Upcoming events: Nonprofit leader development, Social Innovation/Finance, Getting the media’s attention

Three great learning events are coming up in downtown Vancouver — I invite you to join me at any or all.

Next Leaders Network

NLN Curriculum Development: Part 2
Hosted by Vantage Point
Monday, January 10th, 2011
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Part two of a participatory meeting that will guide the Next Leaders Network future curriculum.  You will also have the chance to meet and network with others in the not-for-profit sector through collaborative activities. (If you’re not a member, look into it!)

Social Finance

Hosted by Ashoka Canada, SIG, Plan Institute, and Causeway
Monday, January 10th, 2011
5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Pay What You Can

Learn more about the world of social innovation and social finance from 4 distinguished leaders in the social innovation arena. Meet and network with other passionate and driven individuals involved in the social innovation space.

SFU Continuing Studies Open House 2011

How to Get the Media’s Attention
Hosted by SFU Continuing Studies
Saturday, February 5, 2011
1:00pm – 2:30pm, 2011

Even the smallest amount of media coverage can be a huge advantage. But getting the attention of busy journalists and editors isn’t easy. Discover what it really takes to get mentioned in print, broadcast, or online.

A restrained voice for social change

Image Credit: ephotography

I believe social change happens on three main levels.

  1. It includes actions that fill immediate needs. Food banks. Shelters. Child care. Chaining yourself to an old growth tree.
  2. It includes projects that provide ongoing support or awareness raising. Groups for single mothers and survivors of abuse. Employment programs. Bike to work weeks. Farmers markets.
  3. It also involves changing legislation, infrastructure, and societal norms that are barriers to some balanced utopia where people, animals, and environments are free from persecution and exploitation.

The first two are where nonprofits and charities thrive. But for all the money, effort and talent that is poured into these actions, I feel that little progress beyond the anectodal has been made.

I believe that real progress, real change, happens because of the third. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) agrees:

Through their dedicated delivery of essential programs, many charities have acquired a wealth of knowledge about how government policies affect people’s lives. Charities are well placed to study, assess, and comment on those government policies. Canadians benefit from the efforts of charities and the practical, innovative ways they use to resolve complex issues related to delivering social services. Beyond service delivery, their expertise is also a vital source of information for governments to help guide policy decisions. It is therefore essential that charities continue to offer their direct knowledge of social issues to public policy debates.

But this is where the voice of charities and nonprofits are restrained.

Lobbying – an action used by industries and companies to advocate for self-serving policies, programs, tax incentives, etc  – is fairly unrestricted by government. Save registration requirement for lobbyists which acts to increase the transparency of lobbying efforts, industry organizations and individual companies can lobby to their hearts desire if they can get the ear of a minister, elected official, or other senior public servants.

However, this does not hold true for those advocating for charitable efforts (defined in Canada as the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion, or other purposes that benefit the community, a definition that comes from a 1891 British legal ruling with roots even 300 years earlier). Registered charities in Canada are only able to spend 10% of their resources on political activities, which include “explicitly communicat[ing] to the public that the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country should be retained…, opposed, or changed.” Charities with less than a $200,000 operating budget can dedicate more resources, on a sliding scale to 20%. Note that the percentage isn’t just $, it’s also people (including volunteers), space and other physical resources.

The CRA states that one main reason applications for charitable registration may be rejected is that “the organization seems to be devoting too many resources to political activities.”

It should be noted, however, that nonprofit organizations (those that are not registered as a charity, but as a society – e.g. under the BC Society Act) are able to dedicate as many resources as desired to political activities. However, these organizations do not receive the same tax benefits as charities (e.g. the ability to provide tax receipts for donations) and are not eligible to apply for a majority of foundation and government grants (which often require charitable registration numbers).

Overall, while lip service is given to the value nonprofits and charities can provide in policy change, the voice is restrained. We wouldn’t want the sounds of progressive social change to get too loud.

IMPACS, an organization that lasted briefly over the turn of the millennium, was working hard to analyze the law, dialogue with charities and nonprofits across Canada, and suggest alternatives to the current regulatory system. At a recent event in Vancouver, I met with a variety of individuals interested in this topic, and I decided to dig a bit further to get as much IMPACS documentation as possible. Thanks to Justin Ho over at United Community Services Co-op in Vancouver, here are the results for you to review if you are interested. Of particular practical use is the Election Took Kit. Si vous voudriez les documents en francais, envoyer-moi.

