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There Are Penguins in Grande Prairie

Source: Antarctic Photo Library. United States Antarctic Program.

I recently took a quick trip to beautiful Grande Prairie, or “GP” as the locals say, to give the keynote address at the first Non-profit & Social Purpose Expo hosted and located at The Community Village.

The theme of the talk was The Power of Community. In the weeks leading up to the event, I spent my usual post-work walk home mulling over the approach I’d take. Would I talk about Martha Parker’s ideas around managers and directors of volunteers becoming “strategists in community engagement”? Or I would I speak about the 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report and the common global values regarding volunteerism? Although both of those topics interest me (among others), the one idea that made the most sense to me was to talk about Emperor Penguins.

To be clear, I’ve never paid much notice to penguins, I have always considered them cute, quirky birds that dress well, but after seeing the movie March of the Penguins I had a new found respect for Aptenodytes forsteri. While reflecting on the movie I came to the conclusion that these penguins can teach us something about the power of community.

First, what are the similarities? Penguins and humans are both social animals, survive harsh winters and like to summer by the sea, are large and flightless, are mainly monogamous, and look good dressed up. How penguins endure, survive and thrive in their environment is where the lessons can be learned about the power of community. As a side note, when I refer to community I am talking specifically about a community of nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations that operate in the same community trying to improve said community. Without going into a lot of how penguins live (you can look it up on Wikipedia like I did) let’s just say Emperor penguins have chosen a tough path to survival and have chosen to band together during the toughest times.

So, what are the lessons the nonprofit/voluntary sector can learn from these birds:

1)      Survival depends on working together – Without each other, penguins would not be able to stay warm. Without other nonprofit organizations, no one would be able demonstrate their importance. It is a community of organizations that truly has the most impact.

2)      We are all trying to nurture something we care about – For penguins it is their eggs, and for organizations it is the cause, broader community, clients, volunteers, and employees we aim to nurture.

3)      Not everybody makes it– Despite our best efforts, sometimes environmental stresses and ever so slight missteps claim victims. No matter how difficult it is when a fellow organization fails or flounders, it is the larger community’s responsibility to show resolve and continue on to set the example of what is possible.

4)      It is worth the time, effort and energy it takes to work together as a community – In the end it’s about building a stronger community with more to offer and a brighter future, working together guarantees it.  Penguins hatch chicks, organizations get stronger networks working together to more effectively hatch positive community outcomes.

5)      When it feels cold and lonely that is the time to come together as a community – Penguins could chose to do it on their own rather than, literally, huddle together. Nonprofits should think the same way. When resources are low, and the future seems bleak, that is the exact time to look to your peers and find the opportunities to collaborate and find creative solution to common challenges.

There it is. Penguins demonstrate the power of community and, if nothing else, it is a strong image to remember. So, the next time you are feeling yourself out alone in the nonprofit world, think of the Emperor Penguins huddled together staying warm and surviving. It should at least inspire to reach out and connect to your nonprofit community.


Annand Ollivierre

Program Manager

Is that a Teddy Bear on a Harley?

The normal hubbub of Saturday traffic was interrupted by the sound of over 800 motorcycle enthusiasts riding through the streets of Medicine Hat. One would need to do a double take to identify the passengers of these bikes; giant teddy bears and other toys rode alongside these big-hearted bikers!

The Medicine Hat News Santa Claus Fund (SCF) believes EVERY child deserves to have a Merry Christmas, and 800 bikers donating their mound of toys is just the start! Food hampers are also given to families in need during the holiday season. SCF also partners with the Medicine Hat Ministerial Association and the St. Vincent de Paul Society throughout the year to provide aid for families, and individuals, in need. SCF, like Santa Claus, works all year long to help community members in need.

Like Santa Claus, SCF would not be able to deliver toys and hampers without the help of elves! Hundreds of volunteer bikers, and non-bikers alike, pulled together for this incredible event! If you weren’t on a bike, you were helping with food, registering volunteers, gathering toys, or selling raffle tickets! Events like this make me proud to be a part of an amazing and generous community.

