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Govolunteer Heads into a New Chapter!

Govolunteer Heads into a New Chapter!

Govolunteer Heads Into a New Chapter!

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Happy National Volunteer Week!

We are excited to bring you some news as we celebrate the incredible efforts that volunteers contribute to BC’s communities. But first – a bit of backstory:

If you are familiar with our history or celebrated with us for our 75th anniversary – you may know Vantage Point began in 1943 as a volunteer centre. We have changed a great deal over the years but always maintain a connection to our roots in volunteerism. One way we have done this is through our work in Knowledge Philanthropy – we bring in skilled volunteers who contribute their expertise to our services and spread awareness of this philosophy with our clients, partners, and broader community. We even wrote a book! The Abundant Not-for-profit highlighted the value that skilled volunteers bring to the not-for-profit sector. We have also run our platform Govolunteer.ca that connects skilled volunteers and not-for-profits for almost 20 years.

Govolunteer.ca was launched in 2003 as a volunteer opportunities database. And it’s been a powerful tool: each year we receive over one million page views from interested volunteers. The site was designed for individuals to match their specific skills and interests to the many volunteer opportunities available. We know the value of the site firsthand as we have recruited many of our Knowledge Philanthropists through the platform from HR Facilitators, to Policy Analysts, to Communications Experts, and more!

Despite regular maintenance, at some point after over 10 years of use by the community, the site became “old” by technology’s standards and we had to consider our next steps.

That’s why we decided to do what not-for-profits do best: collaborate. Vantage Point and our partners Volunteer Burnaby, and the Sunshine Coast Resource Centre have teamed up with Propellus who runs Volunteer Connector – a fantastic platform for volunteers and not-for-profit organizations to connect. Propellus is a not-for-profit and volunteer centre that deeply understands the Canadian not-for-profit landscape. Their platform is already used to connect hundreds of not-for-profits and thousands of volunteers across Canada.

Especially in the context of COVID-19, we were mindful that an overall average of 59% of organizations reported a drop in volunteers (according to the UNRAVELING report published in February, 2021). It was important to us to not only maintain a connection to our original purpose but to support and uplift this integral function within the sector.

Our solution was to maintain a simplified version of Govolunteer.ca that provides a portal to Volunteer Connector. Govolunteer.ca will also remain a resource hub: we have highlighted a number of impactful organizations on the Govolunteer.ca page that provide leadership to volunteerism in BC including Volunteer BC, Volunteer Canada, and more.

After a virtual tour of Volunteer Connector this April, we were pleased to hear all the positive feedback from Vantage Point members who currently use on Govolunteer.ca. Volunteer Connector has some amazing features for not-for-profit organizations including analytics, multiple user logins, an easy-to-use interface, volunteer management tools, and more. Additionally, Vantage Point members can have their Volunteer Connector postings featured on Govolunteer.ca for an extra boost!

We also saw the immense value that Volunteer Connector brings to volunteers. The interface is user friendly with a “cause” tag to navigate local and virtual opportunities including causes such as anti-racism, poverty and homelessness, LGBTQ+, food security, arts & culture, and much more. Volunteers can create an account to apply for opportunities and track their volunteer experience over time.

We’re thrilled about this next chapter and grateful for the enthusiasm our members have shared about this transition. You can visit Govolunteer.ca to see our new look and explore the opportunities available at Volunteerconnector.ca.

Author

Miranda Maslany

Miranda leads Vantage Point’s membership program and coordinates our government relations work. She has always had a passion for environmental issues and completed a Double Major in Environmental Studies and Sociology, with a Minor in Business at the University of Victoria.

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From Our Vantage Point Episode 62 – Sharing the Wealth: How to Decolonize Philanthropy

From Our Vantage Point Episode 62 – Sharing the Wealth: How to Decolonize Philanthropy

Episode 62:

Sharing the Wealth: How to Decolonize Philanthropy

In this in-depth conversation with Kris Archie, Chief Executive Officer of The Circle, we discuss the colonial nature of philanthropy and how it upholds white supremacy in the not-for-profit sector and affected communities. Then, we imagine how a decolonized philanthropy model could look and explore the necessary steps to reach an equitable funding system.


