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From the Vault: What I Learned By Listening

This blog was originally posted April 17, 2012.

A few months ago I sat in on a workshops helping organizations market their volunteer opportunities to recruit new volunteers, as well as retain their current volunteers. One of my key takeaways was the need to conduct satisfaction interviews with your current volunteers – see if they’re happy in their role, happy with the way the organization works, and ask if there are any areas they’d like to expand into within the organization.

One of my volunteer activities is managing a completely volunteer-run online magazine, Sound and Noise, so I decided to apply that learning to my own organization. It had never occurred to me to actually ask our volunteers whether they were happy with their experience, which is strange because the reason I began managing the magazine was that I was dissatisfied with my own experience.

While the prospect of sitting down with our volunteers and asking for feedback on how I was doing seemed daunting, I was surprised at how easy the process ended up being. The Editor and I sat down to decide what questions we wanted to start with. I was a little wary, as the four questions we came up with seemed so basic. I wasn’t sure if we would get the feedback we wanted (or needed!) from our questions, but I decided to give it a shot.

We decided to ask:

  • General check in – what do you want to do more of? What do you want to do less of? Are there any particular skills you’d like to improve by being involved with Sound and Noise?
  • If you weren’t a writer, would you read Sound and Noise? Why or why not? What would make you a regular reader?
  • Do you find our writing workshops helpful? How do you feel about the quality of writing on the magazine?
  • How is the writing and editing process? How can we improve it?

I was blown away by the responses I got.

Happy coffee ladyOnce I bought our volunteers a coffee and sat down to chat with them, they completely opened up about everything that is right – and wrong – with the magazine. But more than that, they were more than willing to give me concrete suggestions for things I should keep the same and ways I could improve their experience. I went into my meetings expecting to hear general comments such as, “I like the atmosphere” or, “I want to improve my articles,” but I ended up hearing things like:

  • You should highlight the events you think we should review.
  • The workshops are great, but can we do more workshops about concept pieces?
  • I’m interested in helping out with the editorial process.

On top of all the great suggestions I got directly from the people who see “the other side” of the work I do, I got the sense that the volunteers were happy they were able to contribute in a different way to the magazine. In turn, asking for feedback makes it more likely that they’ll continue on as volunteers, and maybe take on greater roles within the magazine.

What about you? Have you ever conducted a satisfaction interview with your volunteers? What types of questions did you ask and what feedback did you get?

Jenna Marynowski
Volunteer Alberta

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Five Ideas to Borrow for Your Next Conference

16-ntc-finalComing up with new experiences for attendees at conferences can be difficult. What is affordable? What keeps people connected during a break? What will participants talk about after the conference is over (aside from great sessions and speakers!)?

I had the privilege of attending this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (16NTC) – hosted by the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN). Check out my blog on Five Tech Trends Still Impacting Nonprofits for additional information!

There was a lot going on at the conference besides the numerous breakout sessions – from onsite activities to meetups, progressive parties to active sessions (like Yoga for Geeks). With so much happening, it was difficult to narrow down my favourite experiences from the conference to my top 5 – here they are, in no particular order:

1. Great Plenaries – I especially enjoyed the inspiring Ignite sessions and I’d love to see this format of sharing success stories at more conferences!

Ignite is a fast-paced, fun, thought-provoking presentation format that educates and entertains. Ignite talks give you the opportunity to share your fascinations and passions with the NTC Community.

My favourite Ignite sessions were part of the “NPTech Makers” theme – these presenters had seen a challenge or opportunity and made something of it. Not only did they share personal stories of creating opportunity from adversity that moved us to tears, but they also demonstrated how everyone working in the nonprofit sector is making a difference.

2. Networking – “Birds of a Feather” is an interesting and comfortable approach to networking lunches.

25673392254_d09f7b2f83_zWhen a bunch of extraverts and introverts (like me) get mixed up and told to ‘network’, it can make for some interesting dynamics. However, the “Birds of a Feather” exercise at lunch helped everyone to gravitate to tables with a variety of topics of interest to have a networking chats. Table topics ranged from regional, like the ‘Canadian, eh?’ table, to topical, like ‘Fundraising, Data, and Benchmarks, Oh My!’. Connecting and sharing experiences, whether we were experts or just curious about the topic, led to interesting conversations and introduced us to new colleagues.

3. Digital Connectivity – Of course this was a tech conference; however, NTEN was ready with a great interactive app and preset social media hashtags.

