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Member Spotlight: Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO) educates nonprofits about ‘risky business’

In Alberta’s nonprofit voluntary sector, usually, our top priority is social good. We try our best to make our communities more vibrant, safe and overall better places to live for all Albertans. But, while we have good intentions, we may not always realize the unintended risk that comes with the work we do.

Risk for nonprofits can range from volunteer screening to human resources, working with disadvantaged populations to program failure, reputation management to legal liabilities and inappropriate insurance coverage, everything in between and more. But, what do we do when the unexpected happens and we don’t have the required tools, resources or plans to mitigate and overcome the risk?

The many ways ECVO educates nonprofits about risk

This is why familiarity with risk management is essential when it comes to the operation of any nonprofit or charity. And luckily, there are capacity building organizations like the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO) that provide education and guidance on not only managing risk, but also foundational knowledge for nonprofits in their community.

ECVO’s ongoing learning events include topics like bylaw refreshers, board member training, human resources training, policy-making, and more. All of which are foundational topics that nonprofits need to know and support risk management strategies.

More recently, risk was the topic at hand at Think Tank Conversations, an initiative that sees the city’s volunteer managers gather regularly to discuss their challenges and co-create solutions.

Author and entrepreneur Paul Shoemaker leading a breakout session at Fail Safe, October 2018.

Participants brainstormed processes and tools to assist them in their volunteer management work, and also completed risk assessment exercises. One key takeaway from their conversations is that risk is unavoidable and the only solution is to be prepared and to have a plan.

And part of the planning process means learning from previous failures. In 2018, ECVO held their first-ever Fail Safe Conference, a conference that creates safe and supportive spaces to discuss various aspects of failure—how it happens, how to learn from it, and how to use it to create success for your organization.

How ECVO manages risk in their programs and services

It is a fitting conference as one risk that ECVO faces most frequently is the potential failure of a program or service according to Russ Dahms, Executive Director at ECVO. “The risk relates to investing resources and not achieving an outcome, as well as possible reputation risk,” says Russ.

So how does ECVO mitigate this risk? “We consult with trusted advisors and may test proposed programs or services with representatives from the intended target market,” says Russ. This is a smart way to trial new programs before investing in a full launch.

What ECVO recommends for your risk management strategy

But programs and services are only one aspect to consider. Russ recommends that as part of your risk management strategy, nonprofits and charitable organizations should include cyber security, and to find a reputable and capable cyber security company to work with.

In addition, Russ suggests that organizations review their policies to confirm that there are sufficient guidelines to support decision making around mitigating risk. He also recommends making sure your insurance provider has a complete understanding of your organization’s activities so that the insurance policy properly covers risk.

“In addition to general comprehensive liability insurance, director and officer insurance is a must,” states Russ. “Cyber insurance is quickly becoming a standard insurance inclusion.”

ECVO intends to offer another workshop on risk management in the fall of 2019, giving nonprofits the chance to learn more about risk management strategies and to be prepared for the unexpected.

The Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO) is a member-based nonprofit organization serving the nonprofit and charitable organizations in the Metro Edmonton Region. Their vision is a strong, vibrant community strengthened by an effective voluntary sector working with government and business.

Looking for more information related to risk management and volunteer screening? Check out our Volunteer Screening Program for more information.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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From the vault: Building safe, vibrant communities with volunteer screening

Growing communities and risk mitigation

Sometimes, our communities can grow faster than we can establish appropriate policies to meet the needs of those joining and participating with our nonprofits. When we can’t keep up with the increasing changes, this can put our organizations and communities unintentionally at risk.

Volunteer screening helps foster safe communities and supports organizations to fulfill duty of care – for clients, volunteers, and community. It also can be a tool to protect vulnerable populations.

Developing screening policies to meet growing community needs

For the last 25 years, the Muslim Community Mosque of Edmonton had run a couple of schools and various programs, which included vulnerable populations such as students and seniors. However, the Mosque, like many organizations, began to realize that its growing community meant they needed comprehensive volunteer policies in place.

“We had no screening for our volunteers at all! A scary thought, now that we have developed policies,” says Mohamed El Bialy, Social and Da’awah (Outreach) Coordinator at the Muslim Community Mosque of Edmonton. “Thankfully, we never had any issues in the past, but now it seems crazy that no policies regarding screening had ever been developed.”

By accessing Volunteer Alberta’s Volunteer Screening Program and the Screening Development Grant, the Mosque created the proper tools and policies based on sector best practices.

“We have already received positive feedback from community members, as well as constructive remarks,” says Mohamed. “These policies will help us ensure that we have responsible volunteers who will create a safe environment for the vulnerable populations that we interact with.”

