Do Good Better podcast call for questions!

Updated June 6, 2015: Instructions for submitting questions are now at

What frank advice do you want about a difficult situation you’re facing relevant to the nonprofit sector/social innovation/social purpose business/general do-gooding? What information have you always wanted to know but didn’t know who to ask?

ME WANT TO HEAR! (instructions below)

After some thinking and chatting I did over March/April, I’ve decided to experiment with podcasting. Drumroll……enter the Do Good Better podcast!

Do Good Better podcast logo 300pxFor those of you who are addicted to podcasts as I am, I’m imagining something like Dan Savage, but for nonprofit sector/social innovation/doing good advice. Start off with a rant, or perhaps a conversation with someone with an interesting opinion. Then dive into a few listener questions. Finish off with listeners’ feedback on advice I’ve given (e.g. additional advice for a question previously shared).

Seriously just listen to one episode of the Savage Lovecast to understand the form (warning: his podcast is about relationships and sex and there is lots of graphic content, definitely NSFW in most workplaces).

How to submit a questions, etc.



Budget 2015 and Canadian nonprofits (HIGHLIGHTS)

The federal budget was released today, and there are plenty of potential impacts on and opportunities for the nonprofit sector. One item not included is the charitable donation stretch tax credit championed by Imagine Canada, but here are the most relevant tidbits I found during a cursory review.

General implications

Ability for charities to invest in limited partnerships (LPs): A gamechanger for social finance and a policy priority championed by Philanthropic Foundations Canada and Community Foundations Canada. This is one of the largest roadblocks to opening more impact investment / social finance in that the most natural legal structure for many social finance vehicles that the charitable sector (especially foundations) would like to invest are limited partnerships.

Exempting donations of private shares and real estate from corporate gains tax: There are currently exceptions for charitable donations of publicly traded shares (aka securities), but opening this up to other investment donations will do good for areas of Canada where there is a combination of high net worth individuals and real estate investment / private companies (ie Vancouver).

Creating of a government “Social Finance Accelerator”: ESDC is the federal government lead on social finance. However, a risk averse government and a untested social/market tool do not equate to quick innovation. I hope ESDC works with external partners to make this happen (“workshops, advisory services, mentorship, networking opportunities and investor introductions”) in a timely manner. I know the people in ESDC working on this file and they are smart wonderful hardworking people, it’s the highers up that slow things down. In a fast moving field like Social Finance, doing things “in house” can lead to irrelevance quickly.

$56.4 million over four years to Mitacs, an independent organization that provides funding to businesses (eligibility was opened to nonprofits earlier this year) to solve business challenges through research collaborations with universities via paid graduate-level internships.

Unclear changes to the governance of not-for-profit organizations and co-operatives: this budget item started with a focus on increasing women and diversity on corporate board, but finishes with “Amendments to related statutes governing cooperatives and not-for-profit corporations will also be introduced to ensure continued alignment among federal laws.”

Support for specific nonprofit organizations

Futurpreneur Canada: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide $14 million over two years, starting in 2015–16, to Futurpreneur Canada to support young entrepreneurs.”

Organizations that provide loans to newcomes for foreign credential recognition: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to reallocate up to $35 million over five years, starting in 2015–16, to make the Foreign Credential Recognition Loans pilot project permanent to support internationally trained workers in their pursuit of foreign credential recognition.” [I got to see some of this while on contract recently in the social innovation unit within Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Pre- and post-loan incomes for newcomer clients with one organization went from ~$14,000 to over $100,000. Most loans are <$10,000.]


Organizations that support women entrepreneurs: “Economic Action Plan 2015 announces support for the Action Plan for Women Entrepreneurs in order to help women entrepreneurs succeed, through mentorship and increased access to credit and international markets.”

Working with post-secondary to train the nonprofit labour force: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide a one-time investment of $65 million over four years, starting in 2016–17, to business and industry associations to allow them to work with willing post-secondary institutions to better align curricula with the needs of employers.”

Organizations that support employment of Aboriginal peoples: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide $248.5 million over five years beginning in 2015–16 to support Aboriginal labour market programming.”

Organizations that want refurbished computer equipment and work with vulnerable populations: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide $2 million over two years, starting in 2016–17, to expand the Computers for Schools program, extending access to refurbished computer equipment to non-profit organizations such as those that support low-income Canadians, seniors and new Canadians.”

Improvements for community infrastructure: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to create a new dedicated infrastructure fund to support the renovation, expansion and improvement of existing community infrastructure in all regions of the country as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.”

Organisations who do work in financial literacy: “In 2015–16, the Government will release a National Strategy to strengthen the financial literacy of Canadians.”

Organizations with mortgages for social housing: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide $150 million over four years, starting in 2016–17, to support social housing in Canada by allowing social housing providers to prepay their long-term, non-renewable mortgages without penalty.”

