The Mikuska Group  

Volunteers strengthen your organization

Volunteers can strengthen your organization if you’re able to define your needs and how they can be filled by them. You have to have a plan to oversee the volunteers, and to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of your volunteer program.

Your volunteers must be an integral part of your organization, not just “those people in your boardroom stuffing envelopes”. While that is a worthwhile endeavour, chances are people willing to give their time have some talent that you can tap into to help even more.

Some examples:

  • offer training in researching potential donors for a major gifts program. Curious people who love research appreciate this type of opportunity. They can even do it at home, on their time.
  • many professionals are willing to help on a short-term or project basis in areas such as:
    • communications and marketing
    • mentoring staff and board
    • graphic design
    • human resources or legal advice
    • technology and social media
    • strategic and management planning
  • relationship management – make the most of your database by using volunteers to record your ongoing relationship with your donors and friends. Training on not only how to enter data, but how to produce reports will help you better manage your fundraising program.
  • ambassadors – the volunteers you have most certainly talk about your organization outside of their volunteer hours. Make sure you equip them with the key messages you want to convey and empower them to use them!

How can you use volunteers in your organization?

Laura Mikuska


When is it time to pack it in?

When is it time for an organization to hang up the cleats? Stop fighting the fight and dissolve or merge?

  • If the mission is no longer relevant i.e. the reasons for founding the organization have become obsolete.
  • If the organization’s mission is similar to others in the community.
  • If the funding has dried up, especially from governments, and there is no natural base of support i.e. donor or member relationships don’t exist or are few in number.
  • If opportunities for earned income are not viable e.g. sales, fees.
  • If the organization exists solely on projects and has no sustainable income.
  • If the mission is supported by only a handful of foundations.
  • If the volunteer base is aging and younger volunteers aren’t filling in, both in client service and on the board.
  • If the board is dysfunctional and relations with staff are sour.

Any one of these reasons may not be what makes an organization decide to dissolve or merge. But for some, it will be a combination.

The Manitoba Society of Seniors was founded in 1979 by volunteers who wanted to give seniors a voice. At the time, seniors needed advocacy around pensions, housing, services and recreation. MSOS also provided services at low or no cost (tax preparation, financial counselling, photocopying), operated bus tours and published the MSOS Journal. It ran the popular 55 Plus Games. Membership, at one time as high as 10,000, provided steady income, and numerous volunteers worked in the office, at the games and served on regional councils.

In 2011, MSOS closed its doors and ceased operations, citing declining membership and revenues. Other organizations work with government to advocate for seniors’ issues, and offer services once offered by MSOS, including the 55 Plus Games. They ceased to be relevant to enough people to support it either as volunteers or as members and donors. Baby Boomers don’t see themselves needing advocacy by a seniors group as they are used to going after and getting what they want.

Deciding to stop operating is not failure if it’s done thoughtfully. If, for example, the need for services still exists in the community but an organization is unable to deliver on its own, a merger with a similar organization can allow for the work to continue. Or any remaining funds at dissolution can be given to an organization with a compatible mission.

If you’re struggling, ask yourselves why. If the conditions aren’t right to go on, then stop.

Laura Mikuska


Thoughts on the federal Liberal convention

I recently volunteered at the Liberal Party of Canada’s biennial convention, held in Winnipeg for the first time in 36 years. Last time, I was able to see the first Prime Minister Trudeau, this time, the second PM Trudeau. It was a markedly different experience.

What struck me this time was the diversity of the delegates, staff and volunteers. Every age, gender, and ethnicity was represented. I met two recent immigrant volunteers who were not even eligible to vote in the 2015 election, yet were highly engaged with the Liberal party. One had since become a Canadian citizen, and the other was intending to apply. Both were impressed that they could have access to, and speak with, the Members of Parliament who attended the convention. They were amazed that MPs were “regular people”, able to mingle with the masses, unencumbered by body guards and an entourage.

