Alberta’s ENGOs: Strengths, Challenges, and Opportunities

To properly support environmental nonprofits in Alberta, we need to understand their needs. In Mapping What Matters, a needs and capacity assessment of ENGOs comprised more than half of the survey. We used an established instrument, the Mckinsey Organization Capacity Assessment Tool, to measure ENGO capacity. We asked them directly what their organizational strengths and challenges are. We also wanted to understand how they collaborate, and their capacity to partner with others. Finally, we recognize that understanding our impact as charitable and voluntary organizations is challenging. We asked ENGOs to tell us how they define success, and how they evaluate their progress towards this goal.

The results of the capacity assessment are significant. They give Alberta Ecotrust, and other capacity builders, a clear picture of how we can direct resources to meet the needs of environmental nonprofits. The results will also serve as baseline data to track the capacity of the sector over time.

Beyond our role, there is an opportunity for ENGOs to share resources and build on each other’s strengths.  Using the data collected in our social network analysis, we can begin to connect ENGOs to each other based on their stated needs and strengths. We believe these self-organizing networks can play a huge part in raising the overall capacity of the sector.




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The Calgary Foundation

Mapping What Matters was made possible through generous support from The Calgary Foundation.


ENGO Strengths And Challenges

In Mapping What Matters, we asked participants to tell us their top three organizational strengths, and their top three needs. Each of the following results tell us something, both by what ENGOs identify and what they omit. In certain cases, the connection is obvious. For example, only one organization who completed the survey identified Measuring Organizational Impact as an area of strength. 17% identify the same area as a top three need.  In other cases, omissions demonstrate areas that ENGOs are ambivalent towards. For example, ENGOs do not identify Leadership Development as a strength, or a need.

Organizational Strengths

ENGOs are great at developing and delivering projects. They are also good at collaboration. After these three strengths, the needs of the sector become apparent. Only a handful of ENGOs feel comfortable with program and project evaluation. Understandably, this leads to a huge need when it comes to measuring organizational impact.

Organizational Capacity Needs

ENGO needs are incredibly diverse. For organizations who are dependent on volunteer contributions, management and recruitment of volunteers is a big need. Marketing, and communicating impact, go hand-in-hand with proposal writing. Organization’s want to get their message out, but struggle to do so.

Rising to the Challenge


Demand For Services

Overall ENGO demand appears to be on the rise. Over the past year, 64% of ENGOs have seen an increase in demand for programs, while only 3% have seen a decline.

Readiness to Respond

ENGOs report a high level of readiness. The vast majority (92%) consider their organizations ready to respond to events or opportunities in key issue areas.

Willingness to Help Others

Despite their own capacity needs, most ENGOs (70%) are willing to help other organizations in their areas of strength.


The McKinsey Organizational Capacity Assessment Tool (OCAT) is used internationally to assess the strengths and areas for improvement of nonprofit organizations.  With their approval, Alberta Ecotrust created an abridged version of OCAT as part of the Mapping What Matters survey. Each capacity is ranked on a 4 point scale, ranging from a clear need for capacity (1) to a high level of capacity in place (4).

Overall sector level capacities for Alberta ENGOs fell within the range of basic to moderate capacity, with a couple of exceptions.

As highlighted in the ENGO Overview section of this report, Alberta’s environmental nonprofits face resource challenges. Organizational funding model ranks as the lowest capacity area. We know the funding environment in Alberta is difficult – there aren’t many places for ENGOs to go to get money. We also know there is a huge opportunity for ENGOs to hone their skills in fund development.

The second major area of need for ENGOS is general advocacy capacity. Similar to fund development, and related to low capacity in marketing, communications and advocacy require specific skills and resources. Most ENGOs in Alberta operate with few (or no) staff, who are often devoted to specific projects, and cannot afford the resources for a full time communications person.


Ability to Generate Interest

All ENGOs have some ability to generate public interest in their focal issue area, and most expressed a moderate capacity.

Capacity to Participate in Stakeholder Consultations

ENGOs have varied capacity for participation in multi-stakeholder groups and stakeholder consultations by government, reflected in their varied participation rates.