Organizations who do work related to Austism Spectrum Disorder: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide $2.0 million in 2015–16 to support the development of a Canadian Autism Partnership.”

Other items of interest

Updating labour code to protect interns in federally-regulated industries (not the nonprofit sector, but still a great step). See more about regulations re: internships via Canadian Intern Association. This is a good reminder that just because volunteering is OK, unpaid internships are often not, in the nonprofit sector.

There are many items relevant to clients of nonprofit organizations not listed here.

Any other items I missed?

Is what is reported what really happened?

As people we are selective about the information sources we listen to, and then selective about what we read, and selective about what we believe, and selective of what we share with others. We get a slice that reenforces our belief system.

And, before we even hear the news, or a research report, or a description of a situation, the information is filtered through those doing the reporting or the research.

Some places where information can get distorted

Interviewers: What are their beliefs going into the situation? How are they designing the research and the interview questions to reinforce those beliefs?

Interviewees: Are they honest and forthcoming? Are they providing accurate responses, or what they feel the interviewer wants them to say?

Writers: Are answers transcribed accurately? Does the report give a valid account of the main findings of the research/interviews? Does the report provide a full picture? What is the “truth” vs the (un)intentional (mis)direction provided by interviewers, interviewees, and writers?

I recently witnessed two people taking notes on a small group discussion. As they looked at the summary of their notes, they started editing out things they didn’t want to be brought up and deleted some of their notes. Just because an item doesn’t align with your strategy or your talking points or your hypothesis, doesn’t mean that voice shouldn’t be recorded.

If I’m observing a group or conducting an interview, I’m pretty good at capturing an accurate picture of what was said. But if I have a vested interest in a meeting — e.g. as a board member or other active team member — I am a HORRIBLE secretary/note taker.  I will take notes based on what I think people are trying to say. I will finish sentences before they have been spoken. I will pause when I don’t agree with something, and ask a question of the speaker that might result in notes not being taken.

Do you do research or reporting? How do you check your biases or hopes or opinions as you prepare information to share with others?

It might be wrong. But is it useful?

I took a class on effective instruction a few years ago. The most powerful take away was almost a throwaway quote from one of the instructors.

All models are wrong. But some models are useful.

I’ve taken this thought with me far and wide.

Some people don’t believe in the MBTI. Fine. (I do). But even if you disagree with the underpinnings, is the information, self-exploration, and tips for interacting effectively with others useful?

I’ve read books that I might have previous considered ‘flaky.’ New-agey books about presence and intentions. Do I believe in pseudo-science quantum physics? Hell no. But are some of the exercises and arguments useful? Oh yeah.

Even horoscopes and fortune cookies, which I believe to be utter shite, I can read and find use in. Did it trigger an idea for an opportunity? For a conversation I’ve been meaning to have? Did it put a smile on my face?

I have two friends who own “The Secret Language of Birthdays: Your Complete Personology Guide for Each Day of the Year.” Just because you add “ology” onto the end of something, doesn’t make it legitimate.

But reading it is fun! And I find it useful.

It triggers reflections, which I love because…introvert.

Here are some gems from my birthday page.

Those born on September 9 repeatedly face all kinds of demanding situations, usually more the product of their own complicated nature than of fate. If they could learn to more often take the path of least resistance, and not invariably the most difficulty way, they could lead much more peaceful but perhaps less eventful lives.

Like when I’m doing something and think to myself “there’s gotta be a better way to do this” and I spend 4 hours researching that thing, when it would have taken me just 30 min to do it the first, if inefficient, way.

There is no doubt that September 9 people are drawn to challenges. Easily bored, they find it insufferable to just sit back and do the same predictably rewarding (or unrewarding) things year after year. Consequently, they are either consciously or unconsciously on the lookout for complex people, places and things with which to become involved.

Like why I’m drawn to independent self-employment, seeking out new and interesting experiences to jump in and out of. And how I yearn for more opportunities to be surrounded by intelligent and fascinating people to learn from and be inspired by.

Life can be a constant battle for many September 9 people against their fears and insecurities. Strangely enough, such fears can drive them on to be surprisingly successful. This is another reason why challenges have such a powerful stimulating effect on them.

‘Successful’ is a fluid term. But I’ve done pretty well on my own (work-wise) the past 4 years. I constantly have to push aside insecurities, questions about what people think of me, and just do and achieve. I love taking something I’ve never done before, say “hmm, I could do that” and do it. Even if that thing is springboard diving.

Building your self-confidence is a big item. Allow for reflection; then find your real abilities and act on them decisively. Worry and few will eat you up if you let them; you alone hold yourself back.