The 16NTC mobile app was fantastic for creating my itinerary, checking into sessions/events, adding photos and comments during sessions and in between, and making connections with other attendees. Each presentation had a hashtag and collaborative notes set up, so I was able to check out discussions at the sessions I missed.

4. Inclusive Space – Conferences are at their best when everyone is welcome, included, and comfortable.

I appreciated the efforts the 16NTC coordinators made to ensure the conference was an inclusive event. From varied levels of access, to gender neutral washrooms, there were frequent reminders that the conference was a safe space for everyone to participate.

26250384426_a0635f2324_z5. Creative Sponsor Add-ons – Creativity and sponsorship really do go well together!

16NTC had some fantastic sponsors who helped make it a great experience overall. My personal favorite was the exclusive showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens one evening at the Tech Museum of Innovation dome IMAX. I felt spoiled!


Thanks to NTEN for a great conference experience! Check out all of their photos, used in this post.

Thank you to The Muttart Foundation for the bursary enabling me to attend this year’s conference, and to Volunteer Alberta for prioritizing professional development and a learning culture.

 

Cindy Walter
Volunteer Alberta

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Five Tech Trends Still Impacting Nonprofits

16-ntc-finalGoing into the 2016 Nonprofit Technology Conference (16NTC) I had fairly high expectations. The Nonprofit Technology Network’s (NTEN) typically features stellar presenters – and they really delivered at 16NTC. With a list of 116 sessions, I had many top choices for every breakout. As well as the opportunity to learn from experts and sector leaders.

From the sessions I was able to attend and had flagged to read the notes from, here are 5 sector-wide trends that were confirmed for me at 16NTC, not in any particular order. You may have heard of some of these:

  1. Accidental Techies: That is, falling into the role of managing your organization’s technology, without prior training. Check out the Fast Company article How To Master The Art Of The Accidental Career from Amy Sample Ward, NTEN’s CEO.
  1. Data management: What to measure and how? Many sessions focused on data topics, such as big vs. small data, data frameworks, how to measure data, open data, data-driven storytelling, and more. The Canada Council for the Arts has a great example of using data to tell a story.
  1. Communicating: It’s inescapable, by email, website, social media, and more. Communicating about what our nonprofits do, listening to our stakeholders, and using digital resources to do so. We got a sneak peek at the M+R Benchmarks X report with detailed data on email performance, website traffic, and social media engagement.
  1. New technologies: Prepare to think about automating and providing referrals, data, strategy, integration, retooling, and access. Check out the 2016 Digital Outlook Report.
  1. Storytelling: There are amazing, inspiring stories of contributions to nonprofit technology and by those who use it. Check out some of the interviews by Nonprofit Radio with speakers and conveners: http://www.nten.org/ntc/at-the-ntc/ntc-conversations/

What other nonprofit tech trends or resources have you found? Share in the comments!

26278232535_cfdf28361f_zWhat else happened at 16NTC? Check out next week’s blog Five Ideas to Borrow for Your Next Conference.

Thank you to The Muttart Foundation for the bursary enabling me to attend 16NTC and to Volunteer Alberta for prioritizing professional development and a learning culture.

Cindy Walter
Volunteer Alberta

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How do we create advocates, catalysts, and influencers for the nonprofit sector?

cropped-banner2This May, Volunteer Alberta is excited to participate in CACSL Conference 2016: Impact for Sustainability, an exciting conference bringing together community and post-secondary on the topic of Community Service Learning.

Our Creative Director, Katherine Topolniski, explains why Volunteer Alberta got involved in the conference:

“One of the most exciting trends in volunteerism is Community Service learning. The education system is moving quickly in this direction, students are being encouraged and supported to explore avenues for learning in their community. Students are enhancing their education with real world experiences, while making a difference.

This is an exciting new trend in Canada with benefits we have yet to fully comprehend. Will students become advocates, catalysts and influencers for community and the nonprofit sector? How will the experiences of today’s youth emerge as they explore career paths and embark on their professional journey?”

Katherine spoke more about the Impact for Sustainability conference to Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE), another organization participating in the conference. Below is their blog about the upcoming conference, originally published on their website:


CFICE-LOGO-BG-LRG-1-240x215Volunteers often serve as the backbone of community initiatives, and the Volunteer Canada network wants to help organizations maximize their potential.

As part of the CACSL Conference 2016, which takes place May 25 to 27 at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Volunteer Alberta is hosting a networking series where academics, volunteer centres, and community organizations can share their knowledge and experiences.

