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Working to create vibrant communities is complex work

interchange quotePeople working across the province in government, business, nonprofit, and community all face Alberta’s 21st century reality. When looking forward to the future, we’re asking ourselves, what relationships need to exist to create the conditions to collectively make a positive impact in Alberta’s communities?

To begin to answer this question is no simple feat. It is sure to provide challenges and opportunities, and there are many landscapes to navigate. On the road to making positive impact, one potential starting point is interCHANGE, a multi-sector collaborative event we’re hosting at NAIT this fall in Edmonton.

Our work at Volunteer Alberta is complex and intersects with many players in the field of community action.  From volunteers on the frontlines of community building, to nonprofit organizations, to corporate social responsibility programs and initiatives, to the provincial government. All of these players are working, in some capacity, to enhance the quality of life for all Albertans and address the same cross-cutting issues in society – such as poverty, child welfare, seniors, the environment and recreation.

So, why not collaborate to address these complex issues together?

Collaboration is not a hard thing to do, it’s just hard to do well. For most of us, it begins with understanding who else out there has the same passion for the work that needs to be done.

Solving complex problems in community can require seemingly endless insight and energy; not unlike crossing the prairies and the mountains on foot. This complex landscape is better travelled together, and this complexity inspired us to gather other future-focused Albertans to help us all discover how, together, we can increase our impact.

TamarackLogoWe often look to our friends at Tamarack, An Institute for Community Engagement for words of wisdom and expertise about community-focused strategies and actions.  On their website, Tamarack provides some essential information about multi-sectoral collaboration. We’d like to share it with you:

6 key principles for Multi-sectoral collaboration

  1. Everyone is the solution and the problem.
  2. Together we can do more.
  3. We do not have answers – only a commitment to learn, change and grow.
  4. We take on issues that no one sector can take on alone.
  5. Together we create increased Credibility, Capacity and Capital for the work.
  6. The synergy is magic!

(see their website & video clips for more on these ideas)

Key Definitions

Community Engagement: People working collaboratively, through inspired action and learning, to create and realize bold visions for their common future.

Multi-sectoral Collaboration: A community project in which many diverse actors—“sectors”—share responsibilities, resources, and expertise. These actors may include any combination of national and local government, large and small business, non-governmental organizations and charities, and people who live in the community.

Collaborative Solutions: The purpose of Multi-sectoral Collaboration is to solve community problems; many of these problems exist because community actors aren’t sharing expertise or resources very well, which leads to overlaps in some places and gaps in others. Collaborative Solutions allow many sectors to work well together.

Partnership: Many people use partnership as a synonym for collaboration. We find that partnership more often refers to individual links between actors—many partnerships working together can produce Multi-sectoral Collaboration.

Volunteer Alberta’s vision is for a strong, engaged, and connected society serving the common good in Alberta. To celebrate our 25th year, this September we are asking others who share our vision to join us at interCHANGE and participate in rich conversations around how we can make a positive impact together.

interCHANGE is an event where we can begin to weave together the skills, resources, networks, and knowledge of the participants to achieve greater impact in communities across Alberta’s diverse landscape.

For more information or to register for interCHANGE visit www.interCHANGEalberta.ca

Katherine Topolniski and Jennifer Esler
Volunteer Alberta


Vitalize-ing Youth in Alberta

francisco_osorio  photo on flickrI first attended the Vitalize conference in 2012. I was 22 at the time and while I had been working and volunteering in nonprofits for a few years, Vitalize was my first opportunity to connect with a larger community of colleagues from across Alberta. I was lucky enough to participate in the conference both as an attendee, as well as a speaker on the youth engagement panel. Between sharing my experience and listening to others, it was a wonderful opportunity to exchange knowledge while learning new things.

The youth engagement panel offered many lessons about engaging youth as volunteers, but overall, we gave the following general advice:

We need to start treating youth more like any other age group, and, at the same time, we need to start treating youth differently.

Just like with everyone else, youth engagement only works well when good recruitment, retention, and recognition practices are in place. And, just like everyone else, if these processes aren’t in place (and even if they are) sometimes youth won’t show up, or won’t stay on long term. As Ralamy [Kneeshaw] reminded those at the session, you have likely had an absentee board member or a problem with high volunteer turn-over – even when it isn’t youth that you are engaging! Blaming either of these problems on age is a failed opportunity to improve your volunteer program and increase youth engagement at your organization.

At the same time though, it is important to recognize that ‘youth’ is a relevant category insofar as it tends to describe shared experiences. For example, many young people have a schedule quite different from other age groups: they have school 8:30-4:30 if they are still in grade school, or they have school all the time if they are attending post-secondary. In other words, a 15-year-old is never going to be able to attend your lunch meeting, and a university student will have a hard time committing themselves to an organization that can’t work around their exam schedule.

Youth might have a curfew or need parental permission, they might rely on public transit or rides from relatives, and many of them, students and older youth in particular, are low-income, have entry-level positions, poor job security, and are in debt or have lots of expenses like tuition. Recognizing these needs and challenges will help to inform more successful ways of recruiting, retaining, and recognizing youth volunteers.

Print​This year’s Vitalize, running June 18-20 in Edmonton, once again promises engaging sessions for participants of all ages. It will be my fourth time attending, and I’d love to see more youth in particular get involved!

Young people can attend either the main Vitalize conference or participate in the Vitalize Youth/Mentor Program for youth aged 15-22. The program offers a specific stream, and price point, to ensure youth can get involved – Vitalize registration is free* for youth participating in the program!

