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Nonprofit Experiences: It’s Personal

reuse centreOur experiences with nonprofits are varied: we may work or volunteer in the sector, or donate to our favourite organizations. Some of us find a sense of community through cultural and religious expression, or enjoy sports, arts, and entertainment through the sector. Our education is often provided by the sector. Perhaps most importantly, the sector offers support, health, wellness, and relief for those of us struggling or in need of care. Regardless, the nonprofit sector is central to many of our lives.

With so many means of interacting with the sector, it is hard to capture all of the ways nonprofit organizations impact and shape each of us on a personal level. For this reason, I wanted to share five nonprofit organizations that are important in my life:

  1. The Edmonton Humane Society is where my partner and I found our good friend (and housecat), Gulliver. I am so grateful for the work the volunteers and staff do to provide shelter, care, and love to animals in need. EHS also provided us with information, vet connections, and appropriate screening before we took our kitten home. My pet is my family and we wouldn’t have found him without this amazing organization!
  2. Volunteering is where I find community and purpose, and my favourite volunteer experience so far has been at CJSR, Edmonton’s campus and community radio station. Like other community radio stations across the country, CJSR is volunteer-made radio. For me, it is where I discovered a deep love for working on radio, developed a whole new skillset, and met many like-minded friends.
  3. As an avid crafter, the Reuse Centre has been an affordable and environmentally-friendly way for me to stockpile everything from fabric to old magazines. The Centre collects unused home, office, and craft materials, and for only five dollars, people are welcome to take as much as they want. The Centre offers me a great way to support my hobby, while keeping unused supplies out of the landfill and my money in my community.
  4. Following the death of a friend, The Support Network provided free Suicide Bereavement Support Services to those of us who knew her. The Support Network staff offered compassion, care, and information, as well as an opportunity to build community around tragedy. The Support Network services were a crucial part of a healthy healing process for me, as well as a starting point for new friendships.
  5. Santas Anonymous is my absolute favourite organization to donate to, because I have so much fun doing it. Usually I donate because I think it is important to put my money to good use; however, buying toys every Christmas for Santas Anonymous goes far beyond good intentions. The little kid inside me thinks picking out whatever I want at a toy store is pretty much the best thing ever!

These five organizations are only a few of the many nonprofits that are important in my life – after all, the nonprofit sector also includes my workplace (Volunteer Alberta!), my university, and the hospital where I was born. What organizations mean a lot to you? Please share in the comments!

Sam Kriviak, Program Coordinator


The New R&D Model: Rip-off & Duplicate

teslaThere has been a recent development in the world of electric cars that’s got me thinking about strengths and opportunities in the nonprofit/voluntary sector (NPVS). On June 12, 2014 Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, announced that the company “will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”[i] Essentially Tesla released their patents for others to use, for me the questions are why and what is the broader lesson for us in the NPVS? One of the reasons cited as to why Musk chose to do this is that, due to the increased pace of technological innovation, there is a new challenge for innovators where the highest hurdle innovative organizations often face is no longer the theft of their ideas, but rather the development of new markets for those ideas to flourish[ii]. Tesla seems to be indicating that in order to move to electric car based transportation, we need to create the infrastructure and technology to support that market. In other words, Musk is basically saying is “the old system isn’t working, creating a new way of life is a big challenge, too big for one company/person to solve so let’s work together to co-create a better future.”  For me it is from this mindset that I see the connection to the NPVS and why I believe the sector is increasingly well positioned to be a strong voice and essential contributor in the emerging economy.

It seems to me that the NPVS is increasingly stating that the “challenge is bigger than me” (whatever that “challenge” may be) and is continually moving to a place where co-owning and sharing the burden of the challenge is the norm. There is the growing realisation that the challenges our communities face and the resources to sustain the fundamental structures of a resilient society are bigger than one organization, one program, one person, one sector. In fact with the NPVS, everywhere I turn collaboration is the word/approach mentioned as the way forward. We are all increasing familiar and participate in collective impact initiatives, social labs, cross-sector collaborations and partnerships, to mention a few. Although the constant barrage of these collaborative opportunities could make us weary and/or sceptical, there is growing evidence demonstrating that the NPVS is achieving measurable impact through collaboration.[iii] It is this collaborative mindset, the sharing of ideas/approaches, the scaling out and up of social innovation, which is the emerging economic model in the 21st century.  The sharing/collaborative economy is growing and turning the “traditional” economic and social systems on their heads in small but increasing pockets of our society.[iv]

I see Tesla and Elon Musk’s releasing of patents as a further indication that the collaborative/sharing economy has significant momentum. Now is the time for the sharing of ideas across and within sectors and the co-ownership and co-creation of innovative solutions (social and technological) for addressing large systemic challenges. The NPVS is an early adopter of this emerging model as we have an intrinsic understanding that the most effective approaches need to be shared, reused, and improved to have the most transformative impact. Let’s continue to share with each other and further overcome our need to act in a proprietary manner especially when we know that challenges we are trying to solve require constant innovation and the efforts of many.

Please Sir, May I Have Some Statistics?

statisticsI subscribe to The Daily from Statistics Canada and I think you should too! For those wondering what I am talking about, everyday, StatsCan releases a list of up-to-date statistics and data related to a wide range of sectors, as well as economic and social indicators that reflect and affect our lives.  As an employee in the nonprofit/voluntary sector (NPVS) within a capacity/backbone organization, I am most interested in information related to this sector. What I find is that the existing statistics on the NPVS are not widely available and the nonprofit sector is often a lens that is not used when reporting statistics.

