Sunday, March 30, 2008

Haliburton Highlands Land Trust Organizational Development

F&A has been working with this local Land Conservancy agency for almost a year, helping with a number of aspects of organizational development.

HHLT, like many community organizations, was catapulted into existence by serendipty -- they were offered the gift of a large island with ecological significance, exactly what Land Trusts pray for. They build the organization around the specifics of the legacy, and as it became neatly tucked in for posterity, with management plans and funding strategies in place, they realized that the infrastructure of the organization was not well equipped to move forward. They successfully applied for an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to strengthen the organization, in particular by developing its capacity to engage and effectively use volunteers. They felt particularly unprepared to do fund-raising of the scope necessary to move forward -- it costs money to locate, assess and acquire land!

F&A started by developing a Power Point Presentation suitable for HHLT to use to do community education, orient volunteers and support fund-raising activities. We developed an e-bulletin to update members and others on a quarterly basis, and edited the first two editions. We recommended a protocol for recruiting, training and maintaining volunteers. We did an environmental scan to recommend a fund-raising event with capacity to become their 'signature' annual fund-raiser -- a spring Gala with auction of donated 'green' art and recreation (Haliburton's primary economic resources) as the primary revenue source. We prepared a data base of potential grant sources. We supported HHLT to take advantage of an offer from the provincial umbrella body, Ontario Land Trust Association, to participate -- for free -- in a strategic planning procedure that OLTA was piloting as a resource to its members.

As we near the end of our contract, our time is focussed on modelling how to plan and run a fund-raising Gala scheduled for May 31, 2008. HHLT needs to learn how to use the planning and the event to raise their profile in the community and to recruit new volunteers -- as well as reaching their earning target. This is a many-faceted undertaking, and we will leave HHLT with a How To Run a Gala Manual to guide them in future iterations. We have also created, in the course of the work, a number of specialized data bases that pull together contact information and other details about groups that share particular interests. For example, a local 'green business' data base supports effeciently contacting businesses in the area to buy ads in the Gala Programme.

We were interested to learn that while almost all the contact information you need can be found fairly easily on the internet, there is a distinct shortage of lists. The internet has White Pages, but not Yellow Pages. We pulled together a few Excel spreadsheets to organize information in a way that increases efficiency in making contact in several ways (telephone, snail mail, internet), and as a repository for anecdotal facts in a form that can be shared and build on over time. It can be adapted to support team work -- for example, I recorded advertising agreements on the green business spread-sheet and send it to the Treasurer so that he could track received and outstanding invoices to support the final Gala financial report. The Board could strengthen the connections by easily sending an e-mail (or for those few not on the 'net, make phone calls) to thank the advertisers and tell them about the success of the Gala. Whoever sells ads in next year's Gala Program can start with that list and build on it.

We will also give the Board assistance as needed to take the findings of the OLTA Strategic Planning exercise, when it become available, to develop a three-year development plan. This will include a workshop in grantsmanship.

One of the unanticipated outcomes of our work with HHLT was the creation of an environmental collaborative. In response to a potential funding opportunity that required collaboration among environmental groups, we organized a meeting of representatives from the dozen or so environmental organizations in our County. To our amazement, this group had never before met for the purpose of exploring the potential for collaborative work. The funding opportunity that was the raison d'etre for the meeting turned out not to be appropriate, but we convened a second meeting of the group at which the Haliburton Environmental Collaborative was birthed. It continues to meet monthly with great enthusiasm and optimism about its future value to all members.

F&A are not environmentalists -- we certainly learned a great deal about Species at Risk, environmental significance, and other biological and geological minutiae in the course of working with HHLT. However, we were well equipped to help the organization to position itself more centrally in the community, which is the secret to expanding membership and volunteerism, as well as spreading fund-raising across a broader population. Preaching to the choir isn't a good organizational technique. Organizations that grow know how to find common interests and speak a common language.

This was also our first local contract. It has been interesting to watch our friends and neighbours watch us put yet another hat on our heads in local interactions. As volunteers, our community knows Michael as a playwright and vigorous organizer / developer of the arts. Fay is seen as a not-for-profit administrator and advocate on social and children's issues. We are both recognized as creative in finding resources, both financial and human. All of these enriched our work with HHLT. Working with HHLT broadened our profile in the community. It's been a win/win -- as long as the Gala goes off smoothly!

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