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The Value of Authenticity

Courtesy of Edmonton Journal

Courtesy of Edmonton Journal

The value of authenticity when fundraising cannot be over-emphasized. I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Rimbey FCSS golf tournament. It was put on by the FCSS to raise funds for their Volunteer Centre with a goal of $15,000 and it was an overwhelming success with about $22,000 raised. In reflecting on why I enjoyed being there and why this event was such a success the element that I believe was key is authenticity. The tournament was authentic for a number of reasons:

  • The focus was on the fun everyone was having and not how much money needed to be raised.
  • It was easy to financially contribute to the cause.
  • It was from the community, for the community, by the community.
  • A focus on the means and not just the end goal was evident.

When I was invited to attend the event I was told that it was like no golf tournament I had ever played before, and they were right! It was a pasture golf course (9 holes cut into a farmer’s field), there were ATVs pulling the drink cart and almost every hole had a fun theme or feature and often times free food. The lack of pretention allowed all of the participants to enjoy the day together and there was a strong feeling of a community coming together to support one of their key organizations.

I have attended many other fundraising events and sometimes they are focused on the glamour of the event or the auction items or the fundraising goal. There is a tendency to try to appeal the deep pockets in the room to spend the big money to ensure the event is successful. This approach can produce results and many nonprofit organizations rely on these types of events to meet their fundraising goals. However, often these gala based events feel like they are not about the cause and behind the scenes they can be taxing on the organizations and people who put them on. The Rimbey golf tournament is a great example of how important it is to take a step back when planning a fundraiser and first determine how it will be an authentic representation of what your organization does and the values it holds important, and how those values will be communicated.

Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Courtesy of Orange County Register

Courtesy of Orange County Register

In early August, the Edmonton Humane Society (EHS) had to temporarily close its doors to owner-surrendered animals. For the first time in their 106 year history, they had too many animals to realistically care for. Within hours of the announcement, the EHS website was forced to temporarily shut down due to a huge amount of activity, and in the three days that followed their announcement, the public responded with 167 adoptions, a new record for EHS.

EHS knew when to ask for help; they knew that if animals continued to come through their doors that they may not receive the best care possible. They put the word out that they needed help and Edmontonians responded.

Many nonprofit organizations exist to help, whether it’s helping people, animals or the environment. The very nature of this sector is to provide assistance that is lacking; so why are many nonprofit organizations afraid to ask for help? How often do we sell ourselves short when we talk about what we do, whether its to clients or to potential funders?

Amanda Palmer has a great TED talk called the Art of Asking and the shame that can be associated with it (she’s rocking some wild eyebrows so be prepared). Palmer also discusses the power of crowdsourcing and social media, which EHS did wonderfully with their recent crisis. When their website had to be shut down due to overactivity, their Facebook and Twitter became their main communication tools. They had to act very quickly to get information up on these outlets, which they did, and that allowed them to solve their overcrowding problem within just a few days.

Lisa Michetti, Member Engagement Manager

Coffee Donations A Reminder of Alberta’s Generous Nature

coffeeLast week’s random mass coffee donations that started in Alberta (and quickly spread across the country) said something great about our province. It demonstrated the genuine and selfless generosity of people in Alberta. Now, of course, that money may have made a greater impact had it gone to a worthy nonprofit organization, but that doesn’t make the gestures any less generous. These anonymous coffee donations serve as a reminder that while there is always more to be done and room for improvement, Albertans are a giving people – whether it is a cash (or in kind) donation or contribution of volunteer hours.

According to the 2010 CSGVP, Albertans contributed an average of 140 volunteer hours and $562 in donations in 2010. Those are positive numbers, but the really encouraging trend is the steady increase in the rate of volunteerism among Albertans from 2004 (48%) to 2007 (52%) to 2010 (55%). Alberta’s population currently sits at 4 million people, with the provincial government projecting that it will swell to 6 or 7 million by 2041. That means demand will certainly rise for services provided by Alberta’s nonprofits, but if the promising upward trend in volunteerism continues we will meet the challenge.

A donation of 500 cups of coffee doesn’t directly address any of the social problems the nonprofit/voluntary sector is currently focused on. However, it serves as a reminder that Albertans care about one another and that the people of Alberta possess a powerful spirit of giving. This spirit of giving will be tested in the coming years, but there is reason for optimism for Alberta, its nonprofit sector and its most vulnerable citizens.


