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GabbyGibbs

Guest Volunteer Blog: The Hands that Give are Never Truly Empty

The hands that give are never truly empty. – Gabby Gibbs, Leader of Tomorrow

If there is one thing I have experienced as a volunteer, it is that I am surrounded by individuals who love as if it is their last day on earth regardless of where I happen to be.

I have been involved in international service trips for the last four years of my life, travelling with a few different organizations to Ecuador, India, Zambia, and this summer, the Philippines. Volunteer travel for me, and even talking about my trips, give me a rush similar to a breakaway in hockey, or the excitement before going down a rollercoaster. It may sound kind of silly, but I think everyone has that one thing that they love so much that it just gets their blood pumping and heart racing.

My first volunteer trip was an incredible adventure to the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador when I was only 16 years old. My parents responded – as most parents would – with a lot of questions and concerns. But with some research and explaining, I eventually won their support.

While in Ecuador, I was working on the construction of a school to serve a community that previously had to send students hours away for an elementary level education, which often prevented them going to school at all. This community was brand new to the organization I was working with so it was crucial to establish a good relationship with the community.

After a week of incredibly hot days digging the foundation, it becomes really easy to feel like you’re making no progress at all. I call this the “not-so unexpected trip slump”. It’s a part of a volunteer trip no one really talks about, but it’s where you learn the most about yourself. About half way through a workday, I was talking to one of the foremen on a water break, and he shared with me the story of how their entire culture is based on what is called “Minga”.

He said, “Do you notice how the children will come and go, bringing different tools to the parents helping us build? Do you notice how the different men and women will come by throughout the day when they have time?”. I nodded; I had noticed this. He told me that ‘Minga’ is a way of life for them in Ecuador. It is when everyone in the community collectively rallies and works towards a common goal. That no matter what you accomplish on any single day, it is the foundation of teamwork and community working towards completing a goal that is what matters most.

From an outsider view, yes, we flew to Ecuador to build this schoolroom. But, I left Ecuador with the irreplaceable lesson that it isn’t about how fast you do something or how much of a project you complete. It is entirely about the journey and the people on it with you. I left this conversation with him saying “manos que dan nunca estaran vacias” which means “the hands that give are never truly empty”. This quote along with the ‘Minga’ lifestyle is to this day one of the greatest gifts in my life.

The silent heroism and selflessness I have experienced in these countries drives me to share their stories in their honor. Knowing they will never be on any headline and they will not be recognized for their life-changing work, but they still do it with all of their hearts and put it all on the line.

Gabby Gibbs grew up in Okotoks, Alberta and graduated from Holy Trinity Academy in 2017. She is passionate about international development and international law and is currently studying Policy and International Business at Mount Royal University. She also has a Certificate in International Volunteering through The Global Travel Academy and has recently completed her Global Collaboration Certificate in Cross Cultural Management at Mount Royal University. She will be completing her Teaching English As A Foreign Language Certificate through the Center for Communication and English Language Teaching this summer in the Philippines while at placement in a local school.

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How to Recruit and Retain Quality Employees

Healthy and happy staff are more effective and engaged!

One of the biggest barriers for nonprofits to recruit and retain quality employees is the inability to offer valuable and comprehensive compensation packages. We all know it’s not always easy to find affordable, effective ways to increase value in employee packages within nonprofit budget constraints.

“We have had benefits for many years, but our premiums were increasing each year,” says Esther Kesler, Payroll & Benefits Coordinator of the Southern Alberta Community Living Association. “We are always aware of rising costs, and we try to do the best for our staff.”

The Southern Alberta Community Living Association (SACLA) has provided benefits to their staff for 30 years. It’s just one of the ways they retain quality employees and community connectors, who are an integral part of their work providing quality serices for individuals living with a developmental disability.

After several years with another benefit provider, SACLA decided to move to OASSIS, a nonprofit that offers employee benefits specifically for nonprofits. ‘We were looking for ways to save our employees and our organization dollars,” Kesler says. “Being able to offer an alternative option like OASSIS was great.”

