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There are options! Nonprofit Sector Employee Benefits

On Tuesday, Volunteer Alberta hosted a two-hour interactive discussion on employee benefits in the nonprofit/voluntary sector! Mike Babichuk, our resident expert, answered questions about employee benefits. Here are the questions, and answers to what people wanted to know about employee benefits:

Q – Rachel McBeath Hi Mike! I just started with a small organization (6 People) and we don’t have any kind of benefit plan…Are we just too small to have benefits?

A – Mike Babichuk Not at all Rachel, OASSIS can provide benefits to even a single person organization. We of course can also provide those same benefits to 1000’s

Q – Rachel McBeath Are we limited in what we can get because we are smaller?? I hear that benefits can be really expensive for smaller places like the one I work with

A – Mike Babichuk Size for the most part is irrelevant. OASSIS offers 6 different plans with a number of options in each plan which can be tailored to everyone’s needs and budget. OASSIS is very competitive as we do not use brokers and all savings are passed on to our customers.

Q – Doray Veno Hello Mike, Would June 15th morning work for you to do a VC presentation to the Hanna Learning Centre Board? Thanks Doray

Q – Doray Veno What organizational information do you require to provide a quote?

A – Mike Babichuk June 15 is fine for me Doray, just confirm the logistics as soon as you can. As for a quote I actually don’t need any information as I would provide you a secure website location where you would answer just a few questions and you would receive a quote usually within 48 hours. I would of course be available to answer any questions during the process if you require.

Q – Rachel McBeath Not to ask you too many questions Mike…but in talking with the girls here, where do we begin with benefit plans? Like what are standard benefits that we should probably look at getting? Can they be set up to be different for different people in the organization?

A – Mike Babichuk Love the questions; very thoughtful and pertinent. Although I did say plans are highly customizable they are for the group as a whole not individually. So whatever is chosen for benefits is for everyone within the group. Having said that most plans cover the gambit of benefits most individuals require. There are a couple of ways of making choices; what can we as an organization afford or what benefits do we want to provide to retain our existing staff or recruit staff for future growth. Plans are very flexible so you can start for example with a Standard Plan that covers 80% of most prescription & dental services right up to 100% coverage. You also have choices on optional benefits like short & long term disability, dependent life, counselling services (EAP) and health spending accounts. Hope I answered your question.

Q – Maxine Charlton I have my own business; can I set up a benefit plan if it is a sole proprietorship?

A – Mike Babichuk To your question sorry we can’t provide benefits for self-employed persons just for paid staff. I know it may seem like splitting hairs but OASSIS was created to provide benefits for volunteer and not for profit organizations.

Thanks to everyone who posed some great questions about benefits. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact Mike via email or by phone 780.482.3300 ext.238 or visit the OASSIS website at http://www.oassisplan.com/

Mike Babichuk
OASSIS Sales and Marketing Leader

Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector in Flux

Can you think of all the ways Alberta’s nonprofit/voluntary sector is changing? What about your organization? How is it changing?

Like other sectors, the nonprofit/voluntary sector is in a state of fluctuation. Traditional modes of funding and people engagement are becoming less effective. Sector leaders have to face new societal realities and find new ways to compete for financial resources and attract volunteers to their organization. There is increasing demand for new, innovative services and programs, and the sector must work to keep up.

Recently I attended Creative Alberta’s Imagination Conversation conference in Edmonton. There was an interesting idea put forth by Dr. Peter Gamwell, superintendent of the Ottawa-Carleton District School board, articulating the atmosphere of change in which the sector finds itself. He spoke of ‘inbetweenity’; a time in between times, when one era is on its way out, and another has not yet fully started. This is a period of insecurities, of unknowns; a time when organizations jockey for advantage in the face of changes that have not yet been made. In many ways, Alberta’s nonprofit/voluntary sector is in a time of inbetweenity: politically, financially, and in the way the sector manages people and resources.

There are three main ways in which people deal with inbetweenity. First, there are those who will plow forward, in a linear manner, with the status quo. They keep doing the same things they have always done, engaging people the same way they always have, offering the same programming as has always been offered, and seeking funding from the same sources who gave in the past. The second group will make an attempt at change, but only superficially. In other words, they just rearrange the furniture. People in this group take what they already have, shuffle it around a bit, and hope it will work to address the evolving landscape of the sector.

However, both these approaches often lead to failure, as both of these tactics are plagued by deficit thinking. The period of inbetweenity is thought of as a disability, a problem to be solved, a roadblock halting business (as usual).

So how do we proceed?

Organizations and leaders must embrace the uncertainty as a time of possibility. They must begin to see the unknown as a strength and asset to their organization in order to move forward, because it is during inbetweenity where creativity can truly be allowed to flourish. This is an incredible opportunity to encourage innovation and imagination, and to give space to allow those ideas to grow.  New ways of thinking must be embraced and new ways of approaching old business must be encouraged, because an organizations capacity for creativity, and not its devotion to the status quo, is the most important tool with which future successes will be built.

Ellie McFarlane

Program Coordinator

Okotoks Engages in Knowledge Exchange

I was excited to have the opportunity to travel to the fine community of Okotoks to participate in the Selling the Invisible workshop presented by my fellow KnEC colleague, Diane Huston.  I was quite impressed with Diane’s ability to engage the audience with meaningful anecdotes, which supported learning opportunities and course content. Further, Diane’s very evident knowledge of the voluntary sector really added value to this workshop.

Audience participation/engagement can make or break a presentation, and the 12 participants who took time out of their very busy work schedule to attend Selling the Invisible, were so engaged that they stayed an additional 30 minutes to share their own knowledge and ask questions.  Seeing this kind of participation, I was once again reminded about the commitment and dedication of the countless individuals who participate in over 20,000 nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations in Alberta.

