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Preventing and addressing gaps when engaging skilled volunteers

What does Volunteer Alberta mean by skilled volunteerism?

At Volunteer Alberta, we often speak of and promote skilled volunteerism and the value skilled volunteers can bring to nonprofit organizations. But what do we mean by “highly skilled volunteers”?

Highly skilled volunteers include any volunteer that offers specific skills, knowledge, or expertise in an area where not all volunteers could help out. Highly skilled volunteer roles go above and beyond more basic tasks like photocopying, filing, sorting, delivering, registering kids, soliciting small donations, or handing out refreshments. Instead, a highly skilled volunteer might offer pro bono legal advice, create the annual financial reports, conduct client research, or design a new logo for your program.

Nonprofit organizations often engage highly skilled volunteers on their Board of Directors or to help provide services that would otherwise be too expensive. Highly skilled volunteers can also ease the burden on paid staff who often take on many roles due to limited budgets.

While skilled volunteerism is a great way to build capacity into your organization, we must not overlook the potential gaps that may arise when we engage skilled volunteers.

Imagine Canada’s blog, ‘Re-thinking the way we share skilled expertise: the pro bono paradox’

I recently came across an interesting blog from Imagine Canada regarding the paradox of pro bono skilled volunteerism. That is, what gaps can skilled volunteerism create and how do we prevent and/or address them?

Here are some highlights and key insights from the blog:

“In many cases though, the application of pro bono skills can be a double-edged sword. If strong project management plans are not designed ahead of time (and in collaboration) with the nonprofit and the skilled volunteer, the experience runs the risk of creating more challenges than good…

Here are two things to think about that will support a better planning paradigm, and allow nonprofit leadership teams to focus on the longer term outcomes required.

1. Shift our mindset away from transactional volunteerism to longer term strategic bench strength

We should shift the focus away from transactional experiences used as a stop gap measure to an operational issue at the nonprofit, to designing the mechanics of the pro bono experience ahead of time and defining the ways each volunteer can help to empower a nonprofit leadership team to come from a place of strength when articulating what is actually required in the long term strategy (vs. the gift of what a volunteer sees as necessary today).

Much like designing an effective job description, nonprofit leadership teams and the volunteer can set up skilled experiences in ways that deliver a strong return on impact, integrity and investment for all involved. We must be thoughtful and learn how to map key competencies and capabilities required for the nonprofit’s organizational success, and how to say ‘no’ when necessary without impacting the interest of the volunteer to continue to be engaged.

2. Put the focus on skill development and cross-sector learning opportunities

We should also explore how a pro bono experience can be designed in ways that help to uncover new skills a volunteer might have (beyond what they do at the office day to day) and look at issues from as many angles as possible. In Volunteer Canada’s recent study Bridging the Gap, a survey of employer supported volunteers indicated that they were motivated by experiences working with nonprofits that helped them develop new skills, and some indicated they did not want to volunteer doing the same job as they do for work.

Thinking this way can help to get everyone excited about “what’s next” and ongoing engagement vs. having a one-off pro bono based experience where the recommendations become a dusty report on a shelf or the to-do list.”

Read the full Imagine Canada blog.

Check out our Highly Skilled Volunteers page for resources!

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

 

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The beginning of NextGen’s City Jam: A skilled volunteer story

Rebecca Swanson started her volunteering journey back in high school and has since volunteered for over 20 years. Swanson’s involvement in volunteerism first began when her friends started to volunteer as a way to spend more time with people she knew.

However, what motivated her to volunteer after high school was the idea of supporting organizations she believed in and branching out within her community. Swanson began volunteering at organizations and charities such as: The Theatre Network, World Fit for Children, Metro Cinema Society and Edmonton’s NextGen.

One skilled volunteer and the beginning of City Jam

At Edmonton’s NextGen, Rebecca volunteered as a Strategy and Operations Chair from January 2016 to July 2017, where she played a key role in the development of City Jam. The event is a night full of live music exclusively dedicated for volunteers who generously donate their time to their community.

While brainstorming for new ideas to engage volunteers, Rebecca recalled similar events in other centers that gave back to volunteers and highlighted great music.

