Friday, April 29, 2005

Social Innovation in Canada - How the non-profit sector serves Canadians ... and how it can serve them better

Am enjoying reading Mark Goldenberg's Social Innovation in Canada.

Thought to post the link prior to our upcoming VSEF monthly discussion ... between Skoll in Oxford and SEA in Milwaukee, April can easily be considered Global Social Enterprise Month.

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

The State of Social Enterprise in Vancouver

In this country, a growing interest in Social Enterprise culminated in the inaugural Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise, held in Toronto in November 2004. One of the results of the conference was a clear sense of how regional infrastructure colors the development of enterprising social initiatives. A snapshot of British Columbia quickly reveals how ‘goodwill’ has not equaled sector capability. In fact, Social Enterprise ambitions are meeting capacity issues.

Since 1997, the Vancouver Foundation, the United Way of the Lower Mainland, Coast Capital Savings, and the VanCity Community Foundation have partnered in the Enterprising Non-Profits Program (ENP) to nurture regional capabilities. The ENP has explicit goals:

    · To support non-profit organizations to develop enterprises that are linked with their charitable mandate and contribute to organizational stability.

    · To increase the capacity of non-profit organizations to improve socio-economic conditions in their communities through the creation of employment or training opportunities and/or enhanced program provision.

Of the partners in the ENP, the VanCity Community Foundation, and its parent VanCity Credit Union, proactively seed Social Enterprise in British Columbia by pitching a ‘big tent’ that includes non-profits, co-operatives, and businesses with significant social or environmental objectives. VanCity’s efforts are resulting in an early stage infrastructure that aspires to resolve the challenges of organizational scale and capacity.

A key element of this early stage infrastructure is VanCity Capital Corporation (VCC). VCC offers repayable financing to facilitate new growth and sustainable expansion of successful operations. Derek Gent, VCC Investment Manager, uses the term ‘groans’ to describe hybrid financing that combines grants with loans to underpin the financing many Social Enterprises will need to achieve sustainability. These facilitating debt structures exist to allow participating organizations to generate operational surplus. In essence, practices familiar in the field of ‘asset building’ are being applied at the organizational level.

VCC also serves as a link between ‘investors with values’ and Social Enterprises. There are a growing number of investors, influenced by Jed Emerson’s ‘Blended Value’, who believe their capital should be applied to organizations that combine financial, environmental, and social impact. By partnering, VCC is working to bring strategic long-term patient capital to the table.

VanCity anchors the Social Enterprise movement in British Columbia by bringing capital and consultation to those organizations demonstrating capacity and capability. VanCity is interested in working with smart, growth-focused organizations with a firm grasp of their enterprise opportunity and want to strategically increase their success.

It remains for the Social Enterprise community to embrace the opportunity created by VanCity and its ENP partners. The community needs to encourage, support and celebrate enterprises that fully express organizational mission and demonstrate innovative solutions to challenges faced in British Columbia and communities across the country.

In the afterglow of the Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise, organizations like the Vancouver Social Enterprise Forum and the Canadian Social Enterprise Network have an opportunity to encourage significant strides in Canadian adventures in social enterprise.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ten Steps to Stronger Nonprofit Communications

Ten Steps to Stronger Nonprofit Communications was hosted by Jill Rasmussen, of Promoting Public Causes, Inc., at the SocialEdge portal. The exchange presented coherent approaches to the communication needs of NPOs.

Here is the introduction to the on-line discussion:

With fierce competition in today’s marketplace, savvy nonprofit organizations are increasingly finding themselves looking toward their communications approaches to ensure success. Here are ten steps you can implement today to strengthen your communications approach.
    Understand who you are. Start by identifying words and phrases that characterize your organization. What does your current brand identity say about you? What themes emerge? Remember that your brand is more than just a logo; it is the relationship that you have with your key audiences and includes all of the attributes – good and bad – that tell your organization’s story and the important work you do.

    Know your key audiences. Who are you talking to? Who can help you meet your mission? Audiences may include donors, companies, community or political leaders, media, volunteers, staff, or others.

