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The Value of Authenticity

Courtesy of Edmonton Journal

Courtesy of Edmonton Journal

The value of authenticity when fundraising cannot be over-emphasized. I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Rimbey FCSS golf tournament. It was put on by the FCSS to raise funds for their Volunteer Centre with a goal of $15,000 and it was an overwhelming success with about $22,000 raised. In reflecting on why I enjoyed being there and why this event was such a success the element that I believe was key is authenticity. The tournament was authentic for a number of reasons:

  • The focus was on the fun everyone was having and not how much money needed to be raised.
  • It was easy to financially contribute to the cause.
  • It was from the community, for the community, by the community.
  • A focus on the means and not just the end goal was evident.

When I was invited to attend the event I was told that it was like no golf tournament I had ever played before, and they were right! It was a pasture golf course (9 holes cut into a farmer’s field), there were ATVs pulling the drink cart and almost every hole had a fun theme or feature and often times free food. The lack of pretention allowed all of the participants to enjoy the day together and there was a strong feeling of a community coming together to support one of their key organizations.

I have attended many other fundraising events and sometimes they are focused on the glamour of the event or the auction items or the fundraising goal. There is a tendency to try to appeal the deep pockets in the room to spend the big money to ensure the event is successful. This approach can produce results and many nonprofit organizations rely on these types of events to meet their fundraising goals. However, often these gala based events feel like they are not about the cause and behind the scenes they can be taxing on the organizations and people who put them on. The Rimbey golf tournament is a great example of how important it is to take a step back when planning a fundraiser and first determine how it will be an authentic representation of what your organization does and the values it holds important, and how those values will be communicated.

Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager

Three Lessons of Vulnerability

brenebrownMore and more the nonprofit/voluntary sector, for a variety of reasons, is looking towards collaborative models as the dominant context for achieving missions and visions. Given this “collaborative buzz”, it would be naive of us to think that because we are in the business of citizen engagement and positive community change that we will get all collaborations right. Brene Brown’s popular TED talks “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame” speak very well to the nonprofit sector and how their lessons can help lay the groundwork for strong, impactful collaborations.

Three Lessons of Vulnerability:

1)      Vulnerability has two sides

On the negative side, vulnerability allows us to blame others and ourselves when things are uncomfortable. It helps us believe that things are never going to work out and the work we do will never make a difference. On the positive side being open and vulnerable is the pathway “to joy, creativity, belonging, and connection.” If we can, as a sector, walk into our collaborations open to where they may go then they might be more creative, bold, and impactful.

2)      Vulnerability has to be embraced

As Dr. Brown points out “connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives” and this rings true for the nonprofit sector. We are invested in connections. Nonprofit organizations work at fixing broken connections/relationships, improving connections and starting new connections. So, in the nonprofit sector, if we are in the business of connections and we are compelled to collaborate for sustainability and impact, then we must embrace vulnerability. When embraced, when viewed as not good or bad but necessary, being vulnerable is at the root of meaningful connections. In other words “in order to allow connection to happen we have to allow ourselves to be really seen”.

3)      Vulnerability is not weakness

Although many of us look at our own vulnerability as a display of weakness we also look at others being vulnerable as courageous and powerful.  As Dr. Brown says “vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation, and change”. Positive vulnerability demonstrates to others around that table that your organizations is open to possibility and can be an authentic partner.

The main reason the sector is looking to collaboration as the new model of business is to be more innovative, more creative and affect positive change. We are more likely to achieve these desired outcomes if we accept that putting ourselves, and organizations, out there is the only way to move forward. The next time you are asked to collaborate, consider choosing to be vulnerable, embrace it and see it as a strength to bring to the table and an opportunity to inspire others to do the same.

 

Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager

3 Lessons for Making Recognition Matter

With National Volunteer Week coming (April 21 – 27, 2013) I got to thinking about recognition and what it means to be recognized. I have volunteered with the Edmonton Folk Music Festival (EFMF) for the last eight years in various roles from night security to my current role as a member of the site kitchen team. The one thing that has kept me coming back to the festival year after year is the ability of event organizers to recognize all of its volunteers. Thankfully, the festival has the capacity to provide diverse recognition approaches and I understand many nonprofit organizations do not have the same capacity, but from where I sit as a volunteer, I think there are strong lessons for all organizations in what EFMF does.

Lesson #1: Recognition is continuous and happens simultaneously with retention and recruitment.

Every EFMF volunteer gets a package a couple of days before the festival starts that contains the information they need for the four festival days, as well as your crew t-shirt and I.D badge. We get a t-shirt with the new design for that year ahead of the general festival goer and we get a special badge that grants access to volunteer-only events. The badge is also a clear reminder of the diligence the festival has taken in ensuring each volunteer is screened and in the appropriate position so that I can feel confident in the abilities of the people I volunteer with, and them in me. These packages mean that recognizing volunteers is not an afterthought but rather integrated into all components of volunteer engagement.

Lesson #2: Make space for volunteering to be fun

During the festival, on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, after the days concert has ended there are volunteer only (no exceptions) parties! The venue is smaller and there are quiet rooms for impromptu jam sessions and a large party room with live music, and the party lineup is different every night. After a long day of volunteering you are tired; you love what you do but it is still work. These parties are nothing but an unapologetic opportunity for the volunteers to have a ton of fun laughing, reminiscing, rehashing the best and worst parts of the day and getting to let it all out. These parties don’t make you anymore rested for the next day but the smiles and memories created will get you through.