The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada (The Circle) transforms philanthropy and contributes to positive change between Philanthropy and Indigenous communities by creating spaces of learning, innovation, relationship-building, co-creation, and activation. The Circle works alongside Indigenous-led organizations, Indigenous informed organizations, organizations with Indigenous beneficiaries, our members and philanthropic signatories of The Declaration of Action to encourage individuals and organizations to learn, acknowledge, and understand more about reconciliation and the decolonization of wealth.

Presented by Humanity Financial Management

From our Vantage Point is brought to you by Humanity Financial Management, a Chartered Accounting firm dedicated to helping Canadian not-for-profit, charitable and social enterprises build capacity for strong internal financial management.  Humanity Financial Management’s part-time controllers and CFOs provide support for budgeting, reporting, audit preparation, policies and procedures, and internal controls. Their results: Financial risk reduction and asset protection. Visit Humanity Financial Management online at humanityfinancial.ca.

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From Our Vantage Point Episode 62 – Sharing the Wealth: How to Decolonize Philanthropy

From Our Vantage Point Episode 61 – Philanthropic Narratives and Why They Matter

Episode 61:

Philanthropic Narratives and Why They Matter

Dorla Tune, Organizational Consultant at Vantage Point, joins us to chat about philanthropic narratives and the impacts they can have on our communities, how funds are allocated, and who works within those narratives. We have a frank and honest discussion about what needs to change and why philanthropic narratives matter.

Presented by Humanity Financial Management

From our Vantage Point is brought to you by Humanity Financial Management, a Chartered Accounting firm dedicated to helping Canadian not-for-profit, charitable and social enterprises build capacity for strong internal financial management.  Humanity Financial Management’s part-time controllers and CFOs provide support for budgeting, reporting, audit preparation, policies and procedures, and internal controls. Their results: Financial risk reduction and asset protection. Visit Humanity Financial Management online at humanityfinancial.ca.

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From Our Vantage Point Episode 62 – Sharing the Wealth: How to Decolonize Philanthropy

From Our Vantage Point Episode 60 – How to Create the Future When Life is Uncertain

Episode 60:

How to Create the Future When Life is Uncertain

Hildy Gottlieb, co-founder of Creating the Future, and Omar Dominguez, former Director of Government Relations and Sector Development at Vantage Point, join us to chat about catalytic thinking and how it can be used to create the future through uncertainty. We will use our upcoming revamped BOSS conference as a case study as we dive into an innovative new way of thinking.

Presented by Humanity Financial Management

From our Vantage Point is brought to you by Humanity Financial Management, a Chartered Accounting firm dedicated to helping Canadian not-for-profit, charitable and social enterprises build capacity for strong internal financial management.  Humanity Financial Management’s part-time controllers and CFOs provide support for budgeting, reporting, audit preparation, policies and procedures, and internal controls. Their results: Financial risk reduction and asset protection. Visit Humanity Financial Management online at humanityfinancial.ca.

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Govolunteer Heads into a New Chapter!

Embracing Change

Embracing Change

Culture: People First
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The past two years have been full of change – and growth. My journey with Vantage Point began having been out of the workforce as well as living abroad for many years. Living in East Africa shaped who I am today and my ability to interact with others is directly informed by my experiences as a South Asian and Canadian woman. During my time in Tanzania, I developed friendships with families from all over the globe – South Africa, Malaysia, India, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates – and this made me more aware of global affairs as it impacted people around me. The local Tanzanian culture showed me the importance of a strong and united family unit where members depend on one another through hardships and elders are highly respected.  Learning Kenyan, Tanzanian, Indian, and Canadian culture fueled a desire in me to connect with and appreciate the people around me. These experiences have enriched me and when I came across Vantage Point’s philosophy for embracing diversity and building bridges and capacity, I knew this was the right place for me!