Impacts of the regulations on ethnocultural organizations:

Letters to government ministers and committees:

I’m trying to find out what current action (if any) is being taken on this issue. I sent a message to Michelle Gauthier, Vice-President, Public Policy & Outreach at Imagine Canada on December 5 to find out it it’s on their radar, but I haven’t heard back. If you are a charity wanting clarity, contact me or visit the CRA website. If you are interested in digger further with me, let me know.

Your click does not deserve a pat on the back

Did you change your Facebook profile pic to a cartoon to help raise awareness about child abuse?

Did you recently vote for your favourite charity so that they could win funding through an online contest?

You suck.

Unless you actually sacrifice something for the causes that you pat your back on for clicking for, you did no favours and deserve no credit.

If this is actually a cause that is of importance to you, you need to spend time, talent or money. Volunteer. Attend a fundraising event. Write a letter to your MP or news editor. Donate. Even better, donate monthly.

Raising awareness is important, but not when the actual cause gets lost.

I challenge those who changed their profile picture to cartoons to donate or volunteer with orgs who fight child abuse (the original purpose of the profile pics). Here are 3 to start:


Update: I added the phrase “If this is actually a cause that is of importance to you” in order to be clear that this post is directed at those that actually are patting themselves on the back. I stand by my position, but added this for clarification

Update 2: This is me shaking my head at “you suck” as an eloquent choice of words to express myself. As hard as it may be to believe, I am, incredibly, not in high school anymore.

Resources for drivers facing Canada’s nonprofit sector

This list of resources and information sources was provided in a recent email from Imagine Canada; the list is based on key drivers facing Canadian nonprofit organizations and the priority program areas of Imagine Canada, and was too good to just sit in my inbox. Enjoy and share.


Imagine Canada – www.imaginecanada.ca

Our website includes information on a range of initiatives and research to help charities and nonprofits across Canada fulfill their missions.

You may also be interested in reading our 2009 Annual Report .

Public Policy and Engagement

1. National Engagement Strategy: http://www.imaginecanada.ca/node/239

2. Membership – http://www.imaginecanada.ca/node/38

As Marcel mentioned Canadian registered charities and nonprofit organizations are encouraged to become members of Imagine Canada to participate in this exciting movement, take advantage of engagement opportunities, and come together with colleagues from across the sector to shape our future and to define our role.  As a member you will also get access to many benefits and savings.

Check the links above to find out more about becoming a member or contact: [email protected]

3. Pre-budget activities

Imagine Canada is a national voice for public policy issues affecting the sector.  We focus predominantly on federal issues and those that are pan-Canadian in scope.  Our 2010 federal pre-budget submission, along with information on other major public policy files, can be found in the Public Policy section of our website.

Knowledge Development and Mobilization

1. Canadian Directory to Foundations & Corporations – http://www.imaginecanada.ca/en/node/22

Whether you are new to fundraising or a seasoned professional, the Canadian Directory to Foundations & Corporations can help you connect with funders who are interested in your cause. The fully bilingual, searchable Directory lists the grant giving foundations in Canada; American foundations that grant in Canada; and over 200 corporate giving programs!  No other fundraising directory is this accurate, relevant, and affordable.

2. Sector Casts – http://www.imaginecanada.ca/node/43

SectorCasts are web/audio conferences designed to give participants an opportunity to share and discuss critical issues affecting the nonprofit and charitable sector. This fall, we have an exciting line-up that you can access directly from your work space.

3. Nonprofit Library – http://nonprofitscan.imaginecanada.ca

This site holds the largest collection of Canadian nonprofit literature in the world with 80 per cent of our collection available free online.

4. Sector Monitor – http://www.imaginecanada.ca/sector_monitor

The goal of the Sector Monitor program is to provide relevant and timely information on the issues facing charities and nonprofits to the sector itself and to various sector stakeholders, including Imagine Canada members, policymakers, business leaders, the media and the Canadian public.

5. Nonprofit Newswire – http://nonprofitscan.imaginecanada.ca

This is a daily source of news and press releases from online media outlets, news services, and nonprofit organizations. Subscribe through the Nonprofit Library Commons.

