned working in nonprofits is to have a strong brand. Having a strong brand is just as important for nonprofits as it is for business.

Brand is the immediate feeling people have when they see, hear, and interact with an organization, and it goes much deeper than simply a logo. Your brand affirms what your organization stands for and values. It is the deep, underlying identity that guides your organization and informs how your staff and volunteers act and communicate.

Not having a clear vision of your brand and your mission confuses people and leaves discrepancies within your organization!

Who are your audiences?

Jen shared that one of the most important aspects of branding is knowing your audiences. Your audiences include anyone your organization interacts with: funders, clients, potential volunteers, partners, and the communities your serve.

Tailor your brand to your audience, not the other way around. Identify the goals and problems that the audience you are addressing may have from their perspective.

What moves a donor to give to your cause? How does a volunteer benefit from working with your organization? What concerns can you quell for your funders?

Once you have familiarized yourself with your audiences, you can decide how you would like to engage with them. Ask the following questions to guide your communications:

  • What do you want them to know?
  • How do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them to find?
  • What action do you want them to take?

Answering these questions will help you pinpoint what your goals are and give you clarity about how to communicate your brand to your important stakeholders.

Know the ‘why’:

When we asked Jen what she thinks nonprofits should know about effective messaging and branding, she said that she wants people to remember the ‘why’:

  • Why your organization exists
  • Why clients choose your organization
  • Why staff show up to work every day
  • Why volunteers want to work with you

Understanding your ‘why’ will help strengthen your brand and messaging and ensure your programs and services match your mission and vision. A strong brand draws donors, volunteers, advocates, and funders to the organization, so ensuring that you communicate well supports your organization’s work!

Keep it simple

Branding can sound daunting. To keep things simple, Jen shared her top tips and tricks for getting nonprofit messaging and branding across:

  • Know your mission
  • Know why people engage with you
  • When writing messages, have a clear idea of what you want your audience to know

We hope that these tips will help your organization further develop your brand and share your vision!

Whitney Cullingham
Volunteer Alberta

Apple Computer

What does Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation mean for your nonprofit?

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) is coming into full force July 1, 2017 after a transition period of three years. The law prohibits sending commercial emails to Canadians without their consent. Here are some considerations to help ensure your organization is following this legislation:

We are a nonprofit! Our emails aren’t “commercial” are they? 

Your emails are commercial if they include or advertise any programs, services, or products the recipient could pay for.

For nonprofit organizations, commercial content in emails might include advertising membership, sharing workshop opportunities, selling event tickets, or promoting a corporate sponsor. If your emails include this type of information, CASL applies to your work.

For registered charities, soliciting donations is not considered a commercial activity.

CASL applies to my organization – what do we need to do?

You need to do three things to meet CASL: get consent, include identifying information about your organization, and include an unsubscribe function.

1. Get Consent

Your email recipients need to agree to receive emails from you.

In most cases, your organization is required to get expressed consent. This means email recipients need to ‘opt-in’ to receive your emails.

Implied consent is acceptable with your members, donors, volunteers, business relationships, and program participants who have been actively engaged with your organization in the past two years. Keep in mind, consent is only implied within the boundaries of that particular relationship – for example, you may only have implied consent from program participants for emails about said program. Implied consent needs to be renewed every two years.

When in doubt, get expressed consent!

2. Include Identifying Information

Your email recipients need to know who is sending the email (your organization) and how to get in touch with you. Add your nonprofits email, phone number, or address to your emails in a signature line or an email footer.

3. Include an Unsubscribe Function

Just because your email recipient gave consent, doesn’t mean they can’t withdraw that consent at a later time. You need to have a way for them to do this (like an unsubscribe button) and a process for ensuring you don’t keep emailing them after they have asked to be removed from your list.

What happens if my organization makes a mistake?

Originally, private citizens would have been allowed to file lawsuits against organizations and individuals who did not follow CASL as of July 1, 2017. The provisions allowing these private lawsuits were suspended this week.

The Competition Bureau, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and the CRTC can all still take legal action to enforce CASL, with penalties for the most serious violations ranging up to $10 million.

As well, personal assets of board members are no longer at risk in the case of a mistake or CASL noncompliance.

It is important for nonprofit organizations to ensure that their insurance covers possible risks.

More information on CASL for nonprofits

Lucky for all of us, there are many great CASL resources available for nonprofits! Here are some good places to look for more information, tools, and templates:

Please keep in mind that Volunteer Alberta is not able to offer legal advice. We hope the information we have offered is helpful and we encourage your nonprofit to contact a lawyer with any legal questions.

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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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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