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Did you know you are a People Engagement Specialist? Thinking & Acting Differently Part 2

Getting creative

Jodi was inspired and wanted to read more about how to improve her volunteer engagement, so she dove into the Volunteer Recognition Study published by Volunteer Canada in 2013… she found it highly relevant and insightful.

It highlighted that volunteer recognition could be enhanced with a deeper understanding about volunteer motivations and interests, and about how engaging volunteers in developing and using their skills could create mutual benefit and added value for the volunteer. The study provided her with even more motivation to engage volunteers in meaningful ways.

The very next day Jodi received the Volunteer Alberta Member Exclusive email… and in it was a rather intriguing worksheet promising a quick and easy way to engage volunteers by gaining a deeper understanding of their motivations and interests. It was called the Window of Work. ­ She downloaded it right away and started thinking about how she could use it.

Then it dawned on her, one of the steps she was building into her volunteer screening process was step number 10 – the feedback step! She decided to invite some of the volunteers to complete the worksheet, she started with the STP’s (you know, the Same Ten People, the ones who always show up but risk burnout at every turn.)

Jodi emailed them. She shared the Window of Work and gave simple instructions about how to complete it. She requested a 30-minute conversation the next time they were in to volunteer. Within a week she had 10 appointments scheduled!

Some simple changes

Jodi was happy to hear that everyone was grateful that she wanted to know more about them! They told her how valued it made them feel that she wanted to connect about their interests, motivations, and to get their feedback on their volunteer experience.

Jodi discovered a lot in those conversations:

  • Almost all of them gave incredible insight into “why” they kept coming back… and she realized she could use those reasons to help recruit instead of just saying “volunteers needed!”. She made new volunteer recruitment posters and wrote a variety of social media posts that spoke directly to the meaning people experienced because of being engaged as volunteers in her organization.
  • One volunteer identified their love of meeting and talking to new people – so she invited them to come help with recruitment at the volunteer fair booth during NVW.
  • Two of them gave fantastic feedback and ideas about the training process – and one of them, who’d been with the organization for nearly a decade, even volunteered to help with training! The volunteer felt recognized as a resident expert and valued as a champion of the organization! And as a bonus, some of Jodi’s time was freed up to be strategic and to keep building new people engagement possibilities. 
  • One of her newest volunteers was an aspiring writer in his second year of communications in college. Together they came up with a project he could do as an intern through Volunteer Alberta’s Serving Communities Internship Program (a total Win-Win for them both! The student would get a $1000 from the Government of Alberta after successfully completing his internship and her organization was going to get a series of newsletters – which could really help improve outreach.)
  • One volunteer shared how much they loved photography and indicated an interest in photographing the special events. So she created a new position, Event Photographer, and together they outlined the expectations. (This was a huge bonus because they could use the photos on the website and social media to help with outreach!)
  • That same volunteer was working at a café but really wanted to put her Art History degree to work, but didn’t know where to get the vital job experience she needed…. After thinking about it together, they came up with another idea! Together they could create a display about the organization’s history and impact in the community that could travel between the local elementary schools and share important information with the younger generation!
  • One person revealed how much they wanted to volunteer with their family more. She had six kids and Jodi didn’t really have an opportunity for her to do… but thankfully Jodi remembered her colleague, the one from the Volunteer Managers Group, had lots of family-friendly opportunities! So Jodi advised the volunteer to contact that organization and provided her with a referral to the volunteer manager there.
  • Another volunteer was reluctant to reveal that they weren’t enjoying the weekly volunteer position anymore. It was too hard to make it on time and he was starting to feel obligated, which was disappointing to him because he really believed in the cause… Jodi suggested he become a special event volunteer instead and put his training to use by helping fill in here and there when he could. The volunteer felt valued and had a renewed understanding of the impact he could make for a cause that really mattered to him!

Jodi was on her way to becoming a People Engagement Specialist. You see, with a little research, creativity, a subtle shift in your thinking and a willingness to make some simple changes to your work, you can create new possibilities for meaningful people engagement.

In the making of a People Engagement Specialist, there are three the key ingredients: knowing volunteer’s interests and motivations, understanding impact, and creating meaningful engagement.