Lesson #3: Say thank you in the biggest, most public way you can

Each night of the festival, just as the sun is going down, there is a lantern parade that makes its way through the crowd onto the main stage. This lantern parade is dedicated to the volunteers of the festival, and makes everyone stop and clap and say thank you. I get a little misty eyed each time because it reminds me of why I’m there. I volunteer to be part of this great festival so that those that paid to attend and those that volunteered have the best possible time. It’s great that other people care enough to say thank you. There is also a giant display on the festival grounds with the names of every single volunteer for all to see and it’s bigger than the signs the sponsors get!

These lessons aren’t ground breaking but it is important to be reminded of them nonetheless. I believe that each organization can find ways to incorporate these three lessons into their volunteer engagement approaches. As we move closer to National Volunteer Week let’s take the time to look at how we can make recognition an ever present part of volunteering in both subtle and overt ways. It’s the least we can do for the volunteers that drive communities forward.

Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager

There Are Penguins in Grande Prairie

Source: Antarctic Photo Library. United States Antarctic Program.

I recently took a quick trip to beautiful Grande Prairie, or “GP” as the locals say, to give the keynote address at the first Non-profit & Social Purpose Expo hosted and located at The Community Village.

The theme of the talk was The Power of Community. In the weeks leading up to the event, I spent my usual post-work walk home mulling over the approach I’d take. Would I talk about Martha Parker’s ideas around managers and directors of volunteers becoming “strategists in community engagement”? Or I would I speak about the 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report and the common global values regarding volunteerism? Although both of those topics interest me (among others), the one idea that made the most sense to me was to talk about Emperor Penguins.

To be clear, I’ve never paid much notice to penguins, I have always considered them cute, quirky birds that dress well, but after seeing the movie March of the Penguins I had a new found respect for Aptenodytes forsteri. While reflecting on the movie I came to the conclusion that these penguins can teach us something about the power of community.

First, what are the similarities? Penguins and humans are both social animals, survive harsh winters and like to summer by the sea, are large and flightless, are mainly monogamous, and look good dressed up. How penguins endure, survive and thrive in their environment is where the lessons can be learned about the power of community. As a side note, when I refer to community I am talking specifically about a community of nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations that operate in the same community trying to improve said community. Without going into a lot of how penguins live (you can look it up on Wikipedia like I did) let’s just say Emperor penguins have chosen a tough path to survival and have chosen to band together during the toughest times.

So, what are the lessons the nonprofit/voluntary sector can learn from these birds:

1)      Survival depends on working together – Without each other, penguins would not be able to stay warm. Without other nonprofit organizations, no one would be able demonstrate their importance. It is a community of organizations that truly has the most impact.

2)      We are all trying to nurture something we care about – For penguins it is their eggs, and for organizations it is the cause, broader community, clients, volunteers, and employees we aim to nurture.

3)      Not everybody makes it– Despite our best efforts, sometimes environmental stresses and ever so slight missteps claim victims. No matter how difficult it is when a fellow organization fails or flounders, it is the larger community’s responsibility to show resolve and continue on to set the example of what is possible.

4)      It is worth the time, effort and energy it takes to work together as a community – In the end it’s about building a stronger community with more to offer and a brighter future, working together guarantees it.  Penguins hatch chicks, organizations get stronger networks working together to more effectively hatch positive community outcomes.

5)      When it feels cold and lonely that is the time to come together as a community – Penguins could chose to do it on their own rather than, literally, huddle together. Nonprofits should think the same way. When resources are low, and the future seems bleak, that is the exact time to look to your peers and find the opportunities to collaborate and find creative solution to common challenges.

There it is. Penguins demonstrate the power of community and, if nothing else, it is a strong image to remember. So, the next time you are feeling yourself out alone in the nonprofit world, think of the Emperor Penguins huddled together staying warm and surviving. It should at least inspire to reach out and connect to your nonprofit community.

 

Annand Ollivierre

Program Manager

Okotoks Engages in Knowledge Exchange

I was excited to have the opportunity to travel to the fine community of Okotoks to participate in the Selling the Invisible workshop presented by my fellow KnEC colleague, Diane Huston.  I was quite impressed with Diane’s ability to engage the audience with meaningful anecdotes, which supported learning opportunities and course content. Further, Diane’s very evident knowledge of the voluntary sector really added value to this workshop.

Audience participation/engagement can make or break a presentation, and the 12 participants who took time out of their very busy work schedule to attend Selling the Invisible, were so engaged that they stayed an additional 30 minutes to share their own knowledge and ask questions.  Seeing this kind of participation, I was once again reminded about the commitment and dedication of the countless individuals who participate in over 20,000 nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations in Alberta.

The essence of the Knowledge Exchange Coordinator position is “to engage nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations across Alberta to enhance organizations’ capacity to provide programs and service to communities.”  Further, I see the KnEC role as one being about gathering strategies and information on effective volunteer engagement from people in the nonprofit/voluntary sector and disseminating that knowledge to others around Alberta.

Of the many tips discussed at the workshop on volunteer engagement, one participant shared this strategy on volunteer recruitment: “When holding any kind of volunteer appreciation event, encourage your volunteers to bring a friend.”  By bringing friends to an appreciation party, the newcomers will get firsthand experience  on how volunteers are treated and recognized, what other community members are in attendance, the variety of ways an organization engages volunteers, and what the overall culture is within the organization.   In so many ways, this really makes sense to me. The likelihood of a “good” volunteer bringing someone who has the same core values and beliefs is, in my opinion, quite likely.

If you have any questions about the role of KnECs in your community or Volunteer Alberta, I would be very happy to answer your questions.  You can reach me at 780.482.3300 (toll free in Alberta 1.877.915.6336) ext. 231 or by email at aollivierre@volunteeralberta.ab.ca

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