As I’ve come to repeat as my mantra: Spend time on your purpose, not your personal issues that hold you back from your purpose.

Irritation is something you do to yourself.

Yes, indeed Birthday book, you’ve given me some things to think about.

What do you find wrong, but useful?

218 content tips for resumes

Just kidding! Not 218 tips. First tip: don’t include EVERYTHING in your resume.

Yesterday I shared tips for resume design. Today: content.


I have some pretty strong feelings to share, with the caveat that I am just one opinionated person – other people are opinionated in other ways, so a perfect resume for one hiring manager is just “meh” for another.

Firstly, I usually don’t read cover letters unless the resume is a good one, so be sure that your resume…is a good one.

There are two things I look for when I review job/volunteer applications. 1) The content 2) The layout

What I look for in content

Basically, does it look like you might be able to do the job I’m hiring for? And have you made it easy for me to see that?

A narrative.

A story that shows me how you came to apply for this job. Your previous experiences (work, education, volunteering, workshops/events attended, etc) have a tie to the role you are applying for. The roles I hire for are usually connected to the nonprofit sector, so demonstrating an interest in the nonprofit sector or civil society is mandatory.

If you are trying to change fields or roles, I want to see that you’ve already started that process. Taken a course. Done volunteer work. There needs to be some connection to the current role. Don’t force me to try to make mental leaps and know what’s going on in your head – I neither the time nor the mind-reading abilities.

Transferable skills are relevant, but don’t bullshit me.

I know working in retail or hospitality gives good, relevant experience to many jobs. But don’t try to over-inflate a role with the dozens of things that you were responsible for, or over explain a role unless it’s something that few people have experience with.

Leave out things that aren’t relevant.

When you’re early in your career, it’s tough…you don’t have much to include. But after a few years, some experiences aren’t as relevant any more. I often don’t include the fact that I was a high school teacher. This experience is important to me, but not necessarily for the contracts I’m pitching for. Every resume I send is tweaked to reflect the role I’m applying for, and I expect the same when I hire. Leave things out that might muddy your narrative.

Chronological, or skills-based?

I prefer a vaguely chronological resume that focuses on relevant skills. Again, I want a narrative that leads up to this current role. Do I get why you are applying? Or does it seem you’re likely shipping the identical resume all over the place?

However, if you are early in your career or are changing fields, a chronological resume can sometimes look choppy or disjointed, and doesn’t share the picture you’re hoping to create. In those cases, an way to make the narrative clearer is to lump your experiences into skills the job requires. For example, I’ve done resumes that have sections for “facilitation,” “nonprofit sector experience,” and “project management” that then list relevant experiences.


Leave out

Career objective. I’ve never understood the use of this. Times change so quickly now–if someone thinks they know where they want to be in 10 years, I’m suspicious that they are deluded or narrow minded.


Relevant experience. This can be divided into work experience and volunteer experiences, but I’m OK with a merged category. Be sure to include personal projects–e.g. I include Quiet Changemaker Project–and course projects if relevant, especially if you’re early in career.

Education. An additional section for professional development is great if you’ve attended workshops, conferences, etc that are relevant.

Maybe include

Personal/professional summary. Sometimes people include a short paragraph that summarizes who they are. Unless this is incredibly well crafted and adds context that your resume can’t explain, leave it out.

Personal interests. This section can help you stand out, make the hiring manager curious. Or it could turn them off. I enjoy vegan cooking, but I’m not going to share that unless I know that’s relevant to the job because I don’t want to be lumped in with negative misconceptions of vegans. Instead, I might add that I’ve taken springboard diving lessons.

Watch your tone.

Keep a neutral, professional tone unless you can find out more from the hiring person (e.g. through Twitter/blogs). Taking a risk with tone is just that – a risk. It could move you to the top of the pile. It could mean you are a quick no. A few years ago I was hiring support for my business, and the job description was written in my person tone. Frank, honest, to the point. Subtle humour. Short, incomplete sentences. One applicant used the same tone for her application, noting in her cover letter that it was a risk. I loved it. She didn’t end up with the job, but it got her quickly into the interview pile. I’ve also received resumes with what seemed like a “braggy” or overly aggressive tone. Those go into the no pile for me (but they may work on others).

One tip to rule them all.

Treat your resume as good design. The best resume is one in which there is nothing else you could take away. Not the one in which there is nothing else to add.

5 design tips for resumes

Earlier this week I gave some advice to young professionals on resumes and cover letters. I have some pretty strong feelings to share, with the caveat that I am just one opinionated person – other people are opinionated in other ways, so a perfect resume for one hiring manager is just “meh” for another.

I usually don’t read cover letters unless the resume is a good one, so be sure that your resume…is a good one.

There are two things I look for when I review job/volunteer applications.

  1. The content
  2. The layout

I’ll cover content in a later post.

