Starting a nonprofit in Ontario: First steps

I consider myself something of a rarity (novelty?) in the School of Business at St. Lawrence College in that my motivation has always been more geared towards marketing in the nonprofit and public sectors vs. the private sector. This is largely due to my personal politics, but I have also come to believe that the nonprofit sector desperately needs an influx of marketing expertise and support, and I want to do my part to help fill the gaps – especially for my local community.

There are so many organizations in Kingston, ON that are working hard to serve the people of this community, but we are at risk of losing those services if we don’t help them to strategically plan for their activities, growth, and survival. The lack of expertise is largely due to funding constraints and small budgets for nonprofits, which means that career opportunities are minimal. Many nonprofits are staffed and managed by volunteers – as much by necessity as by design – and the skill sets of those volunteers (no matter how willing) does not often include strategic planning and marketing communications on a professional level.

Thankfully, there are some resources out there for organizations if you know where to look. More than that, I believe that marketing resources for nonprofits are increasingly available online due to the need mentioned above – fueled by increased access via digital and social media. These supports can range from basic videos like the one below, to web hubs for the sector.

I was recently approached by a community activist from Napanee who wanted to start a nonprofit that provided free bicycles to those in need in her region, and she really had no idea how and where to start. During our consultation, it was obvious that she is clearly an intelligent and hard-working volunteer with leadership abilities. She simply needs a helping hand from someone with experience, and some tools to help her navigate the process.

Even as someone with 8 years with Kingston nonprofits, it took a bit of thoughtful searching to figure out the most A/necessary B/practical and C/accessible resources to help her start the process. In the end, I gave her the following four links:

Image credit: sectorsource.ca
Image credit: sectorsource.ca

Sector Source connects charities and nonprofits with resources that help develop organizations and support the work you do for your communities.

Source credit: www.charityvillage.com
Image credit: http://www.charityvillage.com

Charity Village communicates employment opportunities and resources for the Canadian nonprofit and charity sector.

Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) – News, policy and resources for the nonprofit sector in Ontario

Ontario’s Not-for-profit Act – The legislative framework for nonprofits in the province of Ontario

This is just a starting point for a new organization, and I recognize that the information on these sites is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the tools and resources needed by nonprofit volunteers, boards, and community leaders. I would love to hear from other marketers and those with nonprofit experience if you have better examples or other easily available resources. Please feel free to contact me through the comments, or through any of the connections in the sidebar navigation.

~~DJB.

Canada Post: Research and Ethical Decision-making

Stepping Stones believes that Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra should be fired.
Stepping Stones believes that Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra should be fired.

This will be my last ‘official’ post on our Canada Post research project, which means that I technically do not have to complete any more for our COMM 57 assignment. However, I have pushed myself to build the research page to try to carry this topic through to the point where I will post our research findings over the next 3 weeks.

In the way of a quick update, our team does have quite a bit of data to sort through now, so I am budgeting a couple of weeks to sort through it all, come up with some scintillating graphs, and put it in a report form that we can be proud to submit. I will offer my thanks to everyone that contributed their opinions. If you would like to fill out the survey or the interview sheet you can find it on the research page.

The assigned topic for today is Ethical Considerations, which will probably make this post a bit lighter on links and heavier on my opinion. I suppose I could go out and search for specifics articles on the importance of ethics and objectivity in research, but I am not in an academic mood. I want to shoot from the hip.

The first point of ethics I would like to discuss was touched on in my February 14th post. I admit that I have been critical of crown corporation management from the beginning because it seems like the decision to cut home delivery and raise stamp prices was done virtually in a vacuum. There was very little public input, no access to market research, Canada Post employees were not engaged sufficiently, and the decision was announced the day after the House of Commons exited their winter session.

