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Is the New Era Already Here?

FutureThe emergence of a new era is arriving in the form what some are calling the “fourth sector”.

Entrepreneurs, driven by a desire to contribute to the social good, are ushering in the arrival of this era by developing sustainable, social purpose business models or as referred to in the Harvard Business Review, For-Benefit Enterprises. Meanwhile, the boundaries between government, business/corporate, and nonprofit/social sectors are blurring and organizations are combining business approaches with social good with more frequency.

So, what about those of us working inside the other three sectors?

You may be hearing more and more talk of social responsibility, collaboration, and collective impact. Maybe you are actively working on community development as part of your day-to-day business. Maybe you are working to sustain your finances through developing your nonprofit into a social enterprise. Maybe you are looking at new ways to deliver traditional services, hoping to reach broader audiences and create more meaning.

Maybe you are ready to move from discussion to action and step into that new era.

That’s how we’ve been feeling about our work here at Volunteer Alberta. Our practice has always been to monitor trends, absorb research, and share links to emerging thought leadership with our membership. Our desire to move forward has motivated us to surround ourselves with people and organizations who are on their way or already there.

It’s why we decided to create interCHANGE, an event designed to assemble Albertans around really big ideas. We’ll start by gaining a common understanding of recent shifts in organizational behavior across the three traditional sectors. With a shared contextual understanding of the blurring lines between the sectors we will explore the community systems we live within and begin to find relationships and shared solutions that will help us all move forward.

interCHANGE is inspired by our vision to see Albertans come together for the common good. Working to create vibrant communities is complex work and involves people contributing across all sectors. While we are focused on promoting volunteerism and serving the nonprofit sector, we know that in order to build a strong, engaged, and connected society, we need to work across sectors, better together.

Around our office we’ve begun to regularly ask the question ‘who else needs to be here?’ Maybe you do.

If you are ready to step into the new era, please register to join us in Edmonton, Alberta on September 24th, 2015.

Katherine Topolniski
Volunteer Alberta

4 steps to telling our untold, yet remarkable, stories.

In the nonprofit sector we put our energy into making the world a better place. Our impact spans the horizon of life; from addressing health, cultural, and societal challenges to creating excitement, entertainment, and activities that bring us all together in community.

We are doing big, important work that impacts the lives of the people we serve, the people who volunteer to help us serve, and all other people who show up to help us make it happen (whatever ‘it’ is).

These stories deserve to be heard! And it’s up to us to tell them.

While we measure our impact as nonprofits, often we don’t know how to make the numbers interesting. We know it’s true that people take action on behalf of a cause when they feel emotionally connected, and yet we fumble in sharing our impact in exciting and emotionally relevant ways.

This may be because, as Andy Goodman puts it, “Even if you have reams of evidence on your side, remember: numbers numb, jargon jars, and nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. If you want to connect with your audience, tell them a story.”

So how do we tell stories better? Here’s four steps to telling our remarkable stories:

1. Let’s talk evidence.

Telling great stories only happens when you understand the data. A truly great story starts with research which is used as evidence to back up (and inspire) your story. This research could be from your own data you are collecting in outcome measurements or surveys. Or you can use even broader-based sector statistics, like you will find in the New Narrative.

Imagine Canada published the New Narrative in 2014 as a core resource intended to inform a new perspective on the roles and contributions of nonprofits and charities in Canada.

the narrative

In it you will find this and much more:

  • Data reflecting the breadth of the nonprofit sector’s work
  • Employment and volunteer statistics
  • Revenue and economic impact data

2. Let’s talk stories.

We have many tools in our hands (literally) to help us share our stories. After you have discovered a ‘golden nugget’ through your research, you can start to think about how that story could best be told.

Capacity Canada published Stories Worth Telling – an invaluable tool for nonprofits who need to tell their stories.

stories worth tellling

It goes into detail and has lots of tips about:

  • Finding your story
  • Collecting and analyzing stories
  • Preparing and capturing stories
  • Telling the story
  • And, most excitingly, creating a storytelling culture in your organization!

