The HR Council worked with sector partners across Canada to develop case studies that cover a range of provincial, sub-sectoral and regional experiences in the nonprofit sector.
The case studies identify critical success factors, common approaches and successful implementation that can be used to share and inform the work of the sector — and, most importantly, move labour force planning and thinking forward.
Through the voices and experiences of sector leaders and consultants supporting the sector, each of the case studies will:
- Tell a different story
- Facilitate learning in the sector
- Profile work in different parts of Canada
- Speak to different contexts, sub-sectors and regions
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Description: Overview and Context
The City of Williams Lake and the surrounding Cariboo Regional District Electoral Areas D, E, and F and neighbouring First Nation communities in the interior of British Columbia are facing significant economic and social challenges. The area has seen a decline in population from 24,135 in 1996 to 23,290 in 2006. More than one-third of the area’s labour force works in agriculture, logging, wood manufacturing, and mining, compared to just over one-fifth (21%) of the B.C. labour force overall. Income in this area is heavily dependent on forestry activity, which is under threat from the mountain pine beetle epidemic. And transfer payments and “other” non‐employment income sources were the third and fourth leading contributors respectively to community income in 2006.
Between 2003 and 2006, Williams Lake and Area closely paralleled the growth in personal income at the provincial level, but lagged behind in the subsequent two years. In 2009, a total of 14,230 tax filers in Williams Lake and Area earned an average income of $36,813 each. This compares to an average of $39,754 for B.C. tax filers as a whole. During the same two-year period, population growth and job creation in the province as a whole noticeably outpaced that in Williams Lake and Area.
It was in this context that funding organizations, frustrated by overlapping programs, service gaps, “turf battles,” and a lack of co-ordination in the not-for-profit sector, began to encourage and, in some instances, demand closer collaboration among nonprofit organizations seeking new or continued funding. In this changed climate, nonprofits found themselves challenged to look beyond communication, cooperation, and coordination to build sustainable, long-term collaborative partnerships.
To address this funding “climate change,” five nonprofit, charitable agencies that provide a wide range of services to a various client groups, including children and their families, women, pre-teens, youth and adults in the Williams Lake area, began meeting in 2002 to explore new ways of working together. After considering a number of legal structures, including partnerships, corporations and another not-for-profit, they decided on a co-op model.
This case study describes how and why they chose this model, how they implemented it, and the results they have achieved to date. It will be of interest to other organizations that are looking for ways to collaborate, and to funders who want to encourage funded agencies to work together more effectively.
In early 2002, the executive directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Williams Lake and District (BGC), Canadian Mental Health Association – Cariboo Chilcotin Branch (CMHA), Cariboo Chilcotin Child Development Centre Association (CDC), Women’s Contact Society (WCS), and Williams Lake Association for Community Living (ACL) began meeting weekly to discuss how their organizations might work together to improve service delivery and cope with the challenges imposed by changes in government leadership and service contracts. The key external driving force behind this initiative was the need to respond to government, including directives to reduce the cost of service delivery without affecting service levels or the ability of agencies to respond to changing client needs. The key internal driving forces were the belief that the most effective way to manage significant funding reductions and service shifts was do so as a group and that effective and efficient solutions could be developed through collaboration rather than amalgamation.
Early meetings were informal and focused on sharing information, building relationships, and exploring possibilities for collaboration. They were guarded, cautious, and exploratory, but within a few months, the five executive directors had established a collaborative working relationship and identified the potential benefits of formalizing their relationship. By the end of the second year of working together, they had merged their organizations’ accounting services, several agencies co-located their service delivery, and the Central Interior Community Services Co-op (CICSC) was registered as a new independent organization.
Co-operatives are community organizations based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. They are autonomous associations of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprises. Co-op members believe in the ethical values of respect, honesty, openness, social responsibility, reciprocity, resourcefulness and caring for others.
The five original members chose the co-operative model for the following reasons:
- A co-op model aligned with the individual agencies’ values and principles
- Contribution to the success of a co-op is based on organizational capacity, which can be either tangible or intangible
- Ownership by the member agencies is through the purchase of shares
- Both risk and reward are shared
- Co-ops have a proven business model that can be used for social action
- Co-ops allow for an effective use of existing assets (e.g., cash, buildings, etc.) and of the resources of all member agencies (e.g., program expertise, accreditation status, staff members, etc.)
- Co-ops provide the opportunity to preserve valued community services and address long-standing community needs through joint action
- The autonomy and independence of individual co-op member agencies is recognized
- Co-ops improve operational functioning, including financial reporting, human resources management, technology, and service delivery
- Co-ops provide equity in decision-making: the cooperative rule is “one agency, one vote”
The mission of the Central Interior Community Services Co-op is to strengthen the response of member agencies to community social needs, and its vision is to provide community leadership in social development through a proactive approach to self sufficiency and service excellence.
It was stipulated that organizations who wished to become members of the co-op had to be focused on social services and had to have nonprofit, charitable status. Members were invited primarily based on existing or historical relationships of trust and on the existence of common values and a common service delivery philosophy. The original five participants held some informal veto power for excluding participants who might present a significant competitive challenge to building trust as the foundation for the partnership.
Careful attention was paid to issues such as fear, relational trust, decision-making, confidentiality, conflict resolution, conflicts of interest, board ethics, co-location, and communications. The Co-op developed inter-organizational protocols to address new opportunities fundraising and established an Integrated Management Committee (IMC). The IMC provides the mechanism whereby the five executive directors address the operational requirements of collaborative responses. It is the workhorse of the Co-op: it generates and responds to requests from the Co-op board and member agencies for funding models, work plans, research proposals, human resource management, project management and policy, and the development of procedures. The benefits of the Co-op include:
- co-location in a building owed by a member agency of the Co-op with leasehold improvements that were funded by member agency that later became long-term tenants
- improved technology (i.e., servers, cell phones, telephone systems, and technology savings through joint purchasing)
- greater success in securing funding in response to government’s request for proposals
- establishment of an integrated youth services team
- joint staff training ventures
- joint fundraising events
- two successful Labour Market Partnerships (LMP) proposals that resulted in the Co-op’s first strategic plan, a Co-op wide wage grid, a standard job description format and job classification system, and a single employee benefit plan for all non-union employees
- an integrated finance department that provides financial reporting, electronic payroll, account payable services to all members of the Co-op
- a Co-op occupational health and safety committee
- mechanisms that allow members to borrow internally from other member agencies for bridge financing and capital purchases
- joint purchases of office and meeting room equipment
Identifying why this collaboration works when so many others don’t is complicated. The five organizations that came together at the beginning believed that it was possible to work together without merging into a single organization or identity. Throughout the process, participants focused on sharing information about external market intelligence and internal business practices as a precursor to building trust and moving ahead with joint projects that shared the risk amongst the partners.