“We are intentionally setting the scene for integrated dialogue and productive networking between [these three groups],” says Katherine Topolniski, Creative Director for Volunteer Alberta.

kbtphotography_034“In one of the Network Sessions we are focusing on discovering possibilities and creating opportunities to work together,” explains Topolniski. “We’re working to create the space in this session for participants to begin to shape the next steps they might take after the conference to initiate, grow, deepen, or scale current and/or emerging work. This is an opportunity for participants to move from recognizing the potential to beginning to harness it.”

In addition to this series of networking events, the conference will be exploring the theme of “Impact for Sustainability” with presentations from a number of Community Service Learning (CSL) and Community Engagement (CE) organizations – including those associated with CFICE.

Confirmed speakers for the conference include:

  • Patti H. Clayton, an Independent Consultant with over fifteen years of experience as a practitioner-scholar and educational developer in community-campus engagement and experiential education
  • Chelsea R. Willness, a passionate champion of community-engaged scholarship who currently holds two national research grants (SSHRC) for her research focusing on how stakeholders respond to organizations’ environmental practices and community involvement
  • Leah K. Hamilton, a Principal Investigator (SSHRC Insight Development Grant) and Co-Investigator (SSHRC Insight Grant) for two research projects focused on various ways to facilitate the settlement and integration of immigrants in Canada
  • Stephen Hill, an associate professor in the new School of Environment at Trent University whose research focuses on environmental and renewable energy management and policy in Canada

The conference will also feature engaging lunch panels focused on inter-organizational collaboration in environment sustainability, community engagement with First Nations communities, and a panel on Community Prosperity.

For more information about the conference, or to register, please visit http://cacslconference2016.ca/

Final registration is Thursday, May 19.

 

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What is Intrapreneurism? 6 lessons for adaptation, innovation, and leadership

Recently I had the privilege of being the moderator at a panel discussion on social leadership and intrapreneurism with intrapreneurs Carla Stolte, Ian Howat, and Pieter de Vos presented by IPAC Edmonton. It was an opportunity to gather with curious leaders who are interested in finding out more about what social leadership looks like and what intrapreneurship means.

From perspectives shared by the panelists, to questions asked by participants, the panel generated many useful lessons worth sharing.

Young teamSo what do social leadership and intrapreneurism mean?

  • Social Leaders are people who have the ability to bring people together, facilitate agreements, and drive efforts in the same direction.
  • Intrapreneurs are people within groups or organizations who are willing to take risks in an effort to innovate and solve important problems.

These are complementary skills that can be developed by many people. In fact, lots of people already work in these ways – they just don’t know it yet!

The six lessons I took away from the panel fall into two categories: individual and organizational.

LESSONS FOR INDIVIDUALS:

1. Discover for yourself that “I am enough.” This is more than a true statement – it’s a way of being, living your life, and working. Discovering that you are enough will allow you to see the opportunities in taking risks and sticking your neck out. From the place of “I am enough” you can build resiliency, commitment, and the ability to be invested in both your goals and the goals of others.

2. As intrapreneurs it is likely that you will face “no.” It’s important to take rejection as an opportunity to learn what others see as important so you can increase the likelihood of a “yes” the next time.

3. Intrapreneurs bring their whole selves to the table – all their identities, perspectives, experiences, and “ways of knowing.” Hobbies, interests, previous roles, community/volunteer work, and current roles are all resources that you can rely on to inform and advance ideas and projects.

LESSONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS:

4. Develop a tolerance for change. Intrapreneurism requires space inside of organizations to incubate ideas, generate buy-in, and communicate within the organization. Often we work in organizational cultures that are unnerved by small groups gathering to discuss “pet projects.” These movements should be encouraged because there is the potential for these conversations and projects to be the birth places of innovation and positive impact.

5. Create a framework for intrapreneurism. Organizations can create and implement frameworks for endorsing and encouraging intrapreneurism. This allows those who are not the intrapreneurs, but are often affected by intrapreneurs work, to understand how the approach fits into the strategic directions of the whole organization.

6. Support a “learning environment.” The space and opportunity to apply learning is often limited. A learning environment encourages people to explore new ideas and apply new skills and thinking to their work. New perspectives and ideas may disrupt the organization’s status quo; however, outcomes are likely to improve when learning is given space to grow and to thrive.

Ultimately, every organization has forces that vie for stability and status quo, as well as those that pull for change and adaptation. Professionals that are emerging intrapreneurs and social leaders can bridge this tension, resulting in increased capacity for innovation and impact.

For more information on intrapreneurism, check out www.leagueofintrapreneurs.com

Annand Ollivierre
Volunteer Alberta

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