Executive Director, Celina Symmonds, was touched by the community’s commitment to their families. As I stood and watched this event unfold, she handed out hug after hug to donors and volunteers – everyone’s heart grew a little bit bigger this weekend!

Even though the Toy Ride is over, there are still plenty of other opportunities to help out in the Medicine Hat community:

• Corona Auction
• Mountain of Wishes
• Countless business events through the city

SCF is always looking for gift wrappers, office volunteers, or to be Santa Claus himself and deliver toys to families. Please call 403-528-9900 to find out how you can help.

A special thanks needs to go out to the Biker Enthusiasts, SCF Board of Directors, students at Crescent Heights High School, and the many volunteers who helped this year!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda Leipert

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (South Region)

Guest Blog: Thinking Differently about the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP)

When SCiP was first introduced to me it sounded like too much work to begin the process, and I felt like I didn’t have the time to take on another major task, so I put it out of my mind. Since becoming the Executive Director of Volunteer Lethbridge, I have opened my eyes to how great SCiP is and how simple the process of acquiring an intern can be. Here are some things for you to think about:

Shift Your Thinking: Is there a specific task that your organization would like done? Could you use help in completing this task? SCiP has hundreds of students lined to do that task for you. Sounds like a win-win doesn’t it? When you provide an opportunity to someone you are benefitting them, benefitting your organization and ultimately benefitting your community. That is the win-win-win experience that SCiP talks about!

Open Doors: Besides the tasks before you, are there new ideas you would like to bring to fruition? Consider the gifts that students have- I did! A student walked into my office and wanted to volunteer. I always ask, “what is it you would like to do?” He wanted to gain experience as a videographer.  This created a new opportunity for the organization, provided fresh experience for the intern and produced an end product to be proud of. Now I have a much better idea of how to engage more SCiP interns.

A second student was looking for graphic design experience. I showed him a project that I wanted to have redesigned. He had great enthusiasm for the project and he created a clean new look. One deliverable our organization added to his position description was for him to job shadow at a local print shop for a couple of hours. This experience was a major benefit for this intern, he was able to see the importance of the graphic work/design and how it reflected on the process at the printing stage.

Create a virtual opportunity. Students are busy people that must balance school, work, and possibly raising a family. Having a position that a student can work into their hectic schedule is a bonus. SCiP is a creative way for students to gain valuable experience while relieving the burden of student related expenses that come along with being a student. Communication through technology is key; ensure you provide them with what they need to succeed in the position.

Flexibility:  If your organization hires an intern and things aren’t turning out quite how you envisioned, take time to evaluate and adapt the deliverables with the intern and make the experience a constructive learning opportunity for you and the intern. Being adaptable cultivates the sense of significance of working in the nonprofit/voluntary sector as a valuable career choice. There are limitless opportunities, sometimes a shift is what brings about the positive experience.

SCiP has provided me with the resources of six talented students (so far). These students all had different areas of interest and various gifts and talents they wanted to share to gain experience. It was well worth the work. I have met students for whom I have created internship positions, when approached, to match their interests. Most important there is no limit to the number of interns your organization can hire. If you have a job that needs doing, there is a SCiP intern for that.

Expand your vision of what an intern can do for you. Not only are you building up the capacity of your organization but you are also expanding the range of experience for someone who may one day look back and say, “my SCiP experience provided me with the opportunity to reflect on my career choice. SCiP helped me discover what my strengths are and the direction that I wanted to take.”

SCiP engages students by providing tangible experiences that will enrich your organization, the student and the community.


Diana Sim

Volunteer Lethbridge

Everybody Loves Lunch: Thoughts on Networking

We have all heard it- It’s not what you know, but who you know. But, who are these people, and how do you get to know them? For some it comes very easily and for others it’s a fate worse than public speaking, which, according to numerous studies, is more terrifying than death. Personally, I love networking. I love going out there and meeting new people, finding out what they are up do, what they are passionate about and trying to make connections between what I am doing, what they are doing and what others are doing. Networking has opened up some fantastic opportunities and given me some awesome stories.

