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The Globe and Mail recently ran an article about Vancity Credit Union’s onboarding sessions – the immersion program that the credit union offers to all of its staff and even its Board of Directors when they join the organization. From a read of that article, it seems like an awesome program. I’ve been involved in some activities around it, and I can echo many of the impactful statements that were made.

There’s a key takeaway that you can get from this short but informative piece. How you bring people into your organization matters – it’s first impressions, but on an important new level. When it comes to bringing people into social impact organizations, you can be build a culture for impact, if you do your onboarding well. You can even increase your impact by building a culture of engagement and empowerment. Read on to find out how.

Vancity’s onboarding is important because it does a few things really, really well: it’s an immersive program where staff from all levels of the organization meet each other, learn about the credit union’s business model, why it exists, and what it does. In just that brief description of their onboarding process, there’s so much you can easily adopt into your organization’s welcoming practices to increase your impact.

Here’s just a sampling:

  • Make your onboarding a destination event, not something that’s a chore. I’m a millenial, and I’ve had a few jobs. Onboarding at each of them has been somewhat different. One was a good little tour of the organization and an introduction to how it worked. Another was handing me the keys and wishing me luck. Another was  being thrown feet-first into the fire. My best was a three-day bootcamp about the broad organization I was now a part of and its goals, and how our portion of the organization contributed to them.That was the best experience I had for a reason, and it’s part of why Vancity’s onboarding process sings: the staff are immersed in the credit union. It’s not a tour of the facilities done over coffee and in between training. It’s an intensive program that everyone attends and learns about the organization. Think about what you could do here with a social impact organization: take some time to actively tell the stories of why you do what you do – not just the logistics of how and where. This does take a bit more time, and for a nonprofit organization with tight timelines and tight budgets, it can be hard to justify. But it’s crucial – immersing into your cause will make it resonate even more.
  • Bring your stakeholders together. The idea of members of the board of directors and frontline staff coming together for an onboarding and orientation process might seem confusing or even challenging at first. But it’s something that will have impact down the road.How many times have you wished that your board actually knew what you did in your job? Or how many times have you, as a board member, not completely understood what your staff did? An onboarding process like this creates connections between leaders and implementers, the board and the staff. It can build a stronger community. And when you need to rely on that community to realize the success of your social impact, an onboarding process like this is a worthwhile investment.
  • Make the theme of the event your cause and your purpose. Often, there aren’t themes to onboarding processes. The onboarding process can sometimes devolve into a mapping of the organization and an assignment of passwords. The story that emerges from that is that there’s complexity and administration and your organization. That isn’t what you want your staff to feel as their first take-home.Instead, bring in your stakeholders. Your success stories. Hold your onboarding at a place that has significance to why you do what you do – a client or a related charity – to bring the message home. Make the theme of your event your social impact. Make it sing.

Vancity’s onboarding is awesome. If you want some assistance in building up yours, get in touch. We’ve got ideas!

About Kevin Harding

Kevin Harding is a principal of the Incipe Cooperative, and is a volunteer board member of the Art for Impact Society. He has worked in the nonprofit, public, and cooperative sector for some time, and has a passion for working with coops, nonprofits, and advocacy groups that want to make a better world. A coop developer, he strongly believes that cooperatives can build a better world.

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