The community and organizational context, personal relationships, leadership approaches, and the tremendous vision and commitment, all contributed to the sense that the Co-op is the result of the right people being in the right place at the right time, and of those people then deciding to stick together and figure out how to make the relationship work for better or for worse. Other factors that contributed to success included:
- understanding the importance of due diligence, process, and the time required to develop comprehensive written protocols for collaborative partnership
- using existing collaborative partnership resources, including The Partnership Toolkit for Building and Sustaining Partnerships, prepared by the Collaboration Roundtable in the Spring of 2001, to identify and implement low-risk partnership agreements that shared risk and resources
- resolving operational issues and problems using a consensus decision-making process that drew on the resources, experience, and expertise of individual executive directors and that recognized that, together, the five executive directors were a ‘consummate’ executive director
- employing the five discovery or innovation skills: associating and connecting seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas from different fields; questioning the status quo; observing clients to gain insights about new ways to do things (through the integrated youth team); experimenting; and networking. The five executive directors did the work themselves and did not delegate innovation to a manager or operations coordinator.
- strengthening innovative thinking at weekly meetings by putting aside time to cultivate creative ideas and to ask ‘why’ and ‘why not’
- creating a stronger early warning system to identify potential successes and reduce the impact of mission drift in program development and implementation
We learned that mistrust has many causes, including not meeting an agreed-upon goal, loss of respect, competition for government contracts, increased turf wars and protectionism, and the creation of seemingly impenetrable barriers fortified by rules and practices that benefit one group over another. We also learned that trust can be harmed by deception and untrustworthy behavior and repaired by apologies, promises, and changes of behavior or attitude. We learned to be more candid with each other and to have the difficult conversations that deal with apologies, remorse, self-castigation, requests for forgiveness, and offers of restitution (e.g., “I’m sorry, I feel badly, I was an idiot, and I’ll pay”). Trust was and will continue to be the key ingredient that makes it possible for one agency to contribute to the value and richness of the Coop, while the Co-op enhances the individual strength and value of member agencies.
Because we saw the new role of community leadership as relational and having the capacity to influence, we:
- did not limit the partnership to the five original member agencies, but have strategically selected new partners and aligned this selection with our own organizations’ visions, missions
- sought role clarity and assigned specific portfolios based on each executive director’s skills, expertise, and strengths
- purposefully created relationships and focused on developing trust first and then on task or project completion
- addressed issues of conflict resolution, confidentiality, competition and decision-making by developing formal protocols
- included on the Co-op’s board of directors representatives from each member agency’s board of directors and its senior management team but gave each agency only one vote at the board table
- implemented a number of shared service projects that involved more than one agency (e.g., early childhood educators were seconded from one agency to work in another to meet a contract’s service delivery requirement for staff hours)
- ensured that deliberations were characterized by a diversity of opinion and encouraged constructive conflict
- were willing to be candid and to use both hard (economic, tangible outcomes, infrastructure capabilities) and soft (respect, reputation, values, cooperation) measures when deciding on a course of action
- understood the principle of reciprocity, i.e., that contributing to the partnership now would enhance the return to each individual agency later
- helped each other and shared ideas
- made strategic investments in growth, particularly in the purchase of a building for the Boys and Girls Club and bridge financing for CMHA’s BC Housing Project
- focused on creating a shared financial department to improve organizational performance
Emerging Themes and Insights
The Co-op’s budgeted revenues for 2011/12 are in excess of $7 million dollars, and it is seen as a significant employer in the community. It has increased the internal capacity of its members to react to external opportunities and internal organizational threats by expanding services and human resources capacity and by upgrading infrastructure, including physical plant, telephone, computer technologies, and financial reporting.
As the relationships within the Co-op have matured, new expectations of member agencies are emerging. We have had to rethink competition, contribution, and control. We have moved away from the more traditional ‘bunker mentality’ of the sector, in which all other agencies in the sector are seen as competitors and potential threats. Instead, we now see the community and other service providers as essential components of organizational renewal. By expanding the range of relationships and conversations, all of our business practices have improved. Shared successes in cost containment and integrating community youth services has given us the courage to have the more difficult conversations about service delivery.
We see collaboration as key to resiliency (i.e., “the capacity to experience massive changes and still maintain the integrity of original - resiliency is about how change and stability paradoxically work together” ) in rural economies. We can say with certainty that that status quo needs to be de-stabilized in order to release resources for new growth and leverage “unpredictable” opportunities.
We have recognized that our organizational interest is inescapably intertwined with the interests of others.
Being a member of the CICS Co-op has meant that everyone involved must think and act differently. For example:
- “Continuing collaboration between member agencies, empowering each of us to respond more effectively to community needs by utilizing integrative strategies” – Irene Willsie, Executive Director, Women’s Contact Society
- “Our values influence the services of each member agency, showing that quality and value do not have to come at the expense of honesty and social responsibility.” – Trevor Barnes, Executive Director, CMHA
- “The Co-op is not about making profits for shareholders, but creating value for our members. Our top priority is to provide the best possible services for our clients and to invest in the community where they live.” – Monica Johnson, Executive Director, Boys and Girls Club
- “The CICS Co-op has given social services in Williams Lake a unique character this is recognized province–wide and influences what the community stands for.” – Ian McLaughlin, Executive Director, Association for Community Living
As a founding member of the Central Interior Community Services Cooperative and Executive Director of the Child Development Centre, Nancy has been applying the core competencies of relational leadership, direction and strategy in a medium-sized organization.. Although her career has primarily been in the management and leadership of not for profits, her career includes teaching and workshop facilitation in strategic planning, governance, small business development and change management, and most recently early childhood development.
Nancy Gale has an insatiable appetite for new ideas and learning. Further, she believes that continuous learning and an unwavering faith in the ability of human nature to effect change through cooperation are essential predispositions for leading not for profits. Of equal importance to her is the need to do something with newly acquired information or knowledge consult, advise, teach, apply it to real life and more importantly share it with others.
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Description: Overview and Context
The Mobile Crisis Units serve the three major urban centres in Saskatchewan, covering approximately 75% of the province’s population. They are open 24 hours a day every day of the year and deal with requests for crisis assistance over the telephone, in their offices, or in the community, as appropriate. The crises to which the Units respond may involve families in distress, the prevention of child abuse and neglect, marriage and individual problems, and mental health crises, including suicide intervention and addictions. Half of all calls to the Units involve children under the age of 16 years. The Units also answer the toll-free problem-gambling helpline for the entire province.
The three Crisis Units respond to approximately 50,000 crisis calls per year and work with face to face with people—in their offices or out in the community, including in people’s homes—in 20% to 25% of cases. They work closely with other emergency services including police, fire, ambulance and hospital emergency departments.
The Mobile Crisis Units together employ a total of 40 full-time, 5 part-time, and 33 casual staff.
In 2005, the three Mobile Crisis Units operating in the province of Saskatchewan faced a number of challenges that had been emerging over the course of several years. These included:
- an increase in the volume of crisis intervention calls
- demands to broaden the units’ service parameters
- increased direct and indirect referrals to the Units as other agencies in the community reduce the number of clients they serve, refer them elsewhere, or list the local Mobile Crisis Unit on their after-hours message manager
- an absence of funding increases to meet these service requirements
- an increasing inability to compete with similar service agencies in key areas of staff recruitment and retention, and
- funding and staffing issues arising from years of inadequate funding
Together, these challenges created a crisis for the Mobile Crisis Units.
Faced with this situation, the Mobile Crisis Units came together to document and quantify the extent of their human resources challenges so that they could present a case to funders. This case study will be of interest to other organizations that have seen similar staffing issues arise from increasing service pressures without concomitant increases in funding. It will also be of interest to governments and other funders who want to ensure adequate staffing levels in human services.
