Alberta Nonprofit Network News
Alberta Nonprofit Network News
ABNN in 2020: Response, Recovery & Rethinking the Future
For most of us across the sector, 2020 was a year that required adaptation, perseverance, and somehow balancing daily urgencies and mission-critical work.
ABNN was no different. While only in our second year as a network, ABNN and its partners found themselves responding to the critical needs of the sector, while also working to move our core priority areas forward.
Here are some of the highlights:
1. Data Strategy
2. Sector Value & Impact
3. Workforce Development
4. Government Relations
What's in store for 2021?
ABNN is focused on continuing to amplify the voices of the Alberta nonprofit sector, especially in the critical areas you’ve told us matter most right now - mental health, diversity, equity & inclusion, and financial sustainability. The data from our latest survey will help prioritize ABNN efforts for 2021, while ongoing engagement with you - the sector - will be a key in supporting transformative change.
Alberta's nonprofit sector is critical to the social and economic recovery of our communities. ABNN endeavours to empower collective action to address systemic challenges for our sector and strengthen our foundations for tomorrow. Thank you for inspiring our efforts and fueling our action!
Civil Society Fund Grant Information Session
Please join ABNN for an information session to learn more about the Government of Alberta’s new Civil Society Fund grant program. This fund provides $20 million to expand civil society’s capacity to address social problems for Albertans – of which $7 million is budgeted for 2020/21 to support civil society’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Join us on Wednesday, January 6 from 9:30 to 10:30a.m. to learn more about the fund, eligibility requirements and how your organization can apply. We will be joined by Ken Dropko and Glen Hughes of the Ministry of Community and Social Services, who will provide an overview of the program and answer your questions. Ken is the Executive Director, Family and Community Services Branch, Preventive Community Services Division; and Glen is Secretariat Director, Premier’s Council on Charities and Civil Society.
DATE: Wednesday, January 6
TIME: 9:30 – 10:30 a.m.
The Changing Story of the Pandemic
Fall Sector Survey Shows Nonprofit Challenges are Evolving
A survey is a snapshot in time – telling the story of what people and organizations were dealing with and feeling in a particular moment.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early March, ABNN has conducted three sector surveys. Each tells a different story of the daily realities and challenges Alberta nonprofits and charities have faced during the different stages of this pandemic.
The survey we conducted in November, we saw that many of the challenges nonprofits had predicted in the spring surveys, such as a decrease in financial resources and capacity, have come true. Other trends have also emerged, such as concerns for staff mental health, the growing complexity of clients’ needs and delivery, and an increase in demand for services.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate the well-being of Albertans, nonprofits play a critical role in supporting our communities through the health and economic challenges. It is important to understand the issues facing nonprofits so that we can better anticipate what is needed to support a strong and viable future for the sector. Our hope is that the data from this survey will help inform government, funders and other stakeholders about how they can best aid the sector. Equally important, this report should inform our own sector priorities – how must we adjust and how can we support each other during these difficult times?
For our part, ABNN will be using the results of the survey to inform our priorities and activities for 2021. We will be sharing this report widely within and beyond the sector, and we encourage you to do the same. We also expect that there will be many other follow ups and opportunities to build on this data.
View full report on our Covid-19 Impacts page.
This survey is one of the many ways ABNN works to support a proactive, collaborative and resilient sector, and we share our work freely and transparently. If you would like access to the raw data set or have questions about the results, please email email@example.com.
Hosting a stakeholder meeting or event? Why not invite ABNN to present!
In all we do, ABNN aims to be inclusive and relevant to Alberta nonprofits. That’s why we’re hitting the (virtual) road – participating in events, meetings and conferences across the province. We want to learn about your subsector/stakeholder’s needs and talk about common interests and opportunities for collaborating.
