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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

Woman in thought

Five reasons Leader as Coach might be right for you!

As Program Manager at Volunteer Alberta, I know being a strong leader is essential for my success and that of my team, organization, and Alberta’s nonprofit sector. I am passionate about constantly growing, developing, and learning as a leader; however, it can be challenging to do so in our fast-paced sector. Nonprofits are dynamic, demanding, and constantly evolving. There is a lot to keep up with, and finding time and resources for learning is no easy task.

So when I was offered the opportunity to sign up for the Casey Executive Coaching Leader as Coach Program, I made sure to jump and grab it! 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.

There are so many leadership programs out there, which adds another layer of complexity to seeking out leadership learning opportunities. So why did we choose to participate in and promote this one?


Five reasons why I signed up for Leader as Coach

1. It’s tailored for the nonprofit sector

There are many great learning options out there for leadership, but, while the nonprofit sector shares similarities with private and public sector, we are not the same. Acknowledging and addressing our unique differences is integral for succeeding as a leader in our field.

Leader as Coach is designed for the nonprofit sector. All the discussions, activities, and lessons keep a nonprofit perspective in mind to ensure participants gain the most out of the course. I also get to learn alongside nonprofit colleagues!

2. It’s about leading as a coach

While Leader as Coach is great for managers, it also recognizes that anyone can be a leader regardless of their official title. This course would benefit anyone in the sector who wants to be an inclusive leader, develop practical coaching skills, and act as a catalyst for positive change and development in their organization.

The leader-as-coach approach centers on helping your whole team meet their highest potential by developing your skill as a coach. The coach approach includes active listening, thought-provoking questions, and examination of barriers and stuck-points. As a result, there are significant benefits to leader-as-coach approach such as increased staff productivity, engagement, and even retention.

3. It’s affordable

In the nonprofit sector, we understand the value and impact of a dollar. So, it is important to get all the value we can out of any professional development opportunity. And with this course, you do!

Leader as Coach is a three-session course with three additional one-on-one coaching sessions, and, with Canada-Alberta Job Grant funding, the course only costs $500.

4. It’s personal

Melissa Casey, the facilitator of Leader as Coach, is engaging, supportive, and insightful – all the amazing qualities you want in a mentor or coach. She works hard to meet her participants where they are at, and get to where they want and need to be. I left our one-on-one conversation feeling enlightened, energized, understood, and supported!

5. It’s more than a single session

If I learned anything from my four-year bachelor’s degree, it is that it takes time for information to really sink in. The challenge with one-day sessions is that, although we walk away with lots of great knowledge, once we get back to the workplace it is easy to lose sight of what we learned and how to implement it. Taking time to think, explore, and practice helps get the most meaning and value out of a learning opportunity.

Leader as Coach includes three full-day sessions, and three one-hour personal coaching sessions spread over several weeks. The pacing of the course allows for a lot of time for participants to reflect, implement, and evaluate what they learn. Spread out sessions also fit better with busy nonprofit schedules.


Want to sign up for Leader as Coach too? Register to participate in the spring session starting in April in both Edmonton and Calgary. Find out more about this program on the Casey Executive Coaching website.

Vada Antonakis
Volunteer Alberta

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Binder office

From the Vault – Privacy Protection: 4 easy steps

This blog was originally posted August 30, 2016.


Young employeeEarlier this year, we shared three ways that being privacy conscious can improve your organization’s reputation. By being privacy conscious you can help strengthen your organization’s reputation, enhance the trust in your staff, and even increase the loyalty of donors, participants, and volunteers.

So what steps can your organization take to improve your privacy practices?

In Alberta, the Personal Information and Protection Act (PIPA) is part of our privacy legislation. PIPA is an outline of best practices for privacy protection, and all organizations can benefit by meeting these standards.

Did you know?

Most nonprofit organizations are only legally required to follow PIPA when collecting, using, or disclosing personal information as part of a commercial activity. For example, operating a day care, emailing your donor list, or selling products, training, or a membership.

Service Alberta has created a workbook specifically for nonprofit organizations to help evaluate and improve privacy protection practices. We have gone through the workbook and highlighted these four best practices for you.


4 Best Practices for Privacy Protection

1. Have a good reason for collecting the information you do.

ID cartoon

What personal information does your organization collect for each program or service that it offers?

