The Gift of a Mission

In January, many of us ponder ‘who am I going to be this year’?  Will I actually eat less and move more, live an organized life in an organized home, and spend my evenings reading life changing essays instead of watching TV?   Probably not … but it’s fun to imagine myself as that person for a few weeks each January.  

This year, I find myself more interested in pondering “who is Volunteer Strathcona going to be this year?”   We had a year of big changes in 2023 – I stepped in as Executive Director in April, both of my full-time colleagues are even newer than me, more than half of our current Board started in 2023, we lost some funding, and we realized we had lost clarity about our mandate … so the end of 2023 looked very different than the beginning.

Lots of change meant we needed some strategic planning – ugh. I’ve seen organizations spend tonnes of time wordsmithing their vision and mission and building out goals with outcome measures – just to tick it off the to-do list, pat themselves on the back, and put their new strategic plan on a shelf to be dusted off when it’s time to update.

But our strategic planning turned out to be very productive, thanks to the very engaged Board members and staff in attendance, and the great facilitator through the Alberta Community Support Network (ACSN)1 who kept us focused on achieving some tangible outcomes.

The biggest takeaway was our new vision and mission – we didn’t just wordsmith, but instead we reflected on the challenges the organization faced, what we wanted to accomplish, and what resources are realistically available to us.  That’s where the tough decisions came in.   

After decades as the Information and Volunteer Centre, we became Volunteer Strathcona in 2018, with a mission of connecting volunteers with opportunities and enabling organizations to meet social needs in our community – a broad focus for an organization with our staff (just 3.25 FTE) and small budget.  We’d been trying to be a Volunteer Centre and a non-profit capacity builder – and we simply couldn’t do a good job if we kept trying to do both.

So we thought about what we had been hearing from stakeholders about needs in our community, and looked at what other resources are available to community organizations in Strathcona County.  We came to the clear conclusion that our community needs us to be a robust Volunteer Centre, leaving non-profit capacity building work to others2   – at least for now.

So what’s our new Vision and Mission?  

Vision:  Our community strengthened through connection and volunteerism.

Mission:  Connecting people to their community by promoting, enhancing and growing volunteerism in Strathcona County.

I see our new mission as a gift from the Board because it gives us a clear mandate.  When a community organization asks for our help, or a staff member comes up with a new idea, or we are asked to participate in an event, all I have to do is ask myself “will this promote, enhance or grow volunteerism in Strathcona County?”.  If yes – my colleagues and I are all in on figuring out how we can help.  If not – we regretfully need to decline and pass along suggestions for other resources.

Who will Volunteer Strathcona be in 2024?  

  • We’ll be the place you can contact if you want to volunteer but don’t know where to get started – and the place you can contact if you need help finding volunteers.  
  • We’ll be in the community talking about volunteerism and celebrating the impacts of volunteers.  
  • We’ll be creatively looking for more ways to promote what is already succeeding, to enhance what can do even more, and to grow new volunteer opportunities throughout Strathcona County

In a few weeks, I’ll undoubtedly be back to eating too much chocolate, my home will still be charmingly chaotic and I’ll be anxiously awaiting the return of some guilty pleasure tv shows – but I’ll take comfort in the fact that unlike me, Volunteer Strathcona is embracing change!

I’d encourage others to look at their mission statements – does it give your organization and the folks who run it a clear mandate?  If not, ask your Board for a gift – a mission that guides your work in a meaningful way.

  1. ACSN is a program at the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO). If you are connected to a non-profit in Strathcona County, I urge you to check ECVO out – membership is very affordable and the benefits like access to free facilitation with the ACSN are great ↩︎
  2. Don’t forget about ECVO – but also check out what others have to offer, such as:  Alberta Government, Alberta Non Profit Network, Imagine Canada, Muttart Foundation, Charity Village, and Charity Central ↩︎