Why do I care? Simply put, it is about context and opportunity. I am often asked fairly basic contextual questions that can be more difficult to answer than they should be. Questions like: how many Alberta nonprofits are there? What is the economic impact of the sector in Alberta? How many employees? What are the rates of volunteerism? This information is often inadequately collected, what is available is often outdated, not well reported and not regionally specific (Alberta vs Canada). Without consistent and reliable contextual information, the NPVS finds itself saying different things (is it 19,000 nonprofits or 23,000?) and struggling with the perennial issue of demonstrating the scope and size of the sector. Additionally, it is not just about trends and size of the sector, but about having accessible statistics to help identify opportunities and challenges. Statistics are what other sectors use to spot future challenges and proactively shift to mitigate or capitalize on them. By paying attention to shifts in labour market attitudes, economic indicators, increases or decreases in certain social indicators, among other information, the NPVS will be better positioned to be an integrated partner in designing our future communities and economies.

The solutions as I see them are at least two-fold. First, better data collection on a reasonably frequent basis is required. For example, in a world where data is collected constantly, it is surprising to me that basic information on the economic impact of the sector is not easy to find. I recognize this is easier said than done; however, if the system to collect this type of data is not in place – let’s work together to develop it. The second solution is openness. I know a number of institutions collect information on the NPVS. Governments collect nonprofit and charity registration information, academia is always conducting research and studies, and banks and other large private sector organizations collect information on NPVS as well. The thing about all the information collected is that it is our information; it is about us as a sector: who we are, what we do, and how we do it. But it seems like the nonprofit/voluntary sector is the last to find out what others know. A greater commitment by these large organizations to making the information they collect available and open for the NPVS to look at and analyze would go a long way in addressing the information deficit.

In recognizing the data challenges the NPVS faces, some sector organizations have taken it upon themselves to fill the void. There is great research and information available through CCVO, Imagine Canada, Volunteer Canada and our own CSGVP analysis, please use it. Also, I would encourage all of us to assist in the efforts of these organizations and commit to participating in surveys and interviews when asked so as to help paint the picture of our sector. In our current rush to demonstrate impact, let’s not forget that numbers combined with stories have the most influence. Let’s make sure we use statistics that are available and consistently advocate for more information to be collected and shared with us.

Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager

Visual Impact of Capacity Building

capacity buildingAs a newbie here at Volunteer Alberta, my experiences with the nonprofit sector have primarily been as frontline staff, working directly with the organization’s clientele or volunteers. Through this lens, it’s easier to see the immediate impact of your work. You can see it through assisting a child in an ABC Head Start classroom, prepping and serving meals, caring for at-risk youth in a group home, or helping to put the finishing touches on a Habitat for Humanity home. The immediacy of that impact is what can keep people coming back to volunteer or to work in the sector.

It has been an exciting transition into the world of capacity building in the nonprofit sector. Capacity building, it can be hard to see some of the impact of the work we are doing. We empower organizations to see and understand the gaps and obstacles hindering their long term development. VA provides support, resources, and connections to help organizations achieve their goals in order to better serve their communities.

Seeing the impact requires you to look through a different lens. We may help an organization see that they do not have the proper risk management practices in place and provide the organization with the proper knowledge and training to keep them safe for the future. However, we don’t often get a chance to see how this knowledge is put into place. In some cases, our impact may only be measured through performance evaluations, where we see that we’ve provided a valuable service to the organization, but it can be fulfilling knowing we’ve put the pieces in place to increase the organization’s capacity to serve their community and volunteers.

I feel fortunate to be part of an organization helping to strengthen the nonprofit sector. I will have to change my lens in the future. The next time I drive by a Habitat for Humanity house that I volunteered for, instead of thinking of the sweet floors I put together with my own hands, I can think of how they are increasing their organizational capacity with their risk management policies. This allows for increased staff/volunteer safety, thereby increasing their volunteer participation, build rate, and their impact to the community. Though I will still think about those sweet floors and windows I installed!

Simon Yu, Program Technology Coordinator

The Gathering’s the Thing

potluckI am certain that, had we all been listening carefully, we would have heard a collective sigh across the country on Monday morning. With the dawning of a new day came a dispiriting realization – the Olympic Games have come and gone. Gone are the action-packed lunch breaks, the eager checking of stats, the surprisingly lively discussions over ice dancing. For those of us not competing in the Games, the gathering’s the thing – the viewing experience is rendered more meaningful by being with others.

The good news is that while we may have to save our more spirited celebrations for the summer of 2016, we can gather as a community any time of year. Being new to Volunteer Alberta, I have quickly come to admire the importance of the lunch hour; sitting down to eat together truly enhances the communal atmosphere of the office. As I work with newcomers learning ESL (English as Second Language) in my spare time, I am always thinking of how to foster community engagement.

The ESL classroom is a simultaneously safe and vulnerable space. It is undoubtedly beneficial for the students to come together, but many are stepping far outside their comfort zones by participating. To speak English brings them one step closer to belonging and being an active member of the community. For many nonprofits serving newcomers, celebratory occasions and milestones are often marked by a potluck, allowing clients, volunteers and staff alike to share food from their respective cultures.

Potlucks have always been an excellent way of bringing people together, but some organizations are really upping the ante and highlighting the importance of gathering in unfamiliar spaces. The Green Room (an IFSSA initiative) offers family-friendly activities encouraging people to embrace winter, such as snowshoeing, nature walks and stargazing; the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers has organized an inclusive choir singing in multiple languages; and Catholic Social Services is even hosting a weekend camping trip for its clients.

Those of us missing that Olympic high this week need look no further than our fellow nonprofit organizations to get inspired, as gatherings inside and outside the workplace are great ways to keep our spirit alive.

Rachel Pereira, Program Administrative Assistant

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