Alberta Nonprofit Network News
Alberta Nonprofit Network News
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.