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Brainstorming (attr poptech photo on flickr )

What is the power in a network? Three ways networks support the nonprofit sector

We often talk about how Volunteer Alberta is a part of many local, provincial and national networks. But, what does this really mean for the Alberta nonprofit sector and our members? What is the power in a network and more specifically, what is the power in our network?

Recently, I sat down with our Executive Director, Karen Link, to get a greater understanding of what’s happening out in the provincial and national nonprofit landscape, and what networking opportunities we recently participated in. During our discussion, I realized how our networking opportunities (and networks in general) support, elevate and advocate on the nonprofit sector’s behalf in three key ways.

Networks help us to identify priorities, challenges and trends

On October 10th and 11th, Karen attended Ontario Nonprofit Network’s 2018 Nonprofit Driven conference to connect with like-minded people in nonprofit across Canada. The conference provided her with an opportunity to position Volunteer Alberta nationally and to broaden our awareness of what is happening in other provinces.

“By broadening our network nationally, it allows us to identify that other province’s challenges are similar to ours; that our challenges extend beyond provincial boundaries,” says Karen. “Because of these conversations, we can start to recognize relevant and current sector trends. This then allows us to prioritize accordingly and find innovative solutions, together.”

Networks help us to leverage each other’s knowledge and skill-sets

A new networking opportunity regarding volunteer screening came to us through our existing connection with Volunteer Canada’s board of directors and the Volunteer Centre Council (VCC). Last week, we sent one of our staff member’s, Daniela Seiferling, to the National Roundtable on Screening Volunteers in Ottawa.

The second of now two National Roundtables focused on looking at other provincial and national models to inform the proposed Volunteer Canada Volunteer Screening and Education Centre. Currently, Australia, Scotland and Ireland successfully administer national volunteer screening models in their countries.

“The fact that representatives from Scotland, Ireland and Australia are attending the roundtable presents us with an opportunity to learn from each other on a global scale and understand the global sector,” says Karen.

Networks help us to understand and build each other’s capacity

Back in June, we attended Alberta Culture and Tourism’s inaugural Enhanced Capacity Advancement Program (ECAP) meeting for all currently funded organizations. This meeting was an intentional effort to map out where all of the organizations are at with capacity building on three different levels: individual, organizational and system.

During this meeting, organizations identified where there’s a lot of work happening, where there are gaps, and how we could fill those gaps together.

“The Alberta Government wants to support and build greater collective capacity in the nonprofit sector. It’s a renewed effort and opportunity – to build a sense of shared ownership and explore partnership like never before,” says Karen.

Additionally, organizations identified and discussed how to link and leverage their programs and services during a second meeting this October.

“What’s yet to be determined is how will we do this? So, I asked two questions in the last meeting,” says Karen. “How do ECAP funded organizations scale up local programs and services across the province? And, what role can Volunteer Alberta play to support them in scaling up their programs and services?”

Alberta Volunteer Centre Network and final thoughts

Our opportunity to be involved in provincial and national conversations helps us to advocate on behalf of our members and the sector. Specifically, the Alberta Volunteer Centre Network (AVCN) plays a significant role in affecting and carrying out change locally and regionally.

Other networks and organizations like VCC, the Alberta Nonprofit Network and the Alberta Government recognize the value AVCN has. This is why network representation is important to Volunteer Alberta, as it is part of our same role and function.
We convene networks, connect the dots, and connect/encourage others to be part of a broader network. This is the real value of what we bring by working together; this is the power in our network.

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Member Spotlight: Stony Plain FCSS builds community resilience with local network

Strengthening and equipping communities with outreach programs can be key in connecting and creating a local network. And, when communities are connected through a local network, they know how and what type of resources they can access, as well as identify opportunities for collaboration.

Creating a ‘local network’ to end family violence

Through its various outreach programs, Stony Plain FCSS is building a local network that supports and establishes community resilience. Stony Plain FCSS’s most recent program, Cut it Out, leverages existing community relationships to create a safe haven for victims of family violence.

Stony Plain’s Cut it Out program provides education, awareness and skills to salon professionals for how to refer clients suffering from family violence to community resources, safely.

“The goal is to work collaboratively to end family and relationship violence in our community through education, awareness and support,” says Dianne Dube, Volunteer Development Coordinator.

Promoting good mental health and social well-being

Salon professionals can play a key role in ending family violence, as they are experienced listeners who see their clients regularly, and thus build trusting relationships with their clients.

By engaging volunteers to provide necessary information and education to salon professionals, Stony Plain FCSS equips salon professionals to recognize and respond to signs of abuse. This valuable and educational service leverages salon professionals’ unique relationships with clients as

“We provide many programs that promote good positive mental health and social well-being. We are enhancing inclusion and diversity by spreading the news of how we can be an all-inclusive community, how can we do better, and how to remove barriers to inclusion,” says Dianne. “And that’s what the volunteer centre strives to promote is supporting volunteerism because that’s what makes a healthy community.”

Stony Plain FCSS launched the program in early fall of this year, in partnership with other agencies and volunteers in the community. “I think the impact our organization has is that we are connecting the community,” says Dianne.

