Upcoming events: Volunteers and technology; what the next gen wants from nonprofits

I’ll be speaking in three different places next month – hope to see you at one or more!


Complete details here >

Tuesday, July 5 | 5:30pm | 306 Abbott St (upstairs) | FREE
Join me and Elijah van der Giessen (of Net Tuesday and David Suzuki Foundation) as we share strategies about the use of technology for effective volunteer engagement.


Complete details here >

This two-part series will introduce you to data and research on what the next generation wants from nonprofits, help you identify how your organization is currently performing, and encourage next steps you can take to achieve your goals. Sample topics include volunteer opportunities, new donors, staff retention, and social media.

No more guessing: Data and research on what the next generation wants from nonprofits

Wed, July 13 | 8:45am – 10:30am | 1183 Melville St.
$40, including light breakfast

Future engagement: Assessing your current practices and taking the next step to effective next generation engagement

Wed, July 27 | 8:45am – 10:30am | 1183 Melville St.
$40, including light breakfast

‘Best practice’ is a lie…and boring

Holy Grail
Image Credit: drp

Best practice is a lie; but if true, best practice is boring. What is best for any situation depends on many factors within the context.

Once all factors are established and certain, sure, I’ll submit to best practices existing. If the stakeholders, time, place, operating environment, leadership, and what people had for breakfast that morning are all set, I’m sure best practices could be identified. But then the world would be solved and we’d all be drones with exact plans of action for any scenario.

But otherwise, there is no best practice, only good practice.

Good practice depends on good leadership

Can the leader inspire a shared vision around the good practice? Can they motivate and encourage creativity around the practice? Can the model the good practice rather than just preaching it?

Good practice depends on stakeholders and place

Every community is unique. Every organization is unique. Every individual is unique. The uniqueness lies within history, interrelationships, culture, social norms. Best practice is not an ointment to be applied as directed in the instructions on the tube.

Good practice depends on the external operating environment

What works in boom times doesn’t always work in a recession. What works in times of emergency doesn’t work in time of peace. What’s going on in society – are people leaning left or right, looking out for themselves or others, recycling or wasting, etc. etc. Even so, I would say (of the top of my head without any direct evidence) that what often exists as a norm today came out of something radical and “bad” practice in the past.

In closing…

Best practices in one specific context can be useful beyond that context. They can give you ideas. They can build the literature around principles of good practice. They help with community, organizational, or individual praxis. But they aren’t a holy grail.

Nonprofit sector recruitment: time for a tagline?

Today I was lucky to be invited as a guest to participate in an advisory committee meeting with the HR Council for the Voluntary & Non-profit Sector. I met great people from across Canada that work in the sector, learn in the sector, and support HR growth in the sector. A great table of people, with a great table of food a few feet away. Two of my favourite things.

Before I get into the fun stuff, let me preface this by sharing that there was a lot of very invigorating discussion and a lot of work was accomplished.

We reviewed and discussed research done by Decode about university students on their opinions about work, comparing the full data set to students who had indicated interest in the nonprofit sector. We went over questions for an upcoming online focus group about students’ attitudes towards work in the nonprofit sector. We went over possible knowledge dissemination venues for the results of the final research report, stakeholders, possible practical products of the research, the scope of the recommendations, and strategic themes of the recommendations.

But, back to the fun stuff.

We also got creative. The scope of the research discussed today relates to recruitment of new/young/recently graduated potential employees to the nonprofit sector. So we brainstormed messaging that could be tested in online focus groups.

“There are no bad ideas,” we joked, “until no one votes for them when we whittle down the ideas.”

The messaging ideas spanned facts, heartstrings, and humour.

NOTE: These are from memory. Actual ideas, which will be flushed out further by skilled people that actually do this sort of stuff for a living, may have been better or worse.

