Sharing HR expertise enables smaller grassroots initiatives to thrive

Swamped with the responsibilities of paperwork, administration, payroll and other minutiae, how can smaller charitable projects stay afloat and focused on driving real-world change?

If you’re one of 50 community-led projects of Tides Canada, you share administrative resources and expertise across a shared platform.

How the shared platform works

Put simply, Tides Canada’s shared platform has a shared support team, systems and other infrastructures for its projects that align with the organization’s vision of a healthy environment, social equity, and economic prosperity for all Canadians.

Tides Canada provides the people and processes needed to manage and deliver governance, compliance, financial management, risk management, grants administration, and human resources.

“Many charities struggle, or worse, get shut down because they’re spending too much time on or they don’t know how to do budgeting, regulatory reporting, admin and HR,” says Angie Vickaryous, HR Manager of Tides Canada. “The shared platform provides all those supports to our staff who aren’t always experienced in those areas, and who normally need to do that kind of work off the sides of their desks. This allows our staff to focus on their work and our mission to create a healthy planet and just society.”

Projects are located across Canada, and the staff that work on them are all Tides Canada employees. Some projects have staff between one and 25 people, while some have no staff at all but are volunteer-driven.

Featured project: Northern Youth Leadership

With only one full-time staff member and seasonal staff for camps, Northern Youth Leadership Project Director Alison McConnell certainly appreciates all the supports, systems and tools the staff on the platform receive — particularly in the way of human resources support.

“Every year, I hire on additional staff between March and October — and that’s a lot of HR paperwork that the HR team has taken care of entirely,” she says. “I haven’t had any worries about creating contracts — instead, HR sends out all the contract information, makes sure all tax forms are filled out, all deposits are done, and that payroll is set up and paid on time.”

Tides Canada has an intranet for its projects — known as “the portal” — that provides several templates for simplifying HR tasks.

“HR provides templates for all kinds of things, from interview questions to reference checks, and I can adapt everything to the job at hand,” says Alison. “Even creating job postings is easy — we use the template to write out our job requirements, and then send it to HR to approve and make edits.”

Being part of Tides Canada has been an enormous cost-savings to the Northern Youth Leadership project — particularly due to being in the north.

“If I look at it from a northern perspective, for me to hire a second full-time staff member, I would need to consider the higher salaries in the North compared to elsewhere in Canada,” says Alison “And even then, that staff member wouldn’t have the same range of specialties that my existing Tides Canada colleagues already provide. I would either have to choose an HR specialist or a finance specialist, whereas as a Tides Canada project, I get access to both. Basically, the shared platform has experts in everything you could possibly need, without having to hire on a billion people to fill in different roles.”

Working with her colleagues across Canada — people who are experts in their field — has come in especially handy for Alison, who recently decided to change the Northern Youth Leadership employee model from contractors to seasonal staff.

“It’s helpful to have the HR experts like Angie and her team on hand to help me talk through all the different options for compensation, and to make sure we’re doing something that is fair to employees and easy enough for us to administer,” she says.

Alison also points to the benefit of the shared platform for knowledge transfer.

“In the north, we tend to have high turnover across pretty much all organizations. Being part of the shared platform makes sure the organizational knowledge is always there. For example, sometimes a director will leave and there is a period between them leaving and a new person being hired — which means all that knowledge is lost and you need to start from scratch. But being part of Tides Canada is really valuable because there is a history of things like job descriptions and finance.”

Featured project: East Scarborough Storefront

With about 25 employees, the East Scarborough Storefront is the largest project of the shared platform. Created as a 40-organization partnership, The Storefront originally rested within a local Boys & Girls Club. It then became part of the shared platform when the platform was still relatively new in Ontario.

“We started out as part of a local Boys & Girls Club project, so we didn’t have any enormous HR challenges prior to joining Tides Canada,” says director Anne Gloger. “However, the main difference between being a project of a service-providing organization and being on the shared platform was the focus on HR policies that would work for compliance and leverage the best in HR thinking specifically for the projects on the shared platform.”

The shared platform has also been of great benefit for Storefront training purposes.

“We have mandatory training for employees, and the portal provides us with health and safety and other supervisory sorts of workshops that are extremely helpful for meeting those objectives,” says Anne. “We just download the online package and it provides us with all kinds of opportunities to build capacity in our managers.”

As a “tiny outfit,” Anne enjoys being able to have what the “big organizations can have.”

“We have HR expertise to tap into whenever we need it,” she says. “We wouldn’t generally have an HR person on staff if we were standalone — but with the HR team, we have a specialist who really understands compliance, legalities and best practices. We get that guidance without having to hire anybody.”

Being part of Tides Canada has also enabled employees to enjoy a benefits package.

“We would have a hard time offering something like this to employees, based on our size—but with the shared platform, we’re able to,” says Anne. “Meanwhile, we’ve also been able to pool resources and be able to buy into an employee assistance program (EAP) — something on a large scale that a smaller employer wouldn’t be able to do otherwise, which is fantastic.”

Improved capacity

Ultimately, projects on Tides Canada’s shared platform gain more time and money to spend on achieving greater impact, as each project benefits from sharing important administrative resources and expertise.

“It’s so helpful to have this whole team behind you so when something comes up, and you can brainstorm with them,” says Alison. “Having that ability to talk about things with experts, and to look at the pros and cons of doing certain things related to HR, has been very helpful for me. Our experts ensure I’m running my project as effectively and efficiently as possible. The team members of the shared platform have provided me with so much support, I wouldn’t want to go back to the other way!”

Tides Canada’s shared platform is still relatively new in Canada. However, “We’re beginning to see more organizations exploring this way of working together here,” says Angie. “We’re doing the groundwork to show that this model works. I can see this becoming much more popular in the non-profit sector as more people learn about the benefits of a shared platform.”

This nonprofit HR innovation story series is made possible thanks to a partnership between Community Foundations of Canada, and family foundation Ignite NPS. Together we are supporting Canada’s nonprofit sector by highlighting stories of HR innovation and promising practices taking place in community organizations across the country.

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