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SVP Retreat 2019 earns a 100% “will attend again” rating

Posted by SVP Vancouver
A group shot of the nonprofits and SVP Partners who attended the SVP Retreat 2019

Two intensive days of learning leave SVP’s non-profit Investees and Alumni fired up for more

The second annual SVP Retreat on Bowen Island brought 17 non-profits and five SVP Partners together for two days of immersive, peer-to-peer learning. SVP’s shared services staff, Fundraising Director Amanda Burrows and Social Impact Coach Meagan Sutton, led the event, which centred around the theme “Navigating your way through complex systems.” 

The Retreat aimed to help non-profits further understand and articulate their role and impact in complex systems and began with a keynote address from Chris Corrigan, who spoke to the complex nature of work in the non-profit sector. An expert in strategic design and complexity, Chris provided the group with simple tools for influencing a problem that is situated in a complex environment with many different factors. In the context of non-profit work, this means better influencing the problem or “cause” that a non-profit seeks to address by considering the socioeconomic environment (the “ecosystem,” more on this below) in which the problem exists.

By illustrating how to reframe one’s perspective, Chris helped participants to understand that the aim isn’t to “solve problems,” but rather to “shift the patterns” that tend to hold those problems in place. He introduced a framework, called ABIDE, that can inspire new ways of thinking about a problem. Coming at the problem from a different angle can sometimes highlight a solution, pathway, or insight that would otherwise be missed. For example, changing who is involved in the process and including more diverse voices can change the way a non-profit learns about and works on a problem. 

After Chris’s inspiring presentation, Day 1 saw participants put some of these concepts into practice. First they worked to clearly define the problem their organization aims to address, and then to map the environment, or “ecosystem” they operate in (which includes the needs and voices of the clients being served, the interests of the stakeholders involved, the barriers to solving the problem and the power dynamics at play). 

For some participants, these were new and exciting concepts. Said one, “I had never thought about the ecosystem that my (and other) organizations exist in—nor why it might be useful to turn my mind to it! But now I know.”

Day 2 focused on developing and understanding theories of change, and how to use a theory of change to frame and inform vital fundraising work. Other sessions and discussions covered ways to engage people at different levels, reframe the problem, apply adaptive problem solving, and more. 

For many participants, the peer-to-peer learning environment afforded them not only the opportunity to hear about each other’s challenges, but to get a clearer sense of how organizations in the non-profit sector can support and collaborate, rather than compete with each other to have a greater impact. 

Though a heavy lift to get through in two days, many of the non-profits enjoyed the opportunity to step back and consider these issues in detail. Added one participant, “The opportunity for various members of different non-profits to engage with each other was extremely empowering.” 

In this regard, the closing breakout session, which focused on the challenges each organization faces, was particularly popular. “We had two minutes to describe a challenge,” explains a participant. “Three minutes of asking questions, and two minutes of advice. I learned the key challenges of four different Investees in 15 minutes!” 

Being able to organize and participate in an event like this, with so many non-profits that are doing such important and hard work, is a career privilege and highlight for me,” says SVP Fundraising Director Amanda Burrows. “I’m so proud to work for a funder that recognizes the importance of funding moments like this—moments where non-profits have the time and space to reflect on the bigger picture and impact of their work.”

The Retreat was a HUGE success, with 100% of post-event survey respondents stating they’d like to attend again next year!


SVP would like to extend a big thank you to the five SVP Partners who joined us on Day 2, and to the non-profits who spent two days learning and sharing, inspiring and challenging. Thanks to Kidsafe, The Writer’s Exchange, Growing Chefs!, Fresh Roots, The Asante Centre, Learning Disabilities Society, ArtStarts, PEDAL, One To One, Zero Ceiling, Burnaby MoreSports, Mealshare, Urban Horse Project, Kinbrace, Athletics 4 Kids, Red Fox Healthy Living Society, and Environmental Youth Alliance. 

We would also like to thank keynote speaker Chris Corrigan and facilitator Jocelyn Macdougall for helping to facilitate and spark such wonderful conversations.


SVP received generous co-funding from Jim Yeates and the Francis Family Foundation for this Retreat—many thanks! There are some remaining costs to cover, so if you’re feeling inspired to co-fund this or other SVP opportunities that support capacity-building work with our Investees, contact Amanda.