VM Blog

  • Top 5 Signs of a Successful Board

    February 23, 2021

    Posted by: Tracy Douglass

    Over the years, we've delivered hundreds of workshops to boards of directors about their roles, responsibilities, financial oversight and how to manage meetings. With all this exposure to boards of every size and purpose, from small working boards to formal boards with million-dollar budgets and layers of employees, there are signs that tell us if the board is operating successfully or not.

    We know a board is operating well, regardless if the organization is small or large, when board members:

    1. Know their priorities - Boards of directors are responsible for setting the strategic direction for the organization and that direction is outlined in their strategic plan. This plan details the goals that are to be achieved over the next 3 - 5 years and sets the priorities for the work of their committees, their board meeting agendas, and their budget.
    2. Know their finances - Speaking of budgets, board members are ultimately responsible for the financial health of their organization. Board members, all of them, must understand their financial statements and make sure their budget reflects the priorities in their strategic plan. The community, funders, donors rely on the board to oversee that the money the organization is given, is used wisely to achieve what they've said they would.
    3. Know their duties - Board members have the legal duties of Care, Obedience, and Loyalty. These duties are specified in the Corporations Act, yet they are frequently unknown or misunderstood. Not following these duties can result in personal liability to board members, dysfunctional board meetings and conflicts of interest, causing irreparable harm to the organization.
    4. Know their boundaries - Board members should be passionate about the organization and the work that it does. However, the board has a role distinct from the staff and volunteers who provide the programs and services. The best practice is that board members are to set direction and provide oversight; they state what should be done. The staff then determines how to do it. To help remember the board's role, think of the board having eyes in, but fingers out of the operations.
    5. Know their worth - Board members should know what skills, experience, and strengths they bring to the board table so they can make a meaningful contribution to discussions and decisions. If there are members who aren't contributing, this might be the reason and indicates recruitment and onboarding could be improved.

    Now that you understand the signs of a successful board, are you seeing these signs on your own board?

    If not, we can help! We offer workshops, resource packages and coming soon we will have a new distance learning options (Like us on Facebook to find out first)!

  • The pandemic has been a disruptive force in all aspects of our lives, including volunteering. At the start of the pandemic we saw a decrease in volunteerism as many organizations closed, postponed or canceled their activities, and many volunteers stayed home because of their age and/or health vulnerability. One of the biggest challenges that organizations faced during the pandemic was that the most dedicated volunteers are also those among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

    As we approach the anniversary of the start of the pandemic, talk is shifting towards what comes next and organizations are starting to plan for the re-opening of their programs and services. Part of that planning includes welcoming back our volunteers and making sure we create a safe environment for them.

    To help organizations understand the needs and concerns of volunteers across the province, Volunteer Manitoba launched the Volunteering Now! Volunteerism in Manitoba during a Pandemic survey. The survey went out during the fall of 2020 to 280 volunteer programs in Manitoba and close to 700 volunteers responded.

    What did we learn? That people are still volunteering in communities across Manitoba, and are doing so safely and with best practices in place. We also learned that for most volunteers who stopped volunteering in-person, their comfort level increases with social distancing practices in place and access to the appropriate PPE.

    Some other highlights from the survey include:

    - the majority of respondents indicated that they are still finding ways to volunteer their time, whether it's in-person or volunteering virtually for an organization

    - most respondents are comfortable volunteering in-person, once the restrictions ease and organizations open back up

    - many volunteers indicated they would be comfortable returning to their volunteer work once a proven treatment has been identified (note; the vaccine was rolled out after this survey closed)

    - everyone indicated that having safety measures in place (physical distancing, hand washing, and access to PPE) would make them feel safe when they return to their volunteer work

    Download the full infographic here!

    As the pandemic continues to affect all aspects of our lives, our work in supporting volunteers in our organizations also continues to evolve and shift. Volunteer Manitoba is committed to working with all of our partners in the non-profit and voluntary sectors to ensure that volunteers are welcomed back, safely, and we can get back to the business of building strong communities across the province.

