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Meet some of the stellar volunteers working on Grassroots Week

Posted By Volunteer Toronto, March 17, 2017
Updated: March 15, 2017

 Grassroots Week Website

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Grassroots Week, a time to celebrate Ontario’s volunteer-run non-profits, is fast approaching. With the completion of our Grassroots Growth project at the end of the month, we are excited to showcase the amazing leaders and groups we’ve met over the last two years. Just as volunteers are key to the success of any grassroots initiative, so they are to the success of our Grassroots Week. 

 

We wanted to take a moment to introduce you to three of the stellar volunteers who have be working to help make Grassroots Week possible. Meet Miles, Laura and Alex!

 

 Miles Mayordomo

 

Miles Mayordomo works in project management at the College of Nurses of Ontario. He moved to Toronto to study at York University from a small town in Manitoba, where his family settled after emigrating from the Philippines. Miles’ attention to detail and superb scheduling skills are integral to his work on the Grassroots Week Panel Series (happening March 21-23). He has organized three two-hour panels that feature trailblazing grassroots leaders like Michael Prosserman, Salomeh Ahmadi, and Farah Mawani. Each panel focuses on a different aspect of grassroots work: starting a grassroots group, volunteer management, and media engagement.

 Laura Scrivener

 

Laura Scrivener is a bilingual graduate of York University’s Glendon College, where she studied political science and government. She’s very passionate about and engaged with social and environmental issues, which led her to volunteer with the Grassroots Week team. Laura is coordinating the Raise the Roots Leaders’ Brunch, which provides grassroots leaders with opportunities to gather together to network and learn. This brunch is open to all grassroots leaders who have attended a Grassroots Growth workshop, and have registered for an account on grassrootsgrowth.ca.

 Alex Jesus

 

Alex Jesus recently returned to Ontario from the UK, where she spent the last two years travelling and working at Radian, a social housing association. A proud Western University grad, she is starting an event planning program at Humber College this fall and joined the Grassroots Week team to build her experience in this area. Alex is coordinating the Grassroots Volunteer Fair, the finale event of Grassroots Week! It’s a great opportunity to meet with 50+ local non-profits and find out about volunteer opportunities in Toronto. Also, If you have a grassroots group and would like to request a table, please register here.

 

Jessica Pang-Parks, our Education Coordinator, took a moment to chat with Miles, Laura, and Alex about grassroots work and what inspired them to volunteer with this project.

 

JPP: It’s been such a pleasure to work with all three of you! Thank you for taking on the planning and implementation for our Grassroots Week events. So, why are grassroots groups important to you?

 

AJ: In a world where money is the catalyst for just about everything, grassroots groups are a breath of fresh air. Starting a grassroots group can be difficult but it’s almost always done for positive community growth. There is something amazing about everyday people coming together and donating their time to make the world a better place.

 

MM: I owe a lot to grassroots groups from a social and professional perspective. My close circle of friends all came from the various grassroots organizations that I’ve volunteered for. These organizations and their supportive members helped me grow as a community organizer and leader. Over time, my grassroots experiences translated into my employment in the Project Management field.

 

LS: I agree with Miles, grassroots volunteering is a great opportunity for growth; volunteers can grow their skills, their networks, and their compassion. Personally, I see grassroots involvement as an important component of improving communities and protecting the environment. I’m passionate about working with the Grassroots Growth project because it has allowed me to branch out with my professional skills.

 

JPP: That’s awesome! For me, this project is inspiring because I’ve gotten to meet so many amazing volunteer-run groups. I love cats and had the opportunity to chat with the Annex Cat Rescue, who just celebrated their twentieth anniversary! Which grassroots group inspires you, and why?

 

LS: My favourite grassroots group to date is the Toronto Seed Library. I am very passionate about alternatives to industrial farming and concerned about reliance on monocultures (which are highly susceptible to crop failure). Seed libraries around the world serve an important ecological function; the Toronto Seed Library started in 2012 and continues to provide insurance for the food diversity of humans and other living species.

