Happy Holidays!

Hello and Happy Holidays to you!

We have had a great year and we’ve really enjoyed getting out to know more of you in our over 450 meetings in community. It’s been insightful, heartwarming, fun, funny, silly, sobering, thought-provoking, and enlightening. We feel really glad to know you. Thanks for taking us up on the offer for a coffee. You know how much we love our cozy, warm, beverages!

Our office will be taking some time to rest until 2017. We will be closed from December 23-January 2nd. We will catch up with you again on January 3rd.

If you need last minute volunteers, don’t forget about our twitter handle @volunteercal, which is run by our fabulous volunteer, Tyler.

As we sign off for 2016, we want to share with you our new volunteer recognition feature why.yyc on instagram. It features the stories of volunteers in Calgary. Want to feature someone? Contact Jeff.

That’s it from us in 2016!

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With love and warm wishes from:

Doug, Kelsey, Lori, Janet, Jeff, Andrea, and Tracy

The Value of Good Advice

by Yvonne Chenier, Charity Lawyer from http://drache.ca/

In just a couple of hours today all of the organizations that were represented at the Caterpillar to Butterfly: Turning Your Existing Non-profit Into a Registered Charity workshop a few weeks ago made some more progress on their transformative journey.  In one-on-one sessions with them today I rolled up my sleeves, drilled into the legal structures, and asked some pointed questions about why their non-profit caterpillar organization wanted to become a butterfly charity (it’s all about the money!).  Then I gave them some encouragement and tips and sent them on their way with homework to do to carry on their transformation. Most have to give serious thought to getting their members together for a special meeting to change their objects/purposes.  One organization has to make a decision as to how it will interact with and control (yes CRA will require that) its intermediary in a third world country.  Another has to highlight the education focus that it really does have.

I was happy to say to one organization that educating people about something near and dear to our community does not have to be so political after all.  They all have to change their bylaws and review their social media presence.

The transition stage is not painful but can be a challenge if you have left yourself exposed.  I hope to have one more visit with each of these organizations before they try to break out of the cocoon and apply to be that butterfly by filing that final application at CRA.  Stay tuned.

Doug’s Open Letter to Community


IMG_3264Six (well, ok, eight) months in – a reflection and a look forward.

I was asked the other day about what’s on for the next 12 months at Propellus. I thought that since I’ve only had coffee with 179 of you this year, the rest of you might be wondering what’s in our heads.

Let’s frame this up before jumping into it. So, a Volunteer Centre has four pillars. In short, they are Promote, Connect, Strengthen and Lead. You can read all about that here.

When we look back over the last few years, we’ve been very focused on the Strengthen pillar. You know this about us.  It’s allowed us to develop some really great stuff to help organizations get stronger. I’m really proud of how Propellus has focused on evaluations and assessment.

When we brought on the role of Evaluations Specialist, in addition to strengthening our own measurement, it led us to initiate an Evaluations Learning Community, which offers peer learning to our members. This year the Learning Community advisory council worked together to plan an evaluations conference. We are so pleased to be offering conference this fall where we host Michael Quinn Patton!

We’ve listened to you. So our assessment tool, which helps you get a quick snapshot into learning needs of your organization, has been up and running for almost a year. Also we’ve heard many of you describe yourselves as ‘the jack of all trades, master of none’ who needs quick access to tools you can use in your day to day job. We launched our resource bank earlier this year to provide you access to those tools!

Again, we want to go for coffee with you . . . Lori and Andrea would absolutely LOVE to hang out with you and review your assessment/point you to resources/connect you to opportunities for further learning!

As I’ve met with many of you this year I’ve heard the confusion and frustration you feel about this question, “where is the Volunteer Centre of Calgary?”

We’ve heard you. While we’ve continued to promote the volunteer opportunities on our database and host conversations, even a learning community for volunteer engagement, that is not enough.  After all, there are over 117 million hours spent volunteering in this amazing community of ours.  I agree, we can do more to support you!

