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Nonprofit Experiences: 5 Ways I Support Nonprofits

The nonprofit sector plays a pivotal role in our lives and communities, and impacts all of us in many facets of our lives.

Our interactions with the nonprofit sector are varied: we may work or volunteer for causes we care about, or donate to our favourite organizations. We are also personally impacted through school, religion, community, sports, recreation, and other supportive endeavors. Often, our nonprofit experiences are transformative.

Like everyone, Volunteer Alberta’s staff are deeply connected to the sector as volunteers, supporters, clients, and community members. We have started a series to share the personal impact nonprofits have had on us. Sam shared five of her personal experiences with the nonprofit sector and Cindy shared five key moments in her life as she has engaged with nonprofits and become the volunteer she is today.

Appeal to Future Supporters

Next is Daniela with five reasons she supports local nonprofit organizations. Looking for new ways to appeal to future supporters? Consider appealing to these motivations:

1. Expand my skill sets.

When I was in university, I volunteered with the University of Alberta’s Biological Anthropology lab. It was a great way to meet like-minded people who shared my passion for human history. I gained practical experience and learned about laboratory procedures and the human body.

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Although I don’t use the majority of these skills in my daily work, they have had lasting impacts, for example:

  • I have fun stories for the lunchroom
  • I’m great at removing all kinds of stains
  • I will never get the smell of formaldehyde out of my nose
  • I’m available as a teammate for any obscure trivia team.

2. Broaden my cultural horizons and learn about the history.

My family has always been a big supporter of culture and history. Every summer we traveled around Alberta, visiting small community museums and festivals. These trips are some of my favourite memories! They were adventures, awesome family time, and a fun way to visit our amazing province. It doesn’t matter how often you visit, you can always find something new and exciting and learn something along the way!

My top five favourite cultural attractions (which happen to be nonprofits) are:

Supporting these amazing spots is as easy as visiting them or volunteering with them!

3. Grow the causes I am passionate about.

Through advocacy and donating, I am able to give back to people in my life and support organizations with a worthy cause. Every one of us has been touched by illness – our own or someone we love. Following the diagnosis of a friend, I continue to support the work of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada through financial donations and awareness.

The MS Society of Canada provides support to those with MS and their families, education about the disease, and funds research to find a cure. Together, we can be the cure!

4. It’s a great way to give back to the community.

GiftI LOVE BOOKS! Local libraries are a great place to meet people, enjoy a coffee, attend great programs, and borrow books. One of my favourite places to volunteer is the Edmonton Public Library’s Christmas Gift Wrap. It’s a great way to raise money for library programs and to support literacy in our community. Also, I love seeing all the awesome gifts people get one another for Christmas (Hello, inspiration)!

5. It has expanded my family (many times over).

The Edmonton Humane Society does great work – supporting animals who need shelter, providing them with medical care, and matching them to their fur-ever home. We adopted our dog, Bear (who I hope is enjoying the rainbow bridge), and our cat, Galileo, from the Edmonton Humane Society and they have added so much to our home and our life.

Thank you Edmonton Humane Society , for providing a safe haven for our fur babies and giving them all the love in the world before entrusting them to our care! We’ll be back for a dog in the near future!


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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Organizational Well-being Starts with Staff

A major component for organizational well-being is staff well-being. With nice weather, longer days, and often a change of gears to match the change in season, summer is a great time to experiment with new approaches to staff wellness.

At Volunteer Alberta, we strive to support staff well-being in a variety of ways. While we are always growing and improving, here are 3 ideas we have already implemented that you might want to borrow!


1. Vacation Time

Jump with JoyWe have a generous vacation / time-off policy. As a nonprofit, one way we can stay competitive is with paid time-off as part of our staff compensation package. We can provide staff with time to rest, relax, explore, and recharge and create a workplace culture that values work-life balance. After all, I want to bring my ‘whole self’ to work, and that is made much easier when I have the time to grow and develop personally, as well as professionally.

Part of our staff vacation time includes the summer bonus of extra long weekends from May until September. Anytime we have a long weekend during the summer months, we add an extra day of office closure. This works out to four extra days our staff have to enjoy away from the office and to get the most out of the season.

2. In-Office Yoga

Part of my ‘whole self’ includes my training as a yoga teacher. As a new teacher, I needed an opportunity to practice teaching. Luckily for me, many of my colleagues were willing participants! Teaching yoga at the office has the mutual benefit of supporting my personal development, giving me a chance to practice professional skills, and creating great value-add for other staff. Plus, I find it fulfilling to support the mental and physical well-being of my colleagues. It has been a great opportunity to build community and de-stress on Friday’s at lunch, and, of course, it’s optional so no one feels pressured to join in.

3. Take Advantage of our Surroundings

RestaurantOur office happens to be in the heart of downtown. We are next to restaurants and bars with great summer patios, as well as Edmonton’s river valley. Going to a patio with colleagues after work is an excellent way to end a work day – soaking up sunshine, relaxing, and building friendships. Staff also bring our meetings to our neighbourhood cafés, restaurants, and patios for a change of scenery and to embrace a casual, creative way of working together. Some staff members have even tried out walking meetings to get outside.


While these are my favourite ways Volunteer Alberta supports staff well-being, there are other ways as well. Staff benefits, flexible work hours, professional development opportunities, and sharing our lunchtime together are also positive influences on Volunteer Alberta’s well-being, individually and as an organization.

What kind of work environment would feel satisfying and promote wellness at your office?

No workplace, or office culture, is quite the same. This is especially true in our diverse sector: different peak times, staff sizes, volunteer involvement, facilities, communities, the list goes on. For this reason, activities that promote well-being for your staff need to be responsive to your nonprofit’s current reality and future goals.

What is your organization doing already to promote well-being in the summer and year-round? What ideas would you like to try out? Let me know in the comments!

 

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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Swing

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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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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