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Who will you be thinking of on Giving Tuesday?

Courtesy of Calgary Herald

Courtesy of Calgary Herald

Giving Tuesday is a spin-off event from American Thanksgiving that serves as a response to consumer-driven days Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It may have originated in the United States in 2012, but Canadians enthusiastically embraced the Giving Tuesday concept and brought it north of the border last year. December 2 will mark the 2nd annual Giving Tuesday Canada, and whether you participate or not, it serves as a reminder that the “giving season” is upon us.

When faced with the range of causes to choose from, people often determine certain causes meaningful to them that they focus their donations on. Over the years the cause I have focussed a majority of my donations on is homelessness.

To some Albertans, winter means great outdoor activities, and to others it means having to deal with frozen car batteries and slippery sidewalks. But for those Albertans without a home, it can be a very dangerous time. The fact is, on many winter nights, Alberta’s homeless face potentially fatal temperatures. Homelessness is a complex issue, and in our frozen climate it is an especially serious one. Fortunately, there are amazing Alberta nonprofits, in cooperation with municipal and provincial governments, working towards eliminating homelessness in this province, and there are other great organizations on the front lines bringing people in from the cold and giving them a good meal.

The results of the recently released 2014 Point-in-Time Homeless Count, conducted across Alberta by 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, revealed that there are currently 6399 homeless Albertans. That number is down from 7657 in 2008, so progress is being made in the effort to end homelessness, but that is of no comfort to those left out in the cold.

I am inspired by the work of organizations fighting to end homelessness, like Homeward Trust, Medicine Hat Community Housing Society and the Calgary Homeless Foundation; and those organizations helping Alberta’s homeless on a day to day basis, such as the Bissell Centre, Hope Mission, The Mustard Seed (Edmonton & Calgary), The Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, in addition to the many other organizations doing great work. On Giving Tuesday, and throughout the holiday season, I will be thinking of the thousands of individuals across Alberta without food or shelter.

That’s where my donations will be going. But, Alberta has about 25,000 registered nonprofits that are working tirelessly to make this is a better province to live for everyone. There are excellent organizations in every subsector, and they all deserve the support of our donations and volunteer hours.

What cause do you donate to? Who will you be giving to on Giving Tuesday?

Tim Henderson, Program and Communications Coordinator

Volunteer Recognition: Good & Cheap

Volunteer-HandshakeIn order for volunteer-run nonprofit organizations to be sustainable they often need to retain volunteers. The most important retention strategy (aside from safe working conditions) is volunteer recognition. Over the past few years the sector has begun to really stress the importance of volunteer recognition; not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because organizations likely stand to benefit from making their volunteers feel appreciated.

Last week, Volunteer Canada released their Volunteer Recognition Tool.  It is a 9-question survey for volunteers to identify how they prefer to be recognized. Volunteer managers can use this information to recognize their hard working volunteers in ways meaningful to those volunteers. Survey data published in Volunteer Canada’s 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study indicates an overwhelming 80% of volunteers simply want to know how their efforts have made a difference.

Here are a few observations we had about this statistic:

  • It is incredibly obvious. Research by Imagine Canada indicates that 95% of people chose “believe in the cause” as a primary motivation for volunteering. Of course, they want to see how their efforts made a difference – That’s why they volunteered in the first place!
  • This is good news. It’s good news because of all the ways to recognize volunteers this is among the least costly. For nonprofit organizations that often face funding challenges, it means they can adequately recognize volunteers without breaking the bank.

The Volunteer Recognition Study results are encouraging because it means volunteers generally prefer volunteer recognition methods that happen to be cheaper than others. Alberta’s nonprofits might not all have big budgets, but it’s safe to say they have lots of heart. A sincere heartfelt ‘thank-you’, whether in the form of a cup of coffee, phone call, letter, post-it note, or Volunteerville post, might be just what they are looking for.

Please keep in mind that volunteer appreciation events do have value and some people enjoy being recognized publicly. But, the survey results show that volunteers don’t necessarily volunteer their time expecting a public thank you along with a free burger. National Volunteer Week is an important opportunity for our sector to recognize volunteers. NVW Enhancement Funding, which is available to Volunteer Alberta members, can go a long way in helping communities rally around their volunteers without stretching their budgets. But volunteer recognition is a year-round activity and different approaches, whether formal or informal, are valuable. The important thing is that recognition efforts are personal and help connect the volunteer with the value of their role.

How do your volunteers prefer to be recognized? Have them use the Volunteer Recognition Tool and find out!


Tim Henderson, Program and Communications Coordinator

Alberta Nonprofits Play Hashtag

hashtagThe role of social media in the nonprofit/voluntary sector continues to evolve. Nonprofit organizations can use social media to fundraise, recruit volunteers, promote upcoming events, distribute resources or connect people to available programs. One thing that’s becoming clear is that social media is not simply a tool at the disposal of communications professionals in the sector, but rather a toolkit. One such tool in the social media toolkit is the hashtag, which can be used on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Hashtags are a way of categorizing a tweet or Instagram post so it is added to that online conversation. Adding a hashtag to your tweet or post makes it searchable! For example, if you want to read what people are saying about Canada Day, simply search #CanadaDay on whichever social media platform you happen to be using and you will be given a list of relevant posts.

