A Young Nonprofit Professional’s Guide to Vancouver (2016 updated)

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2016 nonprofit predictions, the Eeyore version

Eeyore's in the Alps, Chamonix, France
Image credit: Sheri

This post was inspired by Joanne Cave’s and Lee Rose/Claude Lauziere’s recent pieces on predictions for the Canadian nonprofit sector in 2016.

Consider mine the Eeyore version. You know, one that’s a little bit of a bummer. 

Here are my predictions/wishes for the Canadian nonprofit and charitable sector in 2016.

1. Death of “social innovation.” Please.

Especially as a catchphrase. Or at least this is my solemn wish.

Social innovation is a new-ish word for a thing that has been happening since the beginning of charity. People and organizations finding different, improved, transformational ways to benefit their communities. Piloting, experimenting, trying new things. This is all good. But it’s not new.

I previously found it hard to articulate one of my discomforts with the focus on social innovation, but I recently identified it while reading a lovely 2013 Salon article on why innovation (currently) has nothing do do with being creative. It’s that in today’s world, in order for something to be considered “innovative,” it has to be acknowledge by the institutionalized “innovation class.” For social innovation in Canada, that would be orgs like SiG or CSI or MaRS or McConnell etc. As Thomas Frank writes:

Innovation, that is, exists only when the correctly credentialed hivemind agrees that it does. … What determines “creativity,” in other words, is the very faction it’s supposedly rebelling against: established expertise.

There are so many issues with social innovation as a thing right now.

  1. More and more organizations are feeling forced to label their work “social innovation” to fit funding opportunities. When really funders should be focussed largely on what works, not only what’s new.
  2. Most of the people talking about social innovation are mostly doing that – talking. The ones that are doing social innovation use the word because it’s “in group” language, not because of its inherent value for our communities (admission: I use the word too).
  3. The new and trendy and “innovative” which attracts people, attention, and funding rarely does the deep, sustainable work that our communities and the vulnerable people in them desperately need.

Instead, I dearly hope that organizations will work to improve upon knowing what works well, and trying new ways when things don’t.

2. People and organizations with lots of money will continue talking about the opportunity for social finance to unleash capital for social good. Skeptics will question the ethics of commoditizing disadvantage. Nonprofits will question the relevance of social finance to their work. They will all be correct.

I don’t think social finance is the be-all-end-all to funding interventions, but I do think we need to experiment with new funding models, and this is one set of approaches.

I question whether risk is distributed well (especially in the case of social impact bonds) and whether big business would be better to spend their money ensuring they don’t, um I don’t know, exploit the poor or the environment through unchecked negative externalities.

And most nonprofits are absent from the conversation. As they should be. Because either they don’t measure their impact to the level necessary for social finance, or their work doesn’t fit the social finance model (e.g. social impact bonds currently focus on employment, literacy, recidivism, and other short- to medium-term outcomes).

3. Nonprofit leaders of large nonprofits who suffer from data and tech illiteracy will unwittingly hurt their causes.

Not internalizing the importance of integrated use of data and technology will mean missed opportunities. And because it’s hard to know when something isn’t there (as opposed to spotting obvious issues like funding gaps or broken equipment), it will be easy for organizations to continue to ignore opportunities like shared platforms, data standards, automation, and other uses of tech and data that streamline our work and provide opportunities for collaboration and advocacy. You know, mission-related work.

4. Nonprofit leaders will wax on about the salary inequities within and outside the sector and then continue to pay shitty wages and use contract employment.

To be fair, they often do so because of the uncertainty of their funding environment.

But many pay little because they can get away with it. Not in a mwa-ha-ha evil way, but because it’s been done before, money is tight, and the job market continues to allow it.

5. No (large) nonprofit or charity will recruit unpaid interns for more than 15 hours per week.

Recruiting for unpaid internships over and above about 12 to 15 hours per week mean only the most privileged will benefit from these experiences, as the rest of job seekers are working and/or going to school full time. Public awareness about the exploitative nature of internships has increased over the past year in particular, and I hope that nonprofits (and not just businesses) have heard the message. Just because we are charities, doesn’t mean that full-time volunteer roles are ethical.

6. Increasing voice of Gen X and Y leadership.

Baby boomers continue to hold the traditional “leadership” roles in the sector. However, Gen X and Y will continue to move up in traditional organizations AND lead newer, non-traditional initiatives, and these new initiatives will hold greater space in the traditional national conversations hosted by organizations like Imagine Canada, Volunteer Canada, Community Foundations of Canada, etc.