 I started out as the Administrative Coordinator and have since expanded my role to become the Executive Coordinator taking on more challenges and learning new skills. What I enjoy most is the variety of tasks that comes my way, for example, scheduling Executive Director’s meetings, bookkeeping, and supporting the board as Corporate Secretary as well as supporting our People Manager. My first few weeks at Vantage Point were challenging as I got familiar with the new software and will forever be grateful for the patience and support from the team.

I see Vantage Point as a leader in capacity building, and as someone who was looking to develop new skills, this was particularly important to me. The pandemic resulted in a lot of changes where I was challenged to develop new skills as we all shifted to working remotely. I had to quickly adapt to Zoom meetings, learn new software to digitize our accounting processes, and even managed to organize our very first virtual Annual General Meeting!

After living abroad and returning to work, the COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges and changes and although this can all be daunting, I have found that if we embrace it, change can be very fulfilling.  Like Mount Kilimanjaro – it’s a tough climb but the view is worth it. Vantage Point is all about embracing these challenges, and together as a team, we are able to achieve new heights. It reminds me of the African proverb, “If you want to travel fast, go alone, but if you want to travel far, go together.”

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Author

Shemin Bhatia

Shemin brings a positive outlook, sense of curiosity, and attention to detail to Vantage Point. As a people person and continuous learner, Shemin is happy to be among a team of passionate people supporting the not-for-profit sector. As Executive Coordinator, Shemin provides key support to the team in coordinating the administrative tasks for Vantage Point’s accounting and financial management. She also acts as a corporate secretary to the Board of Directors and as executive assistant to the Executive Director.

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An Organizational Challenge

An Organizational Challenge

Culture: People First
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As a kid, I loved playing Tetris. If you have never played Tetris, I’ll give you a general introduction: You are given a rectangular playing space on the video game screen. As the game starts, blocks of different shapes and sizes start dropping into the rectangle. Your job is to rotate and drop the blocks strategically to form horizontal lines leaving no blank spaces all before the block hits the bottom. If you do fill a complete line with blocks it disappears, and you score points. If you leave empty spaces in the line, the blocks just pile up higher and higher. There is one long, skinny block that occasionally shows up. If you plan your blocks well, you can get rid of four lines at a time using this long piece, and you get more points for doing so. That’s called a “Tetris.” As you gain points, you move to higher levels where the blocks drop faster, and the challenge gets tougher. (Fun fact: In 1992, There was even a thesis written by John Brzustowski at the University of British Columbia, about whether this game even had an end or if you were good enough, you could literally play forever.)

Like many people, COVID-19 has left me with many hours spent at home. How do I entertain myself? I organize. I organize bookshelves, closets, drawers, the pantry, and even the recycling has sorting labels and bins. Then I reorganize when I figure out an improved space-saving or visually appealing solution, much to the dismay of my partner who is never sure where to find anything because I’ve “improved” things 865 times. I see it as a personal challenge to make it more functional, more efficient, and look good all at the same time. Strategic, creative design and organized execution–two of my favourite things!

I love solving problems by connecting the dots of how things can work together, how people can help each other, how systems can work more efficiently. Whether large and complex or the arrangement of my utensil drawer, it doesn’t matter. I even love the challenge when things don’t work and there is potential to rearrange and figure out an even better way. If we move this here, or do this instead, will that solve or improve the problem? I especially love the sweet satisfaction when the puzzle clicks and the pieces all work together; like when you fit that long, skinny piece into the awaiting slot and all the corresponding lines clear away. Tetris!

After completing the CliftonStrengths assessment together, it was clear that our team at Vantage Point has numerous people with solid “Strategic” strengths; but the “Arranger”, part of the “Execution” strengths category, was one that I uniquely held on the team. Gallup, the assessment administrators, describe the “Arranger” as this: “People exceptionally talented in the Arranger theme can organize, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability. They like to determine how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.”  For me, this piece is a clear fit.