It also struck me how valued the volunteers and donors are by the MPs, the Prime Minister and the staff. “Because of you” was a phrase heard often – without the thousands of volunteers and donors who worked tirelessly on the election, there would not have been a Liberal majority victory. Even as a convention volunteer, I was thanked countless times by the staff and delegates alike.

We in the social impact sector can take a page from this experience. Engaging our donors and volunteers, celebrating our successes together, and thanking them again and again – this is how we can change the world.

Laura Mikuska


The power of thanks

When was the last time someone sent you a hand-written letter of thanks?

For me, it was a few minutes ago. I was tickled pink. Literally.









I received it from a thoughtful staff member at a social impact organization where I volunteer. She had to have returned to her desk after the function we attended yesterday, written the note and popped it in the mail. That realization alone made me feel really special!

We all know we need to say thanks, and say it often, but how many of us put this into action? I know how this made me feel – warm and fuzzy, appreciated and recognized. It reminded me why I volunteer there, and gave me a renewed sense of loyalty to their mission.

How are you making your volunteers feel?

Laura Mikuska


Finding inspiration

It can be easy to be cynical, to hunker down and be mired in one’s own life. It can be even easier to ignore others’ troubles and pain. What I love most about what we do is that we see everyday heroes who make a difference in their world.

One of our clients has especially inspired me to share my love of good food and cooking with a group of teens. Food Matters Manitoba creates opportunities for kids and new Canadians to learn how to choose and prepare good food to promote healthy eating. I had a chance to chat with their staff before I proposed a cooking class to students in an alternative program in south Winnipeg – their tips were very helpful.

The kids were all enthusiastic about good food! We decided to prepare lasagne and homemade buns. When preparation was underway, one young man declared that this was the first time he had ever cut up a fresh vegetable. Imagine being a teenager and never having had the opportunity to cut up a carrot! He was especially proud of his contribution to the meal. Another said he had eaten lasagna before, but never knew exactly what went into it. He had two helpings.

I’m especially appreciative that they allow me to share this experience with them, to see their delight at what they’ve accomplished. I look forward to our next cooking adventure – this time we’re preparing tourtière and pea soup.

Who has inspired you lately?

Laura Mikuska


“I’m not a fundraiser!” … yet

In a recent post I encouraged fundraisers to feel proud of what they do, because they impact lives and enable change in the community. Now I’m going to tell you how and why all staff, board and volunteers can do the same.

But you’re thinking, “I’m not a fundraiser!” because you’re program staff, or the CEO or a data entry volunteer. And you’re certainly not a fundraiser if you’re on the board – that’s not what you signed up for. Your palms are feeling sweaty at the mere suggestion that you should be…

If we break down what fundraising really is, we discover that it’s about creating and maintaining relationships by offering the opportunity to have a positive impact in the community. What? No mention of asking for money?

You’re involved with the organization because you have a passion for the mission, and can see firsthand how your clients are helped by what you offer. (Note – “clients” include furry ones too.) Program staff, board members and volunteers have the opportunity to tell the heartwarming stories of tragedy and triumph, of struggle and success. Don’t keep them to yourself! Ask if you can share with the development staff, so they can share with donors. It doesn’t have to be complicated – a quick email or note will do. Don’t worry about perfect grammar either – just get the story out. There, that doesn’t sound so scary after all, does it?

Storytelling is the best way to tell donors that they are heroes – by doing so, you’ve just become a fundraiser.

Laura Mikuska


What’s your story?

If you are a volunteer or on the staff of a non-profit organization or a charity, you likely have personal reasons why you are involved in the particular cause. Learn to talk about those reasons and you’ll have the ability to tell others about your personal involvement story.

What’s powerful about your story? It’s emotional. And we know people are moved to action with their hearts. Instead of trying to sell someone on why your organization is great, you can tell them why you’re involved, and ask them to join you. It’s a much more comfortable place.

Christopher Davenport of, offers some questions to help you craft your story:

  1. When were you first aware of the organization?
  2. What one thing stood out to you at first?
  3. What was the impact the organization had in the community that made you want to give your time, talent and money?
  4. Why do you personally feel compelled to give?
  5. How did you first get involved (as a volunteer, donor, board member, staff member)?
  6. Is there a special person or reason you continue to support the organization?
  7. Why do you think it’s a worthy cause?

