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Nonprofit Experiences: A Lifetime of Involvement

Our experiences with nonprofits are varied: we may work or volunteer in the sector, or donate to our favourite organizations. We are also personally impacted through school, religion, community, sports, recreation, and support. Regardless, the nonprofit sector is central to many of our lives.

A couple years ago, Sam shared five of her personal experiences with the nonprofit sector. We are continuing to share Volunteer Alberta staff experiences, turning this into an ongoing series. Up next is Cindy!

Cindy has shared some of the key moments from her life as she has engaged with nonprofits and become the volunteer she is today. Here are her 5 key personal experiences (and a step-by-step guide for a lifetime of involvement!):

1. Start with Family: The County Clothes-Line Store was where I first formally volunteered! The organization receives donations of clothes to sell to the public (specifically offering affordable pricing to those unable to spend a lot) and the money goes into the CCL Foundation. The Foundation funds various programs and scholarships in Strathcona County. My mom volunteered there and brought me along. I was fairly young, so folding clothes, ragging, and tidying up was often what I was asked to do.

Jazz2. Benefit from Nonprofits: I was a band girl growing up. I enjoyed music, I was good at it (or so I heard!), and I had a great time hanging out with my friends. One year, I happened to be the right age to play with a number of amazing musicians. Between my school’s jazz band, jazz combo, and concert band, we were often entered into band competitions and sometimes lucky enough to go to MusicFest Canada, a national competition. It was great fun! At that time, I didn’t realize it was a nonprofit – now I can recognize the amount of work that went into organizing it all. Some of my band friends continue to play, while others, like me, have taken different paths, but still appreciate what music has brought to my life.

3. Fulfill a Passion and Get Inspired: My friend’s son is a virtuoso cello player (check out his YouTube channel!) and has received support from the Anne Burrows Music Foundation. I have volunteered for their casino several times. I choose to support them because I believe in their mission of supporting upcoming musicians, I have a direct connection to someone benefiting from their work, and I actually met the very inspiring namesake, Anne Burrows, through my piano teacher many years ago.

4. Have Fun: At Fort Edmonton Park I was fortunate to volunteer for an organization I love, while supporting local tourism. My role was scaring people. To be clear, this was in costume during their Halloween event: Spooktacular. We had the opportunity to build the scenarios and create the scenes ourselves, and then the fun of entertaining guests throughout the event. I am definitely hoping to volunteer with them again in the future.

5. Be Recognized: Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival has such a wide variety of positions open that there is something for everyone! I worked with the finance team and we had a lot of fun, including daily team challenges from the Festival. The Fringe also has good processes in place for volunteer orientation and recognition – including Fringe Bucks for hours volunteered (to purchase show tickets). It’s fun, I get to see a few shows and participate in the festival, and support the organization’s due diligence!

Stay tuned for more Volunteer Alberta staff experiences with amazing nonprofit organizations, and please share your own experiences in the comment section!

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Are you successfully sharing your data with your Board?

Have you ever wondered how to use all the data your organization collects to measure your success and report to your Board? How do you show whether the organization is doing a good job?

Organizations and their Boards define what a ‘good job’ looks like with a series of objectives. These objectives, known as strategic directions or goals, are included in an organization’s strategic plan. One way to measure these strategic directions is to examine how successfully the organization’s services are being delivered using the data your organization collects.

Volunteer Alberta has five strategic directions. One of our strategic directions is to ‘Facilitate knowledge exchange and access to learning opportunities to strengthen organizations’.

Using this strategic direction as an example, we’ll investigate two foundational considerations to report on meeting this strategic direction by using data that we collect. The key is to ensure the data tells a meaningful story to the Board.

Selecting a performance indicator

Web Stats1Do you want to tell your Board the number of participants at a training session? Or do you want to tell your Board about whether your clients are more skilled or confident following a training session?

The answer is… it all depends.

The rule of thumb is both. Report outputs when your initiative is new and you are just beginning to gather data. Report outputs and outcomes when your program or tactic has been in place for a reasonable period of time.

Outputs: the scale or number of actual activities that your organization undertook (ex. number of participants at the training session, or the number of training sessions). Outputs answer the question ‘What happened?’

Outcomes: the value or impact of your program (ex. what people got out of the training session). Outcomes answer the question ‘Why does it matter?’

