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Voluntary Sector Initiative Awareness Table Consultations

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Awareness Campaign

The Message

It is evident from the interventions across the country that the central message of the Awareness Campaign should be the importance and value of the sector's contributions to society and community. As they said in Toronto: "We are huge force in the Canadian landscape, a huge sector that contributes immeasurably to this country and its well-being." The voluntary sector:

  • Responds to a wide range of community needs.
  • Contributes to the quality of life of individuals and communities.
  • Provides for innovation, and is more open to risks than the other sectors.
  • Reflects a strong democracy and a cohesive civil society.
  • Enhances social justice and contributes to collective responsibility.
  • Centres it actions and expresses its passion through core values of sharing, compassion and commitment.
  • Forms the glue of the community.

These are the essential points of the campaign message.

In addition, many other messages were suggested. Two were raised in a number of communities: the extent of the sector's economic contribution and the skills of people involved in the sector.

The economic aspect was mentioned in many communities; in general, it was not developed to any extent, except in Montreal and Toronto, the two largest cities in which the consultations took place (see those notes in Appendix D). The number of jobs in the sector, and the purchasing activities of the sector were the key economic messages. Where economic arguments were mentioned only briefly, it seemed that participants felt obliged to develop those arguments without being comfortable or certain of them. It is important to recognize the ease with which voluntary sector representatives talk about the social development contributions of the sector. This is a reflection of the sector's values and its comfort level with social development issues. Nonetheless, economic arguments may need to be employed because of the weight they carry and the attention they attract from media. If any messaging is developed using economic arguments, it will be very important to provide specific tools and supporting order for those delivering the message to be able to speak this language with confidence.

As for the other common message suggested; it is connected to the increased recognition and valuation of the work of people involved in the sector. Emphasis could be placed on the high level of skills and professionalism in the sector. Recognition of staff contributions as part of the Awareness Campaign messaging was raised as an alternative to an Awards Program.

Two possible themes to deliver the message were also articulated. A significant number of communities proposed linking the messages to the question: "What would happen without the sector?" This could be a very compelling message if delivered in a highly graphical way. Images could illustrate the absence of the sector. This idea builds on the premise that one cannot appreciate something until it is gone. A number of communities fleshed out the types of images and approaches that could make persuasive use of this theme (see the notes from Halifax, Saint John, St. John's and Winnipeg in Appendix D).

Another theme that was proposed was: "Are you up to the challenge?" This idea would zero in on the fact that the voluntary sector is a vibrant, exciting and challenging place in which to work and contribute. This theme could be use as a challenge at the organization, community, region, and national levels (see the notes from Saskatoon in Appendix D).

The Target Audiences

Most participants concluded that all of the target audiences should be reached in some way, except in Calgary, where the group decided that only the voluntary sector should be targeted. In fact, passionate arguments for each of the potential target audiences were articulated. Although there was convergence around specific sub-target audiences within a specific consultation, on the whole, the full range of potential sub-targets was identified across these consultations.

Nonetheless, the three key target audiences across the country were determined to be: the voluntary sector, especially at the Board level; the media; and youth. The secondary targets were: business leaders and groups; and all levels of government.

All communities concluded that the awareness level within the sector itself must be increased. Many individuals involved in the sector do not know what the voluntary sector is and do not have a clear sense of its diversity and complexity. It must become more evident to individuals and organizations that they are part of the voluntary sector, as are many other kinds of organizations. It is in the sector that one should begin to communicate the message of the awareness campaign. The campaign must go beyond the parts of the sector which are easily recognized as its core to reach the full breadth of the sector.

When targeting the voluntary sector itself, it would be strategic to begin with Board members. As they said in Toronto, "You first have to get your Board on board." Board members are the core decision-makers of organizations and their decisions lead the way for change. Once Boards members become more aware of the voluntary sector, its importance in Canadian society, how the organization fits in, and specifics of the awareness campaign, then they can "get the ball rolling" and find ways for the message to be heard and understood across their organization and beyond. Many Board members are themselves involved in or part of the public and the private sectors, and thus can get the message out to the other sectors. Although, for the most part, these consultations drew in participants from the voluntary sector only - in other words they did not generally include the perspectives of business, government, the media, other opinion leaders or the general public - it will be difficult to conduct a convincing Awareness Campaign without a well-informed voluntary sector.