Moving into the role of Operations Manager at Vantage Point gave me the opportunity to execute that “Execution” strength on our team. In this role, I work across all our teams to connect the dots. I look at how our systems are organized and aim to instill a structure of consistency that allows for flexibility and growth. Every day is my organizational challenge as I dream up ways to make things more functional, more efficient, and look good all at the same time! My focus is on keeping our administrative and technology systems running smoothly, identifying where processes are clunky, work is being doubled up and sometimes aligning people’s skills with tasks needing to be done. I assess where workflows might be adjusted, resources redistributed, or blocks rotated to reduce stress, save time, and improve our services. Then I execute and manage that project to enhance the system.

Overall, I try to make our work easier, maybe more cost-effective, and hopefully in some way, improved. Sometimes, like reorganizing your pantry, it gets messier before it gets better; but ultimately, I strive for the same goal of a strategic, creative design that allows for organized execution. My goal is to help our organization stay organized by continually strategizing what could be rearranged to make a stronger fit. I hope to make it easier for our talented team to do what they do, better. As Operations Manager, I see it as my job to organize the blocks in such a way that the people doing the important work at Vantage Point feel that same sense of satisfaction and success when their long piece slides into the awaiting slot in the puzzle and clears all the lines. Tetris!

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Author

Rachelle Smalldon

Rachelle loves working with not-for-profit organizations to make them more efficient, effective, and impactful. She has over 12 years experience supporting, training, and mentoring staff and volunteer leaders. Rachelle completed her undergrad in Communications Publication Design, and her MA in Educational Leadership. Her specialty is working with emerging leaders, with a wealth of experience supporting student and upcoming leaders to lead teams and excel in their roles. 

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You Are BOSS

You Are BOSS

Culture: People First
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Wow. We knew all the work involved to recreate BOSS into a virtual conference (a first for Vantage Point) would pay off, but we never imagined the calibre of collaboration, transformation, and work towards equity which would take place over the course of the week.

You inspired us. Whether you uplifted the program as a presenter, supported the team as a facilitator, tech host, or notetaker, or you participated wholeheartedly as an attendee, we give you our sincere gratitude. You are why this conference exists and why we do everything we can to create this convening opportunity.

Aligned with one of our major themes this year: collaboration, we could not have come this far without our generous sponsors, or our incredibly supportive board members. The Vantage Point team want to expressly state our gratitude to you for your crucial contributions.

After an intense week of learning and sharing we have taken some time to breathe and ultimately reflect on some of our favourite moments from “#BOSS2021” (albeit there are too many to count):

So, again, thank you to everyone who supported and took part in BOSS this year. Thank you for your commitment to collaboration within the sector, for striving towards equity for the vast and diverse communities we serve, and for listening with open hearts and minds as we envision how true transformation within the sector could look.

We are excited to take what we learned from every speaker at BOSS and the incredibly thoughtful caucuses each day and move forward together to rebalance and rebuild this sector. As Vu Le put it, let’s not aim to be more resilient – let’s be effective. We have already seen collaboration amidst the current pandemic like nothing before and we will come through this crisis stronger than ever if we continue this trend with foundations built in relationships and trust.

We look forward to seeing you all next time at BOSS. And of course, stay in touch!

We are all BOSS!

Sincerely,
Alison Brewin, Omar Dominguez, and the Vantage Point team

Author

Alison Brewin

As Executive Director, Alison Brewin is responsible for executing the Vantage Point’s mission and vision. Alison graduated with a Law Degree from the University of Victoria in 1991 and was called to the Bar in 1992. Throughout the 1990s, she worked in non-profit management, as political assistant…

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Change: My Takeaway As An Executive Director

Change: My Takeaways as an Executive Director

Culture: People First
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Change. It’s the latest trend. It is a great tool. And it’s exhausting when it isn’t fun.

Before I came to Vantage Point – and especially before COVID-19 – I would tell you that change is fun. I love change; I thrive on it. As the eternal optimist, I seek change as a process of improvement and getting to better places. I believe that change refreshes, allows new perspectives, challenges outdated thinking.