Alberta nonprofits are becoming very adept at using social media to help achieve their mandate and communicate with stakeholders, and hashtags are one of the tools to help them succeed. There are a number of ways Alberta nonprofits are using hashtags. Here are a few examples:

Contest – Edmonton’s Bissell Centre recently had an Instagram photo contest to accompany a spring clothing drive they were hosting. They asked their followers to donate clothes and share a photo of their donation with the hashtag #clothes4bissell on Instagram, and they had prizes for the best photos. The #clothes4bissell hashtag successfully engaged Bissell Centre social media followers and helped collect a truckload of donations (and some great photos).

Conference or Event – In a few weeks Alberta’s nonprofit/voluntary sector will get together at Vitalize, Alberta’s Nonprofit Sector Conference. The hashtag #Vitalize2014 will help provide some order to the maze of knowledge transfer and networking. Conference delegates who want to effectively share a message with other delegates or presenters can do so by using the #Vitalize2014 hashtag on Twitter. Want to know what you missed in the other sessions? Search the hashtag and see what others thought.

Ongoing Initiative or Program – Volunteerville is another great use of the social media hashtag! This Volunteer Alberta program was launched during National Volunteer Week but is an ongoing initiative. When an organization or individual shares a photo or story of volunteerism on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #volunteerville, it will be posted to volunteerville.ca. In this instance the hashtag helps build a collective narrative about the impact of volunteerism in Alberta. More than half of Albertans volunteer, but it’s a story that goes largely untold. Until now!

Special Day – Every organization has certain days of the year that are extra meaningful. Some organizations will use a hashtag to accompany their social media posts to help raise awareness of a specific issue. Bell Canada, while not a nonprofit organization, is a perfect example. Once a year, they have Bell Let’s Talk Day, which raises awareness about the stigma associated with mental illness and raises money to support mental health initiatives across the country. The hashtag #BellLetsTalk is a huge part of the campaign and allows those on Twitter to follow along and join in the conversation.

These are just a handful of the ways hashtags are helping Alberta nonprofits reach a wider audience, build networks and achieve their mandates.

Is your organization active on social media? Do you use hashtags to your advantage? Tell us how!

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Tim Henderson, Communications/Program Coordinator

Coffee Donations A Reminder of Alberta’s Generous Nature

coffeeLast week’s random mass coffee donations that started in Alberta (and quickly spread across the country) said something great about our province. It demonstrated the genuine and selfless generosity of people in Alberta. Now, of course, that money may have made a greater impact had it gone to a worthy nonprofit organization, but that doesn’t make the gestures any less generous. These anonymous coffee donations serve as a reminder that while there is always more to be done and room for improvement, Albertans are a giving people – whether it is a cash (or in kind) donation or contribution of volunteer hours.

According to the 2010 CSGVP, Albertans contributed an average of 140 volunteer hours and $562 in donations in 2010. Those are positive numbers, but the really encouraging trend is the steady increase in the rate of volunteerism among Albertans from 2004 (48%) to 2007 (52%) to 2010 (55%). Alberta’s population currently sits at 4 million people, with the provincial government projecting that it will swell to 6 or 7 million by 2041. That means demand will certainly rise for services provided by Alberta’s nonprofits, but if the promising upward trend in volunteerism continues we will meet the challenge.

A donation of 500 cups of coffee doesn’t directly address any of the social problems the nonprofit/voluntary sector is currently focused on. However, it serves as a reminder that Albertans care about one another and that the people of Alberta possess a powerful spirit of giving. This spirit of giving will be tested in the coming years, but there is reason for optimism for Alberta, its nonprofit sector and its most vulnerable citizens.


Tim Henderson, Office and Communications Coordinator

Successful Online Communications Means Thinking Like a Person, Not a Business

online communicationA successful nonprofit organization in today’s competitive economy must conduct itself in a very businesslike manner if it is to meet its mission, balance their budget, and stay solvent. However, Amy Sample Ward co-author of Social Change Anytime Everywhere, suggests that in order to succeed in the increasingly high tech nonprofit/voluntary sector, organizations need to adopt an online multi-channel strategy (i.e. email, website and social media) for their advocacy, fundraising, and community building.

In a blog post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review website, Sample Ward suggests that in order to effectively use this multi-channel strategy, organizations must act like people rather than businesses. This involves an understanding that those you are attempting to engage online via social media, email or your website are making decisions quickly. People are interacting with your nonprofit in small intervals, seconds not minutes, so that needs to be taken into account when devising your online multi-channel strategy.

People are busy and they move quickly when consuming information online. You don’t have much time to make an impression or sell your vision to those you are attempting to engage. This means your message, image, infographic, video, survey, newsletter, website or email needs to be appealing and easily digestible to those you are attempting to reach.

For instance, Person-X (let’s call her Mary) checks her Facebook and sees that her friend has posted a link for a summer camp. Mary has been looking for a summer camp for her 10 year-old son, she clicks on the link and expects to be led to a website that will tell her where it is, what kind of activities are included and how much the camp costs. If the summer camp communications team were thinking like a business it might have the “where”, the “what” and the “how much” divided onto different pages, with not much on the main page. But Mary wants all of that key information immediately. If the summer camp is thinking like a business, it may want Mary to click on each page of their website. But, the summer camp is more likely to win Mary over if they think like a person and satisfy her curiosity before she moves on to the next thing. If it takes too much time to process the information or message people will move on to something else.  In this scenario, organizations need to think like a person not like a business.

Social Change Anytime Everywhere by Allyson Kapin and Amy Sample Ward is available through the Volunteer Alberta Resource Centre (VARC).

Tim Henderson, Office and Communications Coordinator

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