The essence of the Knowledge Exchange Coordinator position is “to engage nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations across Alberta to enhance organizations’ capacity to provide programs and service to communities.”  Further, I see the KnEC role as one being about gathering strategies and information on effective volunteer engagement from people in the nonprofit/voluntary sector and disseminating that knowledge to others around Alberta.

Of the many tips discussed at the workshop on volunteer engagement, one participant shared this strategy on volunteer recruitment: “When holding any kind of volunteer appreciation event, encourage your volunteers to bring a friend.”  By bringing friends to an appreciation party, the newcomers will get firsthand experience  on how volunteers are treated and recognized, what other community members are in attendance, the variety of ways an organization engages volunteers, and what the overall culture is within the organization.   In so many ways, this really makes sense to me. The likelihood of a “good” volunteer bringing someone who has the same core values and beliefs is, in my opinion, quite likely.

If you have any questions about the role of KnECs in your community or Volunteer Alberta, I would be very happy to answer your questions.  You can reach me at 780.482.3300 (toll free in Alberta 1.877.915.6336) ext. 231 or by email at aollivierre@volunteeralberta.ab.ca

Voluntourism: What do we know about giving out fish?

I traveled to Belize last August with the Rotary International Belize Literacy program. I really enjoyed my time in Belize, it was awe-inspiring in its natural beauty and the people were fantastic. I spent time in the Cayo region, which meant I had the chance to see Mayan ruins in my time off.  Awesome, right? It was.

However, this blog post is not really about the fact I got to swim with sharks or climb Mayan ruins. Rather, this is what I learned about volunteering while I was there.

Belize is about a two-hour flight from Houston, Texas. It is relatively safe, clean, the food is good, and the citizens speak English. As such, it is the go-to location for every church group, hospital, or student group with good hearts and a week to spend volunteering.

The vocational training team I was sent on was tasked with finding out why, after Rotary had been in Belize for over 10 years, it was not seeing the results it wanted. The Coles Notes version of the story is:

  • Belize needed more schools, so Rotary built schools.
  • Belize needed trained staff in their schools, so Rotary sent Canadian teachers down to train Belizean teachers.
  • Belizean teachers needed more support, so Rotary sent Canadian principals down to train the Belizean Principals.
  • Belizean principals needed support, so Rotary sent down a team to work with Ministry of Education officials.
  • Teachers, Principals and Government officials needed more support, so Rotary sent a team down to assess the situation with community leaders (that’s where I came in) and what we found was quite eye opening.

Belize is the half-finished project capital of the world. True, it is the destination of many voluntourism groups, but each group only stays for about one week at a time. Think about your home community – imagine your local community school was falling into disrepair; a group of people descend on your neighbourhood, paint part of it and go home. Great, except who will paint the rest? Who will do touch-ups when it gets chipped? Is the paint even the problem? These questions often go unanswered by communities working with voluntourist groups. Compounding the problem is that no one ever wants to say no to someone offering a hand, even if it won’t be more help.

What struck me as most troublesome was that there seemed to be little concept of sustainability or long-term planning amongst either the volunteers or the locals. The question “what happens when the volunteers leave?” was, for the most part, left unanswered. For example, the Belize Ministry of Education receives old computers from North America almost daily with no idea what to do with them. The places that need computers have no internet infrastructure, aren’t on a reliable power grid and, quite frankly, have greater needs beyond the internet, like access to clean water. Yet, the government receives more computers, at times without warning. Another example is one small town, which already had two community centres, said they needed another because the others were run down.  Without a plan for how to use and maintain the centres, it’s no wonder the community centres get run down.

The developing world, to be cliché, needs heads not hands. I learned that, while places like Belize are always looking for help, what we do while there doesn’t always help.  As the old adage goes “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” All too often, voluntourism programs hand out fish, when they should be teaching not just how to fish, but also healthy, sustainable fishing practises so they can share it with their communities. Admittedly, I may have really stretched that analogy. Fishing aside, the idea that every way in which we try to help should leave a lasting, positive impression seems obvious to say, though I have to admit the point seems all too often missed.

–          Steven Kwasny

Information Management Assistant

What do you think? Have you had a similar or maybe a different voluntourism experience? Share it with us in the comment section below.


Lethbridge’s Leaders of Tomorrow Awards Impress

Last week, Rosanne (VA’s Director of Programs) and I attended Volunteer Lethbridge’s annual National Volunteer Week celebration – the Leaders of Tomorrow awards. This event recognizes the exceptional contributions made by youth aged 5-24 years old in the Lethbridge area. I was blown away by the list of hundreds of organizations that Lethbridge youth volunteer for. As the emcee read out the list of where the nominees volunteer, it seemed like the list would never end! I was particularly impressed by the 5-11 year old category – I used to consider myself almost a life-long volunteer but I certainly wasn’t doing any volunteer work at 7!

I was also struck by what one of the winners of the 18-24 categories mentioned in her brief speech. She asked the crowd to remember all these volunteer contributions made by young people the next time they hear someone say, “young people don’t care”. As a young person, I often find myself defending my generation against the apathy others perceive us to have.

Our main purpose for visiting Lethbridge was to wrap up our Intersections 2 project, which works to help nonprofit/voluntary organizations effectively engage new Canadians in their organizations. Visit our new Intersections website for resources, activities and more!

Rosanne and I were thrilled that the timing worked out to attend this amazing event and to see what exciting things are happening in Lethbridge. Laurie and her team put on a fabulous event and we always feel very welcomed when we get to visit beautiful Lethbridge! Thanks to Volunteer Lethbridge again for being great hosts during our visit.

Lisa Michetti
Member Engagement Manager

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