When starting a new program or initiative (ex. a training session), the number of participants and sessions are meaningful for the Board. When a year or two of the training has passed, outcome-based measures become more relevant. By year two and onwards, the Board wants to know whether participants are more confident, for example, or can apply something new to their jobs as a result of the training. Regardless, outputs (the numbers) are always required for context as they show the scale of the service (and any growth).

Reporting the performance indicator

Using our data, outputs, and outcomes, how do we report to the Board on our progress and achievement of our strategic direction: ‘Facilitate knowledge exchange and access to learning opportunities to strengthen organizations’?

There are multiple programs and initiatives Volunteer Alberta works on to contribute to this strategic direction, and we report on several different performance indicators to share our progress with the Board. One performance indicator might be ‘% of participants who feel they can apply something new to their job that they learnt at the training session’.

Data over several years is especially powerful as it shows trends. If this indicator % reduces, then it may indicate that the training is not as useful as it once was, or alert us that it may be time to review and update the training material.

In addition to numbers, data also includes additional context and stories. Ex. Did the facilitator change? Is there a particularly inspiring story from a participant that we can share? How is the organization’s communication plan impacting this particular training opportunity?

With the data your organization is already collecting, it’s likely that you have a good amount of outputs and outcomes, along with additional information that you can share with your Board and truly measure the success of your work against your organization’s strategic directions.

Have more questions about reporting data to your Board? Ask in the comment section!

Susan Gulko
Volunteer Alberta Board of Directors

Header photo attribution: WOCinTech
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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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From the Vault: When the Going Gets Tough, Be More Like a Penguin

This is a post from our vault. Originally posted Sept 17, 2012 as There are Penguins in Grande Prairie.

I recently took a quick trip to beautiful Grande Prairie, or “GP” as the locals say, to give the keynote address at the first Non-profit & Social Purpose Expo hosted and located at The Community Village.

The theme of the talk was The Power of Community. In the weeks leading up to the event, I spent my usual post-work walk home mulling over the approach I’d take. Would I talk about Martha Parker’s ideas around managers and directors of volunteers becoming “strategists in community engagement”? Or I would I speak about the 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report and the common global values regarding volunteerism? Although both of those topics interest me (among others), the one idea that made the most sense to me was to talk about Emperor Penguins.

To be clear, I’ve never paid much notice to penguins, I have always considered them cute, quirky birds that dress well, but after seeing the movie March of the Penguins I had a new found respect for Aptenodytes forsteri. While reflecting on the movie I came to the conclusion that these penguins can teach us something about the power of community.

give wayFirst, what are the similarities? Penguins and humans are both social animals, survive harsh winters and like to summer by the sea, are large and flightless, are mainly monogamous, and look good dressed up. How penguins endure, survive and thrive in their environment is where the lessons can be learned about the power of community. As a side note, when I refer to community I am talking specifically about a community of nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations that operate in the same community trying to improve said community. Without going into a lot of how penguins live (you can look it up on Wikipedia like I did) let’s just say Emperor penguins have chosen a tough path to survival and have chosen to band together during the toughest times.

So, what are the lessons the nonprofit/voluntary sector can learn from these birds:

1)      Survival depends on working together – Without each other, penguins would not be able to stay warm. Without other nonprofit organizations, no one would be able demonstrate their importance. It is a community of organizations that truly has the most impact.

2)      We are all trying to nurture something we care about – For penguins it is their eggs, and for organizations it is the cause, broader community, clients, volunteers, and employees we aim to nurture.

3)      Not everybody makes it– Despite our best efforts, sometimes environmental stresses and ever so slight missteps claim victims. No matter how difficult it is when a fellow organization fails or flounders, it is the larger community’s responsibility to show resolve and continue on to set the example of what is possible.

4)      It is worth the time, effort and energy it takes to work together as a community – In the end it’s about building a stronger community with more to offer and a brighter future, working together guarantees it.  Penguins hatch chicks, organizations get stronger networks working together to more effectively hatch positive community outcomes.

5)      When it feels cold and lonely that is the time to come together as a community – Penguins could chose to do it on their own rather than, literally, huddle together. Nonprofits should think the same way. When resources are low, and the future seems bleak, that is the exact time to look to your peers and find the opportunities to collaborate and find creative solution to common challenges.

There it is. Penguins demonstrate the power of community and, if nothing else, it is a strong image to remember. So, the next time you are feeling yourself out alone in the nonprofit world, think of the Emperor Penguins huddled together staying warm and surviving. It should at least inspire to reach out and connect to your nonprofit community.

Annand Ollivierre
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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