 

AJ: I was really impressed when I heard about Fix the 6ix. This grassroots group collects mostly useless, partly-used gift cards and old Raptors’ tickets (that are eligible for a free slice from Pizza Pizza), to provide relief to Torontonians in need. They found something disposable to the average person and turned it into something impactful for Toronto’s homeless and at-risk individuals.

 

MM: I’m a big fan of the Toronto Spartan Volleyball League, the largest LGBT+ volleyball league in North America. They currently have over 600 members on 96 teams that participate cumulatively over the 2 divisions in the league. This league continues to grow, year after year, and continues to engage with grassroots volunteer organizers.

 

JPP: Amazing! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and your talents with us. We’re so grateful to have your skills and expertise on the team. See you at Grassroots Week!

 

Grassroots Growth Website

 

As the Education Coordinator, Jessica is responsible for developing and delivering workshops and online content to help build the capacity of grassroots organizations across Ontario. Contact Jessica

Tags:  Grassroots Growth  grassroots week  Grassroots Week Panels  Leader's Brunch  Raise the Roots  volunteers 

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Annex Cat Rescue: Twenty "Pawsome" Years of Grassroots Work

Posted By Jessica Pang-Parks, Education Coordinator - Grassroots Growth, February 23, 2017
Updated: February 23, 2017

 

Photo from the Annex Cat Rescue Facebook page

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

One of my favourite things about working on the Grassroots Growth team is the opportunity to connect with volunteer non-profit leaders across Ontario. There are so many amazing projects and people that we’ve worked with! Thank you to all the grassroots leaders who’ve come out to our workshops, interacted with us online, and participated in our initial research. Your ideas and enthusiasm never cease to amaze me.

 

One of the groups that participated in our initial research was Annex Cat Rescue (ACR); we profiled them as a case study in our From the Bottom Up report. This year, Annex Cat Rescue is celebrating its 20th anniversary. A lot changes over twenty years, but the organization is still 100% volunteer run. 

I recently sat down with Sky Lamothe, the Chair of the Board of Directors, and Raven Sun, one of the group’s longest-serving volunteers, to chat about ACR’s growth and tips for grassroots leadership and governance:

JPP: Congrats on your 20th anniversary! Since the inception of ACR, what has been the biggest shift in the scope of your work?

SL: When we first started, we didn’t realize how big the homeless cat situation was in Toronto. Initially ACR focussed on finding homes for kittens of feral cats, TNRing (Trapping-Neutering-Returning), and caring for several colonies of feral cats within a small area. Our group’s mission has not changed but our area of coverage has expanded to the entire city of Toronto.

Also, as resources are limited, the board is constantly discussing how to focus on cats that are not being cared for by other organizations and how best to fill in the gaps in service.

 

JPP: Can you tell me a bit about the Annex Cat Rescue’s history? I can see that you received charitable status in 1999, only two years after the group’s establishment!

RS: ACR had already applied for charitable status with Revenue Canada (as the CRA was known back then) before I joined as a volunteer (we received status within a few months). Applying for charitable status made a lot of sense for us. Potential supporters are far more likely to contribute when a charity is seen as a "legitimate" entity (not just a fly-by-night group). Also, donors are able to receive some financial incentive through their contributions by way of a charitable tax receipt.

 

There are also quite a few programs available to registered charities, from both the private and public sectors (e.g. corporate donation/grant programs and GST/HST rebate respectively). This allows the organization to do more with its limited financial resources and tap into programs for other kinds of assistance.

 

 
Volunteer Colony Feeder, Robin  

 

JPP: Maintaining charitable status means a lot of paperwork, and time! Is it worth the trouble?

RS: Absolutely! There are many advantages that we would miss out on if we didn't have charitable status. As for paperwork and documentation, it is not much different than running a small business; you need to keep track of your income and expenses. However, you do need to remain organized and keep track of all paperwork and transactions for audit purposes.

 

In our case, we have one volunteer (me!) who is dedicated to ensuring that we retain adequate paperwork. As the Volunteer Bookkeeper, I lay out the financial policies and procedures that our organization must follow. The Treasurer on our Board of Directors is jointly responsible for ensuring that our organization operates under charitable organization rules required by the CRA.