None of the above aspects imply any kind of business rationale or accountability in decision-making for the crown corporation. This would be completely unacceptable for a publicly-traded corporation, so I cannot understand how CEO Deepak Chopra has escaped more severe public scrutiny. Canada Post continues to be mismanaged and I have trouble understanding why this man still has his job…UNLESS his decision-making is really being directed by the Canadian federal government, which is who appointed him in the first place.

This leads me to the question of the redacted and minimized market research that should be guiding the process of decision-making as Canada Post moves forward. When the company is part of public life and public interest, is it ethical to leave this document to collect dust on a shelf? How can we assume that the decisions made were anything but political decisions, when the business decision-making process has been ignored? I don’t need to tell Canada Post workers that their jobs are at stake, as is the quality of public services. This is not a small matter.

I will end my comments with a disclaimer that even without the business proof, I would be in favour of saving those jobs and continuing delivery service. I believe the benefits of public service contribute more to our economy than the cost. However, if I can bear down and use business principles to try to chart an honest and accountable path forward, I don’t see why our federal government cannot do the same. That is the thing that bothers me the most, because the Conservatives are awfully quick to invoke business rationale in their principles – but I just don’t see it in practice.

DJB.

Canada Post: The Marketing Communications Gap

 After a week’s hiatus, Stepping Stones is back for a fifth installment on our Canada Post research project. This should be the second-last post focusing specifically on the project before I move on to other community/public issues, but I will do my best to finish strong on a topic that affects all Canadians.

Tonight I am releasing a link to our research survey through FluidSurveys.com. This survey has now been completed 212 times, surpassing our goal of 200 responses, but a hard and fast rule of research is that your accuracy increases with a greater number and variety of participants. With that in mind, I would urge you to complete the survey if you can and please share through social media or other platforms.

Additionally, I will use this blog’s Canada Post Research category to share the personal interview that we created for the purpose of research triangulation – which is a fancy way of saying that it is the third source of research data. You can look for a link to a PDF version around 10:00 PM eastern tonight.

This is a short 8-question open-ended questionnaire that is designed to give more depth to our research because it allows for more thoughtful answers. If any of you would like to fill out the questionnaire for submission to our research, you can send a copy to dbeals21@student.sl.on.ca.

Those are all of the updates fit to print, but I should say a few words about the topic of Canada Post and Marketing, since that is the assigned topic for this week. If you have read our research proposal you will see that one of our assumed problems with Canada Post is a lack of communication with the public regarding the services that are currently offered. At first glance, this assumption has been supported by public opinion, but I look forward to sharing the results.

To be honest, it is not a great stretch to say that Marketing Communications has been a problem for the corporation. Canada Post has a website that I have shared many times, but is anyone aware of anything beyond a handful of news articles over the past two years that spoke about efforts to modernize Canada Post or promote the services that are offered? This kind of marketing promotion would be standard practice for a private corporation and it has to have had an impact on the use of services.

After all, we already know that the federal government is not shy about spending public dollars on advertising when it suits their self-promotional needs, but it would be nice to see them do it for a crown corporation that provides services and economic benefit to all Canadians. As a marketing professional and a public representative, this further influences my opinion that the government has made a concentrated effort to sabotage the success of Canada Post because they clearly know the benefits of a strong marketing communications plan, but have done nothing communicate with their customers.

LCBO - LCBO's 20th annual Ontario wine promotion
The LCBO employs an aggressive marketing promotion strategy

I will leave you with the contrasting strategy of the LCBO, which is a provincial crown corporation that has been very aggressive with its marketing communications and business development. While I have not always agreed with the LCBO’s treatment of its employees, I do appreciate that they are actively striving to be successful because the LCBO’s profits benefit all Ontarians. Why should Canada Post be any different?

Canada Post and Canadian Cultural Identity

It is Friday night and that means that it is time for another update on our Canada Post research project. I had hoped that we would be able to debut our postal service survey and interview formats, but I will do that later in the weekend because I want to go over them one more time to be sure that they meet all of the criteria for objectivity and variety of questions.