In response to the challenges the Mobile Crisis Units faced, the Units re-established a Provincial Crisis Coalition to collaborate on solutions and to allow them to speak with one voice as they addressed their common challenges. Coalition members included board, management, and staff representatives. In May 2006, the coalition submitted a Human Resources (HR) Plan to the crisis units’ core funder, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services’ Division for Community Resources. This document outlined the three units’ common human resources issues. The Ministry, although open to the document’s conclusions, requested a second, professional perspective. Charlotte Rochon of Rochon Associated Human Resources Management Consulting Inc. was engaged as a consultant to work with the Coalition to complete an addendum to the HR Plan that would include an analysis of, and recommendations to address, critical recruitment, retention, and succession planning issues common to the three crisis units. This work included an objective assessment of the Crisis Worker and Team Leader positions, which the coalition viewed as unique and under-valued. A human resources operational review and a review of service agreements between the province and the crisis units were later added to the consultant’s work in response to circumstances.
The initial steps taken by the coalition included the following:
- A compensation survey was designed and distributed to organizations that the coalition identified as having positions similar to those of its Crisis Workers and Team Leaders. This survey gathered information about financial and non-financial compensation and about the roles and responsibilities of human services positions that the coalition deemed comparable to that of Crisis Worker.
- A human resources (HR) operational review was undertaken by the consultant. This review provided concrete information with respect to the roles and responsibilities of the Crisis Worker position and provided the opportunity to explore recruitment and retention issues related to the position.
- The three units’ service agreements with its key provincial funder were reviewed to assess whether and/or to what extent funding inequities might exist.
Significant findings emerged during this initiative:
- The Crisis Worker position—the core position within the Units representing by far the largest number of employees—was compared to the positions of the human services professionals (for example, child protection workers and mental health workers) with whom crisis workers routinely interact and was demonstrated to be professional in nature, based on job evaluation factors such as scope of responsibilities, education and experience, complexity, planning, etc.
- Wages and pensions for Crisis Workers had not kept pace with the wages and pensions of similar professionals in the human services sector.
- The Mobile Crisis Units, which provide service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, were under-resourced. This led to an uncommonly high use of casuals and exacerbated recruitment and retention problems. These problems were expected to increase over time as long-serving employees retired.
- Not only were there wage inequities in comparison to comparable jobs within the human services sector, but there were also inequities among the three Mobile Crisis Units for identical jobs. This was rooted in their independent evolution over the years.
- The specifics of the service agreements between each of the three Units and their key funder varied sufficiently to result in funding inequities, despite the acknowledgment that all Units deserved equal treatment. For example, some budget lines in one agreement were not included in the other agreements, and levels of funding for some comparable budget items were uneven.
The coalition based its discussions with the provincial funder on the consultant’s final report outlining these findings and related recommendations. As a result of the negotiations, the largest provincial funder agreed to provide significant one-time and on-going funding to allow the three Mobile Crisis Units to implement the report’s recommendations.
The Mobile Crisis Units learned invaluable lessons in addressing the challenges they had identified:
- Coalitions need leaders who will coordinate and create urgency around the work, and who can act as effective spokespersons. In this case, individual members of the Coalition volunteered to lead various aspects of the initiative, from acting as the key contact for the consultant to coordinating specific activities. Rita Field of Saskatoon played a particularly key role in this manner.
- The coalition drew on successful examples of similar initiatives. Specifically, the Saskatchewan Association of Rehabilitation Centers paved the way with its 2004 Human Resources Plan. It demonstrated that working openly and cooperatively with funders and providing them with third-party, professional analysis and recommendations builds the relationship needed to allow community-based organizations and funders to find mutually beneficial solutions to issues.
- Hiring a human resources professional provided the coalition with the specialized knowledge it needed to proceed with its work and ensured that findings were perceived by the funder as objective and credible.
- Building support in the broader community, in the form of support letters and active intervention from key community and service organization representatives at strategic events, was essential in convincing funders of the Mobile Crisis Units’ value in the community.
- The use of competency matrices to map out the breadth and depth of knowledge and skills required by Crisis Workers proved an effective approach to making the case that these positions were comparable to other professional human services positions.
Emerging Themes and Insights
- The decision by the three Mobile Crisis Units to re-establish the Provincial Crisis Coalition and work collaboratively to address their common issues and present a common front for the funder was a key factor in their success. In particular, this approach supported a broad range of perspectives and stories that enriched all involved in the initiative.
- Community-based organizations (grow) develop deep roots in their local communities and are inevitably shaped by them. As such, they are individually unique and well positioned to serve those communities. The coalition structure allowed sufficient flexibility for each unit to retain its individuality while working to address common issues.
- Membership in the United Way provided the funder with an indicator of the Coalition’s credibility, thanks to the United Way’s well-perceived approval and accountability processes, and local United Way representatives provided support and strategic counsel for Steering Committee members at important phases in the initiative.
- Initiatives such as this one require considerable effort and resources. It is important to maintain and build on the positive results achieved including improved relations with funders.
Impact on the Community
The funding that the three Mobile Crisis Units received as a result of this initiative had both immediate and longer term impact on their ability to recruit new staff and retain already existing staff. It also helped the Units to provide improved pension coverage for all staff, wages reflective of the professional nature of their employees’ responsibilities and effective training. This resulted in improved continuity and accessibility of services to the communities where the crisis units are located.
The Ministry of Social Services as well as the police and health and mental health, social services and other human services professionals gained a better appreciation of the breadth, depth, and professionalism of crisis unit services and staff. This supported improved working relations and increased effectiveness in the many cases where these various people work together.
This increased appreciation by their human services colleagues raised the self-esteem of all crisis unit workers and boosted their confidence in their ability to contribute meaningfully to the sector as a whole.
The Provincial Crisis Coalition continues its work and funding remains at a sustainable level. This ensures that rather than having to deal with issues stemming from being chronically under-resourced, the three Mobile Crisis Units can focus on providing the full range of crisis intervention services their communities count on.
About the Author
This case study was written by Charlotte Rochon, who was selected by the Saskatchewan Coalition of Mobile Crisis Units to work with them on the initiative described because of her broad experience in the nonprofit sector as well as her credentials as a human resources professional. Charlotte received input from the executive directors of the three Mobile Crisis Units prior to writing and during the editing stage of this case study. Two of the executive directors, Rita Field in Saskatoon and Al Reis in Prince Albert, were active participants throughout the initiative and provided feedback from that perspective. The third, Glenda Jenkins in Regina, provided the perspective of a Unit leader working with the results of the initiative. The combination of their views ensured a balanced account of this successful venture.
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Description: Overview and Context
Reena is a non-profit organization based in York Region and Toronto, Ontario, with a primary function of providing community-based supports to personswith a developmental disability. In Canada, these individuals belong in the mainstream of society, and many people with developmental disabilities now live in the community. An important move toward integration in Ontario happened in 2009 with the closing of all institutions that had been specifically designed for individuals with developmental disabilities but that had resulted in segregating them from others. Advocacy efforts across the country are working toward equal rights and access to services for these individuals, including inclusive education efforts and employment opportunities and ensuring that all people can participate fully in the community.