Governance and Accountability

6. Ethical Code http://www.imaginecanada.ca/ethicalcode

The Code lays out standards for charitable organizations to manage and report their financial affairs responsibly.  This is a tool that can help you meet donor expectations and distinguish you from others in the field. The Ethical Code also enhances awareness among Boards and staff about fundraising and financial accountability and provides you with a baseline against which you can evaluate your policies and practices.

7. Standards – http://www.imaginecanada.ca/standards_initiative

A national standards initiative is underway that will define sector standards for human resources, volunteerism, governance and accountability.

8. Insurance and Library Resource Centre www.nonprofitrisk.imaginecanada.ca

A number of you had a chance to meet our colleague, David Hartley, during the Risk Management workshop. Great information can be found on the website regarding workshops, webinars, tips, newsletters on insurance and liability issues affecting the sector.

9. Charity Tax Tools – http://charitytax.imaginecanada.ca

The site contains information on the basic legal requirements for all Canadian charities that are registered with CRA and entitled to issue tax receipts for charitable donations. It provides examples and links to additional information for those who wish to know more.

Our National Partners

10. The HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector – www.hrcouncil.ca

The HR Council’s website has terrific information, tools and research on HR issues affecting the sector.  Check out the HR check-up.

11. Canada Helps – http://www.canadahelps.org

This website offers great tips and resources for using social networking in your organization.

12. Volunteer Canada – www.volunteer.ca

This is a great source of information on volunteering in Canada which includes tools and resources for volunteers, research, a directory of organizations, and a calendar of events.

Incomplete Thought #3: Do we ‘lead’ volunteers, or ‘manage’ them?

When we talk about working with volunteers, the word “volunteer management” is the general phrase that’s used. People whose job it is to do volunteer management are volunteer managers.

But what about leading volunteers?

I say that for those engaging passion citizens as volunteers, is it not even more important to inspire vision? To show people what is possible? To actively engage minds and individual motivations?

The only problem is, the phrase “volunteer leader” sounds like you are a leader who is not getting paid, not one who leads volunteers.

Damn “volunteer” and its dual use of noun and adjective.

Oh, and by the way, happy belated International Volunteer Managers Day, which was apparently on November 5.


The Incomplete Thought Series is, well, a series of incomplete thoughts. These are thoughts I have not researched, but which have popped into my head and am interested in discussing. Your incomplete or complete thoughts are encouraged.

Book Review: How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar

Disclaimer: I was asked to provide a review of this book and was sent a free advanced copy and the opportunity to be an affiliate, meaning that a portion of every e-book sale made via links on my blog will go into my bank account.

Nonprofit Rockstar

How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar
Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris
$19.99 / $24.99 (after November 15)

Before I even delved into this book, I had to try very hard to literally not judge a book by its cover. The word “rockstar” and the image of a single person in the spotlight, on a pillar, surrounded by fans, completely turned me off.

Perhaps the target audience is younger than I, more extroverted than I, less advanced in career than I.

Nevertheless I can see the cover and title appealing to those in the first few years in their nonprofit career, keen, and eager to be the face of youth that are changing the world.

But, I’m not judging a book by its cover. I’m judging its contents. So I read the book through the eyes of a soon to be graduating university student, or a young professional fairly new to the sector (though the book’s introduction indicates the intended audience is the latter).

What the book does well:

First of all, the general format of the book appeals to me. I love lists, and I love practical, implementable action items, of which this book has 50 (plus sub-tips).

There are some great tips, including ones related to:

  • Speaking openly about goals
  • Getting management experience by leading committees
  • Stretch assignments
  • Ditching martyrdom

Rosetta and Trista also do a great job of using examples, both personal and of real young professionals, to illustrate their tips. I found this very useful in being able to visualize the practicalities or potential outcomes of their suggestions.

I really enjoyed Rosetta and Trista’s emphasis on the nonlinear career path, though I don’t believe this is unique to nonprofits as they suggest. This advice cannot be repeated enough to those about to enter the workforce or recently within it. Your past job titles or degree programs don’t define you. You do. Repeat: You do.

Another highlight of the book is the attention paid to diversity throughout. If you are a reader of Rosetta’s blog this won’t surprise you, but for those who are not, you will be treated to examples of all sorts: organizations that differ in size and mission, and individuals that different in experience and background. In that sense, I think every reader would be able to personally connect with at least one person sharing his or her story within.