Personally it’s an absolute necessity to be out networking as often as you can; though it’s tough, and it’s work, but we’ll get to that shortly. Whether in your city, town, province, or country, in the nonprofit sector or the business community, decisions are made by the people with power and the small groups that influence them. The personal and professional payoffs that come with being “in” with any of these groups is immeasurable, but worth it. I wholeheartedly believe that there are very real benefits to your organization putting your staff in a position to network.

Networking allows you to build a personal relationship with people outside of your usual social circle. I have become very good friends with people I met “through work”. So now, should I need to, I can call on these people for advice or, potentially, a favour (I do try to avoid that as best I can). Professionally, you never know who the people you meet know, and they can often put you in contact with the right person to make your project or initiative happen. I suppose that is the abridged version of how the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) got started.

You also need to go into “networking” with an open mind, who knows what will come from it. However, in my experience it has always been worth it.

But how does one network?

First thing is getting in the door. Look around for public events and make time to be there. For me, the most successful networkers “live their brand” so to speak. It’s not about being a workaholic, but it’s about really believing in what you do, so you don’t mind spending your evenings “working”. Also, volunteer with groups that might be outside your usual sphere of influence. Chambers of Commerce, Boards, Committees or, for the more political, Election Campaigns are all great places to start.

While you are there, try not to be shy (which is easier said than done). Honestly, I find it helps to stand by the food or the bar, because people seem more talkative in those areas. That or, if there is open seating, just going up to a table, asking to sit there and then introducing yourself. Not every conversation will be fruitful, but there is rarely a negative that can come from it.

Also, business cards! They are like baseball cards for adults. I have learned people love trading them to each other. Collect as many as you can while at the event.

Another note about preparation for an event, catch up on the latest news. The worst part of networking is when things get awkward. So avoid that. Read up on sports, current events, weather, business, and yes even celebrity gossip (you never EVER know when knowledge about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorce will come in handy). It sounds labour intensive, however it’s not that bad, devote maybe an hour a day to learning about the world and you automatically become a better conversationalist;  as my grandpa used to say “know a little about a lot of things, and you’ll never be boring.”

Once you leave an event, take all the business cards you’ve collected and send them a note telling them it was great to meet them, that is unless you never want to talk to them again, which happens. If you had a particularly good conversation, or would like to connect further, do not hesitate to ask them for lunch.

Everybody loves lunch.


Steve Kwasny

Stakeholder Relations Coordinator

New Curriculum to Bundle Essential Learning Opportunities for Sector Leaders

Why is it that many organizations are still battling problems even though the solutions are available? Why is it that despite workshops, speakers, and seminars galore focused on solving issues, our sector leadership and funders are still frustrated in their efforts to motivate staff and volunteers to explore new solutions?

Many cynics refer to workshops as a day out of the office rather than an investment of a day into learning. I don’t believe this for a moment but I do believe that the sector as a whole is not reaping 100% of the benefits from participating in the hundreds of opportunities for learning available for our staff and volunteers in any given year.

Obviously something has to change. Volunteer Alberta is offering that change now.

One of the advantages of the experience gained from delivering years of learning opportunities throughout Alberta is insight as to what creates change. Volunteer Alberta’s new approach – bundling the traditional one hour or half day workshops about a specific issue into a formal, comprehensive, structured series of competency-based professional development seminars – is designed to increase the ability of sector leaders to create the required changes we need to continue to be competitive, effective, and focused on mission delivery. Offering one hour or half day single-issue learning does not move the sector to a greater understanding of what is needed to succeed and excel in mission-based organizations.

Volunteer Alberta’s new curriculum combined with our new approach to knowledge transfer is now ready to be implemented. The learning opportunities are clustered into three ‘clouds’:

•             Risk Management

•             People Engagement

•             Governance

The intensive curriculum is designed to identify the issues that learners are looking to resolve prior to the day-long seminars, provide expert-facilitated instruction and insights, and review the resolutions reached against the issues identified pre-seminar. This fall, Volunteer Alberta is offering day-long Risk Management seminars in seven locations throughout Alberta. Watch for more information in the August 21 Sector Connector.


Karen Lynch

Executive Director

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