The power of the Canadian media is tremendous, as is its capacity to multiply the impact of a message. The media - including print, radio and television - forms a key target audience of the Awareness Campaign. Its influence is felt at the local, regional, provincial and national levels. Engaging media at the community level, such as community newspapers or radio stations, is essential to get the message out to local people. The media is a key target audience because of its capacity to deliver the messages to the other target audiences.

Another key target audience is youth: youth of all ages, youth everywhere. The voluntary sector needs youth. It is important for the sector to reach out to youth, to attract them and to keep them involved. Youth must hear the message of the Awareness Campaign in a way that is appropriate. They must gain a clear mental image of the voluntary sector. Many participants said "the younger the better." The teaching approach must be adapted to the age of students. It is important to reach out to marginalized youth, not only youth in schools or organised youth groups. For older youth, it is essential to promote the sector as a good career choice. However, in one community - Calgary - participants were very concerned about the capacity of the voluntary sector to involve and manage youth once they become more aware of the sector.

The secondary target audiences are business leaders and groups, and all levels of government. These audiences are less focused than the three key target audiences and cover a wide range of individuals and groups in the private and public sectors. The message of the Awareness Campaign should be aimed at both business leaders and groups and individuals at all levels of government. They can best be reached through the media and through presentations on the voluntary sector tailored to them.

The Tools & Support

In order to fully engage in the Awareness Campaign, organizations will need a wide range of general and specific tools and support. Given the stretched resources within the sector, consideration should be given to providing some direct financial resources to organizations for the campaign.

The types of tools requested to participate in the campaign fall into several broad categories; all are needed for very different and specific reasons.

  • Background information and communication tools: Statistics and basic information are needed to provide the solid arguments and rationale behind the campaign. Guidance on "how to" work with the tools and address specific target audiences is needed. Fully adaptable and shareable templates for the full range of materials - from press releases to fact sheets to ad mats - would greatly reduce the effort and duplication in a campaign.

  • Promotion materials: These highly visible tools are necessary to complement the content tools; for the most part, the voluntary sector does not have capacity to develop and produce them.

  • Events: High-profile events, such as the launch of the Awareness Campaign, are the best way to attract media attention, particularly at the national level. Presentations on the sector - whether through a multi-media event, a travelling exhibit, or a theatrical production - will be effective at reaching target audiences at the community and regional level. In addition, opportunities for cross-sectoral networking and training, both formal and informal, will build capacity within the sector while, at the same time, fostering synergy and enthusiasm within the sector. Events of all kind are opportunities for the development of relationships and networks, which are fundamental to the way the voluntary sector works.

  • Human resources: Spokespeople - sector champions - could convincingly get the message out to target audiences. Advisory contacts are needed for co-ordination and as information sources in order that organizations across the sector can truly take part in the campaign. Skills sharing, mentoring, and formal and informal training in specific competencies are also required, and will have the added benefit of capacity-building within the sector.

Although persuasive arguments can be made about the need to develop all of these tools, given that resources are limited, we recommend that the following tools be considered the minimum required for conducting the Awareness Campaign:

  • A video or some other kind of multi-media presentation.
  • A poster.
  • A multi-use how-to kit that would include basic statistics, advice on use of the tools, and templates.

In conjunction with these tools, it will be very important to develop a logo and a common look or image for the sector and the campaign.

Finally, for a co-ordinated and cogent national campaign, it will be essential to develop tools that build the links between a national campaign and individual organizations so that those organizations are easily able to join in at the local level. Examples are: developing and providing local statistics and other information, leaving room for local organizations to add their own information to promotional tools, and developing templates that can be adapted to the situation of local organizations. Also very important is the need to tailor communication tools and promotional materials to the specific target audiences. We also recommend that, when the tools are being developed, the individual notes be thoroughly reviewed and referred to for details on tool design. Excellent and specific suggestions were made during the consultations.

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Last Updated: 2019-11-15