In 1973, when Reena was founded, there were no Jewish community-based organizations offering residential supports to persons with a developmental disability in Toronto. To fill this void, Jewish families who wanted to ensure that their family members would have a place to live within the community where they could practice and adhere to the values of their faith came together. Through the hard work and perseverance of the founding families, Reena’s president and chief executive officer Sandy Keshen, and the late Rabbi Joseph Kelman, Reena was born. Reena’s Mission statement is a perfect example of the value placed on partnerships:
Reena will enable people with developmental disabilities to realize their full potential by forming lifelong partnerships with individuals and their families within a framework of Jewish culture and values.
Reena provides services to people of all faith and cultural backgrounds and has done so since the beginning. It is currently supporting over 300 individuals within its system, and over 1000 individuals access its services through respite, outreach, and other programs. With over 30 residential settings and approximately 60 persons residing in its Supported Independent Living (S.I.L.) system, it became clear that Reena would need to focus on developing a plan to ensure consistent supports. Reena was growing at a rapid pace, and its primary goal was and continues to be quality service delivery. This begins with a professional workforce and committed, dedicated employees who recognize the value in their role. A committed workforce means greater retention, resulting in less disruption to the lives of people with developmental disabilities.
Reena has become well known for its training, its dedicated Learning and Development Department, and a portfolio of over 30 trainings and workshops. It trains not only its own employees but also those of many other agencies and has been called upon by other community agencies to take the lead in sector-wide initiatives. For example, in the 2003 Non-Violent Crisis Intervention Crisis Prevention project, Reena took on the administration and coordination of training for almost 2500 developmental services employees from every residential service transfer payment agency in Toronto. Over 201 days, 114 courses were held at 16 different venues and 53 new trainers were trained for the sector. Karen Meehan, Ontario’s Community Programs Manager Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS), noted that the success of this program was due to effective communication and coordination and would not have been possible without the expertise of Reena’s Learning and Development Department. Reena’s website (www.reena.org) outlines its training partnerships and course offerings.
This case study describes Reena’s Developmental Disabilities Counsellor Program – a Reena and George Brown College partnership aimed at recruitment to and retention in our sector. The program grew out of a specific need. The case study will be of interest to other organizations wishing to develop specialized training programs that will attract and help to retain a workforce that has the specific skills to meet the needs of the people it serves.
Reena, and other agencies that had begun in the early 1970s, were established at a time when the developmental services sector was a relatively new entrant into providing community-based supports. The move toward deinstitutionalization was just beginning. Development services agencies were small and were linked to and supported by their communities. Some community colleges offered Developmental Service Worker (DSW) programs that did placements with agencies and provided them with employees. But as agencies grew, the community colleges did not keep pace, especially in urban areas where growth was more rapid and agency staffing needs were greater. This was compounded by the fact that the legislation in Ontario does not indicate a particular credential for those working in the field. This meant that agencies hired generalists and had to provide them with an intense training program. This was and is very costly and, for many agencies, not practical. There was also a need for retraining over time.
Early in 2000, Reena began to investigate a problem that all agencies were noticing – the chronic shortage of qualified workers in the developmental services sector. Community colleges offering the DSW diploma were unable to meet the demands of the sector because of low enrolment in DSW programs. At the time, it was estimated that there were approximately 250 DSW graduates in all of Ontario. This clearly would not meet the needs of all of the developmental services agencies in Ontario. Replacement agency staff had backgrounds in Personal Support Worker (PSW) programs; however, this training was not sufficient for the developmental services sector as it was not specialized and did not meet the needs of the people that the sector supports.
It was as a result of the shortage of skilled workers and of training and retraining programs that Reena’s Learning and Development Department became home to the Developmental Disabilities Counsellor Program (DDC), a Reena and George Brown College partnership. The DDC partnership includes two other developmental service providers, Kerry’s Place Autism Services and Montage Support Services Toronto.
Like the Ontario Human Resources Strategy, which aims to develop a professional workforce through building competencies, recruitment, and retention, the DDC would focus on developing a well-trained, professional workforce so that a job in the developmental services sector would become a career.
With the support of Reena’s board of directors, a sub-committee was convened which included members from Reena’s Learning and Development Department, educators from Ontario colleges, special needs educators, district school boards, family members of persons with developmental disabilities, and a Ministry of Education representative. The goal of the committee was to develop a new strategy to create qualified frontline workers for this field by educating and retaining motivated personnel. Ultimately, this would have a positive impact on the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities by enhancing personal outcomes through decreased turnover and improved, consistent care.
The sub-committee began its work by looking at best practices and soon discovered that there was no other program at any agency-based level in Ontario like the one it envisioned. Significant research went into the design and development of the program. Training modules were developed from the existing 26 courses that Reena offered at the time. In planning the practicum components of the program, the committee decided that it was important to include an evaluative-measurable process. At the time of planning, Reena’s Learning and Development Department had over 15 years of experience in course development and delivery, with training offered both internally to Reena’s staff and externally to other organizations. Additionally, Reena was experienced in customizing training for other agencies. It had a strong team of in-house instructors who could be relied upon during the delivery phase of this program. Reena uses a “train-the-trainer” model, which is a mentoring approach to training new instructors.
The resulting Developmental Disabilities Counsellor Certificate Program is a four-month job-training program with full-time study in 26 topic areas covering six modules: Introduction to Developmental Sector, Field Placement, Life Planning, Intervention Strategies, Occupational Health and Safety, and Pharmacology and Medical Supports. There is a placement component that consists of 72-hours of practicum placement in which students are placed in organizations within the partnership and rotate between three different support models in order to gain insight into various levels of support. DDC Students are also required to complete 192 hours of block placement in one set location, during which they integrate into a team setting. The DDC program placement experience allows for a total of 264 hours of hands-on, practical experience in the sector. A rigorous evaluation process is administered in the academic and placement portion of the program. Students enrolled in the program are guaranteed a job interview upon successful completion of all three areas: academics, practicum, and block placement. They are also evaluated on professional conduct. The expectations for this are embedded in the student contract. During both the academic and placement stages, students receive intensive training, hands-on experience, and thorough instructive supervision.
In consultation with the sub-committee, Reena launched the first offering of this program in 2003. It was initially named “Learn and Earn,” allowing students to earn money while they were in the program, and was piloted for the first year solely by Reena. Because of its success and thanks to a recommendation by the Ministry representative who sat on the planning committee, Reena began to partner with George Brown College in 2004. The program’s name was changed to the Developmental Disabilities Counsellor (DDC) Certificate Program. In 2006, Reena began partnering with other developmental service agencies.
The quality of the DDC program has improved over time through partnershipsand collaborative approaches and with the help of on-going student feedback captured through course-by-course evaluations. As well, at the conclusion of each program, students participate in a George Brown College focus group. In 2009, the decision was made to change the “Learn and Earn” component of the program from a paid placement to an unpaid block placement. Having students make this investment in their education and training has brought about greater commitment and success toward their future careers in the sector. Screening is also much more intensive, as Reena uses the Behaviour Based Interviewing Techniques that are recommended for the developmental disabilities sector through the HR Strategies, Core Competencies initiative.
Lessons Learned and Insights
Several factors have contributed to the program’s success.