So what does that mean? We haven’t got it figured out yet, but here are the steps we are taking:

  • We have expanded our volunteer team to include Tyler, Chandni, Shreya, and Manisha.
  • You can connect with Jeff as his role is changing and he is learning from the community what promoting volunteerism means.
  • We are exploring some fantastic opportunities to partner with organizations like MRU, Volunteer Alberta, Ignitech and more. Let Janet and Kelsey know who else we need to be meeting with. We’re listening!
  • Of course I’m still coming out for as many coffees (actually, it’s tea) and events with as many of you as possible because I love hearing your stories! Be sure to invite me to the places I don’t know about yet.

I hope you can see that we want to include you in shaping the future of this community organization.  What does the next twelve months look like for Propellus? Listening, acting on your advice and finding fantastic partners, so together we can continue to create a thriving engaged Calgary for each and every person!


Evaluation is More Than Just Tracking. It Matters How We Use and Share It.

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Written by: Andrea N. Young, Evaluation Specialist

At the beginning of April, I released my masterpiece: the ‘2015 Annual Report on our Evaluation Findings.’ For most of you non-data-nerds, this 43-page document probably sounds like the utmost snoozefest. And often you’d be right: data reports can be oh-so-boring and pointless. I mean, who wants to read a jillion pages of technical jargon if it just ultimately makes you say “oh, that’s vaguely interesting” a couple of times, and then gets put on the shelf until you need some scrap doodle paper? Continue reading

We Are One

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Written by: Jennifer Sanford*, Propellus Consultant

Over the last few days, we have watched the wildfires in Fort McMurray gain international attention. The numbers are staggering: more than 80,000 people were evacuated, 1,600 homes and business have been destroyed, more than 50 million dollars in aid has been received by the Red Cross. And the true cost of this environmental event will take years to fully materialize. Continue reading

It’s Back! Transform Your Story 2016 Now Open

You heard correctly. The fund is back thanks to our partners at Chevron Canada. Check out the project page for all the details.

And here’s some videos of 2015 participants on how they’re implementing their organizations newly built capacity in areas of program design, business planning and culture.


Continue reading

Remember What’s Most Important in Recruitment Season

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Written By: Janet Rock, Design & Development

Well, it’s that time of year again. Spring means recruitment season for many organizations who have AGMs before June. To celebrate the change of season, we’re sharing some of the highlights from recent conversations with you, our members. These tips will help you focus on how to find the very best match in your new recruits! Continue reading

Does Your Organization Pass the On-Brand Test?

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Written By: Sarah G. Schmidt, Design & Development

A quick Google of “how do you know if you are on-brand?” and you will get a plethora of companies selling you services ranging from surveys to full on marketing support. It’s a bit daunting. Because it’s not a simple question, people (and businesses) are quick to suggest you need extensive professional support, and offer you a laundry list of possible solutions. Continue reading

Is a Joint Venture or Strategic Partnership right for my Organization?


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Written By: Jeremy Busch-Howell*, member of the Board of Directors

In an earlier post I discussed joint ventures, strategic partnerships and mergers as strategic alternatives that non-profits should consider as part of their strategic process, and how such strategic alternatives are particularly relevant in our current economic climate. In this post I will discuss certain matters that should be considered prior to entering into a joint venture or strategic partnership (for ease, joint ventures and strategic partnerships will be referred to jointly as “joint ventures”, recognizing that there are certain differences between the two). Continue reading

Q & A: A Behind the Scenes Look at the Organization Assessment Tool

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A conversation between Kelsey Merkeley, OAT Project Lead and Sarah G. Schmidt, Design & Development

Sarah: We’ve launched the tool and I was hoping you could tell me more about this project.

