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HR made simple with Bruce MacDonald

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From lack of opportunity to develop leaders or train managers to pay transparency, there are so many issues and topics about HR that we never seem to have time to do or be able to make the proper investments. It's going to be a big problem for our sector because our work is only as good as our teams. Our organizations are only as strong as our culture.

In today’s podcast episode, Bruce MacDonald, President, and CEO of Imagine Canada, is going to share with us HR Intervals - a new and entirely free human resources toolkit specifically designed for nonprofit professionals to help them manage new challenges and opportunities in our work cultures.

Myths that Bruce wants us to walk away from

  • Small nonprofits can’t afford human resources. Some leaders may need to find some volunteers to help them out, whether it's a member of the board or just networking to find some HR folks. Start that conversation with the staff about the priorities and urgent needs of the organization and be willing to listen to them. A talented staff member who is inspired by this work could be the staff lead supported by the executive director. They can also access the information and resources they need to perform HR functions at their organizations with the new HR Intervals toolkit.

  • Nonprofits shouldn’t invest in human resources. The pandemic posed new challenges in terms of attracting and retaining employees. Private-sector firms are improving their ability to attract and retain talent, which has an impact on charities and nonprofits. Companies are now offering incentives to work there, and it is critical to ensure that we have the best possible workplaces, fair workplaces, reasonable, transparent compensation, that the culture is there, that this equity and equality is more vital than it has been in quite some time because of this competition for talent.

Bruce’s thoughts around HR Intervals for Nonprofits

  • Access to free information and resources. A vast majority of our sector does not have paid human resources talent inside their organizations, there can be a gap in terms of how organizations think about the management of their people. HR Intervals is made to bring a service that organizations can go to, to help leaders better understand, address, and guide people management in their organizations.

  • Be intentional. HR Intervals offers a variety of resources and practices that can be utilized by nonprofits to assess their organizations. They can leverage this information to develop realistic opportunities and set priorities that will create a better workplace for their employees and enable them to do their mission effectively.

Favorite Quotes for Today’s Episode

Post your favorite quote on social media to share with us!

“I think the one thing I've learned is you can't do it all at the same time or can do it all at once, but over time can create a basket of offerings that make it a place where people want to be, want to go and want to stay.”

“There's an efficiency and an improved impact to having a healthier workplace. So to me, the starting point is to say, what do we aspire to do within the limitations and parameters that our organization has? One of those most important things, and then start to figure out how to get there. But it starts with intentionality and commitment and that commitment is not just the senior levels. It's everybody. Because likely in small organizations, everybody has to be a contributor because there's just not one person who can take all the work on themselves.”

Resources from this Episode

HR Intervals

The Good Partnership


Cindy W.: So you've heard we talk on this podcast before about HR in our sector, whether it's a lack of opportunity to develop leaders or train managers at, or, pay transparency. There are so many issues and topics about HR that we seem to never have time to do or to be able to make the proper investments in this space. And that's challenging. It's going to be a big problem for our sector because our work is only as good as our teams. Our organizations are only as strong as our culture. And so today on the podcast, I'm really excited to do something we don't usually, in fact, I can't think of a time when we've done something like this, which really just shares a new free resource, but that's what we're doing today. A brand new, all about HR for organizations completely free, no strings attached. So let's dive in.

I'm your host, Cindy Wagman, and you're listening to The Small Nonprofit podcast where we are here to provide you with support and resources to do more in your small nonprofit. You are going to change the world and we're here to help.

So today's podcast guest is familiar to most of my audience. He's been on the podcast before Bruce MacDonald is the president and CEO of Imagine Canada, and he has been in the sector for 30 years from organizations that provide services to young people, older adults, persons with disabilities, community service, clubs, and sports and recreations groups.

His experiences all led him to imagine Canada, where, as I said, he is the president and CEO. He's been doing this work and championing the nonprofit sector in a huge way. I would say one of the things I like about Bruce is, he's also continuing to learn and grow as a leader in our sector, and as someone who I would say has a microphone, so to speak has a platform to be able to speak on different things and their new platform really exciting and it's only the beginning. And so when I learned that, Imagine Canada was developing this, I had to have them on the podcast.

This is a great opportunity for you to access really amazing high-quality HR resources for free and ones that are, I would say, of the time looking this is a project that's been developed throughout COVID where, how we work and our workplace culture has have been changing significantly and very rapidly. And so these are really fresh resources for you. So with that let me introduce you to Bruce MacDonalds.

Bruce welcome back to the podcast.

Bruce M.: Thanks so much for the opportunity. It feels like it's been a while.

Cindy W.: It has been a while. I don't even know how long, but it's great to be having this conversation with you. I'm so excited because you've just released an amazing free tool for the nonprofit sector that I think I want to say it's long overdue, but it existed before. Not really in this way. So I won't do any more teasers. I'd love for you to introduce it and talk to us a little bit about HR intervals.

Bruce M.: Absolutely. Thanks so much for the opportunity to be here and yeah, we are also thrilled to be able to, in a sense, bring back some services that were there a number of years ago for the sector. And as you mentioned, it's free and what we've recognized is that so many organizations, the vast majority in our sector don't have paid human resource talent inside their organizations, that there can be a gap in terms of how organizations think about the management of their people.