Through the Youth/Mentor Program, participants attend youth-focused nonprofit workshops led this year by Andrew Fung and his team from Youth Central. Participants will,

  • Connect with other engaged youth from across Alberta
  • Develop new skills that will help them make an impact
  • Learn how to build on their unique strengths and interests to make their communities better
  • Put theory into practice before the conference is over!

Encourage young people in your organization and community to consider registering for Vitalize, and tell them about the Youth/Mentor Program option. There are only 100 spots available for the program, and with Vitalize less than a month away, now is the time to register!

Find out more about Vitalize and the Youth Mentor/Program on the Alberta Culture and Tourism website.

*Youth under 18 must be accompanied by a mentor. Mentors must purchase their own registration.

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

Vitalize Conference: A One-of-a-Kind Experience

vitalizeVitalize 2015 is just around the corner! The Vitalize Conference offers training and development for the nonprofit/voluntary sector and helps nonprofit organizations to stay informed and current. June 18th-20th 2015, Vitalize will celebrate its 27th anniversary – what better time to get involved!

Last year, Volunteer Alberta staff member Rachel attended Vitalize for the first time. She brought back with her four pillars for nonprofit success:

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 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.

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
Volunteer Alberta

Registration for Vitalize is still open! There are more than 55 workshops offered this year, but sessions are filling up. Don’t wait, register today. Vitalize offers nonprofit delegates, like you, a one-of-a-kind experience providing information and resources to stay current in the nonprofit sector. What are you hoping to come away with from Vitalize?

Magnify your Impact – Nonprofit Advocacy

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to sit down with six policy experts to pick their brains about why and how nonprofit organizations should engage in the policy process. While I sat across from them (for filming purposes), sitting at their feet may have been more appropriate.

 HowardLake / photo on flickr The faculty of the Max Bell Public Policy Training Institute have between them more than 135 years in policy development and advocacy with experience spanning all three sectors. The faculty occupy a range of positions on the political spectrum and they certainly don’t always agree on what constitutes effective government policy. What they all share is the belief that our cities, provinces and country are made better by the engagement of nonprofit organizations in public policy.

Highlights from these conversations are captured in Magnify your Impact, which attempts to address some of the reluctance, felt by nonprofits, to enter the policy realm. I think the primary reasons for this reluctance can be boiled down to four erroneous beliefs:

  1. “One voice won’t make a difference.”
  2. “Government isn’t interested in hearing from nonprofits.”
  3. “The rules surrounding political activity seem too fuzzy, so we best just avoid it.” Caused by lack of clarity around types of activities that charities can and cannot do under the CRA’s rules for political activity.
  4. “Advocacy is only for placard-wielding radicals, not nonprofits like us.” Otherwise stated as a belief that engagement in the policy process is always combative or adversarial.

Some of these beliefs have been reinforced by sensationalized media accounts that further confuse and dissuade. Our hope is that the Magnify your Impact video and Advocacy Learning Series will help to demystify and educate nonprofits around the rules and rewards of engaging in the public policy process.

Ultimately, those of us who work in the sector are drawn to it by a desire to improve some aspect of our communities. While we will continue to work tirelessly within established systems, the systemic issues that are at the root of many of our challenges will not be solved by service alone. The importance of advocacy as a vehicle for change cannot be overstated. So, as change agents, I urge you to “pick up the policy sword” and take a first step by exploring the resources and training opportunities below.

Anna Burrowes
Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily those of CCVO and do not represent official CCVO positions. 

Building Up Alberta’s Nonprofit Sector

BUANP1Last month at the Volunteer Alberta Open House, we invited our guests to help Build Up Alberta’s Nonprofit Sector by building a skyline of well-wishes and gratitude. The instructions were simple: write a thank-you or a wish for the sector on a ‘brick’ and add it to our wall. The result was a lot of love and appreciation for Alberta’s volunteers, organizations, partnerships, and communities!


Some ‘bricks’ featured compliments:

“ECVO are great partners!”

“I volunteer for ACTSS (Animal Cancer Therapy Subsidization Society). They are GREAT to their volunteers!”

“Shout out to the Volunteer Centres for community leadership and support”

“Alberta’s EcoTrust – great leadership around mapping the environmental sector!”

Others left messages of thanks and gratitude:

“Thank you to all of the amazing volunteers from YWCA Edmonton.”

“Much love to Calgary Outlink and Edmonton Pride Centre! Thanks for fighting for warm and welcoming communities.”

“Thank you to Banff Life for making a difference in the lives of youth in Banff.”

“Thank you to everyone in ALL sectors who reach out and build and support Alberta collaboratively.”

Still others reflected on the larger scale impact of volunteers and the nonprofit sector in Alberta:

“Where would society be without the nonprofit/voluntary sector? Thank-you for all the great work being done… in spite of the challenges facing the sector!”

“So many doing so much good!

“Volunteers make the world go ‘round.”

“I am proud to be a part of the nonprofit sector!! Thanks.”

A few of our contributors looked forward and dreamed big with their wishes for the nonprofit sector:

“My wish for the sector: to be valued, sustainable, and HUGELY SUCCESSFUL!”

“I wish the nonprofit sector a very PROFITABLE future!”

All in all, we think we did a good job of building up Alberta’s nonprofit sector! Now we want to keep it going: in order to spread all of the warm feelings, we will be tweeting the contributions we received over the next weeks – just follow @VolunteerAB to stay updated.

If you weren’t able to attend our open house and would like to join in, you are welcome to add your own virtual ‘bricks’ by tweeting back at us, or leave them in the comment section below. We would love to share your positive messages with the Alberta nonprofit sector!

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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