My coming to Vantage Point was no different. On a personal and professional level, I didn’t need the job. I liked my independence and my clients, but the opportunity to help make the change Vantage Point had already identified as a goal, and the idea of changing how I supported my beloved sector…well, it all seemed like a grand adventure.

Like many new Executive Directors, I had a vision of what the organization could be based on limited and external knowledge. In my defense, I at least had enough experience to know that listening and watching for a bit was important before I insisted on implementing my long list of exciting opportunities for positive change (I still have the Note in my phone I wrote out the day after I signed my contract that consisted of no less then 24 things I wanted to do in my new role!). Despite my long list, I took my time. Or I thought I did.

I come from a lifetime of work in social justice and a family deeply immersed in electoral politics. In that work, we talk about power, privilege, and hierarchy. A Lot. In advocating for gender equality in Canada (as opposed to advocating for gender equality in cultures and nations not our own), one gets used to being ignored or seen as low on the scale of ‘Important Things’. No matter our individual social location, human rights advocates are used to being ignored or thought ‘too political’. What we lose sight of in all not-for-profit work, and especially in social justice advocacy, is that as individuals we still have power.

And the Executive Director of Vantage Point has power.  Despite thinking I was holding back, in truth simply being the person I am stimulated change that created motion for the people around me.

Example #1: When I arrived at Vantage Point the office standard was business attire with casual Fridays. Anyone who knows me well is chuckling right now, if not laughing. Not only did I change that policy, I didn’t realize it was a policy until two weeks after having worn jeans every day.

Example #2: When I started my role, there was still some debate about whether it was appropriate to ask Knowledge Philanthropists to do territorial acknowledgments at the beginning of workshops. In the world I was coming from, I didn’t know anyone in BC was still uncomfortable with the practice. Now, it’s standard practice as part of our JEDI (justice, equity, decolonize, inclusion) goals and values.

And I learned, by listening and observing, where changes I envisioned were not a good idea for the organization. For example, ‘Knowledge Philanthropy.’

This must be framed around the core understanding that I loved, loved, loved, Vantage Point’s perspective on engaging skilled volunteers (and that is also present tense ‘love, love, love’). Vantage Point sees volunteers as whole people and honours those who choose to contribute their expertise to organizations they love. Vantage Point sees the very structure of not-for-profits as tied to understanding and advancing a people lens and in seeing the abundance of our organizations by celebrating the people involved. Vantage Point sees, at its very foundation and core, volunteerism as a part of human relationships and community development.

But, as someone actively seeking to upend racism and sexism and all the intersections swirling around those two concepts, I chaffed at the concept of ‘philanthropy’ as a positive. To me, the need for philanthropy is created by the availability of wealth to be donated. And philanthropy is often applied in western settler culture in a way that often feeds the systemic problems charitable endeavours seek to ameliorate.  The way wealth is collected and held by few and is kept from those struggling to survive and thrive, then handed back to those suffering in dribs and drabs based on ideas about who and what organizations are worthy is a problematic system.

Applying this lens to Knowledge Philanthropy, one can see that there is privilege in the capacity to give free professional skills to a mainstream organization – which is what Vantage Point is. If someone is 2SLGBTQ+, or Black, or Indigenous, or Asian, a refugee, or in poverty, or struggling with parenting, heck if someone is a straight, cis, white woman with a full-time job and one or more children…the capacity to donate time beyond their immediate community and family can be very challenging. Being judged or rewarded for the ability to volunteer time in the context of inequality is beyond unfair.

So, I was skeptical. And I was wrong. Partly.

Just as the majority of individuals who give charitable donations are middle and lower-income, so too the vast majority of people who give their time are people who have experienced the need for extra support. And giving time is not always a matter of giving away time with no benefit in return. In fact, the Vantage Point Knowledge Philanthropy program has so many benefits that the word limitation our Marketing & Communications team tasked me with is at risk here!

Suffice to say, Vantage Point is able to reach more than 1500 organizations each year, invest time and energy in sector development and advocacy, and do what we do because over 100 individuals – from Board members to Peer Network participants, from facilitators and instructors to tech hosts – give their time and knowledge to our mission and vision. Knowledge Philanthropy works and is central to who Vantage Point is and what we do.