Located in Stony Plain, AB, Stony Plain FCSS supports families and individuals in all life stages through prevention-focused programs, to promote and maintain social wellness for a healthy community.

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Guest blog: Five ways nonprofits can impart soft skills to volunteers

A big part of retaining volunteers is finding new and innovative ways to engage them. By helping volunteers to develop soft skills, nonprofits can enrich volunteers’ experiences.

Soft skills such as the ability to gel well in a team, make sound and/or quick decisions and communicate effectively are important for any nonprofit volunteer to successfully contribute to your organization’s cause, initiatives and activities.

While some volunteers intrinsically possess these skills, others need to hone them. Luckily, these are abilities which can be taught. In this blog, we look at how your nonprofit can impart soft skills to their volunteers.

1. Hold training sessions and workshops

Volunteers, especially first-timers, may find it difficult to work in a new environment due to their lack of experience. A simple way to fix this is to periodically organize training sessions and workshops for volunteers to develop skills like effective communication, time-management, and decision making.

Through talks by senior members, games focusing on building teamwork, interactive discussions and role-playing situations, your nonprofit can help its volunteers improve their interpersonal skills while boosting their confidence. And the best part is everyone can learn while bonding with each other and having fun!

2. Let volunteers take ownership

While soft skills can be taught, there is no better teacher than experiential self-learning. Give volunteers opportunities to take charge of tasks, while gently guiding them along the way if required. It makes sense to give responsibility based on the volunteer’s experience and comfort level.

For instance, give new volunteers the opportunity to represent your nonprofit’s stall during one of your events; as they gain more experience, perhaps they could take up bigger tasks like organizing an entire event.

Letting volunteers take the initiative helps them hone their interpersonal skills while giving them a taste of real-life leadership and accountability; important skills you helped them learn by themselves!

3. Encourage teamwork

Team up volunteers of different age groups and backgrounds on tasks and watch the learning flow from within! When grouped together to achieve a common goal, volunteers inevitably end up learning from one another.

Doing so allows them to gain new perspectives, listen to diverse experiences, and feel a collective sense of thrill from overcoming obstacles together.

Pro-tip: Assign a mentor to each team to monitor work and defuse any conflicts if they arise.

4. Promote creativity

By performing creative tasks, volunteers can improve their problem-solving skills. Encourage volunteers to take up activities which require exercising the inventive side of their brain.

When volunteers get creative and learn a new skill-set or grow an existing skill-set, it becomes a stepping stone for them to become a skilled volunteer or apply their newly developed skills in other volunteer positions.

From designing posters for rallies and creating catchy event invites, to shooting and producing a ‘behind-the-scenes’ nonprofit video, the creative possibilities are endless!

Pro-tip: Whatever the activity happens to be, ensure that it’s in sync with your nonprofit’s voice and tone by sharing the necessary guidelines beforehand.

5. Organize get-togethers and similar events

Depending on the size of your nonprofit and the number of volunteers, there is a fair chance that not everyone has spoken to each other. Perhaps first-time volunteers didn’t get a chance to interact with senior staff or board members due to a lack of opportunity or a lack of confidence.

By organizing get-togethers, outdoor barbeques, or parties exclusively for staff, board members and volunteers, everyone loosens up and learns to bond with each other. Volunteers can interact with everybody in a relaxed setting, resulting in a cooperative environment which boosts their communication skills and confidence.

Pro-tip: These networking opportunities also help volunteers get to know your organization from the inside out, gain new perspectives and see how their efforts contribute to your organization’s cause and mission. And when they understand their impact, they are more likely to continue volunteering for your nonprofit.

Final thoughts

When nonprofits impart soft skills to their volunteers, it not only fosters volunteer engagement, but it also equips your volunteers to carry out your mission. In this sense, it is an investment back into your organization’s operational plan and strategic directions.

Nurturing soft skills in your volunteers also provides your volunteers the opportunity to transfer their skills to different volunteer positions in your organization, and even to their careers or everyday life.

Final pro-tip: Ask your volunteers what skills they want to develop or use to match them to the appropriate volunteer position and/or activity that suits their wants and needs. Feedback is important. Be sure to find out what your volunteers thought about the opportunities your nonprofit offered so your nonprofit can learn and adjust as needed.

Guest blog author bio: Shaunak Wanikar is part of the Marketing team at CallHub, a cloud telephony company which connects campaigns with their supporters through its voice and SMS software. He helps deliver compelling content which bridges knowledge gaps for nonprofit organizations, political campaigns, advocacy groups, and businesses. An engineering graduate, Shaunak is passionate about seeing the world improve through the medium of technology. Movies, football, and books keep him sane.

Volunteer Airdrie LEAD Graduation Group 1

Member Spotlight: Volunteer Airdrie breaks down barriers to volunteerism in their community

Finding solutions that suit your community may not be easy. But, when you approach solving complex issues with a mindset of abundance versus scarcity, multiple solutions tend to present themselves.