And so having the ability to have a service that organizations can go to and, really think intentionally, about is part of the brand. You want to take a pause and interval and take a moment and think about the importance of the people in your organization. We're just delighted to bring it back, and so we're hopeful that many folks will not just go on, but help it adapt and learn by telling us what other things need to be there.

Cindy W.: I love that. And I love your diplomacy. You said, can be a gap, in my experience, especially with smaller organizations, there's almost always a gap of some sort. So I think that this is, and again it's so core to our work as a sector. I'd love for you to talk about some of the, I've looked at the site, I've looked at some of the resources and some of them are great around. They're all great, but some of them are really like things you would expect in terms of sample job descriptions, how to write a job description, performance management. But there's a lot of other stuff there too. And I'd love to hear from you what you're excited about, with this that maybe hasn't been around before, or that is important conversations for us to be having or HR considerations as we move forward in 2022 and beyond. What are those emerging things that we need to be aware of?

Bruce M.: Yeah it's interesting. So if you actually look at the construction of the site now for those who have been in the sector for a while, they will remember your old HR council for the nonprofit sector, which unfortunately closed. And around 2012, 2013 community foundations of Canada kept the site going until 2018. And at that point, it was built on some pretty old code and the service then disappeared.

What we've done is we've gone and looked at the data, the usage data from when this site started till when it ended, that's formed the choice of the items that are there now. So things like job descriptions or succession planning, which certainly through our standards program, we hear that organizations need help with so the most popular features of what was then the old HR toolkit are what we started with.

But to your point, there are areas of these that we'd like to go deeper. A good example is workplace wellbeing. If you think back to 2007 and 2008 at the height of the HR council, there wasn't as much discussion about mental health aspects of work. We hope to be able to bring more depth to that.

And we're already starting now. The fact that the Ontario Nonprofit Network, ONN has partnered with us on this means that all of the work that they've done for the last few years on decent work is now part of this site. So I think what we'll continue to do is bring new features, new categories as we call them onto the site.

But we'll also look for what are the emergent ones we need to do more work on anti-racism and anti-oppression more work on hybrid workplaces, which again, you think back at the Genesis of the intern council. I think it was rare at that point. It's commonplace now. So yeah, it's really, hopefully going to be a fluid site that will continue to grow.

Cindy W.: Amazing. I want to talk a little bit about the decent workpiece because it's no surprise to our listeners that we this podcasts and my business, The Good Partnership always tries to approach our work with an anti-oppression or a social justice lens, and these are conversations that have been emerging over the past few years. What are you, I wouldn't say most excited about, but what are the things that you want when it comes to decent work that we need to be paying attention to, or even examples of things we can do easily to advance our own organization's role in creating decent work opportunities.

Bruce M.: Yeah. I'm going to step back a little bit in the sense that I want to just frame the importance of doing this. If we look at this moment in time, and as we think about early 2022 now, we're, we've been living in an era of labor market shortages that the private sector was facing. Pre pandemic during the pandemic where you've been hearing about the great resignation, where so many individuals will leave their place of employment in many cases, because of the way their employer treated them during the pandemic, as companies, I'm talking, private sector firms now are upping their game. In their competition to attract and retain talent that is going to have a ripple effect for charities and nonprofits. When we see now McDonald's offering a thousand dollars signing bonuses to go work there, there are going to be implications for charities.

If companies are now adding incentives to go work there, the importance of ensuring that we are having the best possible workplaces, fair workplaces, reasonable, transparent compensation ensure that the culture is there, that this equity and equality it's of critical importance pulling more so than it has been in quite some time because of this competition for talent.

And so what we're really excited about is to have this sort of place where organizations, it's almost a bit of one-stop shopping. So as organizations are likely going to think more intentionally and strategically about these aspects, they won't have far to go to get some thought leadership to be able to, ask themselves some questions about what they're doing

Cindy W.: And thought leadership, but also real resources. There are examples, you're not left out on your own and. I, one of the things, when we talk about attracting and retaining talent, pay always comes up and always organizing. We have no money and, I understand there are real constraints, but I think a lot of it is also the mindset and how we value our work as a sector. Which is one of the reasons why this is great, that it's free because. Save your money on HR to actually do the HR work. But how can we, what do you have examples of things that we can like tangibly do, you mentioned, transparent pay which is one of those things that I know we've been talking a lot about.

We've talked about it on the podcast before. There's more and more conversation in the sector. We always all we're never ever going to have enough money as a sector that is just, at least I don't think in my lifetime. So how are, what are some ways that organizations can leverage this information, understand that this is actually imperative. Like we have to be moving in this direction and how can we start to take action? Whether or not we have that budget to get back on the rate.

Bruce M.: Yeah whether you're a large organization or a small organization, I think it all starts with intentionality. And what we're hoping is that there will be a suite of offerings here like a menu that organizations can go and choose from as they get to certain stages in their conversation. Imagine Canada itself is not a large organization. We have less than 30 staff which may be large for some, but it doesn't feel large. But what we've been talking about in terms of, attracting and retaining stock is about the overall employee experience, so compensation is part of that.