First, all partners are completely committed to the goals and process. This included a commitment of time, and investment in the students, and the appointment of agency leads who participate in planning and outcomes for students. For example, the preceptors from each organization receive intensive training by Reena to ensure that all students are supported in their learning and training, and the highly qualified instructors areall approved by George Brown College. As well, three Reena Learning and Development Supervisors provide the continuity for students: they audit and monitor students from the intake through to the final interview process, manage all aspects of each student’s success, and are the link between partners ensuring on-going and open communication. The DDC program has been a true collaborative.
Second, Reena’s commitment to the DDC program is based on a commitment to the people it supports. The end goal for this partnership is to ensure quality services by providing quality training to new sector employees. The DDC program structure and partnership with George Brown College and the relationship with Georgia Quartaro, Vice President of Academics, is built on mutual respect and a mutually shared vision for people with developmental disabilities. The college has been instrumental in guiding the initiative by approving the curriculum and adding extra value to the program, thereby helping to place the program on the map as quality training and an educational option that is committed to high standards.
Third, Reena has shared many wonderful DDC partnerships with other community agencies in the sector. Each of these relationships has helped us to evolve. Partnerships build capacity for the sector. They also come with challenges because each organization is unique with its own identity. Mutual respect and a high level of communication are key components in a true and sustainable partnership. Reena has been successful in this partnership and greatly values the commitment of Kerry’s Place Autism Services – Regional Director Joe Persaud and his staff team -- and Montage Support Services – Director of Services Susan McCart and her team.
The DDC program is intensive and affordable. Applicants are carefully screened and oriented. Placements are arranged, adding value and commitment and enhancing each student’s experience. Arranged placements allow for a better-fit and greater ability to monitor student success. Partners’ values are taught and the program itself is treated like a “four-month job interview” in which partners are potential employers. As each student is a potential employee, students are selected through an intensive process and go through several screenings before a decision is made to offer a space in the program.
The DDC program is based on a three-pronged approach to success: academic, practicum placement,and block placement. DDC students will not move on in the program unless they are successful in each area, in the order noted. Progress is evaluated weekly by supervisors and preceptors. As well, there is a variety of testing components during the academic portion of the program. The DDC program offers opportunities to those who wish to make a career choice, want to re-enter the workforce, are changing careers, or are newcomers to the field.
The DDC program has boosted the number of trained employees in the developmental services sector. The program has a 90% employment success rate . Successful graduates are interviewed for part-time positions They enter the sector well trained and with Ministry-required training and certification. Students come out of the program with experience, a commitment to Person-Centred Planning, strong teamwork orientation, and with enthusiasm and energy to begin their careers in the field. To date we have graduated 249 students from the DDC Program, which translates into 249 trained and committed staff to our sector. Several graduates are now in supervisory and other senior positions with one of the three partners.
The DDC program has increased employee retention. We studied rates of retention among DDC certificate holders and those without DDC certificates. The statistics clearly identify that overtime there is greater retention among DDC certificate holders; in other word, employees who are well trained and who understand the value of their role and position are more likely to stay in the field.
Reena has been successful in creating sustainable partnerships because of the committed leadership of its President and Chief Executive Officer Sandy Keshen, a visionary and strategic thinker. Sandy is the heart of our agency, a leader with one goal in mind -- to provide the very best supports for people with developmental disabilities. As well, Executive Director Sandy Stemp is a critical thinker, driven by passion and committed to sustaining the same high quality service delivery as her mentor Sandy Keshen.
About the Author
Stacey Donaghy is the Manager of Reena’s Learning & Development Department. She has been with Reena for close to 21 years and wonders if telling you this ages her. Stacey’s background and education include Social Services-Gerontology, Palliative Care and Adult Education, as well as many courses and training progams related to the Developmental Services Sector. She believes in the on-going pursuit of learning and developing competencies. In her spare time, she is a fiction writer and Literary Intern.
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“To be successful, this supportive housing and homelessness services sector strategy requires collective and coordinated action by the continuum of sector stakeholders, as all ultimately have a responsibility for and to the sector’s current and future workforce and the continuum of individuals and families who avail of its services.”
- IAS Phase 2 Report
Description: Overview and Context
Historically, housing and services for the homeless in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) were delivered by government. In recent years, however, this has changed. Responsibility has largely shifted to the community-based supportive housing and homelessness services sector, which delivers a wide range of programs and services that include outreach, emergency shelters, transitional supports, and a variety of other services provided through a range of housing models. This sector helps individuals and families living on the street, the hidden homeless (e.g., people living in unsafe housing), those at risk of homelessness, individuals who require support to maintain their housing, and/or those who make use of shelters in times of crisis.
The focus on serving clients, which is uppermost in the minds of both funding partners and groups delivering housing services, has often meant that the needs of service workers in the supportive housing and homelessness services sector was relegated to the back burner. But increasing difficulties in recruiting and retaining workers in the sector, and issues relating to the training of these workers, led to a realization that we need to understand the factors that contribute to maintaining a workforce that is knowledgeable about housing issues and clients and skilled in serving these clients.
In general, it was felt by those in the sector that this sector’s workforce was among the lowest paid and least-resourced in the broader nonprofit sector and that a collaborative partnership with government was needed to boost recruitment and retention.
To that end, in May 2008, the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing & Homelessness Network (NLHHN), in partnership with the Transition House Association of Newfoundland & Labrador (THANL), received funding through the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Market Development Agreement to help develop a comprehensive workforce recruitment and retention strategy for the province’s supportive housing and homelessness services sector. An Industrial Adjustment Services Committee on NL’s Supportive Housing and Homelessness Services Sector (the IAS Committee) was established to lead this initiative. The committee consists of representatives from the sector’s diverse stakeholder groups. Over a three-year span, the IAS Committee undertook two significant research projects designed to identify how to address the recruitment and retention issues facing this sector. This case study describes the work of the IAS Committee to date, and will be of interest to those in the nonprofit sector who are faced with finding ways to collaborate with government and with others in the sector to boost workforce skills. It will also be of interest to governments that work with the sector to deliver services and want to ensure that these services are provided by qualified staff without costly turnover.
The IAS Committee began by hiring an external consultant who assumed the position of chair and managed the project. Research in Phase 1 resulted in the April 2009 Report of the examination of recruitment and retention issues in the supportive housing and homelessness services sector in Newfoundland and Labrador, which detailed a series of strategic directions for the sector. These included a continued focus on issues related to recruiting and retaining relief workers, such as building government’s awareness of the role of the sector; exploring how to achieve more consistency in funding and in job descriptions, classifications, and wage rates across the sector; and identifying any changing staffing requirements and new positions that would provide employees with more lateral and upward mobility.
The following strategic directions were chosen as the focus of the Phase 2 IAS research project, which took place in 2010:
- Identification of funding to develop a comprehensive model for training and professional development tailored to the needs of the sector
- Development of a communications strategy to raise the positive profile of the housing and homelessness sector
- Development of a career awareness module on the housing and homelessness sector for inclusion in NL’s high school Career Development 2201 course
Informing a training and development model. Phase 2 research identified the need to focus on entry level-training. Although new entrants to the sector bring passion and interest to their jobs, most organizations consulted felt that these new recruits are generally not well prepared for the work. There is no entry-level training designed specifically for this sector. Indeed, the lack of a post-secondary program in the province tailored to those interested in the housing and homelessness sector was seen as a key gap that puts the onus on organizations themselves to provide extensive on-the-job training to new employees.