Finally, Trista and Rosetta use an approachable and upbeat tone of voice throughout, so the book is not a heavy read.

What the book could have improved upon:

The book starts off very extrovert-centric. The introduction, which relates being at the back of the room with bad and being on stage speaking with good, casts aside and further marginalizes the oft-misunderstood introverts who very possibly get great work done without making a big fuss about it. (Disclaimer: I am one of those oft-misunderstood introverts. And Note: Sometimes making a fuss about your work is important. And Note: The book doesn’t stay extrovert-centric).

The book is also quite America-centric. Though there is one example given of young Canadian nonprofit staffperson, the specific examples of tools and resources are generally located in the US or directed to a US audience.

One of my largest frustrations while reading was that some of the sections were too short  (e.g. Tip 37: Create Your Own Professional Development Plan is only 3/4 of a page and I would have loved to read more) whereas others are way too long (e.g. Tip 44: Introduce Yourself to a Search Firm is 9 pages long and I feel less relevant to the intended audience).

Because of this, I felt while reading that the book goes all over the place. Because some of the tips were so short, others long, some providing a series of subtips, others with lengthy examples, I felt my brain was getting tugged around. On one hand this makes the book fine to read a tip at a time, out of order, over a long period of time. On the other hand, it made reading the book in one sitting a bit distracting.

The final call:

I think this book could have broader appeal than the intended audience described in the introduction. I think this book could also be suited to students planning on entering the nonprofit sector after graduating, or for any young profession in general, as many of the tips are relevant in all fields.

If you’re tight on cash but interested in this, I would suggest visiting a career advisor, talking to a few people who have jobs that resemble those you aspire to be in in a few years, volunteering, and following some nonprofit career-ish blogs, like Rosetta’s. I’m not a reader of Trista’s blog, but from reading Rosetta’s feed, I recognize many of the tips from previous posts.

Overall, I think it could have used a bit more editing, but offers a wide variety of tips to a young professional which can be used as a diverse grab bag of career advancement opportunities.

Find out more:

You can buy the book (in electronic or paperback version) here.

Find Rosetta on Twitter at @rosettathurman and on her blog at rosettathurman.com

Find Trista on Twitter at @tristaharris and on her blog at New Voices Of Philanthropy

What’s in your message to donors? Technology to assess communications

I was really excited to attend Net Tuesday last week, and I wasn’t disappointed. Ben Johnson (currently with Union Gospel Mission) was one of two presenters giving a talk on data for social change. While he had tonnes of great points re: data analysis, what excited me most was the visualization of text data using Wordle.net. (I used Wordle last year to demonstrate what my blog was about, and it was right on target!)

Question 1: What message are you sending out?

What message does your board chair’s message in the annual report send?
What message does your vision and vision statements send?
What message does your newsletter send?

While we obviously write these items with very specific intents, sometimes our language, when we dig down deep, doesn’t actually reflect our intentions.

Copy and paste your text (or an rss feed) into Wordle, and voila! (See below for an example). You may be surprised. At UGM, Ben found that some of the language actually focused on programs, when really what they wanted to focus on was people.

Question 2: What messages do your donors respond to?

On UGM’s online donor form, an open box question asks “What inspired you to give today?”. Ben then took all the responses and threw them into World, and voila!

Many at UGM (a faith-based social services organization) might assume that faith and God would be reasons behind giving. These words were present, but even more so were words that indicated a connection to family (brother, father, sister, etc.) and times of year (eg Christmas).

If you analyze what is inspiring donors to give, you can update (and assess!) your communications accordingly to match donors’ interests.

Example: UBC Vision and Mission

UBC is my alma mater, and I have always loved and identified with their vision and mission. I would have done SFU’s but alas, we DON’T HAVE THEM (ridiculous and uninspiring, I know).

UBC vision and mission by Wordle
Image Credit: Wordle.net

I can see easily now why I connect with UBC’s vision and mission. Beyond the obvious university words like “research” and “students”, the next most prominent words are “society”, “sustainable”, “global” and “citizens”. I’m surprised that “learning” isn’t more prominent though.

Try it! You might like it! What results did you get?