Employee benefits not only add value to your staff compensation package, but they also promote the health and wellness of your staff. SACLA offers their team benefits like health and dental, long-term disability, life and accidental death insurance, critical illness, health care spending accounts, and more through OASSIS.

Volunteer Alberta partnered with OASSIS 27 years ago for these exact reasons- to help organization build capacity at a much lower cost. When nonprofits choose other nonprofits as vendors, they support and leverage the buying power and capacity of the entire sector. Social enterprise partnerships keep dollars within our sector’s economy and within the nonprofit communities we serve.

If you are looking to save money on your benefits or thinking of getting benefits for the first time, contact OASSIS to find the right plan to suit your organization and employees’ needs.

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The Next Generation of Advocates

I’m a millennial. Yes, I like avocado toast, I take selfies, I use my phone at the dinner table, and I am partially responsible for the decline of print journalism. I am part of the elusive generation nonprofits worry about recruiting. After all, nonprofits are told that millennials don’t want to work in the sector. And truthfully, young people are notorious for job-hopping. So, if the sector figures out how to recruit us, will we even stay?

The future looks dire.

Unfortunately, I am part of the problem. I have worked at Volunteer Alberta for over six years – first as a Program Coordinator and now as the Communications Coordinator. Last year I went back to school to pursue a Master of Counselling. Unless Volunteer Alberta decides to hire on a therapist, I will soon be moving on in pursuit of my next career.

But is the outlook as bad as it seems?

I have worked and volunteered in the nonprofit sector for over nine years (a significant chunk of my young life) and in that time, I have learned a lot about the sector’s impact, diversity, and challenges. I know the opportunities nonprofits offer those of us who want to make a difference, as well as the sector’s importance in building and strengthening communities.

In other words, I have become an advocate with significant knowledge and experience that helps me see the possibilities and nuances of the nonprofit sector. This won’t change with career shifts. As an advocate, I will continue to share what I know with those I connect with. I will always donate to causes that move me (without complaining about overhead!). I will continue to use my strengths, interests, skills, and even my new education, as a volunteer. I might even continue to work in the sector at a nonprofit agency or mental health organization! And, I know I will share the amazing support services the sector offers with my future clients.

While worrying about how to hire younger generations is fair, the nonprofit sector can also embrace the benefits of engaging young people as volunteers, practicum students, and short-term employees. The future is collaborative and cross-sectoral! Consider thinking outside the box about the ways young people (like me) can, and will, make a difference and help communities meet shared aspirations.

Whether it is through programs like the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP), or by making the investment in training someone who is starting their career and new to our sector, engaging young people is how we ‘pass the torch’. Passing the torch is more than finding your next Executive Director – it’s igniting passion and engagement that can last a lifetime.

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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Volunteer Screening: Finding the Right Fit Makes All the Difference

This blog was first published on the Community and Adult Learning Program website on November 28, 2017.


Volunteer screening is key to your organization’s success – it provides better volunteer matches, improves safety and quality of programs, and reduces risks and liabilities. Screening is about making informed, reasonable judgements about people based on information gathered from a variety of sources. It begins before onboarding a volunteer and continues throughout their involvement with your organization.

The Volunteer Screening Program (VSP) supports non-profits to implement effective volunteer screening practices. The program has two primary components:

  1. Education & Training
  2. Financial Support

EDUCATION & TRAINING

Data gathered from our workshops and presentations showed us that the biggest challenge faced by organizations is access to resources and best practices related to volunteer screening. Organizations want to maximize their volunteer engagement strategies and support a deeper understanding of participation, privacy, and protection at all levels – volunteer managers, leadership, and board.

Organizations also shared they want to hear from their peers. It’s important to have a space to share organizational best practices, discuss challenges faced by the community, and learn from the experts (e.g. police services or insurance agencies). Exploring organizational mindsets around volunteer screening and employing best practices from peers and experts can lead to new solutions and possibilities!

For these reasons, VSP offers lots of free online resources including templates, tools, and workbooks, as well as interactive learning opportunities such as webinars and in-person learning forums.

Access these education and training opportunities and support volunteer screening best practices at your non-profit.


