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Five Reasons to Invest in Learning this Spring!

davetoaster / photo on flickr

davetoaster / photo on flickr

While it might be hard to believe, spring is coming. Spring is an opportunity to invest in learning and professional growth.

Here are five reasons that spring is a great time to learn:

  1. The days are longer. The sun is up early and nightfall comes later; there is much more time for activities, making spring a great time to start investing in you. With more hours of daylight, we often feel a burst of energy with the added vitamin D, which is a great excuse to add a class or two to your schedule. Learning something new this spring will give you the time to achieve goals throughout the year, and undoubtedly by the time winter rolls around again you will see the benefits.
  2. Create momentum through learning. Learning begets learning. Possibilities present themselves to those who choose to learn and opening up to these opportunities creates momentum to grow. Don’t think of learning like a bucket to be filled, but more as a fire waiting to be lit. So burn baby, burn!
  3. Grow personal and professional networks. Learning provides a comfortable space to meet new people and makes for a great icebreaker, giving you a common topic to talk about. Depending on what learning opportunity you choose to invest in, the potential to establish both friendship and professional connections are abundant.
  4. Digital culture makes learning easy! We live in a time where inspiration is attainable and often learning opportunities are much closer than you think. The opportunity to be “wowed” is everywhere online. The possibilities are endless and it doesn’t take a huge commitment to gain knew knowledge. There are countless online courses being offered for free, YouTube tutorials, webinars, how-to-guides and amazing newsletters that can provide you with learning opportunities. All you have to do is keep an eye for what wows you and find out more.
  5. There are lots of ways to learn. Investing in learning this spring doesn’t have to be traditional in any sense of the word. You don’t have to attend a lecture, or strive for an A+.The practice of teaching and learning has experienced tremendous growth in terms of methodology and engagement. There are countless ways to acquire the knowledge you seek, it’s simply a matter of which method is the most fun for you.

Most importantly, make it “fun for you”! For some, learning can be synonymous with the unpleasant, frustrating, and even a means to an end. By completing just one investment in learning this spring that really wows you, you can complete something to be proud of and maybe even shift your perspective (as well as gain some new skills) along the way.

Drew Noiles
Learning and Technology Coordinator

5 Tips for Getting Started on Twitter

twitterTwitter is a great place to interact with your community, both at the local and global levels. As a community member, Twitter helps you keep a finger on the pulse, get involved, and get informed about what nonprofit organizations are up to. If you are a small nonprofit, it also offers a cheap and easy way to build your brand and relationships. No matter who you are, you can truly connect with just about anyone. Staying in the loop is at your fingertips.

But if you are anything like me, you have resisted getting on board. Maybe you feel that you’re already connected, or that you have other things to do with your time. Or maybe you just haven’t found a good enough reason to join yet.

For me, the opportunity to become more involved in communications at Volunteer Alberta was finally that good reason – and so as of last Friday, I am on Twitter.

sam_tweet

If you are on the verge of joining, or if you’re just starting out on Twitter, it can feel like there is a steep learning curve ahead. There are plenty of blogs and resources on how to use Twitter personally or on behalf of an organization, but 8 years after Twitter’s launch there’s a lot to wade through.

So, as a starting point, here are the five best pieces of advice I’ve received as I have embarked on my Twitter adventure:

1. Twitter is like a stream that you can dip in and out of. If you feel overwhelmed by your growing Twitter feed, remember you don’t have to read every tweet, follow every exchange, or catch up on everything that happened in that week you were away.

2. Twitter is relational and interactive. You don’t have to, and you shouldn’t, use it solely as a personal platform to talk about your event, your blog, or what you ate for dinner. Follow others, retweet interesting content, share articles, and join conversations!

3. That being said, you are your own interesting and unique person or organization. Creating your own content, sharing your own ideas, and bring your perspective to the table is why you signed up for Twitter in the first place, even if you don’t know it yet. After all, Twitter wouldn’t exist without the millions of voices that make it a dynamic place to learn and connect.

4. Make it easy for others to mention you, quote your tweets, or involve you in a conversation by keeping your Twitter handle short and your tweets well under the 140 character limit.

5. If you really want to see the true power of Twitter, use it at an event. The Vitalize Conference, for example, always has its own hashtag (#Vitalize2015) which you can use to tap into the wonderful ideas sparked by the conference, connect with other attendees, and follow what is happening in other rooms and other sessions. Twitter is like a free and accessible VIP pass – use it!

I have much more to learn, but even in my first week I am already getting the hang of Twitter. And you can do it too! Maybe this is the moment that you find your good reason to get involved.

Have your own favourite piece of Twitter advice? Leave it in the comments!

To learn more about hashtags, check out this previous VA blog post: Alberta Nonprofits Play Hashtag.