When you’re writing your story, remember it’s not really about you. It’s about donors who are the heroes who make it possible for your organization to have impact on individuals.

What’s your story?

Julie Mikuska.


Flourishing Gardens

We’re excited to announce that our client, Gardens on Tenth in Altona, has officially opened their brand-new residence for seniors in their community.

An excerpt from the official opening program:

The Gardens” – FIVE years from visioning to reality! Five years ago 50 individuals and organizations in our community got together to visualize the needs and challenges for Seniors of today AND tomorrow!

TODAY we are celebrating the results of that visioning day…The Gardens…a 66 suite facility providing independent living with services for Seniors in our community and area, allowing them to age in place, with dignity, self-respect and privacy.”

They approached us in 2012 with their dream – to raise $3 million to support affordable housing for everyone in the community as part of the overall $18 million project. They knew that their dream needed expertise to make it happen, and we were engaged as campaign counsel for the project.

The Campaign Cabinet, chaired by David Wiebe, was supported by two staff members of the organization. The rest of the team, including Campaign Director Menno H. Friesen, were all volunteers – over 75 in total. At the official opening, David described what their biggest learning curve was during the campaign:

“We had some, no, let’s be honest and say a great deal of reluctance to believe that you have to have “the right person to ask the right person at the right time for the right amount in the right way”. . .but believe me it worked!”.

They clearly applied this principle to the rest of the campaign, ensuring they had the right people in place at the right time to carry it out. They have raised $2.7 million of their goal, and expect to raise the rest in the coming months.

We are proud of our contribution to the accomplishment of this determined group – congratulations!

Julie and Laura Mikuska


Succession planning and loyalty

A recent discussion with a business owner, Sue Leclair of The Pretzel Place, about her staff got me interested in what lessons she shared could be applied to non-profits. While she’s relatively new to the business, Sue does have her eye on when she’d like to step away and have someone else run the day-to-day operations. With that in mind, she told her staff that she’d like to “train my replacement” and was pleasantly surprised at the number who were interested.

Another observation she made was that almost all of her staff had returned from the previous year! That loyalty stems from her attitude that they are like “family” and should be treated with respect. She is taking that further and challenging them to choose, among themselves, who will be “Team Leader of the Day” in each of her concessions. She wants to give everyone a chance to test out that responsibility.

So what can business teach non-profits?

Often we see organizations struggle when a long-time executive director or board chair leaves and there is no plan for succession. Boards have a duty to “write themselves out of the picture” by advancing board members through the various positions up to President, then stepping off the board to allow new members and fresh perspective. Who in the organization might one day be interested in the top staff position?  Consider sending your leader and future leaders to a Leadership Development module at the Banff Centre so they can explore this possibility. Bursaries are available!

Do you have loyal and long-time staff members? Or is it a revolving door in and out of your organization? Do you invest in your staff training? Having activities such as “Team Leader of the Day” or similar things can breed good feelings about your workplace and don’t have to cost a lot. Recognition and encouragement also go a long way in keeping staff interested in working for you.

Plan your succession and engender staff loyalty. You will reap the rewards.

Laura Mikuska



Today I attended the swearing-in ceremony for a dear friend who, after living many years in Canada, decided to become a Canadian citizen. It was a moving ceremony, with 79 others who chose Canada as their home from 22 different countries.

The presiding judge made his remarks before the swearing-in began, and in them, he encouraged these new Canadians to fully embrace their citizenship and participate as much as possible in Canadian society. He urged them to become part of their community by giving – their time, their wisdom and if possible, their money. At the very least, he encouraged them to help their neighbours.

As I listened, I thought how all of us should attend a citizenship ceremony at least once and feel the joy new Canadians have about their country. We should also heed the judge’s advice to give to our community. Our fellow citizens can use our help, and we will all be richer for it.

Who will you help this week? this month? this year?

Laura Mikuska



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