03 Dev Aujla on good jobs beyond the nonprofit sector

Dev Aujla Twitter bio photoIn this Do Good Better podcast episode I chat with Dev Aujla of Catalog about whether the nonprofit sector has lost its monopoly on jobs that do good, and what the job market looks like in new types of careers and companies that are doing good (ie not just nonprofits anymore!).

I also talk about things to do when you’re leaving a job (e.g. succession planning, leaving a legacy, reflecting on learning, and actually handing over the role).

Finally, I answer the question “how should nonprofits deal with corporate volunteer days of service?” and share a listener response from Episode 02 on why she goes to conferences.

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Celebrating CharityVillage turning 20! #village20

CharityVillage is one of the core resources to the Canadian nonprofit sector, one that I recommend to so many people interested in working in the nonprofit sector. They are turning 20! Which is amazing considering they are web-based. What websites are you familiar with from 1995?

As part of their 20th birthday celebration, I am answering their ’20’ questions. Not actually 20 questions, but all on the theme of ’20’.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the sector over the past 20 years?

The internet. Truly. At a basic level it has changed how the sector fundraises, engages volunteers, communicates with its supporters. But even more fundamentally it has changed the structure of organizations. It means we are increasingly distributing leadership away from central offices, creating flexible work environments, and producing organizations that exist completely online.

Where do you see the sector 20 years from now?

Most definitely we’ll see fewer big, place-based organizations and more initiatives that succeed because of networks of individuals.

What I hope to see, though, is a culture of collaboration, sharing and risk-taking in service of our important missions, and less protection, competition, and risk-aversion.

What I hope to see most is most organizations going out of business because capitalism evolves to minimize the negative external impacts of business, government policies protect vulnerable people and environments, and citizens create the change they wish to see.

What’s the most creative nonprofit campaign you’ve seen in the past 20 years?

My favourite recent campaign is VOKRA (Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association) using Tinder to attract potential volunteers and adopters.

What could 20 volunteer hours do for your organization?

I’m outgoing chair of Canadian Women Voters Congress, and 20 hours could be used in so many different ways! Off the top of my head – help complete our rebranding, launch our honourary council, launch a digital ambassador program, spark campaign schools in 5 new communities, develop a robust onboarding program for new board members….so many ideas!

What impact could $20 from 20 people have through your organization’s work?

A total of $400 but, even more powerfully, 20 new supporters. It would cover costs for four women from underrepresented communities to get subsidized attendance to a campaign school. And those 20 supporters each convince five friends to help out, and on and on…wow!

What would you go back and tell your 20-year-old self?

At 20 I would be in my final year of my undergrad in science at UBC and producing/choreographing a production of Guys and Dolls as a residence advisor.

Re: my undergrad I would tell myself to take an extra year in order to take a bunch of classes that don’t count towards graduation but that interest me. Poli Sci. Organizational behaviour. Music. Geology. Architecture. Comp Sci.

Re: musical theatre I would tell myself to chill out. I was a control freak perfectionist back then (I’m now a recovering control freak perfectionist) and letting go of some of my quality standards would have let more people in.

What advice would you give to a 20-year-old starting a nonprofit career?

Negotiate salary and benefits. Learn things and achieve things outside your job descriptions. Learn how to run a good meeting. Don’t be afraid to leave your organization in order to learn more and move up. Get fundraising experience. Soak it in!

What one thing should every nonprofit professional do for 20 minutes every day?

Plan their day. Ideally based on a weekly plan. Building a weekly plan helps you outline how you are going to move important things forward, and building your daily plan from that weekly plan ensures you don’t just get urgent things done (email, meetings) but also make big things happen!

What was the best (or most embarrassing) 20 minutes of your nonprofit career?

Hmm. It’s less than 20 minutes, but both great and kind of embarassing. I had facilitated a strategic planning session for a community foundation and it went really well. One of the board members ran into my mom and told her that she should be really proud of me.

Fill in the blank – 20 years ago, I was using my computer to _____.

In 1995 I was 15 and my family didn’t have a computer yet. I think by 1996 we had a computer and got internet for Christmas. My parents had give the clue “ocean” and my younger sister hoped that we were getting jet skis. Ha! Instead the clue referred to “surfing the web.”

I can remember using the computer for writing a chemistry report on HIV/AIDS, trying to play Myst but not really getting it, and joining a chat room but, again, not really getting it and never coming back.

Favourite song from 20 years ago or when you were 20?

I got my first CD player 20 years ago. I wanted the first song I played on it to be really meaningful. It was “Hand In My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette.

How has CharityVillage impacted your career and work over the past 20 years?

I’ve found jobs on CharityVillage. I’ve recruited volunteers and contractors on CharityVillage. I’ve written for CharityVillage. I’ve been quoted in CharityVillage. I’ve recommended CharityVillage!

Collective impact: a primer

Collective impact is an increasingly common term among funders and organizations who focus on complex issues that involve multiple stakeholders.

This primer gives an overview of the term so that you can contribute to the conversation if it comes up, or perhaps can see it as an approach that may be effective for your organization and community.

A socially innovative approach

Collective Impact is the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem, using a structured form of collaboration. Wikipedia

Collective impact is an approach that:

  • brings together stakeholders who have roles in a complex social or environmental issue,
  • in order to build a common vision for a desired future, and
  • uncover each stakeholder’s greatest opportunities to contribute to that future, and
  • who agree to focus their resources on those interventions with greatest opportunity for impact, and
  • who, as a group, continuously communicate and measure along their path towards the common vision.

