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skilled-volunteer

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

Young team

Leadership Takes Many Forms

The Casey Executive Coaching Leader as Coach Program is a developmental program for nonprofit leaders focused on building inclusive leadership practices and practical coaching skills. A leader-as-coach approach helps leaders, as well as staff, to develop to their highest potential.

In a unique partnership, Volunteer Alberta was given a spot in the program at a reduced cost in exchange for sharing the program with others. Our Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) Coordinator, Tim Henderson, signed up for the program to develop his mentorship style. Tim found the concepts, theories, and techniques, introduced by Melissa Casey, helped him to understand what kind of leader he is and how he can use his skills to better help others.

We asked Tim what he learned from the course. If you choose to take the Leader as Coach Program you may learn something similar, or you may focus on your own learning goals instead!


VA: What did you experience from the course?

TH: It was fascinating to hear from the other participants in the group and get a sense of the roles they play in their own organizations. We discussed what leadership meant to each of us and found each person in the group had completely different strengths and weaknesses. What was interesting to see was how those traits shaped their respective leadership styles.

Hearing the stories of others helped me appreciate my own strengths, but they also helped me understand the steps I can take to improve my weaknesses and become a better leader.

Throughout the program we were given a number of opportunities to practice ‘active listening’ in both one-on-one and group scenarios. This type of listening helped us build trust amongst ourselves and ended up paving the way for more fruitful conversations as the course progressed.

VA: What did you take away from the course overall?

TH: Overall, I learned that leadership takes many forms. Every personality is different, but through active listening, anyone can provide leadership in their organization. We all have something different to bring to the table and, if given the tools, we are all capable of stepping into leadership. Through this program, Melissa (our host), provided these tools. Coming back to my organization after finishing the course, I found that I was able to connect and communicate with my colleagues more effectively.


Leader as Coach is designed for the nonprofit sector. Continuous learning and development supports positive change in ourselves and our work. Implementing change in our lives, work, and organizations can be challenging, so we get excited about opportunities that build in time to have practical hands-on experience and provide transformative leadership learning! Tim would recommend this course for anyone who is looking for personal or professional development related to leadership.

Do you want to sign up for Leader as Coach? Register to participate in the fall session beginning in October. This program is offered in both Calgary and Edmonton. Find out more about this program on the Casey Executive Coaching website.

Home work

Twitter Tips and Tricks

We recently shared some social media tips in our blog “Getting Started on Twitter”. In this blog, we will offer some additional information for those of you who are new to Twitter!

What does following mean?

When you follow someone you are subscribing to their tweets. Some users have private accounts and you will have to request to follow them before you can see their tweets.

What’s a hashtag?

A hashtag looks like this: #volunteers. By placing a # in front of a word or phrase (no spaces!), you create a searchable link. Twitter users can follow the link to see tweets with the same hashtag. Keep in mind that hashtags are most useful when numerous other people are using them.

Hashtags are a great way to interact with other nonprofits or individuals who are talking about similar things. Hashtags are most often used for events, locations, campaigns, or news topics.

What does the @ do?

You can link to another Twitter user and let them know you are mentioning them by using @username (ex. @VolunteerAB). This is called a handle.

You can use @ when you are mentioning a person or organization to give them credit, sharing their work or event, or directing others to their Twitter page. Using a handle to link to someone is a good tool for engaging or communicating with followers of your organization and other nonprofits!

@ vs. .@

Keep in mind, when you begin a tweet with @username the tweet will go directly to that account and won’t always show up for your other followers.

You can use @ at the start of your tweet when you want to send a semi-private tweet – for example, to give someone specific information that isn’t necessarily important or relevant for all of your followers. These tweets won’t automatically be seen by your followers or the public, but they can still be viewed if someone either searches for them or follows both your account and the one you mention.

By adding a period, character, or word before the account you wish to tweet (for example: .@username or check out @username) your tweet will be sent normally – the tweet will be able to be viewed by the public as well as in your followers’ news feeds.

What does DM mean?

DM stands for direct message. This is a private message sent to the Twitter inbox of a selected recipient. DMs can be between two accounts or they can be sent to multiple people, making it a group message. A DM is completely private and is only seen by those included in the message, just like an email. It will not show up on your timeline or other’s news feeds.

What’s a retweet?

A RT or retweet is when you re-share someone else’s tweet. This action causes their tweet to appear on your organization’s profile page and appear in your followers’ news feeds. Basically, retweeting is how you share other people’s posts!

It’s a good idea to retweet relevant news, events, stories, comments, and information you think your followers would be interested in.  This way, you can share and learn from others, show what your organization both cares about and is interested in, and participate in what makes social media ‘social’: an interactive and connected community.

What’s the difference between blocking and muting?

Blocking is for ending all interaction with another account. This action will stop others from viewing your tweets from their account, directly mentioning you in a tweet, or DM’ing you. Blocking is helpful if you receive spam or abusive messages.

Muting hides tweets from an account you follow so they don’t show up in your front page news feed. You may mute accounts to keep your feed relevant and manageable or to ignore a really chatty account (for example: someone live-tweeting an event that doesn’t apply to your own organization). You will still get notifications if someone you muted directly mentions you in a tweet or replies to you.

Now that you understand more about Twitter, stay tuned for our next blog where we will share tips for managing your organization’s social media, utilizing Twitter analytics, and using pictures, emojis, polls, and memes appropriately!

