2023 here we go! We’re stepping into a brand-new year and we wanted to share our biggest learnings and takeaways from 2022. As we enter into our tenth year at Bespoke (yes, are turning 10), we continue to evolve and have a stronger sense of our individuality, our values, and how we apply them in our work. We have learned and grown a lot in the past year, and we’re excited to see what 2023 has in store.  

  1. When it comes to governance, it’s critical to have the right butts in the right seats.  

Organizations that are willing to take a hard look at their leadership and shake things up can galvanize change—both internal and external. We see the magic happen when there is an honest and rigorous lens put to the test. These organizations are consistently asking themselves: 

What skill sets and perspectives are currently on our board? 

Do we have members with governance experience?  

Do we have members that can lend tangible advice, guidance, and experience in areas that are critical to meet our strategic goals?  

Do we have the diversity of perspectives to help us reflect on the past and imagine the future? 

With a big renovation on the horizon and a major fundraising campaign to go along with it, the Glenbow thought deeply about where they’d been and who they wanted to be in the future. Governance played a key role in their transformation. 

Glenbow former board chair Irfhan Rawji reflects on the impact of reimagining their board: “When people come with different lived experiences, they bring unique ideas and are able to connect with different communities.  

Our priority was to bring in people with passion for the purpose, but who were not already connected with the organization, so that they came in without biases. Today, 47% of Glenbow’s board members are Black, Indigenous, or people of colour and our new board composition allows us to expand our reach and think differently about Glenbow.” 

Today their board members are donors, ambassadors, and active participants in their community building efforts.  ❤️ 

  1. Strategic planning is more than a roadmap – it’s a critical tool to gain alignment and build relationships. 

Your stakeholders will influence (either directly or inadvertently) and be impacted by your strategy, so you should look to them and get curious about how they see you and what they hope to see from you in the future. 

Make sure you have the perspectives of anyone who can influence or inform your plan early on. From there, you can continue use your strategic plan as a lever to engage your people as you go forward—whether it’s reporting to your board, at a town hall session with your employees, or impact reporting to your donors.  

When Rocky View Foundation dug into a new strategic plan, they interviewed their board, their staff team, their tenants, their donors, and community members in the municipalities they serve. As a result, their new strategic goals will expand their affordable housing offering beyond seniors to more vulnerable populations in alignment with the Government of Alberta’s Stronger Foundations affordable housing strategy.

When you involve your stakeholders in your strategic planning, they feel heard, reinvested in what you’re doing, and they put momentum behind your goals.  

3.   Investing in your brand is always worth it.   

Brand, marketing, and communications are chronically underfunded areas in the social profit sector. But those tools hold the power to lift your voice and educate your community about the need for your work, your ability to do great work, and your impact on the communities you serve. Investing in brand and how you show up in the world will pay off.    

Are your advocates, funders, and community clear on and inspired by your purpose, vision, and impact?   

Take the YMCA.  

Sure, everyone has heard of the Y, but they’re often better known as a recreation centre than a charity. The YMCA created a new holiday branded fundraiser, the Joy campaign. The campaign reminded the organization’s board, members, donors, and even their internal team of just how valuable their offering is: a place to learn, connect, and recreate that’s accessible to everyone.   

Between giving out t-shirts and swag, and a multi-channel direct response campaign, they exceeded their fundraising targets and solidified a holiday branded campaign they can carry forward into the future. 

  1. Diverse revenue streams + strong partnerships = sustainability. 

If the pandemic taught us one lesson, relying on one or two sources of revenue is often unsustainable and can be catastrophic. We advocate for a P4 partnership strategy as a means to empower your organization and stabilize your revenue streams – that means tapping private, public, philanthropic, and providers (the social profit organizations).  

Momentum does an amazing job of this. If you peek at their annual report, you’ll see they have eight different revenue streams: all three levels of government, United Way, foundations, corporate and individual donors, and self-generated funds. What’s more, they don’t rely too heavily on any one stream—there’s a balance between them all.  

  1. We are all shareholders in the social profit sector.  

Think about it – if you are a taxpayer, a donor, an employee of the sector – you are investing in the sector. Social profit organizations play a critical role to the vibrancy and safety of our communities.  

That means a strong social profit sector is bigger than any one individual or any one organization—it means a stronger, safer community for every single person. Like an intricate ecosystem, when one piece succeeds, we all benefit; when one piece flails, we all feel the effects, whether we realize it or not. 

Did you know that the social profit sector is almost as big as the manufacturing and energy sectors in Canada? It represents 8.1% of our GDP and employs 8.5% of the workforce (Imagine Canada 2015).   

Our social sector is an army of good. We all need to recognize the importance of this work, ensure these teams are adequately armed with the right tools as they work on the frontline of our most systemic social issues, are empowered to make decisions, and transparently share their outcomes. A strong social profit sector not only benefits the people these organizations serve, it’s vital to the health and wellbeing of you, me, and everyone around us.