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Strengthen Your Brand, Strengthen Your Work

With about 25,000 nonprofits in Alberta alone, there is plenty we can all learn from one another. From our triumphs to our tribulations, we can all learn a thing or two from other nonprofits to apply to our own work in the sector.

Jennifer Esler, the previous Communications Manager at Volunteer Alberta, has been working and volunteering in the nonprofit sector for many years. With this experience under her belt, she has lots of valuable advice to share with other nonprofit professionals. We captured some of her wisdom about nonprofit branding:

What is your brand?

Jen found one of the most important things she learned working in nonprofits is to have a strong brand. Having a strong brand is just as important for nonprofits as it is for business.

Brand is the immediate feeling people have when they see, hear, and interact with an organization, and it goes much deeper than simply a logo. Your brand affirms what your organization stands for and values. It is the deep, underlying identity that guides your organization and informs how your staff and volunteers act and communicate.

Not having a clear vision of your brand and your mission confuses people and leaves discrepancies within your organization!

Who are your audiences?

Jen shared that one of the most important aspects of branding is knowing your audiences. Your audiences include anyone your organization interacts with: funders, clients, potential volunteers, partners, and the communities your serve.

Tailor your brand to your audience, not the other way around. Identify the goals and problems that the audience you are addressing may have from their perspective.

What moves a donor to give to your cause? How does a volunteer benefit from working with your organization? What concerns can you quell for your funders?

Once you have familiarized yourself with your audiences, you can decide how you would like to engage with them. Ask the following questions to guide your communications:

  • What do you want them to know?
  • How do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them to find?
  • What action do you want them to take?

Answering these questions will help you pinpoint what your goals are and give you clarity about how to communicate your brand to your important stakeholders.

Know the ‘why’:

When we asked Jen what she thinks nonprofits should know about effective messaging and branding, she said that she wants people to remember the ‘why’:

  • Why your organization exists
  • Why clients choose your organization
  • Why staff show up to work every day
  • Why volunteers want to work with you

Understanding your ‘why’ will help strengthen your brand and messaging and ensure your programs and services match your mission and vision. A strong brand draws donors, volunteers, advocates, and funders to the organization, so ensuring that you communicate well supports your organization’s work!

Keep it simple

Branding can sound daunting. To keep things simple, Jen shared her top tips and tricks for getting nonprofit messaging and branding across:

  • Know your mission
  • Know why people engage with you
  • When writing messages, have a clear idea of what you want your audience to know

We hope that these tips will help your organization further develop your brand and share your vision!

Whitney Cullingham
Volunteer Alberta

Workstation coffee

Getting Started on Twitter

Twitter can be overwhelming. With the constant, 24/7 updates, the infinite hashtags, the ever-changing trending topics, and the millions of users, you might feel lost trying to get a handle on Twitter. Even that last sentence might make you feel overwhelmed! However, Twitter can help nonprofits spread their visions and values to others easily. With some guidance, Twitter can be an effective and easy-to-use platform for communicating with numerous audiences quickly.

To help those of you who are brand new to Twitter, we will go over:

  • The sign-up process
  • Ideas for choosing an appropriate handle and profile picture
  • Creating an effective bio
  • How to stay on brand

Signing Up for Twitter

Twitter has the ability to increase your client, member, donor, and volunteer engagement and send new supporters your way. If you are new to Twitter, find some comfort knowing that signing up is straightforward!

The sign-up process helps you find who you might want to follow, add people and organizations you know, and personalize your profile. As a nonprofit, you should consider following other organizations close to your location. This way you can stay up-to-date with any new information, webinars, or events that may be happening near you! Also, it may be valuable to follow other nonprofits who share similar values and perspectives with you. Why? Because these organizations will be awesome for retweeting!

To start you will need to have a name (usually your organization’s name) and a password handy. You also need to think of a handle, this will be your username – ours is @VolunteerAB.

Twitter Handles and Profile Pictures

Once you’ve finished signing up and the initial tutorial, it’s time to start fine-tuning your Twitter homepage to make sure it reflects your organization’s brand and values. Did you choose the appropriate handle (username)? Your handle will be how others find and communicate with you, so make sure it is close to your organization’s name! Keep in mind that a shorter handle will be easier for others to fit in their tweets.

What about your profile picture? Your picture should also be representative of your organization. Usually your logo is the best way to go!

Twitter Bios

Something to remember for Twitter is to keep things short and sweet. There is a 140 character limit on tweets which usually translates to one or two short sentences and a link (to your event, article, or further information).

Twitter bios should be no different. Consider using your vision or mission statement and be sure to include a link to your website.

Staying On Brand

Finally, keep in mind that staying on brand and being consistent is important. Consider creating a communication plan or thinking of some goals for your Twitter feed. How many tweets would you like to put out a day? How many responses or retweets? Start small, see what your audience responds to.