Collecting a client’s birthday might be appropriate if your program has a minimum or maximum age requirement, but it would be unnecessary if the client simply wanted to sign up for your newsletter.

Your organization can create a list of the information your organization collects, along with the purpose for collecting each piece. If you find that your organization is collecting more information than it needs, arrange to get rid of the extra information you already have, and stop collecting the information from new participants.

2. Designate a privacy contact person.

Envelope cartoonChoose one person to be a privacy contact person (staff member, volunteer, or board member) to answer questions or requests about the personal information your organization collects.

This person should be familiar with your organization’s privacy policies and procedures, and be readily available to answer any questions.

3. Get consent for collecting, using, and disclosing personal information.

Pen cartoonThere are two types of consent, implied consent and express consent:

Implied consent: Implied consent is acceptable in situations where it is really clear why you are collecting personal information and how you will use it. For example, taking a donor’s credit card information on the payment screen.

Express consent: Most of the time it is a good idea for your organization to provide added clarity for people and provide the opportunity for them to expressly consent to the collection, use, and disclosure of their personal information.

Two examples of express consent statements your organization might use:

1. Your organization is collecting income information for program participants to ensure they meet the low-income requirement:

The income information you have provided will be used to determine your eligibility for the program, and will only be shared within our agency.

□ I consent this information can be used within the organization to verify eligibility.

2. Your organization is collecting medical information for day camp attendees:

My child’s provided medical information will be shared with camp volunteers to assist them in recognizing a medical emergency. I consent to the collection of my child’s personal information for this purpose.

Signature:  ______________

4. Safeguard and protect the information you collect.

Laptop cartoon

The personal information your organization keeps on your clients, donors, members, staff, and volunteers is sensitive. Take care of other people’s information as if it were your own:

  • Lock your filing cabinets and password protect all devices, including laptops, tablets, and flash drives.
  • Limit access to personal information to relevant staff or volunteers.
  • Don’t keep information you don’t need. For example, if you need to verify your volunteer has a driver’s license, make a note that it has been verified rather than keeping a copy of the driver’s license on file.

Remember: Social insurance numbers, credit card information, birthdates, names, and addresses can all be used in identity theft. Medical information, criminal record checks, and income information can also have serious impacts on personal relationships, careers, and housing.

While privacy protection may require you to create new policies, or change your procedures, in the end best practices help your organization to protect those people who are integral to the work you do. After all, nonprofit organizations exist for the people we serve – let’s all do the best job that we can!

Does your organization follow these best practices? Do you have room for improvement? Let us know in the comments!

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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Supporting Innovation in Rural Alberta

Last year, Volunteer Alberta’s Managing Director, Annand Ollivierre, started a new, additional role as Journeyman Partner at Alberta Social Innovation Connect (ABSI Connect). The inaugural role was created as part of a new project which engages champions working full-time in Alberta organizations.

Bringing together the work of Volunteer Alberta and ABSI Connect, Annand is working to reveal, engage, and support the social innovation capacity in Alberta with a unique focus on rural communities.

In this blog post, originally posted on ABSI Connect on December 15, 2016, Annand shares how he developed an interest in supporting rural communities in exploring new, innovative possibilities and his hopes for his new role:


In my early years at Volunteer Alberta (I’ve been here for over 5 years now), I spent part of my time presenting on volunteerism statistics. I would speak to nonprofit sector leaders about the volunteerism rates by age and demographic and the reasons why people volunteer and why they don’t. The whole purpose was to provide people with information that challenges assumptions and inspires new actions.

After one of these presentations, in a smaller rural community, a couple of participants approached me, thanked me and then proceeded to let me know that as valuable as the presentation was, they did not see how the information applied to their experience or how it was going to help them.

These community members were worried because it had become increasingly difficult to engage their neighbours, especially in volunteer opportunities. From their perspective, youth and young families were not volunteering, traditional institutions were losing funding, the volunteer base in the community was aging, and no matter what strategies these community members applied, nothing changed.

I empathized with their challenges, but, at the time, I did not have anything of value to offer them that would make a difference.

I returned to the office confused and concerned. I was confused as to why we were presenting information to communities that seemed to make no difference in reality and I was concerned that communities were asking for something that I did not have.  It was at that moment that I started on a journey to explore and unearth the root causes of volunteerism and engagement challenges facing rural communities. This has lead me down a number of paths and shaped a lot of my work over the years — and it continues to shape me.