Further, on-going service expansions (and growing and shifting needs among the client population) have placed new burdens on front-line service delivery workers. As well, the absence of sufficient and targeted professional development that allows workers to gain the skills they need makes it more difficult for organizations to retain workers.
The research findings suggested that a sector-wide effort to develop a professional development program would be the most effective approach and that this should include a distance-education model in order to reach more workers throughout the province. Any increase in professional development offerings would have to be accompanied by additional funding for organizations to send workers to training and to cover their duties while they are away. This is particularly important because research has indicated that less than one percent of the total annual budgets of organizations in the homelessness sector is allocated to professional development.
In mid-January 2010, during the Phase 2 research, the City of St. John’s was working with federal, provincial, community-based and private sector partners to develop new affordable housing and related services on a parcel of land provided by the Government of Canada within a 65-acre redevelopment. Within the design of its building, the City was prepared to incorporate an accessible grade-level office/commercial space for a not-for-profit enterprise in support of housing and homelessness. The IAS Committee undertook to secure the necessary capital funding of $1-million to create this space for NLHHN. In additional to offices and the social enterprise, it will contain a training centre.
Professional communications strategy. A second and concurrent initiative was development of a communications strategy and related materials. The IAS Committee engaged a professional media consultant, Upstream Marketing, to develop a retention and recruitment tool kit, which includes a promotional poster, a DVD, an information brochure, and a media strategy focused on obtaining positive coverage of the sector. The theme chosen for this strategy was “Careers That Change Lives.”
Development of lesson plans for the NL high school curriculum. The final component of the project was the development of a housing and homelessness sector resource information kit for inclusion in the NL provincial high school Career Development course. However, a meeting with the Department of Education indicated that there were sufficient course resource materials and that the Department was not looking for additional resources at that time. An alternative was presented – to develop a course module for a pilot program, Ethics and Social Justice 2106, that was being implemented for the 2009-2010 school year. Subsequently, lesson plans were developed that broadly focused on increasing student awareness of the housing and homelessness sector and the issues that it addresses and of giving students a better understanding of the root causes of homelessness and of people who are at risk of becoming homeless. NLHHN remains in discussion with the Department on how to implement the material in Ethics and Social Justice course.
The success of the IAS Committee and our lengthy record of accomplishments are partly due to the following:
- We clarified the role of each stakeholder at the outset (e.g., ex-officios, decision makers, observers) and set out clear decision making processes
- We included representatives of the broader voluntary and non-profit sector (e.g., organizations focused on alleviating poverty or addressing complex needs) in order to build the relationships needed to both highlight the role and value of the housing and homelessness sector and support the sector’s efforts
- We ensured clear communications between and among all committee members throughout the process, which was not always easy due to the number of partners and vastness of the province
- We remained focused on the reason for coming together – i.e., to guide and strengthen recruitment and retention practices, efforts, and initiatives
- We strove to engage rural and urban members equally so that the recommendations coming forward were truly reflective of provincial needs
- We realized that accurate data is required to help inform our sector’s training and professional needs
- The IAS committee was guided, but not constrained, by its terms of reference so that it was able to capitalize on emerging opportunities (e.g., funding, new partnerships, and/or new initiatives) such as the new training centre
Emerging Themes and Insights
Government is seeking the sector’s input on its human resources needs and is interested in investing in training that will meet these needs. Recent evidence of this support is a decision by the NL government’s Supportive Living Community Partnerships Program to contract with NLLHN to co-ordinate an intensive training package for emergency shelters and housing support services workers.
It has become increasingly clear during the past three years and as we continue our work through the NLHHN and the Regional Community Advisory Boards (CABS) that collaboration is the core and the critical component for advancing any initiative in the housing and homelessness sector. The partnership must be deep and wide, with all participants understanding that they should “leave their organizational hats at the door.” The focus must always be on those for whom the services are designed and delivered.
Recruitment and retention of employees in the housing and homelessness sector depends to a large degree on leadership within organizations and in the sector and on further recognition of employees’ need for support. This could take the form of training and professional development, access to counselling and employee assistance personnel, support to focus on self-care, and having “the ear” of those in leadership positions. More broadly, government needs to recognize that professional development for the sector is central to effective and sustainable service provision and quality of service. Additional investment is required.
As well, succession planning is critical to the sustainability of services, organizations, and the sector itself. To date, this has not been an area of focus, but lack of attention to this issue could result in an interruption or decline in services, a weakening of sector organizations, and/or fractures in the sector itself.
The sector is always asked to demonstrate its effectiveness. Without sufficient resources dedicated to appropriate training and quality evaluation (including quantitative and qualitative measures) founded on reliable data, this is and will remain a significant challenge.
The efforts of the IAS Committee have resulted in the following:
- An enhanced profile and understanding of, as well as respect for, the housing and homelessness sector within government and the community
- Increased funding for infrastructure and services within the housing and homelessness sector
- Increased attention to supporting existing housing and homelessness staff – e.g., investments in training and professional development, including provision of replacement costs for staff when attending training. This will be further enhanced by creation of the training and professional development centre
- Increased opportunities for growth of the sector across the province because of the efforts of the IAS Committee supported by the NLHHN. In recent years, there has been a growth in community advisory boards on homelessness in the province and increased investments in community capacity building
- In partnering with a private marketing consultant in creating communications material, we have developed a strong ally that understands and supports this sector. Through this relationship we have benefited from pro bono work and have had support from the firm’s private sector clients who see value in investing in the housing and homelessness sector far beyond “charitable giving”
- Collaboration between and among housing and homelessness sector organizations, resulting in increasing opportunities to demonstrate to government the economic return on its investments in the sector
- Legitimization of the housing and homelessness sector as a “real and true” integral component of the voluntary sector continuum
Further evidence of the value and impacts of this process is provided by the following statements by key players in the IAS project:
“A collaborative, cross-departmental, cross-sectoral approach to professional development is the key to encouraging cost effective coordination of evidence-informed practices and high quality of services responsive to client’s ever changing needs. Unfortunately, this type of community development work is time intensive and few organizations have the capacity to take the lead in making this happen.” Kimberly Yetman Dawson, Director, NLHHN
“The process of developing a labour market strategy for NL’s supportive housing and homelessness services sub-sector was rewarding in many ways. It brought many people and partners together from across the province to better understand our sector’s essential skills, to plan to address its future labour market needs – including training and professional development needs – and to develop new ways to recruit and retain people as part of our workforce. In short, it answered our questions and gave us practical solutions. I think the process we used is transferrable and could easily be adapted to other sectors and other parts of Canada.” - Bruce Pearce, Community Development Worker
IAS’s research projects have provided further evidence of the collaborative and cooperative relationships and processes on which the supportive housing and homelessness services sector is founded. The IAS Working Group, comprising both government and community partners, has undertaken activities and initiatives that will help to address the tremendous human resources and labour market challenges facing this sector. This in turn will contribute to the on-going development of a strong, cohesive, highly skilled, and diverse workforce in the supportive housing and homelessness services sector. This is critical to addressing the many challenges faced by individuals and families struggling with housing issues.