FINANCIAL SUPPORT

VSP provides funding to eligible organizations to support development in the areas of volunteer screening as well as funding for eligible organizations to support costs associated with Vulnerable Sector Checks (VSCs).

The Volunteer Screening Development Grant is designed to help support organizations in developing effective screening practices and processes. The grant provides $2,000 to support non-profits facing resource and capacity challenges in the area of volunteer screening.

The Vulnerable Sector Check Fee Waiver alleviates costs associated with VSCs. The waiver is available for organizations operating in participating communities. Eligible organizations must work with vulnerable populations and engage volunteers in approved positions of trust and authority in order to access the fee waiver.

Find more information on financial assistance.

Daniela Seiferling
Volunteer Alberta

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From the Vault – Engaging New Volunteers: 2 Trends to Tap Into

This blog was originally posted November 23, 2016.


Here at Volunteer Alberta, we keep our finger on the pulse of volunteer trends in Alberta and across the country. Two strong trends we have noticed over the past couple years: skilled volunteerism and student involvement.

Skilled Volunteerism

Skilled volunteers share unique skills or talents. Volunteers may share professional skills (accountants, lawyers, veterinarians, or photographers), or they may bring a personal talent or hobby (coaches, home cooks, face painters, or podcasters). Skilled volunteers can also be trained specifically for roles by your organization.

CoachSome examples of amazing skilled volunteers include:

  • an event photographer with an eye for storytelling through pictures
  • a lawyer providing legal advice or assistance
  • translators for newcomers
  • a soccer coach with an understanding of the game
  • web developers creating or enhancing a website

I’ve had some wonderful skilled volunteer experiences. I volunteer as a yoga teacher offering both professional skills and a hobby I enjoy – I am an accredited yoga teacher, and yoga is a personal passion.

I also volunteer as a Distress Line Listener with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), offering support over the phone for people in crisis. I am not a therapist, but this is still a skilled role that required 64 hours of training at CMHA and lots of ongoing development once I started on the lines.

What skills do you have that you might consider contributing to a cause you believe in?

The Window of Work is a great way to identify what skills or talents you may have to share.

Student Involvement

smiling-woman2In many ways, the trend of student involvement at nonprofit organizations is an extension of skilled volunteerism.

Students may volunteer for the opportunity to build their portfolios or gain professional experience. This includes offering newly acquired skills in areas like communications, medicine, counselling, or business planning. Nonprofits also provide real world experience for classroom concepts through programs like Community Service Learning (CSL). CSL is offered as a required placement in some post-secondary courses such as Human Ecology, Native Studies, Public Health, and Languages.

Serving Communities Internship Program

Volunteer Alberta’s Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) is another way students can offer their skills and learn new ones in Alberta nonprofit organizations. Launched in 2011, SCiP supports nonprofits to create skilled, part-time internships for post-secondary students. Organizations access talent, skills, and added human capacity, and students build their resumes, networks, and work experience while earning a $1000 award from the Government of Alberta. Over the past five years, SCiP has filled 5000 internships at 500 organizations in 50 Alberta communities.

SCiP is successful because it offers mutual benefit for students and nonprofits, as well as for the communities they serve. In the long term, SCiP is also strengthening communities by developing sector advocates, supporters, and successors.

The great thing is that none of these benefits are limited to the Serving Communities Internship Program – by tapping into skilled volunteerism and student involvement, these outcomes are available to the whole nonprofit sector far beyond SCiP’s yearly capacity for internships.

Skilled Volunteerism & Student Engagement beyond SCiP

To begin engaging volunteers in skilled positions at your organization, start asking questions:

  • How can we engage people based on their skills, passion, and unique gifts?
  • How can we use volunteerism and community involvement as a tool for education? As a means of promoting our sector?
  • How does our approach to volunteerism change when we fill skilled position or engage students? What are the concerns and the opportunities?

It’s likely your answers will be slightly different than other nonprofits – but, no matter what your answers are, they will open up new pathways for volunteer involvement in your organization.

Does your nonprofit already strive to involve skilled volunteers and students to meet your mission? Tell us about your tips and successes in the comments!

Keep reading about skilled volunteerism on our website or learn more about SCiP.  

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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