As for layout…

Basically, I want to be able to find information easily. I should be able to scan it quickly and get a sense of you. I want resume sections, job titles and organizations, and dates to be easy to find. I shouldn’t have to dig for information.

I also should find your layout pleasing to the eye. I’m often hiring for workplaces that don’t have the luxury of an art/design department, so it would be great if you can create a nice looking document without a designer having step in.

No spelling or grammatical errors.

I’ve been at fault for this…it can be hard when you’re in job search mode and you’ve looked at your resume hundreds of times. I might be able to let one error pass, but more indicates to me that you don’t have attention to detail.

Everything aligns.

There are no errant spaces before a title or paragraph. If any items like dates are aligned on the right of the page, they are all lined up properly. Again, if things are crooked, it indicates you don’t have attention to detail.

The pages aren’t crammed with text.

You’ll hear from most places that resumes should be 2 pages. This doesn’t mean that to make yours fit you should decrease the margins and fonts and stuff a three page resume into two. Margins should be at least 1″, and it’s OK to play with larger margins (e.g. 3″) to create white space and make it easy to read.

You choose fonts well.

In my resume, I use a sans serif font for the headings, and serif font for the content. Serif fonts have bulges at the end of letters in fonts like Times New Roman, Baskerville, Didot, etc. Sans serif means “without serif” and include fonts like Arial, Calibri, Century Gothic, Futura, etc. Mixing two fonts is totally OK (check out your local newspaper – it’s likely that titles and content are in different fonts).

If you only use one font, use bold OR italics (not both) and perhaps different size for headings.

If you don’t have a good design eye, start with a template found online to guide you.

It’s OK to use fonts smaller than 12 pt.

Your resume (and cover letter) is combined in one (1) PDF with a name that makes sense.

DO NOT SEND YOUR RESUME AS A WORD DOC. What looks good on your computer might show up strange on mine. And be sure to name it through the lens of the organization (not what makes sense when you are saving the resume in your job applications file on your own computer). I’ve received resumes that are names things like “Resume 2013” or “Vanessa res -(2)” or “Managing Director resume”. When I download the resume, these names mean nothing. I might use the name “Trina Isakson Application” or “Isakson – Managing Director Application”.

Unless asked for, don’t send a link to LinkedIn or a website.

Can I take risks with layout?

It’s rare, but I’ve seen resumes laid out in newspaper columns, or with interesting colours. I’ve even seen poetry and clip art. I would say risks are OK if all of the three criteria are met:

  1. The hiring manager is the kind of person who appreciates uniqueness (hard to know, but you might be able to find out via the person’s Twitter/blog).
  2. The risk is directly relevant to the role you’re applying for (e.g. if creativity/design is needed).
  3. The resume is still easy to read.

One tip to rule them all.

Treat your resume as good design. The best resume is one in which there is nothing else you could take away. Not the one in which there is nothing else to add.

When it rains, it pours

I love being semi retired. I like having control over my time. I like downtime, and I like being busy. Paradoxical, I know, but I guess I mean that I like having a strong purpose(s) that drive me everyday, so that I work hard on things that I enjoy, but do it efficiently so that I also spend downtime reading, Scrabbling, etc.

This is abundance I am grateful for, but…it’s abundance. I think that’s why I dug into Outlander book #8 this weekend, indulging in a calm before a stormy week.

Here are some of the things going on for me…

Working on two consulting contracts right now – one involving thinking, strategizing, recommending, manoeuvring delicately; the other involving conducting interviews and qualitative data analysis. Both very interesting, both (broadly) trying to answer the question – how can we engage our community better? And seeking my next gigs.

Board chair for Canadian Women Voters Congress. Trying to onboard new board members, launch our new strategic plan, implement our new website/CRM. It’s a small board, so a lot of hands on -but exciting- work.

Teaching a masters course on nonprofit governance and management. I really savour my time in class every second Tuesday.

Launching the Quiet Changemaker Project. I just sent out a whole lot of emails to contacts that I thought might possibly be interested in the launch of website. This has generated A LOT of response, which is awesome (yay! the project resonates!) but is likewise overwhelming (how am I going to engage with all this support!?). My cup overfloweth and I’m not sure where the towels are.

Volunteering in the municipal election campaign (so far just distributing flyers, which is great for exercise).

Dealing with a STUPID STUPID infected finger. Hangnail gone wrong. It’s been FIVE WEEKS!! Lots of gauze, ointments, bandages, finger soaks. I really could do without this.

Getting ready for kitchen renovations.

Grieving the loss of my cat, who offered a calming presence and lots of cuddles and I miss her greatly.

And then all the little things that are exciting/fun/relaxing/important. Book club. Interview for the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference. Music nights. Visits with friends and family.