Our ABNN team can customize a presentation for you. We can speak to the current state of the sector, new research about the value and impact of Alberta’s nonprofit sector, and ABNN'S current priorities. We then kick off a discussion about your opportunities, challenges and ideas on how to advance nonprofits in Alberta. To have ABNN present at your next conference, subsector meeting or stakeholder event, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Alberta Data Strategy Takes Shape
When ABNN held its first gathering in 2018, the question was asked: What would be most valuable in advancing Alberta’s nonprofit sector as a whole?
One of the top answers: meaningful data.
Stakeholders said that having the right information at the right time would better equip nonprofit and voluntary organizations to understand, measure and communicate impact, make evidence-informed decisions, advocate for system-level changes and drive program and organizational outcomes. Acting on this expressed need, ABNN formed the Data Strategy Steering Committee.
Moving towards the strategic use of data requires coordinated efforts and stakeholder input and buy-in. With the oversight of the ABNN Data Strategy Committee, PolicyWise for Children & Families brought together more than 25 data champions to explore how to advance the sector’s strategic use of data. Split out into three Task Teams, these representatives came from government, disability sector, voluntary organizations, technology backgrounds, libraries and the immigrant and refugee sectors.
Each task team engaged with the nonprofit sector to develop recommendations for action:
Through the work of the Task Teams, eight projects concepts of varying scale were developed. These projects focus on capacity building, data sharing, Government of Alberta data and the development of an Alberta Nonprofit Data Hub. More detail on these eight projects and the full Data Strategy Report: Building a Knowledge-Driven Nonprofit Sector or snapshots can be found on the Data Strategy website.
“The process showed how collaboration among nonprofits and their partners can create the kind of data initiatives that will be useful to everyone,” said Robyn Robyn Blackadar, PolicyWise President & CEO. “We look forward to continuing this journey and supporting the nonprofit sector to realize the full potential of this project.”
Have a question or want to get involved? Email RTaylor@policywise.com.
Pulse Check Survey Report Released
In late March when the COVID-19 pandemic was still in its early weeks, ABNN conducted a flash survey to gain early insights into what nonprofits were experiencing and what they anticipated over the coming weeks. Now, three months later and as we start to see restriction ease, nonprofits are gaining a clearer view of the challenges and opportunities facing their organizations. To better understand the changing landscape, ABNN conducted a pulse check survey in mid-June. The results are summarized in Pulse Check Survey Report which can be found on our Covid-19 Impact Reports Page.
The report discusses top concerns, as well as the financial uncertainties that now face the sector. What the survey results also show is that nonprofits are finding that the path to recovery is a dance of interdependencies. They struggle to make independent decisions when a host of decisions and actions owned by others can delay, defer or potentially derail their own plans.
As nonprofits look to the future and how we may recover and even redefine our sector, ABNN believes that data, dialogue and advocacy will be critical. We recommend ongoing check-ins/surveys of Alberta’s nonprofits and charities so that we can understand and share current and changing impacts. We also believe that it is important to engage/survey funders and end-users. Sharing information about how nonprofits are adjusting and cross-sector engagement will be a catalyst for healthy, forward-thinking dialogue about what we need do to adapt.
The now familiar anthem that rose out of this pandemic, “We Are All In This Together”, continues to ring true. Advancing a strong, resilient nonprofit sector will require us to work together to reimagine how we organize ourselves, serve our community and co-create a bold and vibrant future.
Sometimes Two Problems = A Solution
Problem 1: Many volunteer-based organizations are in desperate need of help.
Problem 2: Employers have employees whose time and skills are being under-
In seeing these two problems develop over the last few months, The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce saw a solution: bridge the gap by connecting employers with charitable organizations looking for help. They partnered with several nonprofits to create a COVID-19 Skill-sharing and Volunteering initiative.
Through this initiative, the Chamber will try to connect specialized, administrative or other volunteers with suitable organizations.
If you’re an Edmonton-based volunteer-based organization or charity and need professional assistance, please contact ECVO's Ilya Ushakov at 780-801-4720 or email@example.com.
The hope is that this program will be extended to other parts of the province.