I have learned change is inevitable, whether it is a pandemic or the desire to be different. But not making change is sometimes good for everyone. If change is necessary, though, I have learned individuals need different things in times of change.

Some want to know the big picture: Why are we doing this?
Some want to know the process: How are we doing this?
Some want to know the timeline: When are we doing this?

And if you don’t answer all three questions at the same time, whether in informal discussion or formal communications, you leave people behind feeling bewildered at best, angry and frustrated at worst.

Change is in the air. Change is constant. But what I have learned in the last three years can be summed up with the principle, “Change if necessary, but not necessarily change.”

Author

Alison Brewin

As Executive Director, Alison Brewin is responsible for executing the Vantage Point’s mission and vision. Alison graduated with a Law Degree from the University of Victoria in 1991 and was called to the Bar in 1992. Throughout the 1990s, she worked in non-profit management, as political assistant…

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Unraveling: Non-Profits, Covid-19, & the Fabric of BC Communities

Unraveling: Non-Profits, Covid-19, & the Fabric of BC Communities

Culture: People First
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With the newest evidence on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on BC’s not-for-profit sector, we are reminded of just how critical and delicate the vast web of relationships are that make possible the wellbeing of our communities. Our sector and the people we serve continue to tread water in this deepening crisis. Even with vaccines on the way to immunize much of our population, the challenges we are facing do not currently have an end in sight. The restrictions put in place to slow down the spread of the pandemic will continue to challenge the strength of individuals, the institutions that support them, and the economy in which they co-exist. How should we respond?

Adapting and supporting the sector to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic

At Vantage Point, we know that healthy and sustained not-for-profits are the cornerstone to community resilience and wellbeing. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have transformed every aspect of our organization to meet the evolving needs of not-for-profit leaders across the province. Just like our peers in the sector, our team has also been stretched to the edge of its capacity. But we have remained true to our values and committed to our mission to convene, connect and equip not-for-profit leaders in BC.

The new UNRAVELING Report reminds us that “the future health and vitality of our province depends on the not-for-profit sector being able to continue balancing the space between governments and the private sector to address unmet community needs and interests. This ongoing crisis will impact the not-for-profit sector–especially smaller organizations, arts and culture organizations, sport and recreation organizations, and organizations serving racialized people– significantly over the long term if thoughtful support isn’t provided.”

Our team at Vantage Point will continue to support and advocate on behalf of not-for-profit leaders, particularly those at the helm of smaller organizations. These leaders, their teams, and volunteers are a critical fabric that hold the strength of our communities together. The prospect of loosing one half of this vital community infrastructure, if our current crisis is prolonged, calls for urgent and decisive action by all sectors of our society, and specially by our government representatives. Up until now, all levels of government still need to demonstrate that they understand, and value, the vital role of the not-for-profit sector helping our communities recover from one of the worst global emergencies we have faced in recent memory.  The not-for-profit sector has always been committed to the pursuit of a more robust, collaborative, and equitable society. But we can’t do this alone! We call on everyone to partner with us to leverage our expertise and resources to help our communities recover from the overlapping crisis facing our communities.

Join us at BOSS

In the face of these challenges, Vantage Point’s upcoming BOSS (Building Organizational And Sector Sustainability) conference has been designed as an opportunity to leverage our sector’s expertise and resilience as a pathway to a stronger future for our province. Through online engagement, BOSS will catalyze the potential for extensive public participation and collaboration to strengthen BC’s not-for-profit sector. Together we will identify solutions, develop capacity, share resources, and reimagine the conditions which will lead to transformational change in the communities we serve.


For a detailed data summary, find an interactive review of Unraveling on Tableau.

 

2020 Data

Author

Omar Dominguez

Omar is our former Director of Government Relations and Sector Development. What does this mean? He provides leadership in Vantage Point’s mission to build the capacity of BC’s not-for-profit sector through membership engagement, sector development, and government relations. Basically, Omar does a lot….