This is another free resources that has immense value and could be a perfect complement to the New Narrative in your storytelling strategy.

3. It’s actually about people first!

Remember, stories have the most impact when they tug at a person’s heartstrings. If you are looking for your audience to donate, volunteer or support your cause in anyway, a story that gives an emotional response is the most effective. Look at the data and find the ‘heartstrings tale’ for your organization that needs to be told.

People love to see themselves in other people. And the nonprofit sector is all about people: people who work in the sector, people who volunteer in the sector and the people who benefit, in whatever way, from the sector.

4. Switch it and reverse it.

So you have your evidence, your storytelling tool, and your personal angle – when you sit down to actually tell your story, begin with the person and end on the evidence. This might seem counter-intuitive, but evidence works best as back up to the emotional impact.

If you sit down to try these steps, let us know how it goes and share your story with us!

Katherine Topolniski
Volunteer Alberta


The Greatest Roller-Coaster – Volunteerism

Being dedicated to changing the world is like riding a roller-coaster of emotions. Sometimes it’s the kiddie-coaster in a mall parking lot, other times it is the biggest, fastest, most flashy roller-coaster in the world. For me, I choose to ride the change-the-world-roller-coaster by volunteering my time, talent and energy.

My entire life I’ve been riding these rails, volunteering in service to the world. For me the ‘world’ I aim to change is not just the planet we all share; it’s the world in which I live and whatever community I happen to be a part of. It’s about the people I intersect with in life on a daily basis, including friends, family and passersby. It is this part of our big ole planet that, through volunteering, I’m working to change.

Have you ever taken a ride on the change-the-world-roller-coaster? Join me for a second…let me know, can you relate? It feels a bit like this…

I love volunteering. It’s a fantastic way to give back. I met new people. I got to be creative. I gained experience.

Wait… I didn’t get thanked. I feel drained. Nothing changed. Nobody cares. I hate volunteering. Volunteering sucks.

Hold on now, I’ve been appreciated. I see my value to the cause. I have been thanked by a person whose life I impacted! Volunteering is pure awesome. Never stop! Who needs money? Just VOLUNTEER – FOREVER! Creativity and volunteerism are the way of the future.

Oops… look at that, rent is due. I seriously have no money and no time. Why am I doing this again? What am I thinking? Stop me before I volunteer again…

…no wait, I can feel it, and now I can see it…I’m changing the world!

Let’s DO this! MORE! AGAIN!


Feels a little chaotic just thinking about it, right?

But in all seriousness, if Steve Jobs is right and changing the world is for the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels and troublemakers, then maybe I am on the right roller-coaster. Changetheworld

I’ve volunteered as a creative, a photographer, a graphic designer, a writer, and an event coordinator. I’ve had doors slammed in my face and have been greeted with open, appreciative arms. I’ve donated time, money, energy, creativity. I’ve sacrificed sleep, time and money. I’ve signed myself up with friends and family. I’ve been “volun-told” here and there. I’ve been a slacktivist on social media. I’ve coordinated grassroots groups to enhance my local community. I’ve experienced ageism, had my skills overlooked and taken advantage of.

I’ve volunteered mainly because my heart swells so big with passion for a changing the world I live in, that if I don’t volunteer my creativity, energy and skills, I am pretty sure I would burst.

I know that volunteering is a transformative experience. Even though it has its bests and worsts, ups and downs, I know I’ve made a difference through volunteering. I found something to love and learn about in each and every experience.

During this National Volunteer Week, my advice to you is: volunteer in whatever way you can on the change-the-world-roller-coaster, and let it make you crazy… because if you are crazy enough, you can change the world!

And isn’t that the point?

To volunteer is to change whatever world you live in.

Katherine Topolniski
Volunteer Alberta



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