Many Ways to Connect
Despite the struggles and uncertainties, Alberta business and nonprofits are collaborating and getting creative in how we help each other. Some are giving in-kind donations, such as giving left-over food or donating equipment, while others are continuing to provide financial donations to the best of their ability.
And of course, volunteering. You don't need to live in Edmonton to connect your business to a nonprofit in need. Many employers are encouraging their employees to give their time either virtually or in physically-distanced ways (collecting food, calling community seniors, donating blood). Businesses and individuals are encouraged to visit VolunteerConnector.org or contact your local Volunteer Centre for opportunities.
In the face of challenge, we are working together because we know we are all stronger when we support one another.
Report: Impact of COVID-19 on Alberta Nonprofits and Voluntary Organizations
As the challenges from COVID-19 continue, governments, organizations and funders need information about the impacts of the pandemic and what is most needed by the nonprofit sector at this time. To help provide a picture of the impacts, ABNN conducted a survey of the sector between March 30 and April 5, 2020, garnering 474 responses.
Visit our COVID-19 Impact Report page to access the report and read the highlights.
ABNN Urges Government to Provide Funding Security and Flexibility
To be able to continue to provide essential services in this time of need, the Alberta Nonprofit Network (ABNN) has written a letter urging the Government of Alberta to ensure funding security and flexibility. We are eager to establish clear lines of communication with the Government regarding the impacts of the COVID-19 on service delivery and the expectations of the sector.
We were pleased to see the province provide emergency funding of $60 million to support select COVID-19-related social services; however, it is important to recognize that there are many other frontline nonprofits that will see increased demand for their services, including care facilities, food banks and mental health organizations. Beyond frontline COVID-19 related services, other organizations are also feeling the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on operations, staffing, service delivery and funding, including lost casino and event revenue.
We urge the Government of Alberta to consider the following recommendations to address some immediate concerns:
Check out our COVID updates and resources here, including Advocacy & Issues Gathering and How to Talk to Funders.
There's Momentum for Change, but Nonprofits Must Direct It
The Catalyst for Change report released by the Senate Special Committee last June was a critical juncture for our sector, laying out 42 recommendations on how the government can better support the work of nonprofits. Recommendations ranged from tax reforms to technology to financial stability.
Each of the 42 recommendations has the potential for meaningful change for the sector, but...they can't all be accomplished at once. Consensus on which recommendations will have the most impact will be critical if we hope to see real progress.
Imagine Canada is working to map and prioritize the recommendations based on input from the sector. Knowing what issues are most important to the sector will help them – and the sector as a whole – prioritize and shape advocacy and GR efforts for years to come. Imagine Canada created an Alberta-specific survey to help shed light on our specific needs.
Imagine Canada will share the results with ABNN and we plan on reporting back the results in the coming months.
The more feedback Imagine Canada gets, the more informed and credible their advocacy efforts become. Share your feedback and help shape how the sector moves forward.
The Wind in Our Sails: The Importance of (Co)Operational Funding
In our daily work lives, our time is compensated through organizational budgets, which trickle down through traditional structures to our job descriptions and paycheques. But what happens when the opportunity for meaningful social change and meeting our mission requires us to go ‘outside’ traditional organizational processes and structures?
Like most organizations, nonprofits are funded to achieve their particular mission, but this basic structure rarely allows for time to be spent ‘outside the lines’ of the programs we deliver and limits the opportunity for collaborative work across organizations or sectors. The time required to participate in – let alone lead or manage – an inter-organizational collaborative process is simply not in scope.
And, unfortunately, our traditional, organizationally-bounded program and service delivery methods are simply not sufficient to solve the larger, systemic issues facing our society.
Our societal challenges are a result of a complex variety of factors and actual system change is not straight-forward or simple. True change and progress requires high-quality, inter-organizational collaboration. This process is not for the faint of heart.