There is still significant work to be done. The training and professional development coordination model needs to be put into practice. A critical element of this will be finding opportunities to collaborate with the broader voluntary and non-profit sector and with government agencies, departments, and divisions. This will ensure that we can provide a suite of relevant training, access training space and trainers, and have opportunity to meet the range of on-going professional development needs identified by IAS research.
We are working closely with the City of St. John’s to develop a training centre and have been successful in receiving funding from NL Housing Corporation, the City of St. John’s, and the Government of Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy. We will soon be making application to NL Housing for an additional $200,000, which will complete the project’s funding requirements. Architectural drawings have been approved and excavation has begun on the site.
We are currently in the final stages of delivering a co-ordinated, provincially funded, one-time intensive training project for emergency shelters and housing support workers. We see this as a first fundamental step in helping to meet the current existing training needs of the sector.
We plan to continue our negotiations with the Department of Education with the goal of including a module on the housing and homelessness sector in the high school curriculum. In the meantime, we are distributing the Careers that Change Lives tool kit and making presentations to high school and post-secondary students.
We will continue to share lessons learned, effective practices, and key ways of engaging government partners and have taken advantage of the opportunity to do just that by making presentations at national annual conferences of organizations such as Canadian Housing Renewal Association and Imagine Canada.
The key messaging developed to help inform our Careers That Change Lives marketing material was truly insightful as it clearly indicated that those working in this sector may not be paid well, may not have job security, or may face stress, but they are nevertheless passionate about making a difference and helping to change lives.
“It is rewarding helping people find homes, find jobs, and live healthy lives. It trumps any money making venture. Every day is something new.” - Housing Development Worker
About the Author
Kimberly Yetman Dawson is Director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and Homelessness Network (www.nlhhn.org). She holds a Bachelors Degree in Communications with a background in marketing and over 20 years’ community development experience working with nonprofits and various levels of government. She was Executive Director of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness and sat on the SEDI board. Kimberly is a current board member of the Canadian Evaluation Society, NL Chapter, The Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Homelessness, NL Statistics Agency’s Affordable Housing Committee, and HR Council’s Building Cohesion Project. She is passionate about helping vulnerable people and working collaboratively to end homelessness in Newfoundland and Labrador. Kimberly was born in Grand Falls–Windsor but spent most of her life in Ontario. She is happy to back home on The Rock where she belongs.
THANL includes transition houses across the province: Nain (Nain Transition House), Happy Valley-Goose Bay (Libra House), Labrador City (Hope Haven), Corner Brook (Corner Brook Transition House), Gander (Cara House), Marystown (Grace Sparkes House) and St. John’s (Iris Kirby House). Further information is available from http://www.thanl.org/.
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Description: Overview and Context
The Community Development Fund (CDF) was a federal initiative created in 2008 to provide funds to the provinces and territories for the purpose of enhancing sustainable prosperity in four strategic areas: economic and trade diversification; improved productivity, innovation, and training; community transition plans; and adjustment challenges for workers. In Nova Scotia, the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism administered $34.9 million in CDF monies over a three-year period beginning in April 2008 and ending in March 2011.
In April 2011, the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education applied f++++++or and was granted $800,000 of remaining CDF funds to create the Voluntary Sector Professional Capacity Trust in order to address the challenges of developing and managing human resources within the non-profit and voluntary sector.
In Nova Scotia, this sector employs more than 36,000 people in organizations with staff that range in size from one person to dozens of people; most organizations, however, have 10 or fewer paid staff. The educational level of the Nova Scotia workforce in the non-profit sector is high compared to the national picture, but the salary levels are markedly lower.
The human resources (HR) challenges within Nova Scotia non-profit organizations are myriad: recruitment and retention difficulties are extensive; HR policies and practices tend to lack clarity and are often implemented inconsistently; and HR management duties are frequently assigned to a staff member (for example, an executive director) whose primary function lies elsewhere and who often has not had specialized HR training. The formation of the Voluntary Sector Professional Capacity Trust represented an opportunity to tackle these issues.
The Voluntary Sector Professional Capacity Trust was managed by a seven-member board of trustees drawn from across the province. The board was responsible for all decisions related to the administration of the Trust. It disseminated a call for Expressions of Interest, seeking projects in three areas of interest: analysis of training and learning needs, training in human resource management policy, and development of sector capacity. The board prepared guidelines based on the Trust’s operating principles and including applicant eligibility, selection criteria, and timelines. Trustees reviewed 106 submitted applications and approved 43 projects with grants that ranged from $2,500 to $77,000, for a total of approximately $785,000. The remaining $15,000 was used to cover the audit and related expenses.
Three projects that had been awarded grants from the Voluntary Sector Professional Capacity Trust were selected for inclusion in this case study. These three projects, led by YMCAs of Nova Scotia, Prior Learning Centre, and Avalon Centre, are described in the pages below.
The life-span of the Voluntary Sector Professional Capacity Trust, from April 2011 to April 2012, was short; and the timeline for projects funded by the Trust was tight. The deadline for submitting an Expression of Interest was May 31, 2011; the approval process was finalized by July 8, 2011; and the projects had an anticipated completion date of March 31, 2012.
The trustees undertook a careful review of the applications and provided feedback to applicants, sometimes with follow-up questions and requests for additional information. This step helped to fine-tune the projects. Nevertheless, the trustees felt that more lead time would have been useful to promote the Trust, identify potential projects, and develop innovative ideas and partnerships. Applicants were enthusiastic about the opportunity for partnerships, but the tight schedule did not allow for time to develop new partnerships. The projects were not ethnically diverse.
Applicants to the Trust were informed that submissions should be succinct and brief (a maximum of two pages). Busy administrators of non-profit organizations who are invariably juggling multiple demands appreciated this; they felt that it reflected the Trust’s awareness of the constraints and time pressures faced by non-profit organizations.
Two of the three projects described in this case study required short extensions. The flexibility that was demonstrated by the Trust in approving these extensions was appreciated and was seen, once again, as reflecting the Trust’s “real-world” perspective on non-profit organizations.
Emerging Themes and Insights
The value of professional development and capacity-building to non-profit organizations was reinforced as a result of the Trust initiative. The purpose of the Trust was to allow non-profit organizations to build on their organizational structures and to share their capacities with other partners in order to advance capacity across the province. While the trustees were pleased with the results, they recognized that the need continues to be immense.
Impacts for the Community and Sub-Sector
A learning summit was held on May 14, 2012, which was attended by more than 100 individuals representing a wide range of non-profit and voluntary organizations from across the province. Participants included representatives from organizations that had received Trust funds as well as from those that had not. The event provided an opportunity to discuss the challenges of HR management within the sector and helped to expand and maximize the impact of the Trust.
The Voluntary Sector Professional Capacity Trust stipulated that all learning materials, curricula, and methodologies developed through the 43 projects funded by the Trust will remain in the public domain. This policy, like the learning summit, is designed to expand and maximize the Trust’s impact.
Three projects that had been awarded grants from the Voluntary Sector Professional Capacity Trust were selected for inclusion in this case study. These three projects, led by YMCAs of Nova Scotia, Prior Learning Centre, and Avalon Centre, are described below.
