What do non-profits have to do to make it easier for people to help them?

d_imageSATURDAY, JUNE 21, 2014 MARKED THE ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY of the devastating Southern Alberta Flood.

Many Calgary communities, urged by Mayor Naheed Nenshi, hosted neighbourhood block parties to remember the thousands of people who responded to this emergency and to celebrate how far we’ve come since that day.

I attended the Cliff Bungalow – Mission event just a couple of blocks away. Last year I volunteered in this community to help neighbours clean up their flooded homes.



When I think back to June 2013, I remember one incident in particular. The City of Calgary set up an impromptu gathering for those who wanted to volunteer to help citizens affected by the flood. As I recall, They expected about 300 people and had a plan on how they would deploy them.

The response was overwhelming and unmanageable. Thousands of people showed up to volunteer. Instead of turning away the excess of people, the crowd was directed to, “get yourself some rubber boots, go to the affected neighbourhoods and just help wherever you can.”

And that’s just what the people did. It was magnificent and the momentum carried on for weeks and when local residents had been helped, they piled onto busses and headed to High River and other towns and cities to help others.

I believe that two crucial things contributed to the great response in Calgary.

  1. Constant communication from the Mayor’s office kept people informed on the latest updates and need for volunteers;
  2. Those who wanted to help were encouraged to do so without being hindered by complicated processes.

The questions that began to circulate once the emergency was dealt with were:

“How can non-profits learn from this? How can they improve their communication within their communities? How can they adapt their volunteer and fundraising programs to enable those who want to help do so, without being bogged down in processes?

Did you explore theses questions and implement processes that would allow Calgarians to engage with you?  Or if you’re outside the Calgary area, are you set up in a way that allows for volunteers and donors to just jump in and help? If so,  I’d love to hear about it, please contact me here to share your story.

The purpose of this blog is to facilitate discussions that will help us all to better engage with our communities. Your participation and feedback are most welcomed and valued. Please join the discussion below.



  1. cyclingrandma

    I think this is a major challenge for non-profits. I’m involved with an organization in NYC , Youth Communication, that works with foster care youth and other needy youth. I’m on the board, but would like to do more than that. I got a friend interested in the group, and while she gave a generous donation, she would like to do more too. The organization has trouble finding things for people to do that are meaningful, not just stuffing envelopes (which we don’t mind doing), but feel there should be more we can do. Many women especially who are educated and used to work, are looking for ways to be involved; it’s not so easy to find the right fit.

    • The Other Bottom Line

      It’s true, it’s not easy and it becomes even more difficult if people don’t know who you are, what you do or what you need.

      These questions are well worth the struggle to find answers. There’s got to be a way to engage your community in a way that is meaningful to them and to you.

      Good luck!

  2. Dave Konkin

    Much like countless other people my family and I helped others throughout this tragedy. Doing this comes from being empathetic and understanding that if our family was in this situation we would be hoping to recieve the same kind of help from others as well. The question for non-profits to ask to the public is “if this was you in this situation, and with the need for assistance, wouldn’t you hope for others to reach out to you?
    Another organization that makes it very easy to support and give personal time to is The Calgary Interfaith Food Bank. It is simplistic, to apply on line, go through the orientation event, and then start your scheduled participation to helping others. I find being part of their operation on a volunteer basis, rewarding because it is personal through the time that one spends there in a hands on way packing food hampers for our neighbours in the community.
    If there are more ways created to participate hands on as in both of the above situations with little difficulty in becoming involved, then non-profits will likely see greater participation from mor people I believe.
    Thanks for the article!

    • The Other Bottom Line

      Thank you for this comment Don.

      You’ve touched on a key motivator here. People need to be able to relate. And in turn, organizations need to be able to mobilize those who want to help.

      I’m so glad you’ve been able to relate and make a difference in our community Don!


  3. bulldog

    A disaster is heard by all and most react to help immediately… how does a non-profit organisation get the same response??? You have to get out there and be seen by all, to propagate the disaster that has struck those that you support, to shout out loudly what it is you collect for… you need to be the disaster announcer of the issue to which you support… make sense??

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