“City Jam was created as a way to highlight volunteerism, and to create something that hadn’t been done before in Edmonton,” says Rebecca Swanson.

The power of volunteerism and the nonprofit sector

Swanson believes volunteers make this world healthier and more vibrant. And, it is nonprofit organizations and charities that bring people together to support a cause they believe in and make their community a better place.

“The number of important initiatives that wouldn’t happen without millions of hours of volunteer time is mind-blowing if you actually step back and think about it,” says Rebecca.

Originally, NextGen City Jam was meant to be a one-time event, but the hard work volunteers put into the planning and preparation made it grow into the event it is today. Rebecca says she looks forward to seeing the event expand to meet the needs of Edmontonians.

City Jam thanks and celebrates volunteers

“I think celebrating volunteers and giving them a chance to celebrate the work they have done in a fun way is the key to this event,” says Swanson.

Swanson is proud of what City Jam has become and continues to cheer on the event. She believes that events similar to City Jam are a good example for other organizations when it comes to engaging new volunteers and thanking dedicated volunteers.

Edmonton’s NextGen consists of a group of volunteers who work together to provide a platform for new and engaging ideas to create a vibrant community. Do you want to participate in City Jam? Volunteer for a minimum of 10 hours at a local charity or nonprofit between June 1 and November 30, and then submit your hours to register to attend the concert on December 1.

Who’s performing in 2018? 

  • HEADLINER – TBA 
  • Scenic Route to Alaska
  • Royal Tusk
  • Cadence Weapon

 

Navi Bhullar

Volunteer Alberta Intern

FCSS STAFF PIC

Member Spotlight: How to engage youth in board governance

Vegreville and District FCSS encourages ‘Youth to Make a Change’

What would our nonprofit sector look like if young people built on their leadership skills by participating in their community at an executive level as volunteers?

Vegreville and District FCSS is taking a unique approach to encouraging youth to volunteer through a program called, Youth Making a Change. The program successfully engages students in grades 10 and 12 in board governance, and as a result encourages succession planning for the future of our sector.

What is ‘Youth Making a Change’?

Youth Making a Change helps students build on their community engagement and board development skills. Interactive sessions are also held to help students build their volunteer and leadership skills. Vegreville and District FCSS then matches these young volunteers with a nonprofit board to implement the skills they learned.

“Now we are getting youth involved at a higher level, they’re not just asked to volunteer, they’re actually at the table making decisions and being part of the organization structure, and also the planning that they do at an executive level,” says Julie Gottselig, Manager at Vegreville and District FCSS.

In the second part of the program, students create and develop their own community project based on a topic of their choice. Afterwards, they become ‘youth representatives’ with nonprofits in their community.

The program is set to start in October and run until March 2019, with students volunteering approximately five hours per month.

Succession planning for local nonprofits

“It’s succession planning for the nonprofit organization, because now they have trained youth and are able to keep their organization functional. Now you’re going to have youth that are eventually going to be in those leading roles,” says Julie.

Through the process of board engagement, Vegreville and District FCSS puts out calls to other organizations that are interested in having a young person on their team. Vegreville and District FCSS then trains organizations in youth development, onboarding young volunteers, and encourages their local nonprofits to be mentors for youth. Last year, they trained 11 different nonprofit organizations.

“We’re hoping for this program to be expanded regionally and provincially, and that we can share this information so that others will also be able to implement it into their communities,” says Julie.

Vegreville and District FCSS is a nonprofit organization that prevents crisis and takes care of the social well-being of the community by offering low/no cost programs and services to the Town of Vegreville and the western portion of the County of Minburn.

Navi Bhullar

Volunteer Alberta Intern

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Welcoming newcomers: A volunteer story

How we can support and welcome newcomers

Supporting and welcoming newcomers to Canada grows our communities and makes our communities more vibrant, diverse and strong. But, the integration process for newcomers is not easy.

In 2016, Paula Speevak from Volunteer Canada wrote the following about nonprofits’ and volunteers’ roles in assisting Syrian refugees:

“Integration is a years-long process. The need for volunteers to help Syrian refugees connect with their new communities will continue – and that need goes beyond traditional settlement agencies.”

