Tag Archives: strategic

I was out on a short strategic volunteering trip sharing ideas and techniques on audience engagement. It’s a topic that a lot of folks are focused on these days in the flavours of customer, visitor, member, alumni or donor engagement. Inevitably any discussion of this kind calls into question broader issues of organizational strategy, an exploration of who are we, what do we offer, who is our audience – and quest for a best practice or model to follow.

When asked if I knew of any successful non profits that would provide a proven structure I couldn’t say that I knew of one. The biggies are good at raising funds but that alone is neither evidence of a sound structure nor necessarily a relevant model for every other non profit.

And while a non profit can look to its peers for some ideas and learnings they might be better served to look at for profit business models and examples. As much as it may be distasteful, this is where the drive for profits, growth, competitive advantage and even survival has lead to an endless exploration and experimentation around structures and strategies.

When seeking the best practice, your sector or industry may not cover all your options. Be open minded – just because there is profit motivation doesn’t mean there isn’t a viable idea to borrow. Objectively explore and learn, then make the idea yours.


At first glance it looks like Imagine Canada has done a good job of putting a standards program in place for charities and nonprofits.

This kind of accountability and transparency has been a long time coming it should be no surprise for those in the sector.

The standards cover

  1. Board Governance
  2. Financial Accountability & Transparency
  3. Ethical Fundraising
  4. Staff Management
  5. Volunteer Involvement

They are tiered depending on size of organization with modest fees for accreditation. The standards and the process are all available on the website and from my cursory look, the standards are written in plain language for ease of understanding.

To my delight, the standards are rooted in a strategic framework.

Vision: A Canada where well-run and well-respected charities and nonprofits make a positive contribution within communities across the country and around the world.

Mission: To build excellence within Canada’s charities and nonprofits through common standards of practice and to strengthen confidence in the sector.


1. Help Canadian charities and nonprofits improve their practices in five foundational areas: board governance, financial accountability, fundraising, staff management, and volunteer involvement.

2.Increase the transparency of charities and nonprofits in these foundational areas.

3.Recognize organizations that meet the standards.

4.Strengthen public confidence in individual charitable and nonprofit organizations and the sector as a whole.

They’ve been through testing on some very recognizable nonprofit organizations and with the strength of positioning of Imagine Canada, this is a movement that can not be ignored.

Good reference material for any nonproft

Beyond an accreditation program, this material is free guidance on how to structure or run a solid nonprofit. It  is a set of best practices presented in an easy-to-read 16 page PDF. So if you are running a nonprofit take advantage of this great resource. And if you’re thinking of supporting a nonprofit, these standards give you a good checklist for an evaluation.

10 years in, 5 to go. Chances are, you aren’t familiar with these goals and yet in 2000 189 of the world leaders identified the top 8 areas of need that they collectively and individually would support.

And like most politically charged initiatives the agreement was applauded and then to some degree forgotten.

But in the non-profit arena these goals are front and centre especially for those with a global focus.

It was the refocus on these goals, celebrating their 10th year anniversary, that was the subject of the latest TedxChange.

50 people were assembled by the TedxChange Toronto group and gathered in the Centre for Social Innovation to hear inspiring local speakers share their points of view.

Then we all participated in a global webcast co-sponsored by TED and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where Melinda Gates, Graça Machel, Hans Rosling, and Mechai Viravaidya reinforced the importance of the goals and gave their perspective on results to date and their hopes for the future.

Strong themes

  • Dig deep in the data to see the issues and successes, the aggregate numbers may not tell the whole story
  • Africa is not one but countries with a great range of issues and successes
  • Empower women and girls through health and education and your economy will prosper
  • You need to have clarity and commitment, you need a plan in order to succeed
  • Coke has it figured out: know your data, leverage local talent, and do great marketing that inspires

Any of this interest you?

Read about the Millennium Goals. See the The Future We Make webcast online.

And stay tuned for the 2nd annual TEDxToronto convention which will include a webcast of 12 TEDxTalks on the theme of “A Call to Action.” Live on Sept 30 at the CBC’s Glenn Gould theatre and available online or webcast at various locations around the city. Check the site for details.

I always considered myself pretty fluent in English. I was a top rated public speaker and considered a strong communicator with an ability to convey technical concepts to non-technical people.

But now I’m in the world of non profits and even though they are speaking English, I’m having difficulty understanding them. The words are so nuanced that a simple term turns offensive. It’s a sector specific language with good intentions but burdened with bureaucracy. It creates walls, barriers to understanding. This is in conflict to the inclusiveness that many non profits seek.

So as I go forward, appreciating the nuances of this new language I am mindful that to be understood by others outside this world, you need to return to the age old concept of Plain Language. Simple terms, easily understood because in the end, communication at a basic level to many is more valuable than precision for a select few.

I can’t believe how many organizations run without a plan. How do you know you’re getting somewhere? How do you decide what initiatives to undertake? How do you allocate budgets or people efforts?

I realize that many consultants or organizations make strategic planning a painful and useless process but I truly believe in having everyone wear the same t-shirt, be able to tie their work into the greater mandate and understand what success means.

