Login / Logout Link

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

Rebranding: Hard work. Big results.

Guest Post from The Met Agency 


The Met Agency Advertising and Design Studio has had the opportunity to work with some pretty remarkable people in equally remarkable companies. From helping launch the Jiffy Lube oil change chain in Canada to helping redefine human service organizations like Terra Centre or Compass Centre for Sexual Wellness, each project inspired us to do great work.

jiffy

terra

compass

When our friends at Volunteer Alberta approached us to help in their rebranding journey we were quick to jump on board. We had experience working on the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) branding as well as other VA work over the years.

SCiP

Rebranding is a bit like a trip to the psychiatrist. There are lots of questions to ask and a lot of listening. There are issues that get uncovered and what seems like insurmountable problems dealt with. And there is always some level of intervention in the process. It’s why I love what I do—helping organizations make sense of what they do and how they do it.

the met icons

With Volunteer Alberta, our agency used our Brand Story process to help identify where they came from, what makes them unique, their personality and what they were willing to fight for above all else. In this process there is always some level of chaos, frustration and unrest. That is what happens when you go through therapy. You unload. It’s healthy.

By their own admission, Volunteer Alberta had issues. Many of these issues were uncovered in the Brand Story process, which is surprisingly fun and interactive. Everyone is safe to share the good and the bad, uncovering the things that hold them back, and helping to reshape what they aspire to be.

Then the tough part happens. Organizations have to live their brand.

Cultural rejuvenation is a powerful piece to the process. By helping organizations like Volunteer Alberta engage their team and their clients, they can now communicate with certainty. They can execute the elevator speech without thinking. And they are all heading in the same exciting direction. After all, branding is managing communications at every touch point. So we need every touch point to be on the same page.

Rebranding is hard work. No doubt.

But it is worth it.

 

In our next blog we will discuss the development of the Volunteer Alberta identity/logo and process behind rebranding visually. Watch for it next month!

James Morrissey is the principal of The Met Agency, a full service advertising and design studio in Edmonton.
Visit: www.themetagency.com
Contact: morrissey@themetagency.com

Working together to co-create a better future

tm-tm  photo on flickrThis September, Volunteer Alberta is hosting interCHANGE, a multi-sector event bringing together leaders from all sectors – government, business, nonprofit, and community – to collectively make a positive impact in Alberta communities.

We know collaborating is difficult. We know working together poses challenges. We also know that our communities are complex, and that we are all invested in their health and vitality. We originally published the following blog July 23, 2014 on the scope of what collaboration can achieve – and why it is so important that the nonprofit sector leads the way:

There has been a recent development in the world of electric cars that’s got me thinking about strengths and opportunities in the nonprofit/voluntary sector (NPVS). On June 12, 2014 Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, announced that the company “will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”[i] Essentially Tesla released their patents for others to use, for me the questions are why and what is the broader lesson for us in the NPVS? One of the reasons cited as to why Musk chose to do this is that, due to the increased pace of technological innovation, there is a new challenge for innovators where the highest hurdle innovative organizations often face is no longer the theft of their ideas, but rather the development of new markets for those ideas to flourish[ii]. Tesla seems to be indicating that in order to move to electric car based transportation, we need to create the infrastructure and technology to support that market. In other words, Musk is basically saying is “the old system isn’t working, creating a new way of life is a big challenge, too big for one company/person to solve so let’s work together to co-create a better future.”  For me it is from this mindset that I see the connection to the NPVS and why I believe the sector is increasingly well positioned to be a strong voice and essential contributor in the emerging economy.