 

JPP: For groups who want to legitimize, but aren’t ready for incorporation or charitable status, we recommend putting policies and procedures and volunteer training documents in place. As your group continues to grow, have you had to re-evaluate these documents?

SL: Yes, we have had to re-evaluate. For example, our foster program has expanded over the years from about 20 homes to approximately 200 homes. 

It grew to the point where we needed a whole team of volunteers to coordinate it. So, we created a manual to ensure that everyone was consistent in understanding expectations and responsibilities. We also took larger roles that were found to be overwhelming for two people, and separated out specific tasks to reorganize into five different volunteer roles. 

Over the last two years, we’ve been inundated with requests for help as other local rescues claim their “niches”. Some have backed away from feral cats and now are focussing on other aspects of cat rescue. As a result, the board had to re-examine and tighten our intake policy to ensure we and independent rescuers understood which cats we might be able to take in and which ones should be given priority.

We’ve also had to put more formal volunteer position descriptions in place for various roles. This helps to ensure that people interested in those specific volunteer roles understand the level of commitment and skills required. Rescue can be a lot of work but it is also a lot of fun!

We developed a crisis communication plan a few years ago too and now our Board is looking into a social media policy as part of the content strategy. As social media has evolved, many of our volunteers want to share their involvement with ACR. One of our biggest challenges is to be pro-active, rather than re-active. But like many volunteer-run organizations, time is limited. It continues to be challenging!

 
Volunteer Trapper, Sasha with "Cookie" the kitten 

 

JPP: I bet! But having a group of dedicated and passionate volunteers must help to mitigate those challenges.

In our previous interview with your team, we learned that ACR doesn’t have an office. Where do you hold meetings? What are some tips for finding free or cheap community space that you can share?

SL: We hold board meetings at each other’s homes and I understand that various groups of volunteers (like a group that looks after a particular colony) might meet up at a volunteer’s home as well. It works well for us because we are a tight knit team.

For our Annual General Meeting, we rent a room at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre as it is in our founding neighbourhood. The Toronto Feral Cat Coalition meets at City Hall in one of the community rooms. Public libraries and community centres, such as the Scadding Court Community Centre, also have cheaper space rentals for non-profits.

 

TIP: If you’re looking for more information on meeting spaces for grassroots meetings, please visit grassrootsgrowth.ca and view the newly released online training module: “The Logistics of Getting Together”.

 

JPP: What advice would you give to volunteer-run groups that are growing very quickly and need to reorganize how they operate to accommodate this growth?

SL: I would suggest a few things:

First, listen to and value your volunteers. They are your greatest asset and have a wealth of knowledge. Our board works very hard to support our volunteers, easing barriers that might prevent them from participating.

Communication and clear policies and procedures are very important. Volunteers may have ideas that you have not yet considered. Also, volunteers are the ones who have to follow these policies and procedures, so wherever possible, engage them in the process.

Secondly, get access to grants that will fund a database management program. We recently applied for free licenses through the Salesforce Power of Us program for non-profits. We’re currently inputting the information we’ve compiled in Excel spreadsheets over the years for each area (Donors, Volunteers, Foster Cats, and Colony Cats).

Once everything is migrated to Salesforce, we will have all our information in one place and can use it more effectively. Unfortunately, the Salesforce Power of Us program was not available when we first started out. I recommend that newer groups integrate something like this sooner rather than later; it would be much easier to do!

Thirdly, network with other organizations  to see where your missions overlap and align.  There may be an opportunity to share resources.

We’re very pleased with our affiliation with the Toronto Feral Cat Coalition and encourage other groups to make connections where it makes sense. Because we’ve formed these relationships, cats and rescue organizations benefit from several low-cost spay-neuter programs in the city (both municipal- and charity-funded).  As well, rescue groups and city animal services regularly come together to discuss agreements and exchange resources.