Real Change Requires Collaboration; Successful Collaboration Requires Funding
Collaborative work requires resources. Whether the collaboration is inside an exiting organization or between organizations – time and energy are required for getting things done with other human beings. Resources need to be put towards organization, management capacity, leadership, processes, communication and engagement. With networks such as ABNN, the time and energy are contributed by our participants and stewards, but also critical is co-operational funding.
Co-operative funding dollars are used to support a collaborative culture so that the behaviours and identities of the organizations become more collaborative over time. Co-operative funding may also be used to bolster support work, such as administration, communications or project management. Co-operational funding is the wind in the sails of the collaborative approach.
To be clear – co-operative funding does not require a huge bureaucracy. Co-operative funding should be lean – focused on enabling collaborative habits, designing high-quality collaborative processes, ensuring nimble and effective management, and creating time and spaces for the people involved to work together. It’s about creating the opportunity to understand the system we are working within and co-creating opportunities for collective action. This is the space where ABNN is working - seeking to understand and respond to the province-wide systemic issues that impact our sector.
By no means does this idea de-value the importance of program and service delivery for enhancing quality of life and well-being, but in today’s complex world, collaborative work – pulling ourselves up and out of our organizational identities – is required to truly tackle some of the underlying issues. Co-operational funding enhances the tangible program and service delivery ‘outcomes’ we are so used to seeing by investing in the health and progress of the connective tissue within our systems.
One Year In and ABNN is Proving Just How Much a Network can Accomplish
It was little less than a year ago that ABNN officially launched our website – rallying nonprofits to join a network committed to advancing the sector. It is amazing what can be accomplished in a year!
ABNN now has more than 800 newsletter subscribers, over 500 social media followers, and we’ve engaged with hundreds of nonprofits through our surveys, policy sessions, gatherings and committee work.
“As the 2019 draws to a close, I am inspired by the progress we’ve made in a single year,” says Robyn Blackadar, ABNN Network Steward and President & CEO of PolicyWise for Children & Families. “We’ve been involved in supporting the sector with timely information and opportunities to connect and we’re making great strides towards implementing action on the needs of the sector.”
Four priority sector-wide concerns were identified at our ABNN Gatherings, and ABNN committees and task teams have been hard at work exploring how ABNN and our partners can address these issues:
1. Strengthening Sector Identity and Value.
The Identity and Value Steering Committee is developing foundational documents that will serve as a starting point for how the sector can position itself as a strategic partner with both the public and private sectors. In 2020, the team will be mapping out communication pathways and identifying opportunities to meet with cross-sector groups throughout Alberta.
2. Creating a Sector-level Data Strategy.
The Data Strategy Steering Committee is examining how the sector can improve how it measures, analyzes and uses data. They spent 2019 conducting stakeholder interviews and will be convening three Task Teams in the new year.
3. Enhancing Workforce Development in the nonprofit sector.
The Workforce Development Committee focuses on supporting and amplifying the efforts of individuals and groups of organizations to make nonprofit work rewarding, fairly compensated and sustainable, as well as addressing issues that require sector-wide approaches. A Task Team is currently exploring a sector-wide Pension Plan as an opportunity to improve retention and support the nonprofit workforce. They will be seeking specific sector input in the new year.
4. Supporting sector Government Relations.
ABNN is looking at how the network can leverage existing resources, where we should advocate for change and how we can foster stronger relationships with government. In the last year, ABNN has held policy workshops, developed a draft policy agenda and pull together public policy and election resources for our sector. We are currently exploring next steps.
Focus on Representation
One of ABNN’s priorities is to make sure our work is driven by the needs of the sector and that we are representing all parts of the sector. We are being deliberate in seeking out the voices that might not always be represented, including regional organizations, small nonprofits and various sub-sectors. We have work to do to find the best ways to listen and engage, but we know it’s important in accomplishing meaningful sector-wide change.
We always welcome ideas and perspectives. We will be sharing opportunities for further engagement (surveys, focus groups, events) in the coming months, but you can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or engage with us on social media.
And please, share the ABNN newsletter subscription link with your colleagues in the sector – the more voices the better!
