Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector in Flux

Can you think of all the ways Alberta’s nonprofit/voluntary sector is changing? What about your organization? How is it changing?

Like other sectors, the nonprofit/voluntary sector is in a state of fluctuation. Traditional modes of funding and people engagement are becoming less effective. Sector leaders have to face new societal realities and find new ways to compete for financial resources and attract volunteers to their organization. There is increasing demand for new, innovative services and programs, and the sector must work to keep up.

Recently I attended Creative Alberta’s Imagination Conversation conference in Edmonton. There was an interesting idea put forth by Dr. Peter Gamwell, superintendent of the Ottawa-Carleton District School board, articulating the atmosphere of change in which the sector finds itself. He spoke of ‘inbetweenity’; a time in between times, when one era is on its way out, and another has not yet fully started. This is a period of insecurities, of unknowns; a time when organizations jockey for advantage in the face of changes that have not yet been made. In many ways, Alberta’s nonprofit/voluntary sector is in a time of inbetweenity: politically, financially, and in the way the sector manages people and resources.

There are three main ways in which people deal with inbetweenity. First, there are those who will plow forward, in a linear manner, with the status quo. They keep doing the same things they have always done, engaging people the same way they always have, offering the same programming as has always been offered, and seeking funding from the same sources who gave in the past. The second group will make an attempt at change, but only superficially. In other words, they just rearrange the furniture. People in this group take what they already have, shuffle it around a bit, and hope it will work to address the evolving landscape of the sector.

However, both these approaches often lead to failure, as both of these tactics are plagued by deficit thinking. The period of inbetweenity is thought of as a disability, a problem to be solved, a roadblock halting business (as usual).

So how do we proceed?

Organizations and leaders must embrace the uncertainty as a time of possibility. They must begin to see the unknown as a strength and asset to their organization in order to move forward, because it is during inbetweenity where creativity can truly be allowed to flourish. This is an incredible opportunity to encourage innovation and imagination, and to give space to allow those ideas to grow.  New ways of thinking must be embraced and new ways of approaching old business must be encouraged, because an organizations capacity for creativity, and not its devotion to the status quo, is the most important tool with which future successes will be built.

Ellie McFarlane

Program Coordinator