In September of this year, Northern Development announced Trust 2020 – a significant project that brought improvements to many facets of the organization including new community funding programs, technology upgrades, a brand evolution and a new website. We took a moment to ask Joel McKay, CEO of Northern Development, a few questions about the changes brought about by Trust 2020.
Q: Start from the beginning, where did the concept of Trust 2020 come from? When did the project start?
A: The project was a necessity. Over the last several years, we saw our volume of business increase significantly, indicating a strong regional need for what the Trust offers, but our own resources had remained largely unchanged for a long time. Trust 2020 began in 2018 with an endorsement from our board of directors to refresh the corporation. We’ve been very successful since the start of the Trust, but realized we needed to address capacity and technology constraints, while at the same time revitalizing our community development program offerings, if we were going to be well-positioned to respond to the region’s shifting needs as we move into the next decade.
Q: What areas of the organization does Trust 2020 improve and how?
A: Our first focus has always been client service. We have made a name for ourselves since day one as a friendly, responsive funding organization that is trying to get to ‘yes’. We took that prime focus and asked ourselves, what do we need to do to ensure that continues to be the case? Number one, we need to ensure we have the capacity and systems in place to handle a much larger volume of business today than we have in years past, while maintaining that focus on the communities we serve. Our first task was to address our capacity needs and invest in technology to reduce our overall administrative burden – to make it simpler, easier to apply to Northern Development and our team to process those applications. To that extent, we have created new positions in the organization to lead our internships programs and our partner programs such as Connecting BC. We then engaged our IT partners to create a new more functional website and design an online application form system that will allow our communities to apply easily online. Third, we reached out to the communities we served and had a conversation about how our community development programs could be updated to ensure they continue to meet the needs they’re addressing now, but also are flexible for the future. Out of that process, we developed a new suite of programming.
Q: Revamping the community funding programs must have been a huge undertaking. What process did you go through to do this?
A: First, this change only applies to our community development programs – our capacity building and business programs are evolving on an ongoing basis and remain a core part of our offerings. To the community development side, we knew we would not change anything without research and engagement. We started the process by hiring an economic development consultant to analyze the impact of the programs over the past and give us a sense of what was working and where some gaps may be. We then used that information to generate an internal conversation among our team about where they felt we could shore up our programming. In the spring and summer of 2019, we engaged with our four regional advisory committees to discuss their thoughts on what was working and where we should go, and we also held a number of outreach sessions in communities throughout the north where we engaged with representatives from local government, Indigenous communities and not-for-profits. We took all of that information and boiled it down to a new set of programs and re-engaged our regional advisors and board for their feedback, support and approval. I’m happy to report the programs we’re launching had unanimous support from our regional advisors and board of directors. It was a big process, but it was fun and important for us to hear what was on the region’s mind.
Q: Can you describe the brand refresh?
A: The brand refresh is a part of Trust 2020, but not the driver of it. As we went through this process of addressing our capacity, technology and programs we felt that our creative identity was very strong but could use a fresh coat of paint. We engaged a designer to help us create something that was an evolution of our identity – that kept the best parts while also updating it for the next decade. We also wanted a website that really showcased photos of the people and places we serve, again, symbolizing that the Trust really exists to serve the region.
Q: Briefly describe three pieces of Trust 2020 that you’re most excited about.
A: The three things I’m most excited about are the new programs, the online application system and the website – all of these are designed to serve our communities and I’m really keen to see how our clients engage with them, use them and provide feedback through them.
Q: What can communities and organizations expect from Northern Development moving forward?
A: What communities can expect is what they’ve said they’ve liked most about the Trust for the past 15 years – that we’re responsive but responsible, that we work to get to yes, that we’re passionate and engaged with the region we serve. Our goal is to continue that legacy and ensure we’re tuned to the needs of the region over the next decade.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Probably the most important thing, a big thank you to all communities that have supported us over the past 15 years and engaged with us during this process. Your input and feedback was critical to getting us to where we are and the results are a direct result of what you asked for – thank you!