 
The lovely Winston, who now has a forever home 

JPP: If you could go back to 1997 and meet with the founders of ACR, what advice would you share with them?

SL: Sometimes it’s hard to see positive change when dealing with a huge problem like homeless cat overpopulation in Toronto. However, when I look back at our 2002 Annual Highlights, I see how far we’ve come! I would tell them that everything they do makes a difference and to keep going!

RS: Yes, I agree. I would tell them to keep pursing their hard work. Grassroots work is tough sometimes, but don't get discouraged by challenges, try to learn from them instead.

JPP: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. Congrats again on your 20th year and keep us posted about your success!

 

Grassroots Growth Website

 

As the Education Coordinator, Jessica is responsible for developing and delivering workshops and online content to help build the capacity of grassroots organizations across Ontario. Contact Jessica

Tags:  animals  Annex Cat Rescue  cat rescue  cat shelter  grassroots groups  Grassroots Growth  grassroots organizations  volunteer with animals 

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How To Explain The Mission Of Your Grassroots Group To Friends

Posted By Volunteer Toronto, November 24, 2016
Updated: December 19, 2016
 

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Imagine this: you’re a grassroots volunteer leader and bump into an old friend at the supermarket. You’re really excited about your group’s upcoming event and have been taking every opportunity to spread the word. Hopefully, this will encourage your friend to attend or volunteer!

After a couple minutes of talking about the event to your friend, she asks, “Cool, is this event put on by the city?” When you reply, “No, it’s an initiative of my grassroots group.” Your friend asks, “So, what exactly does your group do?”

Do you:

a) Freeze and give a blank stare?

b) Take ten minutes to share the group’s history, explain plans for the next year, and pitch a volunteer role?

c) Answer in 30 seconds with your group’s clear and concise mission and vision statements?

If you answered “c” you are ahead of the game! Having mission and vision statements that are easy to remember and repeat allows easy articulation of your group’s values and goals. This will define your organization, narrow your team’s focus, and better orient projects and tasks.

Don’t have mission and vision statements yet? Check out this questionnaire for help!

 

What's the Difference Between a Mission and Vision Statement?

Mission and vision statements are similar, but not quite the same. Mission statements focus on what your group is doing in the present; they demonstrate why your work is important. Vision statements focus on what your group will do in the future; they explain what success looks like for your group. Many groups find that it is easier to start the mission/vision exercise with the vision statement, as it guides the framework of their current projects.

Writing mission and vision statements is a great opportunity for team building! By working together to set realistic goals and specify the group’s values, you can create a cohesive organizational identity.

 

For more information on defining your organization, check out www.grassrootsgrowth.ca. There, you will find new interactive training modules that will provide solutions to common grassroots governance challenges. Our vibrant online community supports volunteer-run organizations across Ontario with informative handbooks, downloadable templates, and opportunities to share ideas with other grassroots leaders.

You can also register for one of our free Grassroots Governance workshops. Our next Grassroots Governance workshop will be held on Sunday, November 27 at the Scarborough Civic Centre Library. Spaces are limited so register today!

 

Grassroots Growth Website

 

As the Education Coordinator, Jessica is responsible for developing and delivering workshops and online content to help build the capacity of grassroots organizations across Ontario. Contact Jessica

Tags:  Grassroots Growth  Grassroots organizations  Mission and Vision Statements  Resources for Grassroots organizations  volunteer run organizations 

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Grassroots Organizations Will Soon Come Together Online!

Posted By Claire McWatt, Grassroots Growth Coordinator, August 19, 2016
 Grassroots Growth Website

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

For the past year, Volunteer Toronto has been hard at work, finding new ways to spread volunteer management magic. The Grassroots Growth Project is a capacity-building initiative for volunteer-run non-profits in Ontario, and will provide free resources, tailored to the unique experience of grassroots groups. We are pleased to announce the launch of our website grassrootsgrowth.ca, on August 30th.

Tight on cash and other resources, grassroots groups struggle to access the non-profit sector best practices that help organizations manage volunteers effectively, fundraise, and execute strategic plans. The website will be a freely accessible space for groups to take advantage of different types of learning materials, and network with other groups from across the Province.