The Volunteer Screening Development Grant is designed to help support the development of effective screening practices and processes. The grant provides up to $3,000 to support nonprofit organizations facing resource and capacity challenges in the area of volunteer screening. Applications open May 7th, 2019! Apply today.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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What does the Alberta Government think about the nonprofit sector? Tips for government relations

Have you ever wondered what the Provincial Government’s take is on the nonprofit sector? Well, you’re in luck! Last fall, the Government of Alberta (GoA) released a discussion paper called Profiling the Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector (NPVS) in Alberta.

In this paper the Government of Alberta states, “The primary contribution of the NPVS is improving the quality of life in every community in the province. The sector drives community cohesion; it builds a sense of belonging and brings people together.” At Volunteer Alberta, we couldn’t agree more.

Reading the paper, we quickly realized that it is a great tool to use when talking to stakeholders about the sector, or as a starting point for nonprofit-Provincial Government relations. So, we decided to break down some key points in this blog in case you don’t have time to read the entire paper.

Definition and structure of the sector

The first section of the paper acknowledges that the NPVS is diverse and that, “[we] are the backbone supporting vibrant, welcoming and engaging communities and Albertans… [Our sector] touches every Albertan’s life in some way.”

There are more than 26,200 nonprofit organizations that make up 15 sub-sectors of nonprofit organizations. Notably, this paper recognizes a range of nonprofit structures; from informal to structured legal forms – and many in between.

The GoA then goes on to define nonprofits using the Alberta Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector Initiative’s (ANVSI) definition. They define nonprofits as:

“Self-governing organizations that exist to service the public benefit, generate social capital but not distribute profit to members, depend to a meaningful degree on volunteers, involve participation on a voluntary basis, and are independent or institutionally distinct from the formal structures of Government and the profit sector.”

Financial and social impact

Their paper also details the nonprofit’s contributions to Alberta’s economy and communities. This includes several different calculations on the economic and social value our sector holds in delivering complex services to communities, for example:

  • “$8.3 billion in volunteer labour is donated to the sector every year.”
  • “The number of nonprofit organizations in Alberta grew by 35 per cent between 2003 and 2018, from 19,356 to 26,212.”
  • “1.4 million Albertans volunteer across sub-sectors each year.”

Regarding impact, the report endorses the NPVS as “stewards of the collective wellbeing and common good” within Alberta. It recognizes that the NPVS faces “complex issues with efficiency, empathy and innovation” with an ability to take risks and find success which would not be possible in other sectors.

Nonprofit’s relationship with Government

Overall, the GoA believes that the nonprofit sector and Government have ‘interconnected mandates to provide services to Albertans.’ And when it comes to our participation in policy work, the nonprofit sector is seen as a “bridge to everyday Albertans.”

We, therefore, are responsible for holding each other accountable. For example, the Government holds us accountable via “regulatory and monitoring powers that ensure appropriate use of funds”, while we hold them accountable through “government relations efforts, writing position papers, and occasionally through judicial review.”

Building a positive relationship with Government

The paper ends with “the Building Blocks of a Positive Relationship” borrowed from Carter and Speevak’s Deliberate Relationships Between Government and the Nonprofit Sector. These are building blocks that support a positive Government-nonprofit relationship including seven points about communication, advocacy, and policy.

Finally, the appendices contain a glossary of terms, and “The Theory and History of Government/Nonprofit Sector Relationships in Canada.” This is beneficial as a brief overview for beginners. For more information, you can check out this blog from The Philanthropist.

 

Are you interested in reading the discussion paper? Profiling the Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector in Alberta is a great foundational document we recommend anyone involved in the nonprofit sector, advocacy, or their community read. This document can be leveraged as a starting place to build your organization’s government relations strategy.

 

Victoria Hinderks

Volunteer Alberta

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Member Spotlight: CCVO (Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations) prepares nonprofits for the Alberta election

Government relations for many nonprofits can be a challenge. Where do you start? And, how do you amplify your voice, especially during pivotal moments, like Alberta’s upcoming election on April 16th?

This is where nonprofits like CCVO (Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations) step in. CCVO helps Alberta nonprofits make a difference in our sector by teaching and sharing their knowledge in policy and advocacy work.

Creating the Nonprofit Election Toolkit

This year, as part of their support for nonprofits, CCVO developed an election toolkit to help guide nonprofits in their preparation for the upcoming Alberta election.