One of the things I’ve learned is that there are limiting mindsets/paradigms/ways of thinking that pull the levers of what is possible in community. They are often hidden from our view, in the back of our minds and hearts, yet inform us all at the same time. It is often called ‘the status quo,’ but is more accurately the operating assumptions we don’t think to challenge; the established way that doesn’t have to be the only way.

Where communities are stuck or struggling, our operating assumptions are often an unchallenged stumbling block to change.  I’ve learned that there are effective approaches to disrupt and disconnect from our set mindsets and that transforming community with new perspectives and mindsets can make all the difference.

I am excited to be joining ABSI Connect as the first Journeyman Partner. I am privileged to be embarking on an adventure to surface, advance and grow the Alberta social innovation ecosystem by bringing in the perspective of rural Alberta.

I will be connecting with community and organizational leaders from Alberta’s diverse communities who are challenging, reshaping and transforming their communities. There are leaders throughout Alberta who are champions for mindsets and actions that are renewing and transforming communities. By illuminating the ways Albertans are addressing the complex challenges faced by rural communities, I hope to uncover unique patterns and approaches to amplify, expand our collective perspective on social innovation in the province and intentionally connect leaders across the province.

I look forward to meeting you!

Annand Ollivierre
ABSI Connect and Volunteer Alberta

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Guest Post: Rekindle your love for your work

We are excited to share this guest post from leadership coach, Kathy Archer. Learn more about Kathy and Silver River Caching.


ThoughtfuAre you tired of getting up in the morning, and heading to work to spin your wheels chasing a to-do list and putting out fires?

At the end of that day, do you wonder what you actually got done? Has this routine left you feeling worn-out and stuck?

If you have grown tired of energy sucking routines, then it might be time to reconnect to the reason you came to do this work in the first place. It is time for you to awaken your heart, remind yourself of why you do this work and reconnect to your passion.

Remember back to when you came to your organization or this field of work. It may have been years ago, but see if you can get a peek back there for a moment. I suspect if you allow yourself to recollect those days, you will see there was more energy, excitement, and enthusiasm for your work. You’ll likely get glimpses of smiles, laughter, or heated bursts of passionate appeals for the cause.

Contrast that to now, which, for many of us, is the same old, same old every day. You know what to expect; emails that never end, the battle you have to fight with the board member, wondering once again about how to stretch the limited dollars of your program, and then getting home late after another long day that felt far from meaningful work.

Getting lost in the crazy cycle tends to disconnect us from the deeper meaning behind what we do. Because we believe we need to get stuff done immediately, we tend to skim over the surface of everything. In doing the shallow tasks, we miss the richer, more meaningful work.

So, how do you reconnect and rekindle the love of your work?

3 ways to bring your passion back to work

Jump with Joy1)    Look back to when you first started out in this career, what stories, memories leap out at you? Pay attention – the clearest recollections will point toward your passions.

2)    Take notes about what you discover in your memories and other things you care deeply about in regards to your work. Write your passions down in a clear and precise way then place it somewhere that you will see often, at work or at home.

3)    When you are having a “bad” day or moment, take a look at your list and remind yourself of why you do the work you do. Reconnect to your heart and let it guide forward, out of the mess.

quoteYes, it’s easy to get lost in the to-do lists, the phone calls, and the emergencies that land on our desks. But if you are tired of that, reconnect to why you do this work.

Most of us got into this line of work because we care deeply about people and love being connected to them knowing that we are making a difference. It is possible to get back to that reality if you fan the flames of the passion that brought you here in the first place.

You can rekindle your love of your work by being aware of your passion and allowing it to guide you. I suspect you will connect more with people, attend to things in a way that brings meaning to you and your clients, and inspires others on your staff team to stay focused on the great work that you do.


Kathy is a leadership coach for women who want to strengthen their leadership & find balance in life. She mentors women as they rediscover their purpose, passion, and persistence for life while dealing with office politics, jerk bosses and the challenges of family life. Kathy gives her ladies the hope and inspiration they need along with a kick in the pants to make positive changes in their lives. Discover more in Kathy’s book Mastering Confidence: Discover Your Leadership Potential by Awakening Your Inner Guidance System Find Kathy at silverrivercoaching.com

 

 

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