It seems to me that the NPVS is increasingly stating that the “challenge is bigger than me” (whatever that “challenge” may be) and is continually moving to a place where co-owning and sharing the burden of the challenge is the norm. There is the growing realisation that the challenges our communities face and the resources to sustain the fundamental structures of a resilient society are bigger than one organization, one program, one person, one sector. In fact with the NPVS, everywhere I turn collaboration is the word/approach mentioned as the way forward. We are all increasing familiar and participate in collective impact initiatives, social labs, cross-sector collaborations and partnerships, to mention a few. Although the constant barrage of these collaborative opportunities could make us weary and/or sceptical, there is growing evidence demonstrating that the NPVS is achieving measurable impact through collaboration.[iii] It is this collaborative mindset, the sharing of ideas/approaches, the scaling out and up of social innovation, which is the emerging economic model in the 21st century.  The sharing/collaborative economy is growing and turning the “traditional” economic and social systems on their heads in small but increasing pockets of our society.[iv]

I see Tesla and Elon Musk’s releasing of patents as a further indication that the collaborative/sharing economy has significant momentum. Now is the time for the sharing of ideas across and within sectors and the co-ownership and co-creation of innovative solutions (social and technological) for addressing large systemic challenges. The NPVS is an early adopter of this emerging model as we have an intrinsic understanding that the most effective approaches need to be shared, reused, and improved to have the most transformative impact. Let’s continue to share with each other and further overcome our need to act in a proprietary manner especially when we know that challenges we are trying to solve require constant innovation and the efforts of many.

[i] http://www.teslamotors.com/blog/all-our-patent-are-belong-you (July 23, 2014)
[ii] http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/07/17/rethinking-patent-enforcement-tesla-did-what/ (July 23, 2014)
[iii] http://www.fsg.org/KnowledgeExchange/FSGApproach/CollectiveImpact.aspx (July 23, 2014)
[iv] http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/category/collaborative-economy/ (July 23, 2014)

Annand Ollivierre
Volunteer Alberta

Stand out

Six Insights for Systems Leadership

In the Winter 2015 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania co-authored an incredibly valuable article: “The Dawn of System Leadership”. Leading up to Volunteer Alberta’s collective impact event, interCHANGE 2015, I have been reflecting on this article and, more generally, the world of systems thinking and leadership.

The article offers three key points regarding systems leadership:

1. System leaders are not singular heroic figures but those who facilitate the conditions within which others can make progress toward social change.

2. Any individual in any organization, across sectors and formal levels of authority, can be a system leader.

3. The core capabilities necessary for system leadership are the ability to see the larger system, fostering reflection and more generative conversations, and shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future.

(http://www.fsg.org/publications/dawn-system-leadership)

As a follow up this article, WGBH, FSG , and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley convened and recorded their event, Catalyzing Collective Leadership, which further expanded on the concepts introduced through the original SSRI article. In addition to the three key points offered in “The Dawn of Systems Leadership,” here are my three highlights from that recording:

  1. A system leader is not full of answers. They have a clear understanding that nothing will change if others are not able to contribute. Systems leaders are skilled at asking questions that surface the ingenuity and know-how of others.
  2. Change is accomplished through teams. Systems leaders foster compelling team cultures that inspire others but aren’t solely dependent on one leader. The culture ripples through the team and is perpetuated by each team member.
  3. Letting go is a pathway to success. Systems leaders bring what is most important to them to the table and are completely willing to have others take it on. This often looks like letting go of control and ownership over decisions and solutions. Sacrifice is not a loss but rather a gift given for the sake of the larger cause.

flockAs Peter Senge puts it: “We need lots of leaders in lots of places everywhere, all kinds of people stepping forward and doing all kinds of different things. We live in an era where the effective use of hierarchical power and authority is simply inadequate for the problems we face.”

The capabilities used by systems leaders are learned and more importantly practiced, reflected on, and refined. I encourage all of us to try on the capabilities of systems leadership and explore our world through a systems lens. Through practicing the capabilities above I am sure new worlds will open, old assumptions will crumble, and access to previously unidentified levers for positive change will emerge.

Annand Ollivierre
Volunteer Alberta

Save

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

Not-for-profit Web Consulting & Digital Marketing by Adster Creative