No plans for us

There seems to be 3 reasons folks don’t have a useful plan:

  • Big bureaucratic organizations do planning as an isolated task instead of a tool to support real work. They’ve lost the spirit of the strategic planning.
  • In entrepreneurial organizations the plan, which changes often, remains locked in the head of the boss.
  • Organizations don’t know the concepts, benefits and techniques of strategic planning.

The classic model works with some extras

I am a believer in the classic model of mission, vision, goals and objectives.

Then I take it further, adding tactics, so that the real work we do can be laddered up to the objectives. You can see the meaning and understand management decisions since there’s a path from work tasks to more broadly defined objectives.

And I add success metrics from the bottom to the top, again laddering lower level task measures up to the higher level measures that show attainment of goals and objectives.

Add realism and commitment

Now I may sound like “one of those consultants” but I am far too practical and pragmatic to make this a useless process. I have a fast, yet inclusive, and decisive process that I use to get this “stuff on paper.” And I live these plans…post them up…make decisions based on the charts and measure my progress.

This model worked well for my clients when I was a paid consultant. Now that I’m a strategic volunteer, it’s working amazingly well in the non-profit space.

I don’t know why anyone would spend an hour of effort without knowing where they’re going!

I was at a panel discussion at Rotman (UofT) this week focused on how to combine a professional career with a “desire to achieve societal impact.”

The room was packed, at full capacity, and it seemed filled with more corporate and non-profit folks than actual students. The panelist names were big and it’s not surprising that folks want to hear what the top organizations are doing.

  • Kaz Flinn, VP – Corporate Social Responsibility, Scotiabank (Kaz has a government relations background)
  • John Smiciklas, Senior Manager – Corporate Responsibility, Research in Motion (John was a manager in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Sustainability practice)
  • Andrew Heintzman, CEO, InvestEco (Andrew is a former publisher)
  • Gerald Butts, CEO, World Wildlife Fund Canada (Gerald was Principal Secretary in the Office of the Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty)

After the end of the hour, I was thinking the answer was – not as much as they could be. The banks, of course, are well underway with CSR and make that information publically available. RIM, on the other hand, is just starting and may be more reflective of the average company in Canada – their clients are now demanding it so they’re starting to pay attention.

The big focus: Sustainable and ethical supply chains

The panelists were united on the direction of CSR and the current hot focus of sustainable and ethical supply chains. Corporations are now making this strategic, non-profits like WWF are being asked to consult on these issues, and there’s agreement that this is a growth area with room for a lot more experts and expertise.

My fav phrase of the evening, “You get the behaviour you compensate on” so if CSR is important, it needs to be part of your evaluation and compensation structure.

This session was sponsored by Rotman Net Impact, a chapter of the international organization Net Impact, promoting leadership in corporate social responsibility, social entrepreneurship, nonprofit management, international development, and environmental sustainability.

I was at a workshop recently which explored what an investment in a non-profit’s capacity looks like and what distinguishes that from investing in actual service delivery.

Given that any grant-making organization has to have some kind of focus and way of identifying which causes have the most potential to deliver success based on that focus, it’s not surprising that a discussion of capacity comes up.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Chinese proverb

Capacity defined

There were many definitions but the overall spirit is the same. Capacity is directly related to sustainability – an organization’s ability to fulfill its mission on an ongoing basis. There are related aspects of effectiveness and impact. And when you look at what makes up capacity there are many strategic and structural aspects.

Other ways of helping

For the organization that put on the workshop, building capacity is their focus. For other organizations and many volunteers, help in providing the actual service that the non-profit provides is the objective.  I can think of the construction teams helping at Habitat for Humanity or tutoring in literacy or ESL as examples. And then there are the one-shot deals, the boosts of adrenaline that are usually fundraising focused and are commonly executed as a single event.

Teaching organizations to fish

As I travel about, talking with non-profits, there is a consistent gap in funding for operations.  It seems that sponsors love to put their name on events or programs but funding is needed for the basic building blocks of capacity. Maybe it’s time to spend a little more focus on ensuring these organizations can fish.

Volunteers as a free labour force

People know what a volunteer is. Generally it’s someone who donates their time to do tasks that need to be done.

A great deal of volunteering is being the labour force or service delivery for a non-profit. Think of the sorters at the food bank, the folks that teach others to read, the people-power that staff events, and the delivery folks that bring meals to the needy. The demand for this kind of labour force is constant.

I certainly can do that, giving 4-8 hours a week to do a task. And I would fulfill many an agency’s dreams as I would give it a full commitment, show up on time, and do this with full energy.

Thinking like a Strategic Volunteer

But instead of having me give you 4-8 hours a week doing a task:

  • I could work with your agency to develop and execute a plan to recruit 100 volunteers that will give 4-8 hour a week.
  • The plan could be operationalized to recruit 100 people annually, with an efficient onboarding process to get them productive quickly.
  • It could also include a focus on volunteer satisfaction to ensure retention of this labour force.
  • There may be a marketing or PR portion of the plan to promote your agency as being top in its class for leveraging volunteers. This may get the attention of volunteers and partners.
  • And with results measured and internal teams acknowledged you add positive moral to your agency.

That is an example of Strategic Volunteering. Finding a core need, applying strategic thinking, operational perspective, teamwork and some innovative thinking to produce a result that sets the organization up for success.

Supersized ideas

In my old life, I used to say I supersized ideas. As a Strategic Volunteer I am waiting to supersize yours.

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