This is how Volunteer Airdrie approached redesigning their programs and services within the past few years. By looking at what opportunities were available and identifying gaps in their community, Volunteer Airdrie realized they needed to shift their focus to serving Airdrie residents.

“We really started focusing on where can we fit in and came to the conclusion that a lot of residents struggle to find the right volunteer opportunity quickly and efficiently,” says Dave Maffitt, Chair of Volunteer Airdrie’s Board of Directors. “So, we redesigned our focus to help our residents to break down barriers.”

Creating a user-friendly way to find volunteer opportunities

One way Volunteer Airdrie is helping residents break down barriers to volunteering is through the development of the Better Impact MVP Software; a free online tool that allows residents to create a profile on the website based on their age, availability, interests, qualifications and much more.

“The system allows Airdrie residents to do searches based on those criteria. For youth, somebody under 18, the system isn’t going to show them volunteer opportunities that are restricted to adults,” says Dave. “It’s growing rapidly and it’s starting to get additional members on a daily basis.”

Engaging youth in Airdrie’s nonprofit community with LEAD

In their community, Volunteer Airdrie is also breaking down barriers for youth engagement through the Leadership Empowerment and Achieving a Difference (LEAD) program. LEAD is a ten-week program that is free of charge for youth grades 7-12 with ten in-class sessions and 20 hours of community service or volunteering.

In LEAD’s in-class sessions, young people learn about topics like problem-solving, organizing and planning, teamwork, conflict management skills and personal wellbeing to help them develop youth leadership skills to use while volunteering or out in their community in other ways.

“Kids often get exposure to a number of different opportunities and causes, and start to get an appreciation for the needs in Airdrie and some of the causes that are may be more meaningful to them,” says Dave. “In the long term, it attracts them to come back and continue to volunteer with that organization after they have finished LEAD. It’s been a big, big success!”

Overcoming volunteer age restrictions for youth

Despite nonprofits’ minimum age requirement policies, Volunteer Airdrie has also been able to match young teens with group volunteer opportunities successfully at local nonprofits by providing appropriate adult supervision.

“So, that’s where we step in because we can open a lot of doors for these youth, especially the 12-14 year age group,” says Dave. “It’s really difficult for them to find meaningful volunteer opportunities since most nonprofit organizations have policies in minimum age requirements that are in that 15-16 year range.”

Volunteer Airdrie will continue their youth engagement initiative by opening a youth volunteer centre next year. They hope the centre creates a caring environment for kids that provides them with community service opportunities that are meaningful to them.

Located in Airdrie, Alberta, Volunteer Airdrie is the recognized volunteer centre for the City of Airdrie and the immediate surrounding area of Rocky View County, Alberta. Volunteer Airdrie’s mission is to empower Airdrie residents to invest in themselves and their community through volunteerism.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

Special thanks to our summer intern, Navi Bhullar, for sourcing and helping to storyboard this Member Spotlight.

Jigsaw puzzle

From Nonprofit AF: Tips from introverts for introverts on how to survive a conference

This month, we focused on and talked about leveraging and expanding networks on social media and in our Member Exclusive newsletter. But, building the foundation of your network is no easy task, let alone leveraging and expanding it!

And, if you are introverted or shy, it can be incredibly intimidating to attend conferences, approach experts and other nonprofits, conduct government relations (the list goes on!), as part of your overall organizational network strategy.

Nonprofit AF’s blog post for introverts

So to help our introverted and shy nonprofit staff, volunteers, board members and leaders, we thought we would share this blog from Nonprofit AF’s Vu Le: Tips from introverts for introverts on how to survive a conference!

“If you are an introvert, attending a conference can be an overwhelming experience. The 12-hours of networking. The constant discomfort of trying to figure out where to sit. The intrusive icebreakers that involve disclosing to strangers things that even your own family members don’t know about you! (“Dad…there’s something I should tell you. My favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate fudge brownie.”)

If the thought of spending time with hundreds of other people at a conference for several days makes you want to run home and re-binge-watch all four seasons of “Battlestar Galactica,” you are not alone. (But you probably wish to be! #introvertjokes!) People think I’m an extrovert because I do so much public speaking, but the reality is that as a nonprofit leader I have learned to use extroversion skills for my job, but that I need a lot of alone time to reflect and recharge. This is why I like, and need, to write all the time…and why I’m fully caught up on most popular TV shows.

So I asked the NAF Facebook community for tips on attending conferences as an introvert, and within hours received over 220 comments from fellow introverts. Apparently this is a huge topic, and there are many great resources on it, including:

– This post by Kishshana Palmer called “Getting the Most Out of Your Next Conference

– This TED talk and podcast by Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”

– This post by Trina Isakson called “The Introvert’s Guide to Network Building

– This post by Robbie Samuels called “’Can I go home now?’ Networking Tips for Introverts.””

 

There are a lot of great tips from his community in his post, but there were too many for us to copy onto our blog!

See the full list of 43 tips from introverts for introverts!

A special thanks to Vu Le for allowing us to share his blog content with our audiences!

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

 

 

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