Katherine Topolniski

Volunteer Alberta 

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Did you know you are a People Engagement Specialist? Thinking & Acting Differently Part 1

Our blog today is in the form of a story… one part fictional story, informed by real-world information, one part practical information that might help change the way you work, one part mindset shift that could change the way you think, and one part shameless promotion of helpful resources and information.

The tale of a Volunteer Manager who became a People Engagement Specialist. Jodi was doing it the way it was always done…. As Volunteer Manager, she was in charge of recruiting, training and recognizing volunteers. It was a very busy position; she often struggled to recruit and keep the amount of volunteers she needed – turnover was high and she was always training new people. She didn’t have much of a budget, or much support from other staff – they were always as busy as she was.

She needed volunteers for special events, service delivery and to help with outreach. She needed many outreach volunteers because it was how her organization was getting the word out about their services and special events.

She had posters up all over town. Each one said, “Volunteers needed” in bold, red font. On Facebook she posted “volunteers needed”, and she asked everyone she knew. Does this sound familiar?

Research

Hoping to find a solution to her recruitment woes, she signed up for a Volunteer Alberta webinar called Screening Volunteers In. Not Out. Jodi had heard about it from a colleague at the volunteer managers group she attended every few months.

In the webinar, she heard about Volunteer Canada’s Screening Handbook (a resource she would certainly download for future use!) and learned about the 10 Steps to Screening. Jodi realized, that like many other volunteer managers, she was following seven out of the ten steps to screening, but the process wasn’t formalized at her organization.

That week she started pulling together existing materials that might help her with the process of screening and onboarding volunteers. While she did that, she realized the volunteer position descriptions hadn’t been updated for many years, and there were no volunteer screening policies in place. That’s when she remembered hearing about the Volunteer Alberta Screening Development Grant and realized maybe there was a chance her organization would be eligible for it!

As it happens, her organization met the eligibility criteria so she applied. Later that summer they received a $2000 grant to help with developing volunteer positions and policies. After a few months she had created a volunteer screening process manual for her organization.

Then one day, in the not too distant future, she was surfing Volunteer Alberta’s website once again, and found some Volunteer Canada research – a Pan-Canadian study called Bridging the Gap.  The research was from 2010, but as she read it, she realized it still rang true. The study indicated a need to enrich the volunteer experience by closing the gap between what Canadians are looking for in volunteerism versus how organizations are engaging volunteers.

Shift in thinking

She had an ah-ha moment! A subtle shift in her thinking and mindset that gave her a new perspective and changed the way she thought about volunteers and her role as a volunteer manager.

Her responsibility was to create the space for volunteerism to exist!! Beyond filling the existing, traditional service delivery positions, she was responsible for creating meaningful opportunities for people to contribute to her organization, to the cause, and more importantly to their own community!

That evening her mind raced with excited thoughts. How could I create more meaningful volunteer positions? How could I better recognize volunteers?

It all seemed overwhelming and she didn’t know where to start. She had no control over programs or services, she didn’t have a big budget, she didn’t even really have a lot of extra time…. AND she still had a bunch of volunteers to recruit, train, and recognize…

Katherine Topolniski

Volunteer Alberta 

Make sure you read part 2 to learn how Jodi became a People Engagement Specialist!

 

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Creating vibrant communities starts with you

Promovo Community - Biking TogetherBuilding vibrant communities is complicated work. It relies on cooperation, participation, inclusion, and diversity. This means people from all walks of life, in all areas including business, government, community, and nonprofit organizations, must work together.

Volunteerism, in particular, has the power to transform your life, the lives of others, and entire communities. As nonprofit professionals, we know volunteers are the roots of our communities and our work depends on them!

When people, like you, come together, at home, in your job, or as a volunteer, positive impact can be made. Volunteerism creates vibrant communities.

Next week is National Volunteer Week (April 10-16), and, to celebrate, Volunteer Alberta has created a short, informative video. This video not only tells the story of how a single person makes a difference, it also introduces some complex ideas that we are exploring about system change through combined and collective efforts.