Collective impact process as a cycle

But it’s more than just an approach.

While collective impact is a socially innovative approach, its success relies on people.

Relationships are fundamental. A collective impact process, when broken down into its smallest pieces, involves people, doing things, over time. Without respectful relationships between individual stakeholders, things won’t get done, and the whole approach is at risk.

Who should take a collective impact approach?

People who are invested in achieving a solution to a complex problem. People who enjoy working collaboratively with other stakeholders who are also invested in a solution. People who will persevere when things get murky.

Ideally you already work collaboratively and have good relationships with other stakeholders. The rest of the answers—like a clear vision and a strong theory of how to get there and who will do what—come as part of the process.

Who leads?

While an individual stakeholder may initiate conversations that lead towards a collective impact approach, successful collective impact initiatives rely on a neutral convenor, with a specific set of skills, to mediate, facilitate, navigate power dynamics, and ensure consistent communication, measurement, and recalibration.

This crucial support role must be resourced above an beyond stakeholders. Therefore funders also play an important role in collective impact.

The expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons why it fails. – John Kania & Mark Kramer in Stanford Social Innovation Review 

In future posts, I’ll answer questions like:

  • How are collective impact initiatives and relationships governed?
  • Where are the resistance points to good collaboration?
  • How is collective impact similar to or different than strategic planning, impact measurement, stakeholder mapping, developmental evaluation, theories of change, basic collaboration, etc?
  • I want to try this in my community. How do I get the process started?

What other questions about collective impact do you have?

Career advice for the student

Unless you know that you want a career that requires a professional designation or deep knowledge in one area, do a general degree – eg General Arts, General Science. Take the courses that pique your interest. See where it takes you.

Your degree does not define you. Sure, it might now, while connecting with other students, helps them fit you into a box. But the rest of the world doesn’t work that way. Your life choices in general define you – i.e. you define you. The sum of the courses, workshops, events, volunteer roles, jobs, travel experiences, passion projects and other life experiences define you. My undergrad was in Biology and Chemistry. It was right for me at the time. But now I do consulting and research on issues facing the nonprofit sector. It’s been a short 13 years since I finished my time at UBC. A lot can happen if you intentionally choose your life.

Negotiate for salary, even your first “career” job. And if that’s not negotiable, negotiate for benefits that fit your interests – vacation time, flexible schedule, support for professional development, etc. Read “Ask for It” by Babcock and Laschever.  Especially women and non-alpha people in general.

Your first job does not define you. My first job was as a high school science and math teacher. It was the right job for me at that time, but it was not meant to be my life’s work. 

Shorten your cover letter. Trust me, it’s too long. And most university students can probably fit a resume onto one page. Definitely don’t go more than two. Don’t.

Don’t do a masters degree right away. Even if you want to go into academia. If you’re worried about your job prospects after an undergrad, getting a masters degree won’t get you any further ahead, you’ll just have spent more money. Choose a masters degree once you have some relevant work and life experience that you bring into a learning environment. You will benefit and so will your classmates. Do a masters degree because of personal interest in learning, or to learn from specific people and classmates. And once you get your footing in the non-academic world, you might find that a masters degree isn’t actually what you need and want. I did an MBA after 5 years experience (and did it while continuing to work full time), and I’m glad I had the perspective of professional work experience.

Look at your resume and cover letter from a few feet away. Can you distinguish different sections? Does it look pretty? Fix it until it does. Don’t use Arial or Times New Roman. Or Comic Sans.

Always pay attention to what interests you. A workshop caught your eye? A person interest you? A book draws you in? A topic got you talking? Even if you don’t know where you want to go in your career, pay attention to your attention, and keep moving forward and seeking out experiences.

While in university, take advantage of the free/organized resources and services and experiences at your fingertips. The world outside university is not as supportive. Join clubs, do co-op, do exchanges, take workshops, run for your student association, volunteer for a variety of experiences. If you keep your head down and graduate as soon as you can, you’ll find yourself with less experience of interest for prospective employers, and less self awareness of what drives you and what you’re good at. One or even two extra years will be a benefit, not a cost.

If everything is easy for you, and you always hear yes, you aren’t taking enough risks. See every opportunity as one of a series of small risks. Many will pay off. Some won’t, but in the long run you’ll come out ahead.

Interview senior people in fields/organizations that interest you while still in university. When it’s clear you’re not currently looking for a job, it’s easier to set up informational interviews to learn from and to be inspired by others. Senior folks are more open to students than they are youngish professionals.

Never stop learning. Read. Listen to podcasts. Watch documentaries. Talk with other smart people. It will make you smarter and more interesting and bring you joy.

Quick tip for self-copy-editing

Editing your own work sucks. Here’s a trick for basic copy editing of your own work, especially things that are missed by spellcheck/grammar check in your word processor.

  1. Make a list words you don’t want in your work (e.g. depending on your clients/audience, you may not want contractions)
    1. can’t
    2. won’t
    3. shouldn’t
    4. there (“There” is generally a lazy word, especially at the begining of sentences)
    5. etc.
  2. Make a list of common word misuses you make. I’m bad with words like “about”, “around”, “regarding” – phrases like “thinking around” vs. “thinking about” vs. “thinking of”.
  3. Do a series of Find and Replaces in your word processor.

These steps help clean things up before sending your work out into the world.