  • Shortly after the initial onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, InterGroup Consultants Ltd. began brainstorming about how they could offer services to local organizations experiencing difficulties adapting to the pandemic. Organizations have been severely affected by the pandemic, including cuts to funding and a reduction in their face-to-face volunteer network. InterGroup staff members are involved with a variety of non-profits and they felt they had the skills to remotely support organizations facing hardships, so a decision was made to "Adopt a Non-profit".

    "It was a unique opportunity to provide pro bono support to a local non-profit and while supporting the growth of our staff," InterGroup said.

    InterGroup reached out to Volunteer Manitoba to get a better understanding of the needs of non-profit organizations during the initial stages of pandemic. Through discussions it was determined that facilitated discussions on what it looks like to service non-profits now and post pandemic would be most valuable. This effort would bring together numerous groups virtually to support each other in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic as opposed to merely helping one.

    Through facilitated online discussions over the course of four weeks in the summer of 2020, InterGroup and Volunteer Manitoba brought together managers and volunteers from various organizations including the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Special Olympics Manitoba, Thrive Thrift Shop, and more. Volunteer managers were highly aware of what volunteering looked like pre-pandemic and of the issues and gaps that have occurred within their organizations since the provincially mandated shut-down of non-essential services.

    During these meetings, participants were able to express their concern largely centered around the inability to return to their previous state of face-to-face volunteering. It was commonly noted that the majority of volunteers are 65 and over and therefore a vulnerable population for COVID-19 exposure. Due to this increased risk to this segment of volunteers, organizations had seen a drastic decrease in volunteer numbers.

    Lessons learned during the weekly sessions included various approaches to reopening of non-profits and how to potentially modify services going forward. A common thread included the understanding that volunteering will not move forward in the same way it did in the past, the use of personal protective equipment, virtual volunteering, and the increased awareness of the comfort of the volunteers will be front and centre.

    Additional learnings included the skill development for InterGroup's staff. "It was a great opportunity to get more comfortable with our online facilitation skills, not only with engaging a group of people virtually but also ensuring they feel comfortable and find value in the online platforms we use," InterGroup noted.

    As the pandemic continues, InterGroup and Volunteer Manitoba hope for more collaboration between the private and non-profit sectors, both noting it is a great opportunity to prepare for COVID-19 phasing, support real time skill development, and build a greater sense of community through connection and relationship building.

    "Working with Volunteer Manitoba has and continues to be a wonderful experience. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic it was fulfilling to be able to help non-profit groups to connect and discuss fears, challenges, and opportunities. The coordinated discussions via video teleconference seemed to help people feel connected and participants noted they looked forward to the weekly sessions. We are very much looking forward to continuing our work with Volunteer Manitoba to help support their priority planning process as they look forward to supporting non-profits through the COVID-19 pandemic," Christina Blouw from Intergroup notes.

    Download the Report: Volunteering during the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • Youth programs across our province work together to engage youth effectively. Volunteer Manitoba believes strongly in the power and importance of providing quality programming and services to our youth. If we continue to better our programs, we can encourage young people to play a vital role in building resilient communities.

    I love young people; I think they are passionate, brave, and revolutionary, I endeavour to help them embrace those qualities now, and maintain them as they get older and encounter more and more resistance to their ideas. - Youth Hub Report Participant

    Volunteer Manitoba realized there was a need to centralize and gather information on youth programs thus the creation of the VM Youth Hub. The goal was to bring youth-serving organizations and programs together to discuss the work being done to engage youth in communities across Manitoba. The VM Youth Hub took place in September 2019, and over 100 organizations participated. Those in attendance had opportunities to network with each other and joined in on table discussions centered around youth programming in Manitoba.