Kelsey: Sure, the Organization Assessment Tool (OAT) is an interactive tool that we developed for our members. It has two parts: Part 1 begins with the Organization Assessment Tool Questionnaire (OATQ), where members complete an 18-question self-assessment on the structure of their organization and the delivery of their organization’s programs. Part 2 begins after the member has completed their OATQ self-analysis. Continue reading

How Learning Keeps You Motivated During Challenging Times

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Written By: Janet Rock, Director, Design & Development

We all know times are tough in Calgary. Tracking the news can be depressing, but so can applying for a job or seeking a grant. We’re always looking for ways to keep ourselves motivated and engaged in our work when all of the bad news can be distracting. Continue reading

Fortune Favours the Bold: Unlocking Value during Tumultuous Times

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Written By: Jeremy Busch-Howell, member of the Board of Directors

Things appear grim in Alberta. While dwelling on our current economic uncertainty is more than a bit unpleasant, nearly every reputable bank or relevant government agency correctly predicted a mild recession for 2015 and, with the price of oil remaining incredibly low, are predicting a mild recession for 2016 as well. Continue reading

See our Guest Blog Posted on Imagine Canada: Succession Planning Made Easy

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Jamie Niessen, our former CEO, recently wrote about our CEO transition for Imagine Canada’s blog. Check out the post here. For more details on our transition, check out this post from the fall.

If you’re thinking about earning Imagine Canada’s charity and nonprofit accreditation check out their Standards Program for all the ins and outs. Good luck.

Common Fundraising Pitfalls

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Written By: Marlene Mulligan, formerly Design & Development

Most every organization and every cause feels they need more funding. Some may not be too urgent, maybe in a place where they could do more with more and some realities may be quite urgent and in a place of barley being able to keep up with demand and keep the lights on. Whatever your situation, if you are facing fundraising challenges, its possible your organization may have succumbed to some of these common pitfalls we see among our 500+ members. Continue reading

Positive Voices

IMG_6255 Normally this space is used to talk about the cool and exciting things that Propellus staff have been doing in the past couple of weeks around the community but this week we will be sharing the absolutely enriching experience Doug and Jeff had last weekend at the Alberta Community Council on HIV’s (ACCH) Positive Voices Conference.

Our Propellus team members left bright and early Friday morning and braved a blizzard with white-out conditions in Doug’s trusty Honda Civic with All-Season Tires to arrive at the Jasper Park Mountain Lodge on Friday afternoon. From there our dynamic duo worked with participants through an exercise to articulate their specific personal journey with HIV. The participants were extremely generous and welcoming to Doug and Jeff and helped to educate and enlighten the two on the stigmas and barriers people with HIV face each and every day as they try to navigate a health care system that is often times ill-informed on the challenges they face. That evening Doug and Jeff were invited to participate in a traditional Indigenous Smudging Ceremony hosted by Elder Taz Bouchier. Later they were treated to dinner with the participants and entertainment from world renowned cellist Robert Bardston.

On Saturday, Doug and Jeff worked with participants to identify group norms and values, their organizational culture and their personal strengths. Jeff was game to work the group through a number of improvisational theatre techniques and exercises and the group was more than ready to participate. Throughout the day many laughs were had and the group started to bond together and work through the exercises as a team. That evening Doug and Jeff retreated to a local five star restaurant called “SUBWAY” to plan the activities for the final session on Sunday morning. On the way to “SUBWAY” Doug and Jeff were lucky to see a number of elk on the side roads of Jasper’s main street and take in some of the beautiful scenery. That evening Doug retreated to an early night’s sleep and Jeff went back to his room to watch the critically acclaimed film “John Wick” in preparation for Sunday’s Oscar Awards.

On Sunday, Doug and Jeff reconvened with the participants and formulated two working groups. One group was tasked with creating a systems map of all the organizations/initiatives related to their cause. The other group worked on evaluating the recently developed strategic plan for the Positive Voices Caucus and creating a rubric for evaluating their relevancy. The groups worked diligently throughout the morning and then presented their results to the others before the end of the session. What was most immediately evident was that they were applying the tools and exercises they had learned in previous sessions to work together for a common cause. It was absolutely amazing to see their progress and a true joy to be able to help them along the way. Doug and Jeff headed back and made sure to make one last stop at another five star establishment called “McDonald’s” in Canmore before making their way home.

Upon reflecting on the weekend, Doug and Jeff felt really great about the work they get to do in their jobs. Previous to this experience the two of them were absolutely ignorant of the types of struggles and stigma that the HIV population faces. The participants of the workshops were so friendly and accommodating to Doug and Jeff, despite their ignorance, and after all was said in done Doug and Jeff learned as much as they taught.