Last fall Volunteer Alberta explored these idea when we hosted, interCHANGE, a unique one-day conference (learn more about it here). We brought dynamic players from government, business, and nonprofit sectors together to explore how to tackle complex challenges that affect people’s quality-of-life.

interCHANGE was a step forward in a collective attempt to answer the question: “What relationships need to exist in order to create the conditions to make a positive impact in Alberta’s communities?”.

Together we explored how boundaries between sectors and service delivery are blurring. If we embrace these areas of overlap, we can create opportunities for dynamic collaborations and social innovation.

We learned challenges in today’s society require adaptive responses in order to have positive results – and that adaptive responses have three components:

  • Participatory – you have to be involved to make changes
  • Systemic – the issues and solutions are interconnected
  • Experimental – we need to be willing to try different and new approaches

(Did you know: We regularly post articles on systems change like this one on systems thinking, and this one on systems learning, and we’ll continue to dive deeper into our findings from interCHANGE in the future.)

CoachLet’s consider participatory action and look at it through the lens of volunteerism.

Volunteerism provides an opportunity for us to get involved, experiment in our community, and learn about the experiences of different people who lead different lives, aka. the ‘other’. Volunteering provides the opportunity for everyone involved to develop newfound understanding and empathy for the ‘other’.

The video, Vibrant Communities and You, highlights the role volunteers play in creating vibrant communities and is our gift to you for National Volunteer Week. Please share it on social media, pass it along, or even play it at your National Volunteer Week event.

You can find the video on our website to watch or download, or share/embed it via YouTube and Vimeo.

Volunteer Alberta supports community-service learning, when students gain experience and develop their skills by contributing to nonprofits. We are proud to have worked with the students and faculty at Pixel Blue College to create the animation in this video and grateful for their hard work.

 

Katherine Topolniski
Volunteer Alberta

Silhouette Woman

3 ways being privacy conscious can improve your organization’s reputation

Typing Woman smallIn the twenty-first century, data and information are everywhere. Collecting information is truly foundational to everything we do in our daily work. Online activities that collect personal information, fundraising efforts, volunteer screening, and social media put a responsibility on nonprofits to consciously manage people’s privacy, information, and other data.

By being privacy conscious you can help strengthen your organization’s reputation, enhance the trust in your staff, and even increase the loyalty of donors, participants, and volunteers.

If you want to maintain a positive perception of your organization and the important work you do, a solid practice is to have processes in place for managing information and personal records.

Here are a few simple ideas and actions your organization can take to be more privacy conscious and protect the personal information and privacy of those people who interact with your nonprofit.

Enhance your organization’s reputation

Protecting privacy and personal information can improve your organization’s reputation.

In general, nonprofits that manage personal information in accordance with privacy legislation (like PIPA or FOIP) are seen as more accountable and trustworthy, by clients, volunteers, donors, and potential partners.

An improved reputation may mean that other agencies will find opportunities to work together with your nonprofit more attractive, especially if operating joint programs or if a partnership requires information sharing.

By simply reviewing how your organization currently manages personal information, you can begin to establish more formalized processes.

A simple review of your current practices may provide other benefits like;

  • assist you in making better decisions about what information is reasonable to collect and only collecting what you need
  • guide you to use the information you collect more effectively and intentionally
  • improve how you protect the privacy of those people who are important to you

Trust in your staff

Not having good personal information protections in place could hurt how your staff are perceived and trusted by your donors, volunteers, and clients.

Simply because a few standardized processes are lacking in their work, your staff may not be perceived to have the same level of responsibility and accountability as people working in businesses.

While initially it may seem like added work, you can help improve the level of trust your donors, volunteers, and clients have in your staff by involving staff in the process of protecting personal information.

Simple ways your staff can be seen as part of protecting privacy while collecting information include;

  • staff being transparent about how a person’s personal information will be used, providing those people an opportunity to ask questions or make requests that help them feel their information is respected
  • staff explaining how information will be stored and/or destroyed, demonstrating a professional level of accountability in the staff person and helping to develop a relationship of trust between the individual and staff at your organization

Loyalty from your donors, participants, and volunteers

GlassesPeople are asked to share their personal information many times a day, from entering an email address, to sharing a postal code at a store check-out, to signing into social media websites. Personal information is increasingly valuable in today’s world.