Between October 2015 and February 2018, nearly 52,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Canada, and Albertans have opened their homes and hearts to these refugees. This means we, as community members, have the opportunity to help where we can. Refugee families in our communities require ongoing support such as food services, health services and community programs including language services.

How one volunteer made a difference

Often, having a friendly neighbour they can turn to can make all the difference. Volunteer, Kirsten Madden is one of these Albertans who opened their home to a Syrian family and recently shared her experience with us.

What inspired you to look into volunteering with a refugee organization?

“Over the years, we felt that there had been a lot of discrimination against Muslims and people fleeing to Canada from Syria. We have always been strong advocates for acceptance, love and peace across the globe, and understand that there are bad things that happen in every culture. This inspired us to open our family and our home.

We don’t believe in us versus them, we believe in We. We hoped that if we paired up with a family from Syria, we could learn more than what was just in our hearts, and hopefully be able to inspire others to realize that people are just people. Not to view others through our differences, but to recognize our humanity and that we are more alike than different.”

What was your volunteer experience like? How did it impact yours and your family’s life?

“It has been the most amazing experience. We don’t consider it volunteering anymore. In fact, we stopped submitting volunteer hours a long time ago. We consider them family.

We have learned about their home-life, culture, their food, their language, their struggles, beliefs etc., and visa versa from us to them. Our children have become friends.

For us it makes us feel like we have travelled to Syria in some small way. We have shared their pain when they have talked about the bullies that have destroyed their home, and we have shared their relief when they describe that they feel safe in Canada.”

How would you recommend other volunteers get involved in something they are interested in?

“Just do it! It will enrich your life, and open your heart and eyes.”

 

The inclusion of all people of different races and cultures enriches our communities, broadens our horizons and deepens our understanding of one another. If you are interested in engaging and supporting newcomers in your community, but don’t know how to get started, we recommend checking out our Supporting Newcomers page.

Adrienne Vansevenandt 

Volunteer Alberta    

Supports

Member Spotlight: Giving a voice to Albertans with disabilities

The Voice of Albertans with Disabilities advocates for full participation

People with disabilities, the largest minority group in the world, struggle greatly to overcome physical, mental, emotional and social barriers. Often, those with disabilities find themselves isolated from the world due to discrimination: a sheer lack of understanding and empathy.

The Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is a provincial organization actively working to reduce barriers by encouraging and advocating for full participation, accessibility and equality. Through their programs and services, they are dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities, as well as ensuring people with disabilities’ voices are heard.

By creating and facilitating committees and working groups, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities actively listens, brings forward and takes on issues affecting those with disabilities. Their advocacy work has resulted in broader awareness and accessibility.

“It’s the level of awareness that we strive to raise around those key areas that affect the daily life of individuals with disabilities,” says Meloney Patterson, Executive Director at the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities. “The community has an input into these initiatives.”

How you can get involved

Another way the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is encouraging full participation is by offering disability awareness presentations. These presentations contribute to an accessible environment by educating others and providing an in-depth understanding of removing barriers.

“The Disability Awareness Presentations are given by individuals with disabilities and they start with teaching the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” says Meloney. “There isn’t supposed to be any discrimination against any individual as a result of disability; however, we know that’s quite different.”

The experiences and perspectives put into these presentations by individuals with disabilities engages the audience to learn about the importance of differences while promoting acceptance.

Schools, businesses and organizations can sign up to take part in discussions, learn appropriate use of language and appropriate interaction with a person with a disability.

Breaking down physical barriers, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities also offers accessibility assessments to review blueprints and ensure that renovations and buildings are fully accessible to all individuals.

“These assessments have been well received by organizations. They save builders, municipalities and building contractors cost with upfront awareness of best practices for accessibility,” says Meloney.

Asking questions to enhance inclusion

Meloney believes that other organizations can remove service and structural barriers in their community through dialogue with an individual with a disability. “Take time to ask questions,” says Meloney.

Located in Edmonton, Alberta, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is a provincial cross-disability organization with 45 years of experience. They are dedicated to providing services and support to individuals, organizations, government representatives, schools, business personnel and employers to reduce the barriers and find solutions that prevent full participation.

Navi Bhullar

Volunteer Alberta Intern

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