As we close out a very successful year, we want to thank everyone who has followed, engaged with and supported ABNN over the last year. We believe a network approach will help us make meaningful change for the sector and we can’t do our work without you!
The Report that could Transform our Sector
"It’s the biggest thing in the nonprofit sector in the last three decades, the biggest thing since the Voluntary Initiative in the 90’s.”
I’m on the phone with Russ Dahms, Executive Director the ECVO and ABNN Exploration Committee Member, as he talks about the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector (CSSB) report, Catalyst for Change: A Roadmap to a Stronger Charitable Sector, which was released in June.
"It’s a historic point for the sector in Canada. A brilliant report, with meaningful recommendations.” Then Russ pauses, seeming apprehensive, almost troubled, “The question is, how will we move forward and what will it take to actually adopt the recommendations?”
Report Tackles the Big Issues of our Sector
In early 2018, a Senate Special Committee was formed to explore the issues and constraints that limit the charitable sector. They were tasked with looking at the challenges such as outdated policy and lack of coordinated support, and explore what needs to change so that the federal government can better enable charities and nonprofits to deliver social programs and address the complex issues facing Canadian communities.
The report outlines 42 recommendations to help modernize and create meaningful change to the sector. Recommendations span a number of issues, including workforce and volunteering, funding structures, innovation support, taxes and regulations. It acknowledged that the sector needs meaningful law and policy reform, as well as a renewed relationship with the federal government.
Navigating the Path Forward
With 190-pages covering fourty-two recommendation, which fall under at least eight government department/agencies, the key questions is now what and who? The sector is worried (and not without reason) that the volume of recommendations will make it difficult to sort through and act on. Previous modernization efforts have fallen short and there is question as to whether there is ample desire to truly make some changes. The other risk is the federal election – no matter which government comes into power there is the possibility that the report will get lost in changing political priorities.
The good news is that a permanent Advisory Committee has been announced. This committee has a big task – sorting through the recommendations, understanding the depth of the issues, getting consensus across the sector and government, and hopefully, making meaningful, positive changes.
Arguably, one of the most difficult tasks will be prioritizing. Bruce MacDonald, President and CEO of Imagine Canada and Committee Sector Co-chair, describes the task at a hand, “To realize the promise of this report, sector leaders are going to need to find a balance between advocating for their individual organization’s interests and supporting a common set of priorities. Hopefully, this will be seen as a complementary effort, not an ‘either/or’ approach.”
What Our Organizations Can Do Today
The most important thing our sector needs to do right now is ensure that this report does not get forgotten.
Senator Omidvar has shared an Open Letter asking federal party leaders and candidates to commit to implement the report recommendations. We encourage all Alberta nonprofits to show their support by signing the open letter (it is very simple and takes less than a minute).
We also hope you will help us spread this important message more broadly by sharing this through your network and encouraging peer organizations to sign. You can also share Senator Omidvar’s social media message using the hashtag #votecharitably.
Continuing the Discussion
No official forums have yet been developed to share feedback, but that doesn’t mean our sector can’t or shouldn’t start having discussions. We encourage nonprofits to read the report, read commentary and start forming and opinions. Some perspectives out there include:
Share your ideas and perspective with colleagues or write an email to the ACCS secretariat. Tell us what you think by posting on our Facebook forum page and we will share your thoughts with Imagine Canada.
“It’s going to be up to us as a sector to keep the momentum going,” says Russ. “We need to tell the government that this is important and implementing the recommendations will make a monumental difference in our ability to do our work, and ultimately, help Canadian communities be healthier, stronger and more resilient.”
Sector Recommendations that Align with ABNN Efforts
There are a number of Senate recommendations that support issues ABNN has identified as strategic areas of action:
Sector Pension Plan
Support Innovation in the Sector (ABNN collaboration model)
ABNN in The Philanthropist
ABNN was recently featured in The Philanthropist's Policy Matters Series!
Read the article about what current election issues ABNN feels are most important in the upcoming election.