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Leadership Lessons From the BackCountry

Leadership Lessons From The Back Country

Culture: People First
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Outside of my role as Manager, Learning & Evaluation at Vantage Point, I spend a lot of time playing in the mountains: backcountry skiing, rock climbing and scrambling primarily. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate over the years is how much a successful backcountry adventure has in common with a successful organization.

At Vantage Point I create and curate educational materials in the areas of governance, human resources, leadership, and capacity building: four areas that are critical to the success of a backcountry adventure.

Governance is, at its core, how a group of people organize to make decisions. In the not-for-profit world, it involves setting direction, providing oversight, and ensuring accountability. Likewise, we make similar decisions when planning and carrying out an expedition: Where are we going? What are our goals for the trip? What conditions might we encounter? How will we make decisions together? Backcountry travel, just like not-for-profit governance, involves making a series of decisions based on the best information available. This information often is imperfect or incomplete. What sets backcountry travel apart is that the decisions we make in the field can have immediate life-threatening consequences.

Let me pause here for a moment. I am not an adrenalin junkie. In fact, I look at an adrenalin rush as a sign that I’m doing something wrong. My first two goals for any adventure are first to come home safely, and second to have fun. A very distant third is to achieve whatever objective we set out for ourselves.

Clearly, good decision making is critical to a safe, enjoyable, and successful adventure. Unfortunately, there are many social and psychological processes that can lead us to unconsciously taking on more risk than intended. For example, summit fever (the desire to achieve the objective) can lead us to ignore an incoming storm, pushing us forwards when the safe option is to turn around. Having people around – either a large group (which makes us feel safer), or a special someone we want to impress – may subtly encourage us to ski a bigger, but riskier, line. These are just two of the many (unconscious) cognitive biases I learned about in my avalanche safety courses. While the courses did a great job of highlighting the biases, there was little discussion of how to overcome them. Being someone who always wants to know more, I conducted my own research.

The strategies I discovered for overcoming cognitive bias and making good backcountry decisions were eerily similar to what I knew about good leadership and organizational success. One of the most important decisions for a successful backcountry adventure is essentially an HR decision: selecting the right companions. So, what do we look for? Shared goals and expectations for the trip (alignment with the mission and values of the organization); the skills, experience, and fitness to achieve the objective safely (capacity and skill to fulfill the role); and most importantly, the ability to communicate openly and honestly.

In the backcountry, our safety depends on everyone in the group feeling comfortable enough to speak up. Pushing forward when someone is silently worried about their ability to get through a crux puts the group in a dangerous situation. Even on a guided trip where there is a clear leader, it’s important that everyone in the group is comfortable with the decision. Asking open-ended questions such as “what conditions are we seeing?” or “what should we be concerned about?” helps people voice their observations or concerns. Thoughtfully addressing each contribution helps people feel safe sharing again. The same leadership skills that enable us to create this dynamic in the backcountry serve us well in creating an inclusive and high functioning organization.

As the scope and complexity of our backcountry adventures increases, so does the importance of planning and capacity building. The planning required for an easy one-hour hike on a well-marked and familiar trail might be as simple as confirming when and where you will meet your friend and putting on your shoes and jacket. Planning a week-long helicopter-access ski expedition in glaciated terrain is far more involved. To name just a few things: coordinating flights, planning meals, gathering equipment and supplies, practicing glacier travel skills, and developing the necessary fitness. Coordinating who would do what to ensure we all arrived at the helipad at the right time, with all the necessary gear, required a significant amount of project management!

I didn’t expect that my backcountry adventures would lead to such insights, but people are people whether they are exploring the mountains or running a not-for-profit. Now, the sun is shining, the mountains are calling, and I must go.

Author

Kathleen Lane

Kathleen Lane was drawn to Vantage Point’s focus on lifting the capacity of not-for-profit organizations. As Learning Manager, she draws from her management experience, research in adult education and over 10 years experience creating and facilitating leadership programs – to develop, evaluate, and…

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