Using governance to create socially just organizations

One of the highlights of my week is teaching a course on nonprofit structure and practice for the Adler School of Professional Psychology MA in Community Psychology program (in Vancouver). One thread that that has popped up in the course is the fact that many organizations that fight for social justice are often in and of themselves not socially just. They don’t pay fair or living wages, they are complicit in oppression of certain groups, etc.

Last week our topic was governance and boards of directors, and I posed the question “how can governance practices be used to embed social justice in an organization?” Here are some of the possibilities the cohort came up with.

  • integrate social justice values into mission, vision and values
  • incorporate social justice education into training policy (ideally for both board and staff), for example, anti-oppression framework
  • fair voting process, discussion, especially for board re-election and policy amendments
  • commit to recruiting diverse and representative board members / not requiring financial contribution for board positions
  • multiple subcommittees, with cross-checking on powerful issues for bias
  • outline ethical guide for where financial investment/giving will be accepted / escaping “dirty money,” accepting funding based on values
  • compensation policies: living wage, distribution bell curve of pay
  • strong communication: meeting minutes available, open channels for staff and volunteer suggestions, transparency of upper-management
  • maintaining assessment and awareness of changing power relations and politics; being open to new collaborations – ties into ethics and growth

The students asked if there was a “socially just governance” guide. So far I can’t find one. *mini-book idea*

This shouldn’t be innovative, but it is…

In Lieu of Money, Toyota Donates Efficiency to New York Charity is a fantastic example of skills-based corporate volunteerism done awesome. The New York Times reports:

At a soup kitchen in Harlem, Toyota’s engineers cut down the wait time for dinner to 18 minutes from as long as 90. At a food pantry on Staten Island, they reduced the time people spent filling their bags to 6 minutes from 11. And at a warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where volunteers were packing boxes of supplies for victims of Hurricane Sandy, a dose of kaizen cut the time it took to pack one box to 11 seconds from 3 minutes.

Skills-based volunteerism and corporate volunteer programs have been around for ages.

But they’re generally not done well. Organizations limit volunteer roles requiring professional skills to their boards of directors, and corporate volunteering often involves intelligent professionals painting walls.

“They make cars; I run a kitchen,” said Daryl Foriest, director of distribution at the Food Bank’s pantry and soup kitchen in Harlem. “This won’t work.”

In a research project 27 Shift completed for Volunteer Canada in 2012, we found that organizations engaging corporate volunteers were most commonly doing so in a workplace fundraising capacity. Unfortunately, there is often short-sightedness and protectionism when organizations explore skills-based and/or corporate volunteerism.

Sometimes this type of volunteer engagement is met with resistance: unionized environments protect certain duties, staff don’t want to give up interesting work, or staff feel threatened by a volunteer with more experience than they have. (From Building the Bridge for Volunteer Engagement, Volunteer Canada and 27 Shift, 2012).

This really shouldn’t be New York Times newsworthy, but it is. Maybe if organizations see the potential media exposure, they’ll finally get on board?

“It’s a form of corporate philanthropy but instead of giving money, they’re sharing expertise,” said David J. Vogel, a professor and an expert in corporate social responsibility at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s quite new.”

New only because it’s done well. It shouldn’t be innovative, but it is.

How to introduce yourself professionally when you’re unemployed

A while ago I ran into someone I had previously interviewed for a contractor position with my consulting business. She was one of the top candidates, and it had been about a year and half since I had seen her last. I asked what she was up to now, and her response was:

Unemployed again.

What a downer. But then she went on to tell me about a contract she had recently completed in her area of expertise and in one of my fields of interest. That would have been a much better opener.

However you respond, open with something positive AND make it clear you are looking for new opportunities. For example:

  • I just finished up some interest work doing XYX. I’m looking for my next project in the area of ABC.
  • I’m doing some volunteering work with Organization Z doing ABC, and I’m looking for work right now in a similar area.
  • I’m taking some courses in ABC, and I’m hoping to find work soon in an organization that could use these skill and my experience in DEF.
  • What I’m hoping to do is XYZ…. I’m currently working in ABC and want to make a move soon because XYZ is really where my passion lies.
  • I’m spending time right now meeting with people who work in XYZ because I want to learn more about careers in this area. I’m hoping to find a role soon doing ABC.

