The last few months have challenged all organizations in ways they could have never expected. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed significant stress on charities, which have seen increased demand as communities have grappled with the ever-changing ‘new normal.’ Vulnerable populations within our society that are often supported by local charities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The importance of a strong charitable sector in Waterloo Region has never been greater.
We are pleased to report that SVP Waterloo Region’s Investee partnership with Carizon has remained productive and collaborative during these difficult times. We are so thankful to both our many partners as well as the staff and leadership team at Carizon for all their hard work and dedication to this partnership.
Carizon’s mental health and wellbeing programs and services continue to be as important as ever:
“The needs in our community are growing as people continue to experience the complexities of the pandemic,” shared Tracy Elop, Carizon CEO. “People across the Region are coming forward with mental health concerns and anxieties.”
Here is what our partners are currently working on:
- Marketing: Completing a brand refresh ahead of a website redesign
- IT Plan: Helping Carizon build a multi–year strategy that leverages technology to enhance their customer and staff experience
- Customer Experience: Enhance external and internal customer experience
- HR: Continued roll-out of new Bamboo HRIS system
- Fund Development: Working with their new fund development director to create a case for support
- Board Governance: Leveraging legal expertise to update board by-laws
A major focus over the past few months, Carizon’s brand refresh is largely tied to the organization’s overall strategic goal of improving their overall client experience.
SVP has connected the Carizon team with Kelly Gariepy, a growth consultant, to help steer discussions around how the organization’s core competencies and existing programming fit with the needs and characteristics of the clients. Desired outcomes from this process include simplifying the organization’s client intake process and expressing Carizon’s role within the overall mental health and well-being service landscape of Waterloo Region. The brand refresh will have a significant impact on an upcoming website redesign.
“Often, because we are a larger organization, what we need is the guidance,” Tracy explained. “The branding project has been on our [strategic] plan for a couple years. This year it has been prioritized as we incorporate a family focus across the organization in all the work we are doing. On this project, more so than any other, we have no expertise. We are really relying on Kelly to lead us through this whole project.”
Next steps include gathering client feedback through several sources.
“This brand refresh really is a big project and there is a bit of a time constraint on it as well [with the website redesign on the horizon],” noted Lina Caputo, one of two SVP Lead Partners managing the Carizon projects. “For website design, that’s huge, that’s something that the people working on brand refresh will help put together.”
Work on a comprehensive multi-year IT strategy has slowed to a degree as Carizon handles the COVID-19 pandemic, but remains a key priority moving forward.
“One of the key areas of our strategic plan is to leverage technology,” Tracy shared. “We know that funding is limited, so we’re looking at how technology could be leveraged to help us improve our client experience and outcomes.”
As with marketing, the development of the IT strategy has been focused on client experience. A key learning for staff at Carizon based on feedback from SVP partners has been the need to align the goals of the IT department with the organization’s strategic plan. Providing an example of what that might look like, Dan Collens, an SVP Partner, explained: “One of the ways might be going through and understanding what makes people’s daily jobs happy or frustrating based on all the IT touch-points they interact with throughout the day.”
From parking control to wait times, many aspects are being considered as part of this plan. Unlike many smaller charitable organizations that lack technology resources and staff, a mature organization like Carizon presents opportunities to leverage IT as a means for capacity building, as Dan described: “It became clear pretty fast that there was nothing on fire. That turned the focus of the discussion towards what kinds of projects it would make sense to prioritize and invest in near-term and long-term to support the organization’s goals for growth.”
A central component of SVP’s work with Carizon since the beginning of the partnership, the experience of internal and external customers continues to be priority number one for the organization.
Tracy posed the critical question: “How do we incorporate that concept of customer service into everything that we do internally and externally? That has a great link with family focus and how we concentrate on the whole family and really work on that experience so that people leave our organization feeling well cared for.”
The pandemic has reshaped Carizon’s interactions with both clients and employees, shifting to virtual services within two weeks of the initial shutdown. The virtual service offerings have resonated with clients, providing evidence that this is a setup that could work long term.
“Virtually, it’s this anonymous thing, it’s more accessible to [members of the community] and maybe they are more willing to do it,” explained Lina. “For those that have trouble getting to their appointments, Tracy has also indicated that people don’t really miss their appointments, they don’t have to travel 45 minutes on transit to get to their appointment.”
Julie Newman, Carizon’s Director of Talent, Engagement & Quality, added that “As an organization, we have been on an engagement journey. COVID has certainly shaped how that looks now, with people working remotely. It is a great opportunity for us to rethink the customer experience for both the employee and our clients as well.”
After a significant system evaluation and selection process with feedback from SVP Partners, Carizon chose BambooHR as their new HRIS system, rolling it out and providing employee training prior to the shutdown. As it turns out, the implementation could not have come at a better time, as it has led to a much easier transition to remote work for Carizon’s staff by streamlining remote access to HR information from vacation time to contact info.
“Our ability as an HR team and an employee team to access the information in this time of COVID and working from home, I have been so relieved and glad we transitioned when we did because it has made the transition to working from home much smoother,” Julie shared.
A unique story stemming from this project was the fact that the staff from Carizon were able to collaborate quite closely with their counterparts at Reception House, SVP’s other current investee, who are also going through a BambooHR implementation.
“Now that we have developed a relationship with Janna [Dilts, Director of People and Culture at Reception House], we have expanded it to include the challenges we have been faced with [around] COVID and resuming face-to-face services,” explained Julie. “It is a big undertaking, so, we are now collaborating and sharing resources across for that project as well, which I am not sure would have happened had we not been linked up with SVP. Both investees are benefitting from this and are walking alongside each other.”
Next steps for Carizon on this project include further integration of the employee onboarding/offboarding process and benefits information into the system.
Fundraising for any charity can be a challenge at the best of times. By all estimates, the pandemic is likely to make this process much more difficult in the short-term due to the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the economy. Given that, the work completed and on the go between SVP Partners and Carizon staff around fund development holds even more weight.
Of note this year, after consultation with partners, Carizon has implemented the Donor Perfect system.
“That was really important heading into COVID because we had a very old system and now we are better able to track who is interested in our organization, what their capacity is, where they are in their relationship with us,” Tracy explained.
With that in place, the primary focus of the project shifts to working with Carizon to develop a strong and authentic case for support.
“Their fundraising materials needed to be formulated and developed. They have a new Director of Fund Development and she has experience but needed some help with having materials that told their story. We’re calling it the storytelling project,” said Elly Yach, the second SVP Lead Partner working with Carizon, hinting at the story-based approach being used.
An aspect of the organization that the expertise of the SVP Partners is uniquely equipped to assist, Board governance, similar to our experiences with past investees, has been a point of emphasis working with Carizon.
Based on feedback from the Board Chair, SVP has been able to connect the Board with legal expertise on the updating of their by-laws to comply with new legislation put into effect by the province.
“With SVP partners who are lawyers, I coordinated the meeting with a law professional at Gowlings in Ottawa who is an expert in non-profit boards,” Elly described. “We did a scope meeting and got approval to have their connection in Ottawa do the work pro-bono. I find that amazing, as does the Board, that we [have access to] this expert opinion.”
Want to learn more and do more?
Check out carizonforthecommunity.ca, a website that provides free tools and resources to further Carizon’s commitment to supporting the community’s mental health and well-being.
Consider making a donation to Carizon during this time of need.
Interested in the role of an SVP Partner and want to know how you may fit in? Contact Rose Greensides, Executive Director of SVP Waterloo Region.