Consistency and quality is more important than quantity! Your tweets should align with your organization’s values to ensure your communication works towards your cause, represents what you stand for, stays professional, and doesn’t confuse any of your audiences. Think about what you would want to hear about from your organization if you didn’t work there.

Continue to monitor your account to see how effective you are. Twitter has analytics available that can give you some extra insights. Once you have some initial information on how your audience is reacting to you, you can begin to tailor your Twitter approach. Creating a successful Twitter feed doesn’t happen overnight. It takes commitment and a little bit of work to get it running. So be patient, and take it one day at a time!

Make sure to read our next blog on some tips and tricks to keep in mind when you begin to tweet more often!

Stephanie O’Neill
Volunteer Alberta

Apple Computer

What does Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation mean for your nonprofit?

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) is coming into full force July 1, 2017 after a transition period of three years. The law prohibits sending commercial emails to Canadians without their consent. Here are some considerations to help ensure your organization is following this legislation:

We are a nonprofit! Our emails aren’t “commercial” are they? 

Your emails are commercial if they include or advertise any programs, services, or products the recipient could pay for.

For nonprofit organizations, commercial content in emails might include advertising membership, sharing workshop opportunities, selling event tickets, or promoting a corporate sponsor. If your emails include this type of information, CASL applies to your work.

For registered charities, soliciting donations is not considered a commercial activity.

CASL applies to my organization – what do we need to do?

You need to do three things to meet CASL: get consent, include identifying information about your organization, and include an unsubscribe function.

1. Get Consent

Your email recipients need to agree to receive emails from you.

In most cases, your organization is required to get expressed consent. This means email recipients need to ‘opt-in’ to receive your emails.

Implied consent is acceptable with your members, donors, volunteers, business relationships, and program participants who have been actively engaged with your organization in the past two years. Keep in mind, consent is only implied within the boundaries of that particular relationship – for example, you may only have implied consent from program participants for emails about said program. Implied consent needs to be renewed every two years.

When in doubt, get expressed consent!

2. Include Identifying Information

Your email recipients need to know who is sending the email (your organization) and how to get in touch with you. Add your nonprofits email, phone number, or address to your emails in a signature line or an email footer.

3. Include an Unsubscribe Function

Just because your email recipient gave consent, doesn’t mean they can’t withdraw that consent at a later time. You need to have a way for them to do this (like an unsubscribe button) and a process for ensuring you don’t keep emailing them after they have asked to be removed from your list.

What happens if my organization makes a mistake?

Originally, private citizens would have been allowed to file lawsuits against organizations and individuals who did not follow CASL as of July 1, 2017. The provisions allowing these private lawsuits were suspended this week.

The Competition Bureau, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and the CRTC can all still take legal action to enforce CASL, with penalties for the most serious violations ranging up to $10 million.

As well, personal assets of board members are no longer at risk in the case of a mistake or CASL noncompliance.

It is important for nonprofit organizations to ensure that their insurance covers possible risks.

More information on CASL for nonprofits

Lucky for all of us, there are many great CASL resources available for nonprofits! Here are some good places to look for more information, tools, and templates:

Please keep in mind that Volunteer Alberta is not able to offer legal advice. We hope the information we have offered is helpful and we encourage your nonprofit to contact a lawyer with any legal questions.

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

william-bout-264826

Becoming a 21st Century Nonprofit

In the 21st century, nonprofits are under increased scrutiny and competition. It might feel like you are facing off against other charitable organizations – for funding, for volunteers, and even for clients who utilize similar programs and services. So what can you do to make your nonprofit stand out? How can your organization be successful in the 21st century?

Below are the top four traits of successful nonprofits who are embracing the changes, challenges, and opportunities of the 21st century:

1. They engage in collaborative relationships:

To thrive, nonprofits need relationships. They must connect and collaborate with other nonprofits, as well as work across sectors – with government and business.

Collaboration offers the opportunity to better understand our work and our sector. We can see the areas that need improvement, the gaps in service delivery, and the potential avenues for partnership when we look at the big picture.

Understanding that everyone, regardless of their background, has ideas and perspectives to bring to the table is the first step to engaging in collaborative relationships.

Organizations open to collaboration with other like-minded organizations create meaningful workspaces and deep, systemic change in their communities!

 

2. They build trust:

Organizations are more likely to be trusted by their stakeholders when they are well connected and communicate clearly. So how can your organization build trust for those they serve, engage, and work with?

A consistent brand:

Organizations with integrity are consistent – in their marketing, in their words, and by living up to the expectations of their clients, stakeholders, funders, volunteers, staff, and community. They have a strong sense of vision and purpose. They are unified and the entire organization both believes in and works to support the overall goals.