Sam Kriviak (@SamKriviak), Program Coordinator

Books on books

Nonprofit storytelling tips

engage-storyWe all have stories to tell. You may think that telling your story doesn’t matter, but in the nonprofit/voluntary sector, telling your story is one of the most important things you do. Stories are used to teach us about our communities. Stories inspire us to act.

But very often it’s not that easy. How do you tell the story? Where do you start?

All great stories seem to have a formula that they follow, a recipe for success. Although there are no hard and fast rules to create a great story, there are elements that are apparent in all stories. Identified below are some of the more important elements. Simply put, Completing storytelling five tips to get you started:

  1. Identify a hero – The hero might be someone in your organization, it might be the work that your organization does or it is the people who you serve in the work that you do.
  2. Identify an end goal – The end goal is usually the answer to a problem your organization works to solve. Your organizational purpose should be the common theme running throughout your story and your day to day work.
  3. Conflict – Conflict is the challenge that your organization must overcome to solve the problem. Human capacity issues, lack of resources, and tight timelines that your organization needs to deal with are all examples of conflict.
  4. Have a mentor – The mentor in your story will be someone who inspires, motivates and encourages the work that your hero does. Or, maybe your organization is the mentor who can help the hero achieve their mission.
  5. End with the moral or call to action –What did the story teach you or others? What can the readers do to continue the work of the hero?

When creating your organization’s story, remember to be authentic. Make your story personal. Get people to connect to your organization by connecting to them. Finally, use stories that have an emotional impact. Find a way to pull at the heartstrings of your audience. Every story should have one compelling character that the audience can feel emotionally invested in, within nonprofit organizations these characters are often the reason for our work.

For a more detailed guide, check out the Storytelling Guide.

Storytelling can draw in funders, engage volunteers, drive up sponsorship or get your organization into the public consciousness. Go out and tell your stories because it does matter. If you don’t, others might do it for you and they may not get your story right.

An excellent example of an organization effectively communicating their story is Charity:Water. They do a great job creating stories and videos from their many heroes from around the world!

Do you have a great story to tell? Let us know!

 

Jennifer Esler, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Guest Blog: Amplifying Your Partnership Brokering Skills

JSD+-Sola-150x150It’s only two months until Partnership Brokers Training Level One will be offered in Calgary and Western Canada for the first time. This training is increasingly important as society’s problems and challenges become more complex and interconnected. I truly believe that multi-sector partnerships are the only way forward.

This past June, I had the privilege of attending Level Two Partnership Brokers Training. This five-day residential course was held at the Trigonos Centre in Northern Wales in the heart of Snowdon National Park. The setting was spectacular, and the learning extraordinary. It is my pleasure to share with you highlights of the knowledge learned and insights gleaned from that memorable week.

1. Partnership Brokering is a growing global movement

Partnership Brokering is a rapidly growing global movement. Twenty people participated in the Level One and Level Two training, representing the diversity of potential partners- from all sectors! Businesses such as Unilever Britain, Shell Nigeria, GoldCorp Ghana, Accenture Malaysia, and Canada’s Agrifarm; nonprofit leaders from the YMCA, WorldVision, the International Institute for Local Development, and Alberta EcoTrust; and government officials from Holland, Switzerland and Britain all joined in.

It was a unique and assorted mix that led to deep discussions, different perspectives and many new friendships. But most importantly it highlighted the increasing role of partnerships as more and more business, civil society and government initiatives are being launched with partnership and collaboration at their heart.

2. There are 3 core partnership principles vital to the success of Partnership Brokering
The Partnership Brokers Association (PBA) defines partnerships as “ongoing working relationship where risks and benefits are shared.” In practical terms this means every partner is involved in:

  • Co-creating projects & programs
  • Committing tangible resource contributions
  • Ensuring mutual accountability

PBA has identified three core principles vital to the partnership building process: equity, transparency and mutual benefit. These principles must be understood and agreed upon by all partners. They are the foundation upon which the partnership is built; and the ‘cement’ that holds it together. Why?

Equity because it leads to respect
How do you build equity in a relationship where there are wide divergences in power, resources and influence? Equity is not the same as ‘equality’. Equity here means an equal right to be at the table and a validation of those contributions that are not measurable simply in terms of cash value or public profile.

Transparency because it leads to trust
Openness and honesty in working relationships are the pre-conditions of trust – an essential ingredient for the success of any partnership. Only with transparency can a partnership be truly accountable to each of its partners, donors and other stakeholders.

Mutual benefit because it leads to sustainability
Finally, if all partners are expected to contribute to the partnership they should also be entitled to benefit from the partnership. A healthy partnership works towards achieving specific benefits for each partner, often over and above the common benefits to all partners. Only in this way will the partnership ensure the continuing commitment of partners and its sustainability.

