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Advocacy: Networking for a Cause

prl_logoThis week we are sharing a blog by Meredith Bratland, Communications Coordinator at Parkland Regional Library. The article originally appeared in their publication, Quatrefoil Summer 2016.

While Meredith focuses on advocacy for libraries, we believe her insights are valuable for nonprofits in any subsector!


Advocacy work can be a hard sell. I’ve been conducting advocacy workshops with library boards throughout the region for three years and sometimes it sounds more political, complicated, and quite frankly like hard work than it truly is.

Basically, advocacy is networking for a cause.

Advocate (verb): publically recommend or support.

Network (verb): interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.

When advocating for your library in the public sphere, you are still getting many of the benefits of traditional networking. It can be even more fulfilling because you are not just focusing on developing your own career but developing public services for your community as well.

Advocating and networking have these common characteristics that go together like peanut butter and jam:

  • Meeting and connecting with community members.
  • Building your list of contacts within the community.
  • Investing in your social capital.

Business writer Margaret Heffernan explains that “social capital is a form of mutual reliance, dependency, and trust. It hugely changes what people can do. This is more true now than ever. It’s impossible in modern organizations to know everything that you need to know. What you need are lots of people who know lots of different things. Collectively you’re smarter.”[1]

By creating a network of people in your community and letting them know you’re an advocate for the library, you can impact your library’s goals significantly because of the opportunities that arise from involving other perspectives.

Advocacy quoteThere are a few tips that make networking easier for introverts and extroverts:[2]

  1. Approach someone confidently.
  2. Have your elevator pitch, a concise 30 second message, ready and polished.
  3. Ask thoughtful questions.
  4. Be genuinely interested.
  5. Say something memorable that emphasizes or demonstrates your elevator speech.
  6. Follow up!

It can be even more straightforward by creating an advocacy plan. In the workshop, we discuss and create key messages that can be your elevator speech. We identify stories, which would act as a memorable tidbit that emphasizes the key message or elevator speech. Your entire library board will be sharing a similar message and the chance of success increases exponentially because of the connections created in each of your separate networks.

Your social capital will rise and your library’s goals and visibility in the community will improve too.

Meredith Bratland
Parkland Regional Library

 

[1] Career advice for millennials (and really, anyone) from Margaret Heffernan by Juliet Blake
[2] Practical Networking Tips for Introverts by Maricella Herrera Avila
Header photo attribution: WOCinTech

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Creating Alberta’s best future through social innovation

A couple weeks ago, Volunteer Alberta held our AGM during the Impact for Sustainability Conference. We were thrilled to have guest speaker Kate Letizia on the agenda to share with us The Future of Social Innovation in Alberta. We envision a high-functioning, impactful, and resilient nonprofit sector emerging through the social innovation ecosystem in Alberta. We want to know:

How can we work together to develop the dynamic relationships required to maintain stability, while taking the risks required to explore and test innovative approaches?

Future Social InnovationIf you missed our AGM and would like to learn more about Kate’s presentation, you can check out the full report from ABSI Connect: The Future of Social Innovation Alberta 2016 or the summary report. Created by ABSI Fellows Kate Letizia, Aleeya Velji, and Lesely Cornelisse, the report seeks to answer the question “How can we do better at solving complex social and environmental problems in our province?”

Kelsey Spitz, administrator and advisor for the ABSI Connect Fellows, shared some of the insights she learned from the report in a blog. You can find her whole blog on the ABSI Connect website – Here is an excerpt from her post:


Here is what I learned from the ABSI Connect Fellows…

Alberta is rad(ical).

TogetherAlberta has a rich tradition of social innovation. It is the province of the Famous Five, who secured women legal recognition as ‘persons’ in Canada, leading to a radical shift in our social relationships and in Canadian jurisprudence. It is the only province where the Métis have a legislated land base, with the goals “to secure a Métis land base for future generations, local autonomy, and economic self-sufficiency” (Source: Alberta Indigenous Relations). And it was the first province to develop a formal interface for non-profit sector leaders to address high level, sector-wide issues directly with government officials – the Alberta Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Initiative.

Alberta has consistently been the home of key justice and equality movements, from the United Farmers of Alberta to the Pembina Institute.

What is common to all of these milestones? Each transforms a critical relationship, introducing a new status quo that advances, in some way, inclusion, openness and deeper collaboration.

Author Thomas King (and a former professor of Native Studies at University of Lethbridge) writes, “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (The Truth About Stories, 2003). The stories we tell about ourselves matter; they inform how we see, show up and act in our daily lives. The Fellows amplified Alberta’s story as a leader in doing what it takes for community well being and equality, shedding light on an inspiring legacy of operating at the radical edge of innovation.

It is time to raise a barn together.