These new initiaitves are already holding their own conversations, learning from each other, and networking (and not just with other nonprofits). They don’t need traditional organizations to gain leadership legitimacy, but they can and do play nice when the potential power of new forms of structure and strategy are more and more respected, admired, and coveted by the old guard.

7. Southern Ontario will continue to get most of the attention, support, funding for sector-level work.

I’m always amazed (or…annoyed) that people in Ontario can call their initiatives “national” as long as they invite/email people from outside southern Ontario, but the same initiative out of Halifax or Saskatoon or Vancouver wouldn’t be given the same benefit of the doubt (or benefit of funding/sponsorship). This means many of the important conversations about the future of the nonprofit sector are happening among a narrow set of people, and that’s not OK for our diverse organizations and missions.

8. Rise of the quiet changemaker.

Well, this prediction is just selfish. It’s my own initiative and one that I hope will raise the voices and potential of the more quiet and introverted people making the world a better place. Read more here.

What are your predictions for the nonprofit sector in 2016? Can you out-grump me?

Not your average public speaking advice for introverts

Image credit: Paul Hudson

One of the themes I’ve heard from my interviews with quiet changemakers over the past two years is related to public speaking, so a while back I put out a question to the Quiet Changemaker community via email (sign up at trinaisakson.com) and Facebook.

How do you approach public speaking that might be unique/helpful to quiet changemakers? What helps you speak in public successfully? How do you know when your talk/presentation has gone well? When do you feel good about speaking in public?

The insights are not the usual public speaking advice. Some of it conflicts, but all of it is interesting.

It’s important to note that being quiet does not mean a hatred/fear of public speaking. I know people who are quiet who are great at and enjoy speaking in public, and more extroverted folk who are the opposite. However, there are tactics for public speaking that are unique to the more introverted among us.

What are the themes that quiet changemakers can learn from?

Know if public speaking is for you.

It’s not for everyone. You might love it. You might see it as a learning opportunity, as Sandra shared via email:

As an introvert who doesn’t enjoy public speaking, I don’t actively seek out these types of opportunities, BUT if I am asked to speak, I never say no as it is a chance to challenge myself, grow, and get feedback from others.

Or you might see it as a unnecessary task that you can delegate to others who may be better at this form of communication. Only you know if it’s an activity that is meant for you.

Treat public speaking as a performance.

This theme cropped up very clearly when interviewing quiet changemakers. We see public speaking as a performance. We go onstage and are “on”, give a talk, then are “off”. We’re a little bit outside ourselves when we talk, as though we are seeing ourselves giving a dramatic monologue rather than focusing on the audience. As per usual, we’re more inner-focused.

In line with this thinking, I took a workshop a few years ago (targeted to university instructors) on body, space and voice. It was led by two education professionals, one of whom is also an actor. We practiced using our voice and body in ways that might feel too BIG or unnatural, as though we’re taking up too much space, but in reality look quite natural from the audience. It was a fantastic experience to be able to play with gestures and tone.

Create a public speaking persona.

One quiet changemaker shared that when he speaks in public, he uses a persona that is an exaggerated version of himself. It’s a bit more dramatic, sillier, grander, even stranger than his daily self. For him, this is a form of protection. If people give him negative feedback, he knows it’s directed to this persona, and not his true self.

Speak who you are.

Conflicting with the previous advice, on the opposite end of authenticity, Tony suggested the importance “of being authentic and true to yourself.” He shared his version of a Parker Palmer quote “The best teachers teach who they are,” which probably comes from the true Parker Palmer quote “You are who you teach.” Or not.

Either way, public speaking comes in many forms and purposes, and it’s important to know what purpose your talk has, and what comes most naturally for you.

Are you an inspirational storyteller? (I’m know I’m not….those talks totally turn me off. Bleh. ) Are you an influencer? Are you an educator?

I’m definitely the last one, and am upfront about it when I speak. A keynote I did last year on leadership and volunteer engagement made sure to emphasize that my goal was not to make the audience feel warm fuzzies about the spirit of volunteerism, but instead was meant to provide a new perspective on volunteer engagement, with 3 actions to take the next day using this new lens.

Remember, people are forced to hear you. No interaction required.

Good public speakers know how to read an audience and adjust as necessary. I use this all the time in the classroom, whether to allow more time for an exercise that has people excited, or cut something short if energy is waning.

However, one of the reasons I enjoy public speaking (and other forms of performing in public, like dance) is that it’s not a two way conversation (no matter what the advice articles say). Most of the communication is from you to the audience. Public speaking is an opportunity to be alone, but in front of others.

Also…no interruptions! (Hopefully.) Mandy shared on Facebook that she feels better about public speaking more than group discussion because:

“I do not have to fight for a turn to speak. I will take this over being drowned out by loud group members any day!”