As the federal election approaches, there’s increasing talk and media about the issues affecting our communities and what the different political parties are committing to do. It’s during these pre-election months that nonprofits have an increased opportunity to share our voice and bring attention to the issues we fight for every day. By engaging in nonprofit advocacy, we can help candidates understand our perspectives and get voters to think more deeply before they put an ‘X’ on the ballot.
Although ABNN is primarily Alberta-focused, Government Relations is one of our strategic areas of action (along with Data Strategy, Sector Value & Impact and Workforce Development), and there's no doubt that federal politics impacts our province and its communities.
We believe Alberta nonprofits have a role in helping our sector speak out and influence the issues that matter to us. To help your organization shape the debate, we have pulled together a list of resources:
1. If you only had time to read one resource, we’d recommend the Ontario Nonprofit Network’s Advocacy Toolkit. From ‘framing your ask’ to ‘engaging social media’, this Toolkit walks you through how to put together an effective campaign. Want a quick read? Read their Advocacy Tip Sheet.
2. The go-to resource for national election action is Imagine Canada’s Federal Election Hub. Scroll down to the ‘What the Sector is Doing’ section to see election resources by sub-sector. The Election Hub also has information about rules of engagement, Imagine Canada’s policy priorities and election alerts.
3. ABNN's Nonprofit Public Policy Page has election resources developed by Alberta nonprofits. From letter templates to advocacy toolkits and issue-specific briefs, there are a variety of tools your organization can draw from.
Now is the time to let our collective voice echo across the nation!
Our sector can influence the vote. Let’s share the story of our value and impact, work together to have our perspective heard and collaborate on advocacy work so that we can learn from each other and amplify our efforts.
We encourage you to share your nonprofit’s work with the ABNN community by tagging ABNN on social media, emailing us and using #cdnVOTE2019 and #weadvocate.
Getting Voters Out is Critical to Our Work
Research shows that when nonprofits encourage people to vote, it can make a difference in the voter turnout, particularly among the people we serve*.
Our public policy work is more successful when the people impacted by the policy are engaged in Canada’s democracy. To get people out to the ballot box, the Canada Vote Coalition has launched Canada’s largest voter engagement campaign. Co-led by the Democratic Engagement Exchange and Apathy is Boring, the campaign will be activating communities during Democracy Week (September 15-21) and on the International Day for Democracy (September 15).
The Exchange is also running free training around the country to teach organizations how to run Vote PopUps, a voting simulation based on best practices in voter mobilization.
Sign up at Canadian Vote Coalition to access tools and resources that can help get your clients and community out on October 21!
UCP’s Party Platform & What it Could Mean to Our Sector
April’s change in government has nonprofits from across all subsectors wondering to expect from the UCP and speculating about how the leadership change might impact how they serve their clients.
On behalf of ABNN, Volunteer Alberta has created a UCP Party Platform Summary & Analysis. Organized by Ministry, the summary provides an overview of UCP pledges, including commitments about funding, red tape reduction and taxes, as well as proposed changes to services (e.g. immigration, housing, victim services). This summary is meant as a reference guide and cites what pages to go to for more information.
Click here to view the UCP Party Platform Summary & Analysis.
Platform provides some promise, and some cause for apprehension
The UCP platform presents a number of positive prospects to the nonprofit sector. Their pledge to create a Civil Society Fund and their suggestion of moving to 5-year funding agreements when possible offers opportunities for more stable funding for our sector. The UCP platform also provides hope to organizations that focus on mental health and victim’s services, employment readiness programs, and parks services, with commitments for closer collaboration with the provincial government. Furthermore, the UCP’s proposed Freedom to Care Act and focus on reducing ‘red tape’ could break down some regulatory barriers, helping some organizations be more effective in their work. As an immediate opportunity, nonprofits are encouraged to take a moment to complete the Government of Alberta’s Cut Red Tape Survey.