    Prioritize your audiences. Sometimes we want to please everyone who interacts with our organization, but in times of tough resources, prioritizing is key. Determine your top three audiences, and write down all you can about them. What are their demographics? What are motivates them? Then, determine what you want each audience to do. What are the benefits they receive by engaging with your organization, what stands in their way, and how will you reach them?

    Create key messages. The words and phrases that you use to talk about your organization are critical to your success. Once you know who you want to reach, create talking points that clearly articulate what you want each audience to do, highlight the benefits of taking those actions, and minimize the real and perceived challenges for audience members. You may also want to reevaluate your mission and vision statements to ensure that articulate the true mission and vision of your organization.

    Talk to your key audiences. Create a list of key stakeholders who will help you identify the needs, perspectives, opinions and areas of improvement for your organization. Audience members may include donors, program staff, board members, corporate funders and others. Before you finalize your key messages, it is important to answer any questions you might have about your audiences – both internal and external. Don’t make assumptions about what they want, their interpretation of your key messages, or what will motivate them to act. Seek out potential audience members, and share your thoughts and ideas. Ask them questions, and more questions. And really listen.

    Engage your staff and board. Your communications are only as strong as those delivering them. Make sure that each member of your staff, board, and volunteer program has a clear understanding of the message points, and know how to deliver them. Ensure that each person has a clear understanding of the goals for the communication, and does not have any outstanding questions or agendas that have not been addressed. Develop a communications guide that can be used internally to ensure clarity in your expectations about how the brand will be conveyed.

    Get your message across. Determine the best marketing activities to promote your organization. Be sure they offer the right approach in reaching your key audiences where they are likely to obtain information. Activities might include media outreach, direct mail, corporate sponsorship and special events.

    Conduct your final checks and balances. Make sure that you have evaluated all aspects of your brand. Does your logo and tagline support the image you are conveying through your written and verbal communication? If not, what is the cost (in terms of brand awareness, finances, time) of developing new visuals that better support the brand image you are building? Do your Web site, brochure, press kit, letterhead, email, fact sheets, or case statements need to be updated in order to best support your brand image? Do they meet the needs of each audience? Are they consistent? Make sure that each piece reinforces a consistent communications platform.

    Work as a team. Once you have built the foundation for a strong brand that can be presented to your audiences in a consistent and meaningful way, make sure that everyone understands his or her role in supporting the organization’s success. Whether it’s direct service, fundraising, event management, operations, or answering the phone, each person needs to know their role in telling your organization’s story.

    Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate! It is important to evaluate your successes and challenges on a regular basis, to ensure that stumbling blocks are addressed, successes are shared and built upon, and that key audiences are engaged. Check with your audiences to determine what is working and what needs modification. Be honest about changes that need to be made, and make them. Hold staff and board members responsible for their role in the success of the organization. Solicit feedback and provide support when necessary.

Thanks for joining this discussion! I look forward to hearing about your insights, successes and challenges in the area of communications.

    Does your organization have key messages, and does it use them consistently?Does your organization truly understand the wants and needs of your key audiences, or do you make assumptions about those wants and needs?
    Do you think that more effective communications could lead to greater success for your organization?
    Do your board and key staff understand the value of effective communications?
    What, if anything, has stopped you from assessing and improving your communications?
    How could you be more effective in your communications?
    Have you evaluated your efforts? If so, what have you found – good or bad?

Promoting Public Causes, Inc. (PPC) provides training and coaching to organizations whose programs and services benefit society. As co-owner of PPC, Jill Rasmussen has helped nonprofit organizations, large and small, to create effective communications strategies that have led to awareness, funding, and strong programs to support important causes. Numerous awards and accolades highlight her professional and personal dedication to community service.

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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Canada's Other Eonomic Engine

Thanks to the good folks at Tamarack for 'distribution' and Imagine for 'composition'. Imagine as part of a collaborative effort has published The Canadian Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector in Comparative Perspective.

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