It’s a chance to talk about something you’re passionate about.

Quiet changemakers are often mistaken for extroverts because they can talk a lot, and excitedly, about things they are passionate about, and may even dominate a room (I know I can!)

Public speaking gives quiet changemakers a chance to speak about something they love, and usually people are in the audience because they are interested in that same topic. No need to exhaust yourself finding intellectual chemistry in a crowded room. Yuck!

Book quiet time afterwards, but not right away.

After a day of facilitation, I often go to bed WAAAY early. Public speaking can be fun and enjoyable and EXHAUSTING. Susan Cain has spoken of booking time for herself after her talk, about not taking too many questions or sticking around to schmooze.

I enjoy some Q&A after, as again it gives me an opportunity to chat more about something I’m interested in AND it gives me an opportunity to get feedback on my talk. Also, after a talk people know who you are and come to you, so you don’t have to look around awkwardly to find people to make chit chat with.

How do you approach public speaking that might be unique/helpful to quiet changemakers? What helps you speak in public successfully? How do you know when your talk/presentation has gone well? When do you feel good about speaking in public?

Mapping the sharing economy: where does community fit in?

The sharing economy as a thing has had a lot of bad press over the last year (e.g. Uber, Airbnb). But there’s more to the sharing economy than just cars and apartments! There’s often a social impact component.

Wait, what’s the sharing economy?

(Know already? Skip to the next section.)

The sharing economy (aka collaborative consumption) is the marketplace where something is borrowed, rented, or shared for a period of time, rather than bought.

The “something” is often something that people usually buy. The access to that “something” is shared.

The sharing economy may be a recently-coined phrase, but it’s been around a long time.

A great example is a library. Sure, some people privately own lots of books, but instead, at a library you can borrow a book for a period of time.

Examples that come up frequently in the news are Uber and Airbnb (often for negative reasons like assault, property damage, exploitation, flouting government regulations). With Uber, seats in privately owned vehicles (and their owner/driver) are borrowed for a short period of time. Like taxis, but private individuals. With Airbnb, rooms (or whole homes) are shared when they aren’t being used by the owner.

In many ways, the sharing economy results in less waste. Fewer cars can be used more often. Fewer books can be used more often. Excess apples on private trees aren’t wasted. People share office space instead of each getting their own separate offices. The sharing economy also allows access to things some people wouldn’t be able to afford to buy. Like cars, books, apples, and offices.

To come up with an idea for a sharing economy initiative, think about something that people spend a lot of money on over time, but don’t use all the time. Cars. Books. Tools. Musical instruments. Homes. Offices. Somewhere in there is an idea for a sharing economy initiative (or in reality, that likely already exists).

Mapping the sharing economy

I find that most sharing economy initiatives fall somewhere along two different axes:

  1. Motive: is the purpose to make money? or to help people and/or the environment?
  2. Ownership: are the shared items privately owned? or are they communally/centrally owned?

Along with these two primary axes, other factors that make initiatives distinct from each other:

  • membership: can anyone from the public access, or is there a membership required?
  • technology: is technology at the heart of the initiative (as Uber argues) or does technology just make the initiative better?

Based on the first two spectra, I’ve drafted up a series of maps of the social economy.

A map of current initiatives

Map of sharing economy initiatives

The first is a map of existing initiatives, and where they land on the spectra. Have any additional types of initiatives to add? I haven’t been too exact with placement, so suggestions welcome.

Sectors of the sharing economy

In the second, I map the types of organizations that are behind the initiatives.

Sectors operating in the sharing economy

I think there is a lot of unused “space” in the sharing economy – perhaps room for initiatives to move sectors (e.g. when Couchsurfing moved from non-profit to B Corp), or for new movers to enter the sharing economy. This space is ripe for hacking and pitching and piloting.

I would argue that the government’s involvement in the sharing economy is redundant, and its movement into areas of the sharing economy have often been disastrous (bikesharing) or, at a minimum, substandard (some co-op housing). Perhaps the one mainstay is public libraries, and libraries like Vancouver Public Library are adapting with the times in order to maintain relevancy.

Sectors in the sharing economy

In the third, I attempt to describe the common themes among initiatives in each quadrant.

Segments of the sharing economy


I first dug into the sharing economy when I was researching opportunities for individual Canadians to support vulnerable populations beyond giving and volunteering, which would fit mostly into the upper right quadrant (private individuals, prosocial motive). At the time (2013), very little of the sharing economy was directed at vulnerable populations other than fruit tree projects. This is still the case.