On the other hand, the UCP government’s strong focus on balancing the budget could have significant impacts to our sector. The sector should be prepared for potential funding cuts to programs and/or social services being downloaded. There could be other changes not outlined in the platform.
Helping organizations understand and advocate
In addition to ABNN's analysis, there are a number of other analyses of political platforms - and we know there's more out there! ABNN has created a Nonprofit Public Policy Resources page as a compilation of these resources. On this page, you’ll find ABNN’s Draft Policy Agenda, Government Position Resources (provincial and federal) and Public Policy Development/Advocacy Resources.
We will continue to update these pages with platform information and resources for nonprofits. If your organization has any sector or subsector analyses, advocacy toolkits or public policy related information, we would love to include it on this page – please send it to us at email@example.com.
ABNN Gathering Recap
On June 10, over 150 people from across the nonprofit sector came together in Fort McMurray, Lethbridge and Calgary to participate in ABNN’s Annual Gathering.
It was an important day in the evolution of ABNN as people from diverse organizations engaged in open, thoughtful, sometimes challenging discussion on how ABNN should take action on sector-level strategic issues (Strengthening Sector Value & Impact, Data Strategy, Workforce Development and Government Relations.)
Click here to view the ABNN 2019 Gathering Recap.
Our thanks to the Suncor Energy Foundation for their continued support of ABNN’s work, and of course, to all the participants who shared their time, energy, experience and insights. Your participation elevates our impact!
Networks as a Tool for Change
There are moments in each of our lives where we feel compelled to try something different. Perhaps what we’ve been doing isn’t working as well as we’d like, or we feel we don’t have the capacity to get to the heart of the issue. Whatever the reason, there is something inside us that tells us it is time to take a new approach.
It was a moment like this that compelled six Alberta nonprofits to explore something new in the fall of 2017.
These organizations saw challenges and inefficiencies with Alberta nonprofit sector. They saw that there were strategic opportunities at the sector level that were not being maximized - opportunities for greater coordination, improved communication and a more cohesive and united approach to problem solving.
“There was a desire to build capacity to better handle opportunities in a collaborative fashion,” says Blythe Butler, Network Weaver for ABNN. “Some issues are better handled together than alone, and ABNN is a network approach to try to bring that desire into reality.”
We’re all familiar with the term ‘network’…but what does it really mean as a tool for social change?
We’re all part of networks – ecological networks, family networks, social networks and online networks. An organizational network is a group or system of organizations working together to achieve a common purpose.
Interorganizational and sector-wide, ABNN uses the network approach to analyze, build and use connectivity among people and organizations to influence systems. In the case of ABNN, the network approach is being used address systems-level issues and advance the cohesive, proactive and responsive nonprofit sector in Alberta. This means bringing together people from all different view points to define issues, identify root causes of those issues, and then to leverage network resources to collectively respond.
Organizational networks can “… play a critical role in helping organizations spread innovation and adapt to change (Smith, 2003, 2009). Having the capacity to adapt to change includes having the ability to harness knowledge and creativity to fashion unique responses…” (Sussman, 2004).
It's all about the how
Organizational networks are not just organizations working together – high-quality networks take a network approach to guide how they work together to achieve their purpose.
A clear distinction of a network approach is that organizations are deliberately enhancing the quality of the connections amongst participants. It requires those in the network to examine their individual and organizational thinking habits, belief systems and structures that may have contributed to the problem in the first place. Individuals within the network must demonstrate curiosity, openness to ideas and change, active listening, interest in authentic relationships and a willingness for reflective self-awareness.
A new approach requires a willingness for unpredictability
As ABNN grows and evolves, we ask everyone involved to embrace the network approach. Sometimes it will seem messy or unstructured, sometimes you might wonder who is doing what and where we are going. With the network approach there isn’t only one person leading the charge - what we do and how we do it comes from the voices of the people and organizations involved. We hope that you share your ideas and perspective, that you accept the unpredictability and discomfort, and that you participate in whatever way makes sense for your organization.