 Our 8 resource handbooks

During the research and development phase, our team engaged hundreds of groups from all different backgrounds, to learn about their unique needs and challenges. As a result of our report, we devised a set of training topics that cover everything from governance structures, to succession planning, burnout, and social media (and of course, volunteer management basics). What we learned is that volunteer management for volunteer-run groups is both the management of self, and the management of others.

Groups with no full-time paid staff and an annual budget of less than $75,000 per year, are welcome to join for free. They can then take advantage of our online resources, which include useful, editable templates, and a video series.

Not wanting to re-invent the wheel, we knew there would be a number of other free resources available online for groups, that were going unused simply due to lack of awareness. To address this, our team developed a Wiki Resource Directory that will house all kinds of links to helpful articles, websites, blogs and learning portals. Further, Grassroots Growth users can easily share other resources, by editing the Wikis and adding links.

GrassrootsGrowth Website Wiki 
grassrootsgrowth.ca wiki page 


Larger non-profits understand the benefits that can come from networking and partnering with other organizations. For grassroots groups, it can be hard to know who else is out there, and be able to share insight and support one another. The Grassroots Growth site has an interactive discussion forum, complete with a Peer Mentorship component, to allow groups to network, and learn from the experiences of those doing similar work. The forum will feature bi-monthly Reddit-style “Ask Me Anything” events, where users can speak with an experienced Grassroots Growth Peer Mentor, and get their important questions answered.

Look out for more great features for Grassroots Growth users, and new content, between September and April. To learn more or to become a Grassroots Growth Peer Mentor, contact Claire McWatt, Project Coordinator at cmcwatt@volunteertoronto.ca.

 

Claire leads the development of the Grassroots Growth project’s online community of practice, including the Peer Mentorship Forum and Wiki Resource Directory. She also manages relationships with Grassroots Growth partners, handles project administration, and collaborates with the Education Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator in research, training and outreach.


Tags:  community for grassroots group  discussion forum  grassroots groups  grassroots growth  grassroots organizations  online learning  wiki 

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What We're Doing To Help Grassroots Groups Grow

Posted By Melina Condren, Director of Engaging Organizations, January 19, 2016
Updated: January 19, 2016
 
 

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Grassroots groups are an incredible resource for communities across Ontario. They’re powered by passion and dedication to a cause—a group of people who come together in their free time to spark social change. These amazing volunteers often don’t have access to the same resources and support that larger non-profits have, so about a year ago, Volunteer Toronto set out to help them.

But we weren’t sure where to start. So we asked, we listened, and we learned some important lessons. Through focus groups, a survey, and a series of case studies, we got to know grassroots groups in Toronto and across Ontario. We learned that they’re often formed casually, when a group of friends or neighbours see a problem that needs to be solved. We learned that they’re generous not only with their time, but also with their money, since many of them are self-funded. We learned that they’re resourceful, resilient, and innovative. And we learned that they face challenges that keep them from reaching their full potential—challenges that we hope to help them overcome.

Here's only a handful of the challenges they face and the solutions we've come up with to help. 

Challenges faced by Grassroots Groups in Ontario and our solutions to help them grow 

 

All this barely scratches the surface of what we learned and how we plan to offer support. To learn more, you can read our research report, sign up for a workshop, or like us on Facebook to stay up to date on everything the project has to offer.

 

  Melina oversees all of Volunteer Toronto's services for organizations, including our training program, volunteer management conference, subscriptions program, and new Grassroots Growth project. Her priority is to ensure our services are effectively helping non-profits build capacity through volunteer involvement and continue to meet the
ever-evolving needs of the voluntary sector.

Tags:  Burnout  Challenges for Grassroots Organizations  Free Access To Online Volunteer Opportunity Databa  From The Bottom Up Research Report  Grassroots  Grassroots Growth  Identifying Grassroots Resources  Isolation From Other Grassroots Organizations  Mentorship  Networking  Volunteer Recruitment 

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