You can also use this conversation as the opportunity to ask if they’ve heard of any recent opportunities or have recommendations for individuals or organizations you should get in touch with. Just be sure to not make the whole conversation about yourself. Ask what they are involved with right now – it might trigger some ideas for you.

Why not an HR approach to volunteer engagement?

Imagine for me an HR department. HR departments:

  • make sure employees get compensated (payroll, etc),
  • reviews the organization’s HR practices in comparison to laws, standards, and best practices,
  • establishes policies for hiring, firing, etc.,
  • develop (or help other departments develop) job descriptions,
  • plan professional development for employees, and
  • help departments do performance reviews

among other services. They serve as internal consultants to the rest of the organization on managing employees.

HR departments are NOT responsible for supervising the organization’s employees (other than the employees in the HR department).

HR departments and volunteer resource departments both deal with people, with the main difference being that one group gets paid with money, and the other group receives other benefits.

However, volunteer departments often serve very different roles. Rather than supporting the organization’s volunteer engagement, they actually manage (recruit, supervise, schedule, etc) the organization’s volunteers.

Let’s view volunteer engagement through an HR model lens. What if we tasked volunteer departments with:

  • making sure volunteers get rewarded (though meaning, purpose, development opportunities, etc.),
  • reviews the organization’s volunteer engagement practices in comparison to laws, standards, and best practices,
  • establishes policies for hiring, firing, etc.,
  • developing (or helping other departments develop) role descriptions,
  • planning development opportunities for volunteers,
  • helping departments to performance review of volunteers, and
  • serving as internal consultants to all of the departments who engage volunteers,


  • actually supervising all the organization’s volunteers (other than the volunteers engaged by the volunteer department)?

In this way, volunteer resource departments can mirror HR departments.

In this way, “volunteer programs” don’t exist; instead, there are programs and departments that happen to engage volunteers.

In this way, every department can become responsible for engaging volunteers.

Social innovation, introverts, and ideas

I’m currently exploring the idea of writing a book on social innovation and introversion. I’m reading everything I can find at the library on introversion, and see an opportunity to help introverts with fantastic ideas to share their voice in world of social innovation, which I find is so often crowded with self-promoters and media-seekers.

Susan Cain’s oft-cited TED talk on the power of introverts highlights the possibilities if all of the ideas floating around introverts’ heads are encouraged to come out into the world.

It’s not that extroverts don’t have good ideas. They do. And we hear about them.

Introverts, not so much. A balancing act needs to be struck among the importance of incubating thoughts, the ability to share well-formed ideas, and the necessity of bouncing less-than-perfect ideas with others in order to come to the best possible outcome. I don’t believe introverts need to be in the shadows of social innovation, while the extroverts present the talkative social faces of ideas. Part of the issues lies in North America’s default orientation towards extroversion; the other lies with introverts who don’t use strategies to move ideas forward.

If you know of a introverted social innovator, can recommend a resource, or have an opinion on the topic, please share!

How to design virtual roles for young volunteers

The simple answer is: any volunteer role that requires work to be done on a computer, can be done virtually (eg at home, in pajamas, at 4am).

Heck, even roles that, on the surface, involve meeting in person, can often be shifted to involve meeting online (Skype, Google+ Hangouts).

Not only are vitual roles great for Millennials, they are great for people with disabilities, people in different geographic areas, and any individual with a changing and demanding schedule.

Here are some activities that can be done virtually, and can help drive your mission forward.

  • research
  • translating
  • writing articles
  • social media
  • blogging
  • web design
  • graphic design
  • project planning
  • writing press releases
  • outlining communication plans
  • giving feedback

Upcoming events: Next Leaders Network, 09/22 Timeraiser, 09/28-29 SFU Volunteer and Community Engagement Fair

Next Leaders Network

NLN has a great line-up of events coming this fall. Speed Networking, Appreciative Inquiry, Be a Star Performer (I’ll be co-presenting). So much value for becoming an NLN member. See you at all three!

Vancouver Timeraiser

Thursday, September 22
Part volunteer fair. Part art silent auction. All cocktail party. Connect with great people and great organizations at this hip event. I served on the jury to select the organizations, so I know there are a wide variety of causes and opportunities. See you there!

SFU Volunteer and Community Engagement Fair

Wednesday and Thursday, September 28-29 
If you’re an SFU student, connect with a wide variety of community organizations. Community organizations, get your vibrant staff and volunteers out and connect with keen university students! Join the president’s reception on the Wednesday while you’re there.