Networks are ultimately made up of human beings. To the extent they help the people involved to learn, grow and become empowered to contribute to the collective change – the network – and by extension all of us – succeed.
 This is a network definition by P Bowie, 2009
Province-Wide Data Strategy Empower our Sector?
It’s been called the fourth industrial revolution, the big data era. Governments and big businesses have jumped aboard, harnessing the power of data to inform strategy and guide organizations. But what about the nonprofit sector? How can we organized ourselves to make the most of data?
It’s a question that ABNN is tackling through the exploration of a province-wide Nonprofit Data Strategy. A group of nonprofits have come together to discuss how are we currently measuring and using data, and whether a province-wide approach might be worth the investment.
The Current State of Data in the Sector
A survey conducted by PolicyWise for Children & Families in spring of 2018 showed that most nonprofits in Alberta see data as a strategic asset to their organizations, but face a number of challenges. Organizations are concerned about governance issues such as data privacy and ethics, as well as technical barriers, such as data quality issues and using complicated software systems. Another key theme from the survey was the lack of capacity and staff training to take full advantage of data.
The challenges increase when considering sector-wide, province-wide data gathering and sharing. That being said, research done by the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) shows that the value of data can be dramatically increased when it is shared. Through data sharing we can see patterns and gain insights that would not be apparent if data remained closed in organizational silos. The report also shows that efforts are likely worth it – the benefits of a data strategy include using evidence to inform more responsive programs and services, learning and communicating about impact, and collaborating more effectively.
Imagining What a Province-Wide Data Strategy Looks Like
With the support of an Alberta Culture and Tourism grant, ABNN’s Data Strategy Steering Committee embarked on a project to identify the challenges and opportunities, assess the sector’s capacity and start scoping the elements of a strategy. Results of this first phase were summarized and shared in a white paper.
Phase II will build upon Phase I. The Steering Committee and other network participants will engage in further stakeholder consultations to get input on proposed initiatives, and then move on to planning the implementation.
“We know that there’s a lot of work to do, but it’s really exciting to have a team in place that sees the potential of a good data strategy and is willing to work through the challenges,” says Robyn Blackadar, ABNN Data Strategy Steering Committee Co-Chair and President & CEO of PolicyWise for Children & Families. “ABNN provides a space for collaboration across the sector so that we can bring multiple perspectives on the issues and find solutions together.”
If you have questions or would like to get involved in this project, we invite you to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, look for more updates as we make progress!
One Year In and ABNN is Proving Just How Much a Network Can Accomplish
In January 2019, ABNN coordinated two workshops (one in Edmonton and one in Calgary) to discuss what a policy agenda could look like for the Alberta nonprofit sector as a whole. Representatives from 49 nonprofit organizations participated in the discussions, offering considerable insight into how the sector perceives itself, its strengths and challenges, and key initiatives that would advance the sector as a whole.
From these conversations, three recommendations emerged:
Also based on the discussions, a Draft Policy Agenda [link to Agenda file] was developed. This draft agenda acts as a starting point for further discussion and action as the sector continues to define and refine what a provincial-wide, sector-wide agenda could look like.
The current Draft Policy Agenda centers on four priority actions:
This is just the beginning! There is much work to do to develop the Policy/Government Relations team and figure out how to best engage the sector and its stakeholders. We’ve made some great progress in the last few months and will continue to engage with nonprofits on what they think is important and how we should engage in these discussions.
We don’t need an official Policy Agenda to make a difference this election round. We encourage all nonprofits to take a look at Election Resources we’ve compiled and to participate in #nonprofitsvote.
If you have comments about the Policy Agenda recommendations and draft agenda, or if you’re interested in participating in discussions, surveys or the group moving this forward, please contact us at email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you!
2019 Provincial Election Resources
ABNN has pulled together a number of resources that Alberta nonprofits have collectively developed to inform our responses and capacity in light of the upcoming 2019 Alberta Provincial election. Some are issue-specific, some are subsector-specific, and some are sector-level and issue-neutral.