While there is this rich history of social innovation in Alberta, one contemporary pattern the Fellows surfaced was in the opposite direction. Today, the social impact ecosystem celebrates and rewards individualism over collective action. There has been a shift toward communities of heroes, rather than heroic communities. Short time horizons for results and a focus on individual agency undercuts an otherwise deep interest in collaborative action and isolates successful initiatives embodying this approach.

Old manListen to speak.

When the Fellows began their journey last summer, social innovation was a vexed concept in Alberta, specifically in Calgary and Edmonton, where their efforts were concentrated. Some folks considered it a critical new process to advance long sought social change, others considered it an empty fad, others still saw evidence of neoliberalism in the approach, and yet others felt it was either a useful or obnoxious term to describe the kind of breakthrough work they had already been dedicated to for years.

The Fellows started from a place of deep listening, inviting each person they spoke with to share what they thought the value, definition, and possibility of social innovation is. In doing so, the Fellows killed two birds with one stone: they discovered that there is a common direction that people want to walk together (toward solving root causes) and, by listening and resourcing, they empowered the work of a diverse array of actors in both their current work and towards that common direction.

The Fellows learned that it absolutely matters to have a shared story, but that story must be accessible, inclusive, inspiring and democratic. Here is how I heard it: our common ground is in our deep dedication to aligning our social change efforts with our fundamental intent. If the goal is to solve something, then we focus on solving it. If the goal is to change the status quo, then we reimagine it. There is a growing movement of processes, models, approaches and shared learning that will help us align intent with action, whether we must invent, innovate, adapt, adopt or collaborate to get there.

Social innovation is the stuff of culture.

With little or no preconceptions of what they would be sharing back with community at the end of their term, the patterns and opportunities the Fellows identified through emergent learning all relate to the cultural elements shaping how and why we seek to forge solutions to our most complex challenges.

Plan 2What they heard and learned strikes at the heart of how we think about, enact and vision impactful social change. What we call it matters less than identifying the systemic patterns shaping how we go about it and working to break the patterns holding us from our core intent.

Like any journey without a map – and solving complex social and ecological problems is as far from having a map as possible – we must constantly check-in on our direction and our path, referencing the changing landscape, the local know-how, resonant examples, our experiences, the experiences and stories of others, and our own courage to try a path untested. With an appreciation that we alone do not have the answers, but the answers are out there, we can make a concerted effort to contribute to their collective creation.

Thank you to the Fellows for leading and inspiring a unique inquiry, learning journey and community. Thank you all – especially the funding partners, hosts, advisors and contributors – for your time, contribution, support, insights and partnership. The journey continues with the Fellows’ insights offering pathways forward and a true shock of the possible.

 

Kelsey Spitz
ABSI Connect / Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National

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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

Data

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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Building Strong Communities through Informal and Formal Volunteering

Volunteer AirdrieHappy National Volunteer Week!

This year for National Volunteer Week, Volunteer Airdrie is celebrating with a Red Carpet Event. As Melanie Taylor, Vice Chair of Volunteer Airdrie, explained: “We are rolling out the red carpet for our volunteers, providing free movie tickets and concession as a thank you for all they do to make our community great.”

To make the event even more unique, and as inspiration for continued volunteerism in Airdrie, volunteers won their tickets to the event by completing formal or informal volunteer activities and sharing their volunteering stories with Volunteer Airdrie.  Find more information about how Volunteer Airdrie is celebrating National Volunteer Week here.

Melanie explained: “Informal volunteering opportunities are all around us. Helping a fellow Airdrie resident, family, friend, or neighbour directly [is informal volunteering]. Formal volunteering includes activities where you volunteer your time with social/nonprofit organizations, service clubs, community associations, and so on.

Here are some ideas to inspire you to take informal or formal action in your community:

Informal volunteering:

  • Shovel your neighbours walk
  • Pick up garbage in your neighbourhood
  • Run a carpool
  • Babysit for free
  • Help a newcomer practice their English
  • Drive a senior to their appointment
Formal volunteering:

  • Volunteer at a casino fundraiser
  • Coach minor hockey
  • Sit on a nonprofit board
  • Become a peer-to-peer counselor
  • Sort donations at a food bank or thrift store
  • Walk dogs at a shelter

 

Volunteer Airdrie’s campaign for informal or formal volunteering was a huge success!.

“We received more than 100 stories and they were all amazing examples of Airdrie’s community culture and spirit,” said Melanie, “By contributing time, energy, and skills to our community, people gain a greater sense of belonging and connection. They are more likely to care for their environments and the people around them; imagine less graffiti, more local shopping, less crime, more block parties, and increasing community pride. This is especially important in a rapidly growing city like Airdrie, where we are seeing the strains of growth and the current economy.”

And Airdrie volunteers seem to be enjoying the red carpet treatment as well – just look at them!

Airdrie3 Airdrie1 Airdrie2

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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