Ability to Influence Government

Very few ENGOs (only 6%) have a high capacity to influence government decisions. Most respondents rank their capacity in this area as low to moderate.

Capacity to Change Behaviour

The vast majority of ENGOs influence the behaviour of their audience to some degree, and most express a moderate capacity.


Alberta Ecotrust is big on collaboration. As a partnership between ENGOs and corporations, we see first hand the power collective initiatives can wield. We believe collaboration is key to dealing with systemic and complex environmental issues. These issues are often too big for any  one organization to resolve. In Mapping What Matters, the social network analysis allows us to see the collaborative relationships between ENGOs. We also wanted to understand their capacity to collaborate, and exactly how they are working together.

80% of ENGOs report a moderate to high capacity to collaborate. We also know that 70% of ENGOs are willing to help others in their organization’s areas of strength. This is a great scenario where ENGOs are willing to help others, and have the capacity to do so.

When we look at how environmental nonprofits work together, several patterns emerge. ENGOs are comfortable with arranging meetings, sharing information, and some cooperative planning. Strategic collaboration, where groups apply for funding together and/or coordinate organizational strategies and activities, is less common. Finally, there appears to be significant discussion between ENGOs regarding merging organizations.


Barriers to Collaboration:  Finding the Time and Money to Collaborate

Time remains the biggest constraint to collaboration. We know that collaboration is a slow, and at times, messy process. For organizations with limited staff resources, finding the time to collaborate effectively is difficult.

We believe that social network analysis can help remove some of these challenges. Intentional and strategic collaboration as a result of our network analysis can decrease time required, increase awareness of potential partners, and shift ENGOs toward common objectives.





 Capacity for Continuous Collaboration

Mean Frequency of Collaboration

Relative Frequency of Collaboration



ENGOs define and measure their success on a variety of different levels, often simultaneously. Most ENGOs define their success by mobilizing community members. They evaluate their success based on how many people participate in their programs, become members of their organization, sign up for newsletters, or attend events.

ENGOs often repeatedly look to environmental and policy outcomes as a measure of success. Evaluating these outcomes is difficult. Specific change in the overall quality of the environment is a long term game, as is policy development. It is interesting that while many ENGOs define positive policy outcomes as a sign of success, few work on policy and planning as a primary strategy area.

Alberta’s environmental nonprofits are really good at what they do, and what they know. We call this mission execution.  They are great at delivering existing projects and programs. Defining outputs, then evaluating their their completion alongside program growth, is how ENGOs typically assess success in delivering their missions.

Some respondents in Mapping What Matters emphasized the importance of successes that extended beyond their own organizations, aiming to changing the minds and behaviours of their audience. External successes in this area are often more difficult to measure, especially quantitatively. As such, ENGOs rely heavily on positive feedback from their members and the public to evaluate success in this area.


Mission Execution

Defined by success at the organizational level. The organization delivers projects and programs that achieve their predetermined goals, operates with financial security and sustainability, and persists or grows over time. Success at this level is measured internally, for example through defined project/program outputs, program growth, funding levels, or balanced budgets.


Community Mobilization

Defined by success in getting people interested and involved in the organization and mobilized or connected around its target issue(s). Success at this level tends to be measured internallyusing quantitative indicators, for example membership numbers, participation in programs, attendance at events, or social media followers.


Changing Minds

Characterized by success in increasing awareness and knowledge of environmental issues, as well as changing attitudes and fostering respect. Target audiences are often citizen-based but also included here is success in obtaining opportunities to influence the minds of those working in industry and government through formal consultation. Success at this level is external, generally qualitative, and difficult to measure. Public feedback may be a key indicator.


Changing Behaviour

Characterized by success in changing the choices people make. Success at this level is external and may be easy to measure in cases where indicators are synonymous with program engagement (e.g. in a program aimed at shifting individuals toward more environmental modes of transportation), or difficult to measure where behavioral changes are more diffuse, in which case public feedback may be important.


Environmental and Policy Outcomes

Environmental and policy outcomes may follow directly from the execution of a project, but in many cases they are diffuse, complex or long term, making them more difficult to measure. Policy outcomes in contrast are reasonably concrete.