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NextGen City Jam recognizes Edmonton volunteers: Why they give back and stay involved

Everyone’s volunteer journey is unique. When you ask volunteers why and how they started, their stories are often different.

Recently, we interviewed two Edmonton volunteers who are attending NextGen’s volunteer recognition event City Jam to give us insight into how they started volunteering and why they give back to the Edmonton community.

How long have you been volunteering for?

Maddy Shevchuk: I’ve been volunteering for different groups and organizations since I started university in September 2012.

Jim Walsh: I started volunteering in 2012 when I met a wonderful lady I now proudly call my wife. I got involved here in Edmonton in January 2019 with the Deep Freeze.

Why did you start volunteering?

Maddy: I love working with kids and helping kids makes me feel good! I love the feeling of volunteering.

Jim: My wife was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2011, a year before we met. Seeing her get involved to help support and educate others, and to witness her be an inspiration to so many others who were going through the same disease, made me want to get involved to support her and her cause.

Since then, I have discovered there are many wonderful things that can come from lending your time and talents to assist others. For example, it is a fantastic way to give back to your community. Here in Edmonton, I have a great friend of mine who asked me if I was interested in helping out at the Deep Freeze this year. It was a great way for me to find out more about what my new home city has to offer me. I have also felt a great sense of purpose and it helps me to reduce stress when I get involved in other activities.

Why do you think volunteering/volunteerism is important?

Maddy: I think that volunteering is important because everybody could use a helping hand every once in a while. And the few spare hours you have to volunteer can make a world of difference for somebody else.

I think that other people should get involved with their communities through volunteering so they can see what else is out there. See how other people live and see the impact that different organizations have on their community.

Jim: Volunteering helps bring people together. Getting involved in volunteerism provides you a greater appreciation for where you live, helps foster a greater sense of pride in our neighborhood/town/city, etc. It gives you a chance to grow as a person. It’s also a fantastic way to relieve stress; you take the focus off yourself for a little while and focus on others. So get out there. Get involved in something, anything.

From your perspective as a volunteer, why do you think NextGen City Jam is important to your community? 

Maddy: I think NextGen City Jam is very important in our community because it encourages people to step out of their comfort zone, doing things that they would not normally do, it also helps out the communities that we live in and makes such a positive impact in so many different areas!

Jim: As a volunteer and as a NEW volunteer here in the Edmonton area, for me, NextGen City Jam is a way for organizers of the volunteer community to show their appreciation to all those who help make events and charities more successful/memorable. It is that thankful recognition that helps make the volunteers feel that their efforts are greatly respected. As people, we all like to be recognized and that makes us want to do more. This helps feed the desire to grow the volunteer community. So thank you NextGen.

Has NextGen City Jam encouraged you to volunteer more?

Maddy: It has encouraged me to keep volunteering in my community to give back.

Jim: The knowledge of NextGen City Jam has made me want to get more involved. From my view, it’s a great show of appreciation to the volunteer community for the hard work that the volunteers do.

I never realized how much work goes into creating and putting on an event. Volunteers are truly an integral part, and for an event like NextGen City Jam to honour the volunteers the way they do is amazing! People want to repeat actions that give them positive feelings, and recognition like NextGen City Jam certainly fills you with pride and appreciation.

If a friend of yours wanted to start volunteering but didn’t know where to start, what advice would you give to them?

Maddy: Look into volunteering in areas that you are passionate about. I for one love working with kids so I am always interested in opportunities in this field. If you are not sure what interests you, try volunteering for several different organizations and see how you like them. You never know what you might enjoy if you don’t try.

Jim: If someone was to ask me about volunteering I would tell them to start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself. You want the experience to be enjoyable, not a “chore”. Don’t try to be a superhero right out of the gate!  Get involved in something of interest. We all have skills/talents we can offer others. So, use those skills and compassion to help others, to bring someone else some enjoyment.

Have you or your volunteers donated at least 10 hours between May 1st and September 4th? Send in your hours to Edmonton’s NextGen and get your name on the guestlist for City Jam 2019 at Sonic Field Day!

Maddy Shevchuk is a University of Alberta elementary education student who loves volunteering with kids and making other people happy! Currently, she volunteers as a big sister mentor with the Boys & Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area. When Maddy is not in school, volunteering or working, she loves to bake cupcakes and read.  