We have to ensure that we are where we can be as competitive as possible. We are also a practicer of transparency, so we post job salary ranges when we are looking for new employees, but as well, we spend a lot of time talking about culture and employee experience. We talk with our staff, we've done three surveys this year about their, how happy they are, what are the things that are working for them?

Job flexibility during the pandemic has been mentioned to me as an employer, as the CEO over and over again. By individuals who are dealing with more complex situations, particularly if they have young kids in school, the years of getting a cold and staying at home for a day, you get, if your child gets a cold at school, they've not got to get COVID tested before they can go back.

It's a different game. Do we have progressive policies in place to be able to enable that? Are we looking at development opportunities that are realistic, that are then actually taken, not talked about never used, but actually taken. And when you put it all together, it's the experience that employees can have? I think the one thing I've learned is you can't do it all at the same time or can't do it all at once, but over time can create a basket of offerings that make it a place where people want to be, want to go and want to stay.

Cindy W.: I love that. You just said that because literally, my next question was where to start because we can't do it all at once. And I'm, and I also love that you have the perspective both as an employer in this sector. What advice do you have for organizations to do an assessment of what their priorities might be? Because obviously everyone's starting at a different place and has different needs. How do we, there's a ton of information here. How do we get started?

Bruce M.: Yeah. I think for small organizations, a lot of it starts with the executive director, and doing some self-reflection as a leader as to, is an area of strength, an area of interest. And what do you bring to enter the conversation? The very first place that some leaders may need to go is to find some volunteers to help them out on this whether it's a member of the board or just networking to find some HR folks.

And I've found my experience has been HR folks are incredibly generous with their time and talent and expertise, to start that conversation with the staff around what are those things. Better the most important. So I wouldn't personally assume that the priority list looks like this. We want our staff to tell us what the priority list looks like, cause it may be surprising. Many people who work for charities and nonprofits, work they're understanding that they're not going to get company cars and stock options. So that way, so that the pay isn't necessarily that number one consideration, it may be, I don't know, it may be, but I wouldn't assume that it is, or that there are not other things. Maybe more actionable that are close to the top. And so I think that starting point is that initial assessment opens those lines of conversation and is willing to listen to what employees say.

Cindy W.: Yeah. And I think, even just looking at the site and the information about decent work and it's, pay equity, living wages, not super again, we're not talking about a company car we're talking about basic living wages that people can work here, but also, benefits, stable employment, right? I don't even know how many organizations hire on contract, because again, we have this scarcity mindset that like, can't make a commitment to bring someone on permanently, because what if this, or what if that, so there are lots of levers here that, that are all literally laid out for you to think about.

And I love your framing. Start with your staff, start with understanding their experiences with your organization on the team and what gaps are most urgent and immediate for that. So I think you, I think that's a really great

Bruce M.: and Cindy, maybe one other thought I can offer on this is that one of the other things I've observed working in the sector is that, these kinds of human resource topics are not necessarily always in the skillset or really the priority of the executive director. Yes. That doesn't mean though that organization can't move forward. A talented staff member who is inspired by this work could be the staff lead supported by the executive director.

The opportunity to engage a board volunteer or committee volunteer and help lead this work. I don't know that there needs to be a barrier to progress, not perfection, but progress because it's not in the wheelhouse of the executive director. They can be enablers. They can set the conditions for success without having to do all the work

Cindy W.: yeah and that's such a great perspective. And in fact, that could even be part of succession planning and opportunities, right? I've always held this belief that we do not provide the resources for leaders in our sector to be great leaders. And that's one of the reasons why I love this platform is because it is so accessible and it allows people to develop their own skills. But part of that is also, allowing everyone to develop their skills in this area, which I can only think would benefit the whole organization. The more people have some sort of skin in the game of HR and HR management. I love that. I. I'd like to ask you a bit of a, I don't want to call it a personal question, but I'd love to hear if there was anything that surprised you or that you learned that you hadn't thought of, or hadn't thought of in that way in doing this project.

Bruce M.: I think the first thing I would say is how big it was. When we even looked at the former HR tool kit, it was 170,000 words of content in English and 230,000 words of content in French that did not include any new content. And I would say the decent work stuff is all new, fortunately, ONN partnered with us on that.

For me, it was the vastness of the topic. And it's interesting because we actually came to a strategic choice of launching before we had it all done because what we realized was that to get to the end of even just the sort of legacy content was, we're gonna acquire significantly more time well, we said why would we not make these services available to just get it all ready?

So that was, that's what we've said. And that's why we hope people will come back because, as we go through 2022, we will be adding more content throughout the year. I mean, there are literally categories that are almost ready to go. But I think for me personally, it was the magnitude of the project was enormous.

The other thing that was really interesting for me was we did invite people to sign up pre-launch. If they were interested, we had over 2,600 people that agreed to have us send information to them. Once it was launched. In the Imagine Canada world, that's a big number. Often we'll do these things. You get like a hundred or 200 people, like 2,60