Sweet Way to Onboard!


As a Volunteer Coordinator, I am always looking for new ways to engage and recognize our amazing volunteers, and first impressions mean a lot.  I interview every candidate before they become volunteers, and during the interview I like to add a few fun questions like, ‘If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?’ as well as ‘What would you say is your all-time favourite chocolate bar?’.  I make note of the chocolate bar answer and when we onboard new volunteers, I make sure we have the paperwork, their nametags, and their favourite chocolate bar ready for them.  It is a fun and easy way to make new volunteers feel welcomed and appreciated right from the get-go.  I have gotten all kinds of positive responses from people when they see that we remembered their pick.  One of the best moments was over the summer, when we did a group onboarding for our Summer Camp volunteers.  The group of 19 youth walked into the room to see their welcome packages all made up, each with the chocolate bar of their choice.  I heard them talking to each other saying “they remembered!”, “that’s so nice!”, or “Remember when they asked us that question in the interviews?”.  It makes me smile every time.

  • Rachel Stelmach, Coordinator Volunteer Resources, Telus Spark

The Best View

Last week, my colleague Katie Dodd & I met with one of Propellus’ members, Tonya Lailey of Theatre Junction Grand. We met over lunch at Workshop, the unique and warm restaurant within the Grand building. While we ate, we learned about the impressive things this small but mighty team is doing in our community, in the local theatre arena and about how their organization has gotten stronger as a result of working on their culture.  Tonya told us the story about how 10 years ago, the space was just a dream of a local theatre company.   As we chatted, we drew parallels between Theatre Junction Grand’s work and work being done by other Propellus non-profit members.  At one point, Tonya paused and said, “Wow. Calgary must look so beautiful through Propellus’ eyes.” She could not have put it better.
Every day, the Propellus team gets to meet with its member organizations. We get to hear about the work being done by thousands of passionate and highly skilled non-profit employees who are whole-heartedly dedicated to strengthening our Calgary community.  We hear inspiring stories about how people came to be committed to a cause. We hear about the transformational programs and services being offered. We hear about how people creatively overcome their organizational struggles and how they strive to learn from each other and work together to better serve their clients. We hear stories of incredible vision and forethought in building organizational and sector-wide capacity. 
Calgary is sometimes seen as a new city without much soul. But when you spend your days hearing about the vibrancy and dynamism of our arts & culture, environmental, human rights, education, poverty-reduction, and immigrant, youth & elder serving organizations, you cannot help but see just how gorgeous this place really is. You can’t help but be incredibly grateful to get to live in this city among all of those who work so hard and so well every day. So yes indeed, Calgary is so beautiful through our eyes. 
– Lori DeLuca

Reflections on Collaboration

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Doug Watson, President and CEO

I spoke about collaboration at the Propellus AGM so you know its something I care deeply about. I’ve noticed a number of publications have come out recently that have also touched on collaboration.  We here at Propellus see that there is a growing desire and need to embrace meaningful collaboration in the community.  We’ve even done our own research to understand what our members need, which will result in our own upcoming publication – stay tuned!  In the meantime, let’s just say that using the word doesn’t bring clarity to how our communities are working together. Collaboration means something different nearly every time its used.

There are some key elements that are required to make collaboration successful.  First and foremost being able to answer the question – to what end are we collaborating?  Second and most important ingredient, as expressed at our AGM, love needs to be present to create action – do we prefer the other person’s success before our own? When we say we want to encourage  or facilitate collaboration, we mean these two elements should be present.

Next time you hear the word ‘COLLABORATION’ ask yourself why is this happening and are the participants in it for everyone else’s benefit or their own?  Answer these for yourself and you’ll be able to judge accurately whether the initiative/project/opportunity will be a success and a true collaboration.

Something I said of interest to you? I’d love to go for coffee (tea) to discuss! Contact me at dwatson@propellus.org. Follow me at @nonprofityyc.