Whitney Cullingham
Volunteer Alberta

Brainstorming wall

Strengthen Your Brand, Strengthen Your Work

With about 25,000 nonprofits in Alberta alone, there is plenty we can all learn from one another. From our triumphs to our tribulations, we can all learn a thing or two from other nonprofits to apply to our own work in the sector.

Jennifer Esler, the previous Communications Manager at Volunteer Alberta, has been working and volunteering in the nonprofit sector for many years. With this experience under her belt, she has lots of valuable advice to share with other nonprofit professionals. We captured some of her wisdom about nonprofit branding:

What is your brand?

Jen found one of the most important things she learned working in nonprofits is to have a strong brand. Having a strong brand is just as important for nonprofits as it is for business.

Brand is the immediate feeling people have when they see, hear, and interact with an organization, and it goes much deeper than simply a logo. Your brand affirms what your organization stands for and values. It is the deep, underlying identity that guides your organization and informs how your staff and volunteers act and communicate.

Not having a clear vision of your brand and your mission confuses people and leaves discrepancies within your organization!

Who are your audiences?

Jen shared that one of the most important aspects of branding is knowing your audiences. Your audiences include anyone your organization interacts with: funders, clients, potential volunteers, partners, and the communities your serve.

Tailor your brand to your audience, not the other way around. Identify the goals and problems that the audience you are addressing may have from their perspective.

What moves a donor to give to your cause? How does a volunteer benefit from working with your organization? What concerns can you quell for your funders?

Once you have familiarized yourself with your audiences, you can decide how you would like to engage with them. Ask the following questions to guide your communications:

  • What do you want them to know?
  • How do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them to find?
  • What action do you want them to take?

Answering these questions will help you pinpoint what your goals are and give you clarity about how to communicate your brand to your important stakeholders.

Know the ‘why’:

When we asked Jen what she thinks nonprofits should know about effective messaging and branding, she said that she wants people to remember the ‘why’:

  • Why your organization exists
  • Why clients choose your organization
  • Why staff show up to work every day
  • Why volunteers want to work with you

Understanding your ‘why’ will help strengthen your brand and messaging and ensure your programs and services match your mission and vision. A strong brand draws donors, volunteers, advocates, and funders to the organization, so ensuring that you communicate well supports your organization’s work!

Keep it simple

Branding can sound daunting. To keep things simple, Jen shared her top tips and tricks for getting nonprofit messaging and branding across:

  • Know your mission
  • Know why people engage with you
  • When writing messages, have a clear idea of what you want your audience to know

We hope that these tips will help your organization further develop your brand and share your vision!

Whitney Cullingham
Volunteer Alberta

Workstation coffee

Getting Started on Twitter

Twitter can be overwhelming. With the constant, 24/7 updates, the infinite hashtags, the ever-changing trending topics, and the millions of users, you might feel lost trying to get a handle on Twitter. Even that last sentence might make you feel overwhelmed! However, Twitter can help nonprofits spread their visions and values to others easily. With some guidance, Twitter can be an effective and easy-to-use platform for communicating with numerous audiences quickly.

To help those of you who are brand new to Twitter, we will go over:

  • The sign-up process
  • Ideas for choosing an appropriate handle and profile picture
  • Creating an effective bio
  • How to stay on brand

Signing Up for Twitter

Twitter has the ability to increase your client, member, donor, and volunteer engagement and send new supporters your way. If you are new to Twitter, find some comfort knowing that signing up is straightforward!

The sign-up process helps you find who you might want to follow, add people and organizations you know, and personalize your profile. As a nonprofit, you should consider following other organizations close to your location. This way you can stay up-to-date with any new information, webinars, or events that may be happening near you! Also, it may be valuable to follow other nonprofits who share similar values and perspectives with you. Why? Because these organizations will be awesome for retweeting!

To start you will need to have a name (usually your organization’s name) and a password handy. You also need to think of a handle, this will be your username – ours is @VolunteerAB.

Twitter Handles and Profile Pictures

Once you’ve finished signing up and the initial tutorial, it’s time to start fine-tuning your Twitter homepage to make sure it reflects your organization’s brand and values. Did you choose the appropriate handle (username)? Your handle will be how others find and communicate with you, so make sure it is close to your organization’s name! Keep in mind that a shorter handle will be easier for others to fit in their tweets.

What about your profile picture? Your picture should also be representative of your organization. Usually your logo is the best way to go!

Twitter Bios

Something to remember for Twitter is to keep things short and sweet. There is a 140 character limit on tweets which usually translates to one or two short sentences and a link (to your event, article, or further information).

Twitter bios should be no different. Consider using your vision or mission statement and be sure to include a link to your website.

Staying On Brand

Finally, keep in mind that staying on brand and being consistent is important. Consider creating a communication plan or thinking of some goals for your Twitter feed. How many tweets would you like to put out a day? How many responses or retweets? Start small, see what your audience responds to.

Consistency and quality is more important than quantity! Your tweets should align with your organization’s values to ensure your communication works towards your cause, represents what you stand for, stays professional, and doesn’t confuse any of your audiences. Think about what you would want to hear about from your organization if you didn’t work there.

Continue to monitor your account to see how effective you are. Twitter has analytics available that can give you some extra insights. Once you have some initial information on how your audience is reacting to you, you can begin to tailor your Twitter approach. Creating a successful Twitter feed doesn’t happen overnight. It takes commitment and a little bit of work to get it running. So be patient, and take it one day at a time!

Make sure to read our next blog on some tips and tricks to keep in mind when you begin to tweet more often!

Stephanie O’Neill
Volunteer Alberta

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