What I can tell you beforehand about the survey/interview questions is that it was very difficult for me to separate the objective customer research from my subjective valuation of what Canada Post means as a Canadian institution. Personally, I think this abstract ascribed value is what makes these kind of governmental decisions so difficult and the reaction to those decisions will vary from person to person.

As a marketing researcher it is one thing to dispassionately question our customer base about the value of home delivery service, but in the case of a crown corporation that dates back 250 years, there are also additional questions regarding the cultural value of public postal service and what that really means to Canadians. Putting a price on that value is not easy, and in the end I believe that you have to include some questions that directly engage the issue of meaning and cultural identity.

The question that follows is that if you can use research to quantify the cultural value that Canadians ascribe to Canada Post, does that mean that the institution must necessarily be treated different than a younger and less culturally significant brand? For instance, would the decrease of services at a retail outlet like Home Depot be met with countless articles like this one in MacLean’s?

This is the point where what would normally be seen as a business decision crosses into the realm of our public and political lives, which is why I led off this piece with an opinion poll. These are the same kinds of questions that the mainstream media was asking throughout December and into the new year.

Lastly, there are the politicians on the government and opposition sides who have to gauge the mood of their constituencies, often without the aid of an objective research project. How are we who claim to be representatives supposed to intimately know when the cultural value of a service or institution is worth more than dollars and cents?

I don’t have a good answer for that question at this time. The best I can do is to leave you with a clip featuring Canada Post from the Rick Mercer Report from 2007. If it is featured on Rick’s show, doesn’t that mean that the service is already iconic?

Canada Post Research: Reliability and Relativity

www.redactedrecord.com

This is the third installment in a series on our research project regarding the future of Canada Post. Our assignment for this week is to write about the framework of the research, but I have to admit that I am not inspired by this topic, even though I will concede that the theoretical framework is extremely important to all research.

I searched for a definition of research framework, only to find many academic papers that seemed impossible to distill  into something useful. For the best example of the framework we will be using, I suggest you read my teammate’s blog at eculhane09.wordpress.com. She does a great job of defining the classical pieces of research framework.

In my quick and dirty terms, your research framework should expand and explain the methodologies you will be using – including timelines and the steps you will be taking to make the research objective, reliable and relevant. In our case, our methodology will be to use secondary (statistical research) provided by the federal government, as well as primary research in the form of surveys and personal interviews.

I am going to post the final copy of the research proposal once I finish this entry, so you will have to be the judge as to how reliable and/or relevant or research will be. However, I have found myself becoming frustrated with the quality and quantity of federal research that has been completed on Canada Post, so I want to talk about the potential (ir)relevance of that information.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, it is reasonable to assume that Canada Post Corporation has been aware of the need to renew Canada’s public postal service strategy for some time. So it is not surprising to find out that there was a “secret” study done on the advantages and profits of offering of postal banking and other diversified services through the crown corporation. Unfortunately, when this research finally became available, they found that 701 of 811 pages were redacted by the federal government.

Discovering the absence of this research is obviously problematic for a project that requires timely and relevant secondary research. However, when I put on my other hat as a politician and community representative it is downright frustrating and infuriating because we have a government that is hiding relevant information on potential diversification strategies just days before slashing public services and jobs.

Thankfully, the government is not the only potential source of this kind of research. This is a paper available from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. I should also point out that I did not build this blog as a showcase for my righteous indignation with government decision-making, but as you can see in this case, even if I was an apolitical researcher I would have good reason to doubt the reliability of federal research and decision-making on the future of Canada Post.

I will leave it there for now, except to provide our long-awaited final research proposal. Wish us luck and please do not hesitate to point out potential problems. I am most obviously a soapbox preacher first and a researcher second.

~DJB.

Saving Canada Post: A Global Perspective

Deutsche Post DHLIt is 4:30 am on a Friday morning and what else would a marketing student rather be doing but market research? In my case, I have been scouring the interwebs trying to acquire a global perspective on the present and future of Canada Post. As someone who is a staunch supporter of public services and public service jobs, I will admit that my findings are disheartening.