    The fact that the youth are our future. If we don't work with them to develop their potential and personalities to lead then we are setting our communities for continued problems that we see currently with racism, identity problems, hate and problems with integration. - Youth Hub Report Participant

    While working on a report from the event, the pandemic hit and everything shifted. Organizations changed overnight, and VM felt this needed to be represented in our report. In the summer of 2020, we surveyed over 90 organizations to learn more about how they have adapted. Program leaders were eager to share their challenges amidst a pandemic!

    We were delighted to hear about what drives people to work in the sector, what successes they experienced, and the direction they envision for youth programming and services. It has been our goal to present a thorough overview of sector wide challenges as a way to locate what steps must be taken to work towards a supported, accessible, and inclusive youth sector.

    "Almost 97 percent of all survey participants reported funding as their most pressing challenge. Considering the close link between funding, staffing, attendance, and volunteer engagement, we have found that unstable funding is a major cause of program and service uncertainty in the sector." - Youth Hub Report, page 7

    Our findings found that the five most common challenges among organizations was funding, engaging adults/guardians, consistent attendance, staff shortages and volunteer recruitment. Through the work of our table discussions and survey responses we were able to also include six recommendations that provide guidance for how the sector can improve based off those challenges!

    Lastly we were able to collect formative information on what types of services organizations provide, locations and demographics so that we can gain a better understanding of youth programming offered across the province.

    If you do have any questions about the report, please feel free to reach out to me for more info! I can be reached at kamillah.elgiadaa@volunteermanitoba.ca.

    Thank you to all who participated and to the Winnipeg Foundation for their support.

    Click here to read the Youth Hub Report - Surveying the Quality of Service Distribution in Manitoba's Youth Sector

  • Planning for 2021 - How much time should I spend planning?

    As the song goes, Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes; (Turn and face the strange). Facing the strange is such an interesting way to describe how the non-profit sector has been pivoting and shifting this past year, showing our nimbleness in times of turmoil. I know we are tired, but we can't let up yet. There's so much more to do.

    The exciting thing is that over the past year we've built up a great deal of experience on how to adjust and change very quickly. We've tried out new ideas, learned from mistakes, and because of this trial by error, our skills have improved. Looking back, we should all be proud of what we've accomplished.

    Although, didn't we all wish for more time to test the waters before jumping right in? Wouldn't it have been nice to have more time to anticipate change and plan?

    When writing this blog post, I did a quick search to see if there was a recommended ratio of time that we should spend planning vs time spent on doing. Scott Ambler, VP for Disciplined Agile, writes about the Agile-Driven Projects approach, and suggests a ratio of 1/5. However, every situation is unique. It was a given, though, that every project should have a plan, just that the plan should not prevent a project from starting. You can plan as you go!

    Three Agile planning tips:

    1. Plan in iterations - chunk your project into iterations or milestones and plan for the short-term ones in detail. As you approach the time for the next chunk, build in the details for that part
    2. Be uncomfortable - for high productivity, estimate how long you think a project or iteration will take and shave off some time. Uncomfortable timelines increase productivity and creativity; decisions get made with less time for bureaucracy.
    3. Avoid the Friday deadline - end of day Friday deadlines always turn into mid-morning Monday and productivity is significantly lower on Friday. Schedule deadlines for Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

    Spending some time anticipating different scenarios and how to respond to them will increase your response time. We do this all the time when we write policies. Its part of our culture and norms. The challenge is to plan for something with so many unknowns, like the end of a pandemic.

    So what's your plan, how will you be 'facing the strange' this year? I'd love to hear from you. Email me at tracy.douglass@volunteermanitoba.ca and share your plan!


    Need some help planning for 2021? We've partnered with Volunteer Ottawa to bring you two workshops:

    Business Continuity Planning, includes working through a scenario, 2-part workshop: February 2 AND February 4, 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM, $95

    Developing an Organizational Return to Work Plan, February 17, 2021, 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM, $50


Newer | Older