In understanding their brand and their role, these nonprofits are better able to actively promote their organization and work with other organizations to maximize shared goals.

Having a consistent brand makes a stronger organization.

They know their audiences:

Part of building a successful brand is knowing your audience. Your brand is democratic – it isn’t just chosen by your organization, but also by your funders, donors, clients, volunteers, and other supporters. Organizations will build more trust when they communicate with each of these audiences in a responsive, understanding, and connected way.

Awareness and engagement build relationships and support

 

3. They are innovative and purpose-driven:

Organizations that invest in branding, building trust, and being open to collaboration exude a sense of purpose and relentless innovation. Purpose-driven organizations don’t wait for opportunities to fall into their lap – they seek out opportunities for growth. They tap into the latent energy of the organization and encourage others to be passionate and purposeful.

Employee engagement is key to success! An employee is engaged when they believe in the overall purpose of an organization. They will strive for success and will be passionate about meeting goals.

 

4. They support a passion for growth:

Part of being a purpose-driven organization is not pigeon-holing your staff. Employees are highly skilled and have a variety of interests. Development – personal and professional – is key to overall success because it taps into staffs’ passions and drives.

Employees in the nonprofit sector want to make a difference and are passionate about their work, but the sector experiences high turnover. It is easy for staff to burnout from heavy workloads, move onto higher paying jobs, or seek out workplaces with better benefits.

One way to keep employees engaged throughout their career is to invest in professional development. Encourage staff to pursue their interests and learn a new skillset – their professional and personal development will bring passion and purpose to their work. Staff will be more likely to be engaged, contribute, and stay with your organization.

 

What are some other characteristics of successful 21st century nonprofits? What is your organization doing already? Let us know in the comments!

Daniela Seiferling
Volunteer Alberta

Thinking Woman

What does volunteering mean to Canadians?

Ahead of National Volunteer Week, Volunteer Canada, IPSOS Public Affairs, and Investors Group released their study “Recognizing Volunteers in 2017.” At first glance, we thought the study would be about volunteer recognition: how organizations can celebrate and recognize their volunteers in new and meaningful ways. Instead, this study identifies common trends in Canadian volunteerism.

As an organization who promotes the value of volunteerism, we understand how difficult it can be to capture data and share the value of volunteering for community. This study gave us some food for thought and some valuable takeaways that we want to share.

Common Definitions

Volunteer Canada offers four categories of volunteering and giving:

  • (Regular) formal volunteering: Giving unpaid help (at least once a month) through groups, clubs or organizations to benefit other people or the environment.
  • (Regular) informal volunteering: Giving unpaid help (at least once a month) as an individual to people who are not relatives.
  • Social action: Giving unpaid help to support a community event, campaign or project.
  • Charitable donation: Donating money to charitable causes.

These categories are helpful for distinguishing the different ways someone might support your organization or community; however, they are not all widely used by Canadians:

There is momentum building globally to expand the definition of volunteering to include informal volunteering, organic movements, and the many ways that people put their values into action. Canadians continue to perceive volunteering as a vital part of communities, and while they engage in community in diverse ways, they do not necessarily consider informal activities to be volunteering.

Canadian Opinions on Volunteering

So what do Canadians think about volunteering? For this report, IPSOS Public Affairs surveyed 1200 Canadians aged 16 and over in 2016. The poll found that Canadians greatly value volunteering: 87% felt that our society would suffer without volunteers, and 75% felt the economy would suffer without volunteers. At the same time, respondents considered helping family, random acts of kindness, and improving one’s community as more important than volunteering.

Some other interesting findings from the survey include:

  • 75% of Canadians view volunteering as an easy activity.
  • 75% of Canadians are very willing to volunteer in times of crisis.
  • 68% would be more motivated to choose an employer with a strong volunteer culture.
  • 82% of Canadians believe that all Canadians have something to offer.
  • 72% of Canadians agree that communities thrive when people know each other.

This is a great foundation of passion and interest for nonprofits to continue to build on!

The survey also explored the barriers to greater involvement that Canadians face. The main barrier is lack of physical or social opportunities (ex. lack of time and resources; friends and family not volunteering), followed by lack of physical or psychological capability (ex. lack of skills or knowledge). These insights provide opportunities for nonprofits to be flexible and meet volunteers where they are at. For instance, from the poll:

  • 60% agreed people would volunteer more if it was organized by their employer.
  • 68% agreed people would volunteer more if they could do it as a family.

Does your nonprofit currently offer employee-supported volunteering (ESV) opportunities or volunteer work that could be done as a family? Volunteer Canada has more resources on both styles of volunteer engagement on their website.

Find out more about “Recognizing Volunteers in 2017” – read the full report for more statistics and insights about volunteering in Canada.

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