It appears that there has been an ongoing global crisis in public postal services, which leads me to wonder: 1/ Why has there been a lack of public discussion and consultation with Canadians? 2/ As a federal politician, why haven’t I been paying better attention?

Question 1 is obviously directed at our federal Conservative government. However, this government has a very poor track record when it comes to consulting and including Canadians in the decision-making process, so it is a mystery easily solved: They don’t seem to care what Canadians think. 

Question 2 is clearly my attempt to own my negligence on the issue, but Canada Post was not on the radar during the last federal election in 2011. Instead, the public vs. private debate was focused on the future status and independence of the CBC.

I will get my personal opinion out of the way by saying that I believe that running public services (and running them WELL) in the best interests of Canadians is an expression of the government’s will to serve the public. So when a government fails in this mission, it tells me that they are either shirking their responsibilities or they have no vision.

This issue of having a vision for public services is central to the current debate on the future of the U.S. Postal Service, as well as the evolution of European public postal services. In Germany (DHL) and France (La Poste), the rigours of deregulation and privatization have forced them to exercise a new vision and change their models to include global parcel delivery, logistics/supply chain management and expansion in retail sales and delivery.

While I can appreciate the initiative shown in Germany and France, the results have also included the decline of service and the deterioration of working conditions. This should be unacceptable for Canadians and my belief is that this issue SHOULD be an opportunity to improve public services and show that we can find a better way to do things in this country instead simply divesting ourselves of the responsibility.

So let us suppose that our mission as Canadian marketing professionals is to keep Canada Post public, but we still have to modernize the organizational structure and better serve our market. How can we make that happen? The answer comes back to doing proper research and finding out what our market wants and needs. This will be the essential problem that our research project will try to solve. ~~DJB.

*Note: Our SLC School of Business research proposal will be posted here on Tuesday, February 11th.

Is there a future for Canada Post?

Canada Post

Is is not easy being a democratic socialist in an excessively capitalist culture, and it is doubly hard to maintain that identity while deeply embedded in the School of Business at St. Lawrence College. However, I have been heartened by the countless opportunities to apply my course work to my interests in federal politics and community development.

The most recent examples of this phenomenon are the advent of this blog and our most recent assignment in Marketing Research (MARK 19 for my fellow classmates).  I won’t belabor a discussion on the blog, other than to confirm that it owes its existence to the requirements of another course. I will also admit that starting a blog is something that I have been wanting to do for some time, so I am thankful to be given a not-so-gentle push in that direction.

As far as the marketing research project, it can be a challenge to agree on a topic when you are working with a group, but I will admit to being relentless in pushing my teammates towards the topic of Canada Post. What can I say? I am an expressive and passionate person and if my teammates did not have a better suggestion, I knew exactly what kind of research I wanted to do.

The reasons should be obvious: Canada Post has very much been in the news since the announcement on December 11 that the crown corporation would be cutting household delivery services. I have to admit that I am not objective on this topic, because I believe that the cutting of services and jobs is hurtful to the economy and displays a lack of governmental will to be responsible to Canadians. However, I will leave that aspect for another blog entry. The key point I want to make here is that I am not objective on the subject, so I will be counting on my teammates to help keep our research honest and objective.

Just the same, this will not be a political research project. We will be looking at Canada Post as a business as far as its past and future profitability. When any business – even a crown corporation – struggles, it is the purview of marketing analysts to try to either A/ Find out ‘Why?’, or B/ Hypothesize a direction for the company that will increase revenues and strengthen the brand.

The real marketing research will start after the submission of our proposals next Friday and I will be sure to post the final copy of our proposal here at Stepping Stones. In the meantime, I will leave you with some further reading on the topic, including an opinion article from the Queen’s Journal, and a CBC piece that lays out much of the history and facts regarding Canada Post.

~DJB.