Building, recognizing and enabling leadership development

Leadership development has been a core element of our programming since Pillar’s beginnings. In our early days, we focused solely on developing nonprofit leaders. Over time, we saw the possibility of recognizing and influencing leaders from various sectors with the overarching goal being to enable them all to hold a community impact lens. Our support and recognition of leadership has spanned across generations and sectors and continues to evolve as societal trends and communities shift. 

As a network, we look to build, recognize and enable our community to gain leadership opportunities. Through our learning and development program, the Pillar Community Innovation Awards, and our volunteer supports, we have provided knowledge, awareness and connections to leaders across our community. Across sectors, we believe that it is core for all organizations to support their employees in developing these important skills. Here is an overview of the ways we support leadership development and our top tips on how to develop leadership capacity in your employees or network. 

Building leadership potential through learning and development 

Building success and inspiring leadership in individuals, organizations and enterprises invested in positive community impact has been foundational to our learning and development program. Our efforts in this area began in 2004 when we hosted the London Leadership Conference to address how leaders from each of the three pillars could work together to solve the challenges facing the London community and how to bring a systems lens to our solutions. One of the themes from the conference was the fact that we all want to make a difference but cannot do so in our own silos. Many of the speakers stressed the importance of working together as a collective to make a difference and using our power to rally support from the public and private sectors.

Over the years, we have offered programming for Executive Directors including workshops and peer learning circles. We have provided boards with diversity and governance training, and have hosted forums for foundations to build their capacity and knowledge of emerging trends. We started a leadership development series to bring together peers including nonprofit leaders, social entrepreneurs and those wanting to maximize their leadership potential to create positive change in their communities. To keep the program innovative and fresh, the themes have evolved from Leading for Community Change, Leadership Beyond the Box, and Leading from the Inside Out

Shining a light on those making positive community impact

An important part of encouraging leadership development in our community is recognizing those people and organizations whose efforts make a difference to create a stronger, more vibrant community. We developed the London Community Innovation Awards in 2004 to celebrate best practices within nonprofit and charitable organizations across London, the people at the heart of these organizations, and the individuals and corporations who provide ongoing support. 

In 2007, we redesigned the program in consultation with a group of diverse community members and it was renamed the Pillar Community Innovation Awards. The four award categories included: Community Innovation, Community Leadership, Community Impact and Community Collaboration. The potential nominees could include individuals, nonprofit organizations, corporations and government who provide ongoing support to the nonprofit sector demonstrating our commitment to recognizing the three pillars for their contributions to the community. There is an independent selections committee of community members who make the tough decision of who the finalists and award recipients are annually.

As a network, we look to build, recognize and enable our community to gain leadership opportunities. Across sectors, we believe that it is core for all organizations to support their employees in developing these important skills.

As part of our diversity and inclusion work, in 2008, we added to the criteria for each of the awards on how the nominee encouraged diversity and inclusiveness in the community. Then in 2017, we introduced the Community Choice Award to engage the community recognizing an individual who is not already selected as an award recipient in another category. Since launching the Pillar Community Innovation Awards, it has evolved into one of the biggest celebrations of positive community impact in our city drawing more than 1000 people last year alone. 

While there is a specific community leadership award category, each of the awards recognizes community leadership excellence. Inspiring our community through the storytelling leading up to the event, the night of and following the event is intended to inspire our community to see how they too can be community changemakers. Each of us has a role to play to build a community for all to live, work and play. See a list of our past Pillar Community Innovation Award recipients visit here.

Volunteering to gain new leadership skills

Pillar’s first major program and project was building an online volunteer portal to connect the community to volunteer opportunities. Our website still features this functionality and accounts for a large percentage of our online traffic. Over the years, Pillar staff have also spoken at schools, community groups, and businesses about the value of volunteering. With our commitment to supporting newcomers and immigrants in volunteering we have had 10 different funded projects related to board diversity and volunteering at leadership tables including a Board Diversity Project, onBoard Canada and The Art of Volunteering for New Canadians. 

We continue to work with the Indigenous community around how to engage them in the nonprofit sector and at leadership tables. Supporting youth volunteerism has also been a core program including the ChangeTheWorld Youth Volunteer program that ran for more than 10 years and the Canada Life Young Leaders program. Our work related to volunteerism has been precarious as it has been dependent on grants and therefore takes on different focuses and demographics. We see volunteering as a key way to build leadership skills, career experience and community impact and remain committed to connecting our community to these opportunities.

Ideas for developing leadership capacity in community
  1. Bring diverse people together – There is great value in bringing together different generations, backgrounds and sectors to learn from one another. There is much to gain from the perspective of those with different lived experiences than our own. 
  2. Build basics and beyond – It’s important to provide foundational leadership programming, but to also to weave in fresh and innovative concepts that reflect trends and shifts in society. Look to reinvigorate programs with input from your network and community. 
  3. Be a catalyst for deep learning – Go beyond hosting one off sessions and provide an ongoing learning and development series that provides opportunities to dive deeper into content and learn through peer discussion and reflection.
  4. Highlight outstanding leaders – Share, recognize and celebrate leadership in your community or organization to build awareness and inspire others.
  5. Embrace technology to connect – Using technology as a way to connect community to leadership and volunteer opportunities can be a game changer, making the process more efficient and less reliant on human resources.
  6. Receive through giving back – Whether you’re a seasoned professional, a newcomer or a young person, there are many leadership opportunities to be found through volunteering. Taking on a role on a board or at a leadership table is a valuable way to build your network, skills and experience.
  7. Bring a network mindset to your leadership approach – The leadership team in an organization can practice a networked approach even with the way it interacts and engages the team. This includes involving the team in decision making and creating a culture that leans on one another.