People are concerned about what data is requested of them, how much of the requested information is required for the service they want to use, and how their data is eventually used. While they may have differing thoughts and feelings about their expected privacy when it comes to their own information, one thing often rings true, people generally place more trust and respect in those who work to protect their privacy.

People who your organization counts on to volunteer or donate are not only important to your work, but also champions who will share the experiences they have with your organizations with others. It is a good idea to be transparent with those people about the steps you have in place to protect and respect their privacy.

Some simple solutions that you can incorporate;

  • a “privacy practices and policy” notice on all donation forms or receipts
  • be upfront about the personal information that is required for volunteer screening processes (ex. is a police information check required, references, or employment history?)
  • set clear expectations during volunteer interviews or orientation about how their personal information will be used, stored, and destroyed

If your organization is already taking some of these steps for privacy protection – great work! Please keep it up and share any tips you might have about your processes in the comments.

Story

From the Vault: 4 steps to telling our untold, yet remarkable, stories

Originally posted August 4, 2015.

MagicIn the nonprofit sector we put our energy into making the world a better place. Our impact spans the horizon of life; from addressing health, cultural, and societal challenges to creating excitement, entertainment, and activities that bring us all together in community.

We are doing big, important work that impacts the lives of the people we serve, the people who volunteer to help us serve, and all other people who show up to help us make it happen (whatever ‘it’ is).

These stories deserve to be heard! And it’s up to us to tell them.

While we measure our impact as nonprofits, often we don’t know how to make the numbers interesting. We know it’s true that people take action on behalf of a cause when they feel emotionally connected, and yet we fumble in sharing our impact in exciting and emotionally relevant ways.

This may be because, as Andy Goodman puts it, “Even if you have reams of evidence on your side, remember: numbers numb, jargon jars, and nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. If you want to connect with your audience, tell them a story.”

So how do we tell stories better? Here’s four steps to telling our remarkable stories:

1. Let’s talk evidence.

Telling great stories only happens when you understand the data. A truly great story starts with research which is used as evidence to back up (and inspire) your story. This research could be from your own data you are collecting in outcome measurements or surveys. Or you can use even broader-based sector statistics, like you will find in the New Narrative.

Imagine Canada published the New Narrative in 2014 as a core resource intended to inform a new perspective on the roles and contributions of nonprofits and charities in Canada.

the narrative

In it you will find this and much more:

  • Data reflecting the breadth of the nonprofit sector’s work
  • Employment and volunteer statistics
  • Revenue and economic impact data

2. Let’s talk stories.

We have many tools in our hands (literally) to help us share our stories. After you have discovered a ‘golden nugget’ through your research, you can start to think about how that story could best be told.

Capacity Canada published Stories Worth Telling – an invaluable tool for nonprofits who need to tell their stories.

stories worth tellling

It goes into detail and has lots of tips about:

  • Finding your story
  • Collecting and analyzing stories
  • Preparing and capturing stories
  • Telling the story
  • And, most excitingly, creating a storytelling culture in your organization!

This is another free resources that has immense value and could be a perfect complement to the New Narrative in your storytelling strategy.

3. It’s actually about people first!

Remember, stories have the most impact when they tug at a person’s heartstrings. If you are looking for your audience to donate, volunteer or support your cause in anyway, a story that gives an emotional response is the most effective. Look at the data and find the ‘heartstrings tale’ for your organization that needs to be told.

People love to see themselves in other people. And the nonprofit sector is all about people: people who work in the sector, people who volunteer in the sector and the people who benefit, in whatever way, from the sector.

4. Switch it and reverse it.

So you have your evidence, your storytelling tool, and your personal angle – when you sit down to actually tell your story, begin with the person and end on the evidence. This might seem counter-intuitive, but evidence works best as back up to the emotional impact.

If you sit down to try these steps, let us know how it goes and share your story with us!

Katherine Topolniski
Volunteer Alberta

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