Tim Henderson, Office and Communications Coordinator

Work in Progress

grad hatsI’m two weeks away from completing my degree in Human Ecology at the University of Alberta. Although I’m not new to the workforce, my options are expanding and instead of searching for jobs, I’m now seeking a career. In this quest, I’m looking to marry the two important factors in my perfect career. The first is doing work I find meaningful and that uses the knowledge and skills I’ve gained in my education. The second, making enough to pay off my mountain of student loans (which feels more like Everest) in a reasonable amount of time, while having a few dollars left over. I enter the debate of working in the nonprofit sector or profit sector. There are so many great opportunities in the nonprofit sector; jobs that offer meaningful work. I could really make a difference in people’s lives. I’d get a chance to use my education, be creative and strategize to solve real life problems. Not to mention benefit from the great networking that takes place.

With all the great things the sector has to offer I’m still left questioning whether it’s the right path for me. What’s holding me back is the aforementioned mountain. I wonder if working in this sector will allow me to pay off my loans and still afford me the ability to buy a house and start a family. This led me on a mission to find the truth about compensation in the nonprofit sector. Let me tell you, it was very difficult to find information about comparable wages in the nonprofit sector. For example, job postings, especially those for entry-level positions, were very vague when it came to wage information. Most didn’t give an expected salary range, while others said things like; “wages are negotiable” or asked the applicant to “state an expected wage”.  However, once I dug deep enough, from what I could find the news is not all bad. The nonprofit sector like all other sectors offers career advancement, benefit packages (health/dental, vacation, professional development, etc) and entry-level wages/salaries that are, for the most part, acceptable. However there are still challenges because not all nonprofit organizations are large with organizational charts that offer room to grow. Also, with the increasing rates in which people switch jobs now (every 2-5 years by some estimates), most higher paying positions required years of seniority that will be less and less common.

These challenges need to be understood by organizations, donors, and funders and they all need to modernize approaches to hiring up and coming talent. Also, if perception doesn’t equal reality, then the story needs to be told better. Make information readily available and don’t be afraid to let people know what you are going to pay them. University students are often accused of being idealistic but we also have realistic expectations around salary and compensation. As a soon-to-be university graduate, what I can expect to earn in an entry level position is important to me. It factors into what jobs I apply for and the sectors I look to for employment. Clear, accurate, and easily accessible information is a good way to catch my attention and help me make an informed decision. As I mentioned, the nonprofit sector has a lot of meaningful work to offer. If nonprofits want to bring in bright and shiny new graduates they need to show them that wages are comparable to other industries, only then will they attract the next generation of leaders.

Gloria Lawrence, U of A Practicum Student

Gloria is a Practicum student with the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta. She has demonstrated a great understanding of the nonprofit/voluntary sector in her time here at Volunteer Alberta. 

You Have to Spend Money to Make Change

Last week, my colleagues Rosanne Tollenaar, Jann Beeston and I attended CCVO’s second annual Connections Conference in Calgary. Many of the speakers at the conference, as well as the participants, spoke with frustration about a common misconception about the nonprofit/voluntary  sector:  that putting money towards administration and overhead costs somehow takes money away from the work nonprofits do, rather than make their work possible. Those in the sector know that this isn’t a new problem – organizations have long been trying to offer successful programs and services, while struggling to find money for the organizational infrastructure necessary to do so.

Sue Tomney, CEO of the YWCA of Calgary, a panelist at the conference, made a strong case for why funders should want to see administration fees in their contracts and grants to nonprofits by reframing this issue from funders’ perspectives. She described her dream funder as someone who insisted on 15% of a contract budget dedicated to administration and 10% assigned to advocacy work.

A realistic cost for administration shows the funder that the organization has the governance, policy, and financial oversight to properly manage a contract or grant. While this may sometimes be available in-kind through a board and volunteers, most organizations have costs associated with bookkeepers and financial controllers, leadership and management positions, and knowledgeable staff familiar with the specifics of internal policies and legal requirements. As well, a substantial administration budget line shows funders that staff at the organization are being paid and managed fairly, and that the organization has the appropriate people, infrastructure, and capacity to communicate with the funder, internally, and externally throughout the project. Without these things in place, a funder should be concerned about how their contract will be carried out.

Tomney included 10% advocacy as well on the basis that most funders want to make an impact on an issue or cause through their contracts and grants. For example, a funder choosing to support the YWCA on an initiative to help homeless women is likely concerned about homelessness, domestic violence, or mental illness. By requiring an organization to do advocacy work around these issues, the funder can ensure that the contract works toward eliminating the problem, rather than providing short term band-aid solutions. Eventually the funder won’t have to give money to the organization and instead will have invested in the solution(s).

Understanding Tomney’s perspective puts nonprofits in a better position to make our case to funders for why these costs are necessary. Hopefully it can open funders’ eyes to why we should all be on the same page when it comes to paying for the work required to improve our communities and change our world.

Here’s more reading on why it’s necessary to spend on administration.


Sam Kriviak, Program Coordinator

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