Project # 1: YMCAs of Nova Scotia
The participants used peer leadership and consensus decision-making to carry out the project. The steps they undertook were as follows:
The six YMCAs developed the capacity to work together on a concrete project that benefited all equally and that would have been cost-prohibitive for each one individually. The project provided the YMCAs with the opportunity to develop working arrangements that were collaborative, respectful, and focused. Each senior manager took on different leadership roles, as needed. The project’s capacity to draw on vast collective experiences, knowledge, and perspectives resulted in an end product that was high-calibre. Despite differences in opinion in some key areas, everyone involved in the project supported the end product.
However, the partners were able to develop an alternative plan. They requested assistance from YMCA colleagues in Quebec, who agreed to make their senior HR VP available to help with completing the work. The over-all result was that it was necessary for the Nova Scotia partners to assume greater responsibility for the project. While not ideal, this solution overcame the crisis, and the experience provided further evidence of the importance of partnerships, networking, and innovative problem-solving.
Emerging Themes and Insights
As the project approached its completion date, it became apparent that additional time was necessary to finalize the policy and tools, present the materials to the individual boards of directors, and develop an analysis of the financial implications. The roll-out of the approved personnel policy for all six YMCAs is expected to be completed by September 1, 2012.
Impacts for the Community and Sub-Sector
Improvements to employee benefits introduced through this initiative will help to offset the sector’s salaries, which tend to be lower compared to the private sector, and to ensure that the YMCAs of Nova Scotia are viewed as an employer of choice. This may help to provide a model for other non-profit and voluntary organizations.
Project #2: Prior Learning Centre
The project funded by the Voluntary Sector Professional Capacity Trust used a systems-based approach to develop professional development plans for selected non-profit organizations. A systems-based approach focuses on identifying the knowledge, skills, and learning of employees both individually and collectively, in order to align their competencies - within the organization as well as the sector - with professional development plans. It also helps the organizations to identify internal competency gaps and to create opportunities for professional development that are central to their own strategic plans.
The PLC worked with three other non-profit organizations: Women’s Employment Outreach, which provides services to women seeking employment; Metro Non-profit Housing Association, which seeks to develop housing options for the homeless, people at risk to becoming homeless, and people living in inadequate housing; and Halifax Refugee Clinic, which provides legal assistance to newcomers to Canada seeking refugee status.
The project was designed to develop and implement a process for these three organizations to reflect on their values, interests, and goals; to identify existing skills, knowledge, and abilities both within individual employees and within each organization as a collective entity; and to develop learning plans for each organization to expand its capacity to meet its mission.
The process consisted of:
The PLC deliberately chose organizations with diverse missions and clientele to ensure that the resulting model would ultimately be useful to a wide range of groups. Other selection criteria set by PLC were that each of the partner organizations be located within the Halifax Regional Municipality in order to minimize travel costs; that each have a staff size of 10 employees or fewer in order to match the profile of the majority of Nova Scotia non-profit organizations; and, finally, that each have a strategic plan that could be used as a tool in helping the organization prepare a systems-based organizational human resources development plan.
The recruitment process and logistical arrangements took longer than anticipated. The first partner, Women’s Employment Outreach, with a four-woman staff, was identified before the project proposal was approved; when the project was funded, roll-out plans were put in place very quickly. The second partner, Metro Non-profit Housing Association, with a staff of 10, joined the project when the work with Women’s Employment Outreach was beginning. While Metro Non-profit Housing Association focuses primarily on housing issues, additional areas of interest include helping those with housing challenges to develop innovative strategies for coping with related issues, such as inadequate income and health problems. The third partner, Halifax Refugee Clinic, an organization with a very small staff that relies on volunteers from the legal community, was recruited as the project neared its completion date. As a result, it needed an extension to complete the project.
The diversity of the partner organizations’ missions, challenges, and circumstances was seen to be an asset for this project because it helped PLC to develop a robust process that had been designed and tested in a range of settings.
In all three organizations, there is also a close alignment between the employees’ deeply held personal values and their organization’s cause. Employees are extremely committed to helping their organization make a difference. It is clear that the sector is values-driven.
Finally, all three organizations demonstrated a profound interest in, and a pressing need for, ongoing professional development opportunities. Through the process of working with these organizations, PLC staff members discovered that the stories of the front-line workers and the clients they serve are compelling, and could be effectively used to demonstrate the issues and to attract more support.
Impacts for the Community and Sub-Sector
Project #3: HR Shared Service Pilot Project (administered by the Avalon Centre)
The partners had begun to discuss the possibility of collaboration prior to the creation of the Voluntary Sector Professional Capacity Trust.
The seven organizations collaborated to respond to their shared challenges in human resources management. Assisted by funding from the Voluntary Sector Professional Capacity Trust, the project had two objectives: to develop, pilot, and evaluate an HR services framework that would allow the partners to collaborate without compromising their confidentiality or integrity; and to develop, implement, and evaluate capacity-building and training activities, with the assistance of an HR consultant, in order to increase the groups’ abilities to manage their human resources.
The services of an HR consultant were engaged to conduct separate interviews with each of the organizations to assess their capacity-building and training needs, and to provide training in the following five areas, identified as key in the interviews:
The seven organizations had a total of 127 employees working in diverse employment conditions, reflecting a wide spectrum of circumstances (for example, unionized, full-time, and contracted arrangements). Each partner provided between one and three employees to participate in each of the five training activities. The employees found the training to be informative, beneficial, and relevant.
The partners felt that the consultant greatly contributed to the project’s success. This is especially noteworthy because the project initially encountered difficulty recruiting a satisfactory candidate. The search required two rounds of position posting, application review, and candidate interviews. The concerted effort was clearly worth it.
The partners also felt that the project would have benefited from additional time, i.e., more days and a longer duration, noting that HR capacity and partnerships require time to build, particularly when they involve seven separate organizations, each with its own structure, personnel, and schedule.
In addition, there were some frustrations about the administrative workload. Despite the partners’ initial efforts to ensure that the work would be minimal and fairly distributed among the project partners, the demands of the project were greater than anticipated. The partners, all perennially over-worked and under-supported non-profit organizations, found it difficult to find the time to undertake the action items necessary for the project’s success, such as participating in meetings, resolving problems, overcoming scheduling conflicts, attending the training sessions, and preparing the final report. In retrospect, this problem, which was the biggest challenge, might have been alleviated if the proposal had built in funds to cover the costs of administering the project.
Emerging Themes and Insights
The project reinforced the importance of professional development and capacity-building for non-profit organizations. There tends to be a misperception among government (and even within some boards) that non-profits are able to rely on volunteers without professional training. For this reason, it is important to maintain an ongoing dialogue around the significance of professional standards. The Trust project was tremendously encouraging to non-profits, because it demonstrated that the Nova Scotia government recognized the value and significance of professional development.
Time constraints invariably impede capacity-building initiatives. While the value of networking was strongly reinforced with this project, it was pointed out that future collaboration would require organizational and fiscal support.
Impacts for the Community and Sub-Sector
The partners felt that the immediate outputs were extremely useful and that the benefits of the project were even greater. Valuable links were forged that may lead to opportunities for further collaborative projects, for example, in the joint purchase of health care benefits packages, pension plans, insurance plans, and other bulk buying opportunities. However, the partners noted that collaborations take time and organizational support, and any joint projects could require fiscal support.
About the Author