Facts/Realities of the work

  • Did you know there are 70,000 employers and over 1 million employees in the nonprofit sector? Where do you fit in?
  • IT. Media and marketing. Accounting. There’s an opportunity for you in the nonprofit sector.
  • Today I: helped a family, wrote a strategic plan, and met with business leaders. All in a day’s work in the nonprofit sector. (Umm…I think strategic plans take more than a day though, just sayin’.)


  • Every day is different when you are making a difference.
  • Use your talents for good – work with people who care. (This actually would have been in the awkward humour section before it was changed from “Use your talents for good, not evil.”)
  • Find work. Find balance. Find purpose.


  • Finally, a job you want to talk about at parties.
  • Want to go to work on Monday morning?
  • Dangit, I’m forgetting the funny ones. Can anybody else from the meeting help me out?

What tagline would you use to help recruit new employees to the nonprofit sector? Give me your facts, your funny, and your heart.

Anyone want a strategic management report?

This summer I’ll be completing some of my last master’s courses to complete an MBA in Community Economic Development. One of the courses, Strategic Management, requires a final project that assesses a variety of characteristics of an organization. I’ve figured that rather doing a report for distant company or organization XYZ, I’d like to do one for a nonprofit that might find value in the results of the report.

The topics the report that I need to produce for this course include an overview and analysis of topics such as:

  • Organizational life cycle
  • Organizational and governance structures
  • External operating environment
  • Financial indicators
  • Operational strategies
  • Marketing, financial, and research & development strategies
  • Leadership
  • Alliances and partnerships
  • Performance measurement tools

The report will include suggestions for changes (if any) to strategy or structure that may enhance the success of the organization in fulfilling its mission, along with a time frame for these changes.

There is no limit to the type of organization, but the organization does have to be large enough to have a variety of programs/activities and possible partnerships. I also need to have access to financial statements.

Obviously this report is limited in the sense that I am expected to include pre-determined sections, whereas an interested organization may only want a few areas to be examined. I could provide a complete or abridged report if this is the case. Or perhaps an organization is willing to support a graduate student by providing information to help inform such a report without any interest in the actual report.

In any case, if this is of interest to you and/or your organization, be in touch by the beginning of July.

Confirming my love for nonprofit at the ANSER conference

I heart NP

I had a revealing week last week.  I had travelled to Carleton University in Ottawa for the 2nd annual conference of the Association for Nonprofit and Social Economy Research as part of my job at SFU.  I went to learn about issues facing the nonprofit sector and about trends in community-university engagement and community-based learning. Sure, this happened too, but the most important piece of information was about myself.

I love being a part of the nonprofit community of learning and practice.

I am a bit of an introvert and generally find myself uncomfortable at conferences and large gatherings–drink in hand, eyes scanning the crowd as if I’m just waiting for someone to meet me. They’re late. I look at my watch. I take a sip. I scan the crowd.

But this time I met a great group of people that have done and are continuing to do great things for a diverse society. I engaged in dialogue with them, contributed my experience and opinions and soaked up those of others. Learned from academics and practitioners doing research – wait for it – with PRACTICAL implications for the nonprofit sector (warning: sometime cynical university staff member). I learned about the Centre for Voluntary Sector Research and Development at Carleton, whose research associates are almost all practitioners with on the ground experience, and whose research focuses on information that can help nonprofits fulfill their missions through practical information, tools and resources. I met interesting people like Ted Jackson, Keith Seel, Martha Parker, Naheed Nenshi, Wendy MacDonald, Paula Speevak Sladowski. I felt invigorated and was sad for it to be over.

So time for me to get started, living it up with this confirmed love of nonprofit. This blog had been floating around in my head for a while. I follow a large number of nonprofit blogs (see my blog roll) but find a gap in what’s offered to local Canadian nonprofits (context is important). Sometimes it’s nice to work within a community that is virtual AND local.

Next step: share the learning I gleam from my colleagues in their blogs and Twitter updates, from my work and research, from my academic studies, from my involvement with the nonprofit sector.

Future plans: further my studies in nonprofit, help mobilize knowledge and improve practice. Obviously not concrete goals yet – perhaps just musings…