3. Partnership brokering requires keys skills and competencies – all that can be learned and developed
An effective partnership is not just about principles; it’s about a process – one that can be complex and challenging. Success requires a particular skill set and knowledge of partnering processes. With these key skills, the right approach and positive aptitude, partnerships can achieve real impact.

Core partnering skills required:
• Interest-based negotiation: Negotiating the partnership based on an understanding of each partner’s underlying drivers, and priorities;
• Brokering & facilitation: Bringing people together and managing the decision-making process.
• Active listening and plain speaking: Being able to engage and articulate ideas and decisions appropriately

Effective partnering requires individuals who live the power of AND:
• Engaged AND committed
• Objective AND reflective
• Open to learn from experience AND change direction as necessary

Brokers aptitudes facilitate successful relationships
Brokers are the vital link and are most successful when they help the partners to:
• Take time to build strong working relationships
• Foster genuine concern for each other’s underlying interests
• Ensure there is more listening than talking
• Encourage good communication skills at all levels
• Help partners deal with difficulties rather than ignoring them
• Balance flexibility with a rigorous approach
• Focus on practical and sustainable results

Level One Partnership Broker Training
Combining the resources, ingenuity and sweat equity of business, government, nonprofits and citizens is hard work. And to build, manage and scale partnerships requires sophisticated skills and expertise to navigate the delicate balancing act of common and organizational goals.

The Level Two PBT course has helped better equip me to develop and deliver Level One partnership brokering training. The Level One training is an intensive learning opportunity for conveners and catalysts of collective impact partnerships. This course guides participants through a practical framework for partnership brokering and explores the vital role Partnership Brokers can play in the effective scoping, design and process management of partnerships.

Join us as Partnership Brokers Association co-founder Ros Tennyson and I facilitate Level One training in Calgary. Click here for more details.

Jocelyne Daw, Founder and CEO of JS Daw & Associates

Lessons Learned from Vitalize 2014

vitalizeEach year, Volunteer Alberta holds our Annual General Meeting during Vitalize, Alberta’s provincial voluntary sector conference. This year, the conference was held in Calgary at the Telus Convention Centre, so the whole office made the trip down. Sam, Annand, Rosanne and Jann represented VA as session speakers and a few others were able to register for the conference.

It was my first Vitalize, and I was able to listen to a variety of excellent speakers. I learned about starting a social enterprise, navigating cross-cultural communication, engaging volunteers and supporters, becoming a successful leader, and understanding the current trends in the nonprofit/voluntary sector. Though the topics were varied, all of the presentations shared common themes and strategies for increasing the success of individual organizations and the sector as a whole.

Whether the session was geared towards delegates looking to start an organization or those wanting to better engage those around them, I found that the advice was largely the same:

1)      Find the meaning

2)      Live your mission

3)      Know your audience

4)      Change the medium, not the message

Find the meaning

When creating or revamping your mission statement, the first thing often considered is what you want to do, and how. But the most important question to ask yourself is why.

What is the gap you’re trying to address? What will this work mean to the community? What is the driving force behind your actions? Any successful organization or business has a set of values informing its activities or products. It’s important to focus on why you’re passionate about what you’re doing and why it matters before focusing on the process or outcomes.

Live your mission

Once you have a mission that reflects your passion and communicates the meaning of your work to the public, you have to practice what you preach. It’s one thing to state what you stand for, but quite another to communicate it through your actions.

Does your branding and communications strategy align with your mission? Do the programs, services or products you offer reflect your values?

Know your audience

When looking for volunteers, it’s important to figure out who is likely to identify with your cause; people are much more likely to volunteer for an organization to which they feel connected. If you have a clear, passionate message and you align your actions as an organization with that message, you’re off to a good start. Once you accomplish these steps, you can find like-minded individuals to work alongside you.

If you take a moment to consider the audience when attending public events or taking out advertisements, you can put your time and effort into avenues that will reach the right people. The same goes for funders – if you look for organizations whose values are closely aligned with your own, you have a higher chance of success.

Change the medium, not the message

Times have changed and it can be more difficult than ever to keep up. The strategies that once worked well for organizations may not be as effective, and it might seem like you need to do a complete revamp in order to stay current.

But while you may need to change, you don’t want to lose sight of your purpose. Your values are the heart of your organization, and if you believe in them, you can be assured that others believe in them as well. Be open to exploring new pathways to your organization and finding new ways to communicate your message. This could mean an updated website or a larger social media presence, but it could also mean exploring new partnerships and collaborations. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help! If you know someone who is doing something well, talk to them about it – at the very least, at the end of the conversation, they’ll have you in mind.

Overall, I learned that passion, consistency, clarity and flexibility are integral to organizational success. As a relative newcomer to the sector, it was nice to hear that the most important things, like knowing your mission, are also the most effective tools for success. I took in a lot of information over the course of the three days, and am looking forward to putting it into practice. And yes, I do feel Vitalized!

Rachel Pereira, Program/Administrative Assistant

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