“To generate interest in the election early on, we identified the major sections we wanted to have in the toolkit and compiled themed blog posts that went live a couple of times a month,” says Alexa Briggs, Manager, Policy & Research at CCVO. “Each blog post briefly foreshadowed the toolkit. We then rolled them up into one final document as an entire resource: The Alberta Nonprofit Election Toolkit.”

The toolkit highlights an election engagement strategy meant to help nonprofits engage with confidence in the election cycle. Part of this strategy involves a #nonprofitsvote campaign:

“One of the major political parties will form the provincial government and will have direct decision-making power over issues that impact all of us. If we use our collective voice to encourage #nonprofitsvote, we can make a difference” Alexa says.

Encouraging nonprofits to vote

In addition to the Election Advocacy Toolkit, CCVO developed and released a Vote Kit, specifically designed to provide tools to support #nonprofitsvote efforts. With this Vote Kit, organizations will be able to:

  1. Make a #nonprofitsvote plan with handy templates to help communicate in a nonpartisan way with staff, boards, volunteers, and clients.
  2. Get easy access to information on how and where to vote.
  3. Find information on issues important to the sector.
  4. Join the #nonprofitsvote campaign to show the strength, breadth, and importance of the sector by publicly committing to vote.

By providing these supports to fellow organizations, CCVO encourages all nonprofits in Alberta to engage their staff, volunteers, board members, and people they serve to participate in the 2019 Alberta provincial election.

“If we stay silent during an election campaign, we let other sectors drive the agenda, which can mean that we won’t see meaningful commitments from political parties on issues that matter to the nonprofit sector” says Alexa.

Use CCVO’s election and vote kits to stay informed about the platforms and positions of all major parties, and how they impact the nonprofit sector so that on April 16th your vote will be, as CCVO likes to say, “armed with knowledge”!

CCVO promotes and strengthens the nonprofit sector by developing and sharing resources and knowledge, building connections, leading collaborative work, and giving voice to critical issues affecting the sector.

 

Niabi Kapoor

Volunteer Alberta SCiP Intern

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Skilled Volunteerism: Why I volunteer and how to find a position that suits you

When I give skilled volunteerism presentations, I feel there is always a little bit of a disparity between how we talk about conventional volunteering as opposed to “skilled volunteering”. We frame skilled volunteering as this newfangled, shiny amazing thing.

And while the term is new, skilled volunteering is not a new phenomenon. So, it is important for the sustainability of organizations to look at people engagement in a new way and to understand the motivations of why skilled volunteers, volunteer.

At Volunteer Alberta, we believe volunteerism is a transformative and essential part of humanity and society. We are all committed to giving back in our own ways: whether it is formal or informal, and each of us have our own preferences.

A formal way of giving back: Skilled volunteering

Personally, I like to engage in skilled volunteering which is a more formal way of giving back. I like positions where I can use my unique skills and knowledge to help a cause that I am passionate about.

I like defined parameters of a role, but something where I can put my own stamp on my work, and clearly see how I as an individual volunteer am making a difference. I also like roles that have a flexible time commitment to allow me to both work, and participate in other social activities.

How I came to self-identify as a skilled volunteer

I realized skilled volunteering is for me through a lot of introspection, trial and error, and activities that provided me with more clarity of the type of volunteer position I am suited for. For example, I completed the Window of Work, which walks you through why you want to volunteer, what you want to share with organizations, what you’d like to gain, and what you are not interested in or able to do.

Volunteer Canada has a handy quiz that I found was spot on in describing the type of volunteer I am. The quiz identified me as a “roving consultant volunteer”. The quiz described me as, “incredibly focused and intense, wants to volunteer specialized skills, but it has to be at my discretion and within my timeframe.”

The quiz further described that roving consultant volunteers gravitate towards organizations that are clear and specific about what they need. The results also identified some things I should consider before volunteering based on my type and my main passion as international development, which is definitely true for me.

Benefits of skilled volunteering

Finding skilled volunteer opportunities became easier when I found out the type of volunteer I am. I enjoy skilled volunteering because I feel like I am valued as an individual for my own unique skills, aptitudes and experiences.

I am able to give back to my community, but also receive valuable experience and training to leverage in my career that as a young professional, I value. I have been told by some supervisors that I was considered for a position based on my volunteer experience!

I see volunteering as an important part of making me a whole person, and contributing to the resilience of my community. I don’t believe there is only one right way of volunteering, but skilled volunteering is the right way for me!

Do you want more information on skilled volunteerism? We offer a webinar on skilled volunteerism which discusses volunteer trends in the sector from the data available, as well as introducing tools to use going forward to support nonprofit people engagement. Check our learning calendar for the next scheduled webinar!

 

Victoria Hinderks

Volunteer Alberta

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