 

Jim Walsh is originally from the east coast and recently moved to Edmonton for the second time in late 2018 with his beloved wife. He loves to volunteer to open his mind to new things and learn more about his city. Currently, Jim volunteers with Kaleido, the Deep Freeze with Arts on the Avenue, the Heart of the City, Heritage Festival and Edmonton Rock Fest. Jim and his wife are long-time breast cancer survivor advocates and dedicated volunteers who help raise funds and increase awareness.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

Fringe volunteers

Member Spotlight: Edmonton Fringe Theatre finds ‘the right fit’ with their volunteer program

Volunteers are integral to the nonprofit sector. Many nonprofits/charities, events, festivals and more, would not be possible without Albertans selflessly devoting their time to our communities and causes. But many nonprofits struggle with getting volunteers in the door and finding volunteers who are the right fit that will also come back to volunteer.

Fringe Theatre has a unique challenge to recruit, onboard, and engage more than 1,200 volunteers for their annual Fringe Festival in Edmonton. But, their volunteer program is extremely successful, so how do they do it?

How the Fringe Theatre finds and reaches volunteers

One of the ways the Fringe Theatre reaches volunteers is by posting their opportunities online on the VolunteerConnector platform; a new platform that allows volunteers to search for opportunities by cause, skills, time commitment, and more.

Sarah and Drew, Fringe Theatre Volunteer Team

“I love the new VolunteerConnector! As a volunteer and volunteer manager, I was previously so frustrated by the lack of an easy-to-use, visually appealing volunteer opportunities board,” says Drew Delbaere, Interim Volunteer Manager at Fringe Theatre. “It’s great that so many volunteer centres across the province are now using the platform, so we don’t have to put our postings in multiple places.”

In addition to online postings, Drew says they also put up posters around the city, attend other events and farmers markets, advertise on social media, and reach out to former volunteers. They also do targeted outreach for their more skilled volunteer roles.

“For some of our roles, we do targeted outreach to people or organizations that would meet the specific qualifications, like for our First Aid Team,” says Drew.

Using the 10 steps to volunteer screening to get ‘the right fit’

But reaching volunteers and getting people interested in your cause is only one piece of volunteer recruitment. It’s also about finding the right fit and good onboarding. And the Fringe Theatre finds the right fit not only for their organization but also for their volunteers using the 10 Steps to Volunteer Screening.

“The 10 Steps are the foundation of our volunteer screening process,” says Drew. “When we first developed our screening strategy, or subsequently look to adjust it from year to year, the 10 Steps are behind every decision that we make.”

For example, some key steps that help find the right fit include writing clear volunteer position/role descriptions and conducting interviews to get to know the volunteer. But, the 10 Steps or good screening practices start at developing policies and is carried through to the support and supervision a volunteer receives.

“I believe that screening is one of the most important parts of any volunteer program. As volunteer managers, we need to move beyond thinking about screening as just a background check because it is so much more than that,” says Drew. “To me, screening means finding people who are a good fit for your organization, and a background check alone can’t tell me that.”

While screening can take a lot of resources, both financially and in staff time, according to Drew, it is a worthwhile investment. “Without a good screening program in place, you will spend more time dealing with performance, disciplinary, and/or retention issues in the future.”

Recommendations for your volunteer program

With Fringe Theatre’s tall order of recruiting 1,200+ volunteers every year, they’ve learned a thing or two about running a successful volunteer program. Here are some tips/recommendations from Fringe Theatre’s Interim Volunteer Manager, Drew, that could help your organization’s volunteer program:

  • Set clear expectations from the start.
  • Make sure that position descriptions are easy to understand and that they encompass all parts of the role. There should be no surprises!
  • Make sure to communicate if there is a mandatory training session upfront. Even better if you can give the exact date and time.
  • If you are an organization that runs an annual event or festival, make sure to invite your previous volunteers back! A simple email inviting former volunteers to join you again can make a huge impact.
  • If you are an organization that recruits volunteers year-round, consider why someone should join you now, rather than a month or year from now.
    • Make sure you give a deadline because if you have ongoing recruitment it can be easy for potential volunteers to keep putting off applying.
  • For all volunteer managers, use your current group of volunteers to help your recruit. Beyond just asking, help facilitate this process. For example:
    • You could create a toolkit with graphics, photos, or messaging that your volunteers can share with their networks in emails or on social media.
  • Deliver a quality volunteer experience. For better or worse, volunteer programs will start to develop a reputation which can have an impact on the success or struggles of future recruitment.

The Edmonton International Fringe™ Theatre Festival has been delighting, shocking, and surprising audiences since 1982. Of the 23 in North America, they are the oldest and largest! They transform theatre. Foster artists. Nurture audiences. Take chances. And help you find the artist inside.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

sparkstock

Get to know social innovation and how it can support you in your work

What is social innovation?

Social innovation – we hear this buzzword used a lot by the sector, but what does it really mean?

Social innovation pulls from a variety of sectors and disciplines – social services, anthropology, human ecology, project management, systems thinking, etc. – to address complex, social issues at the root cause.

At Volunteer Alberta, we define social innovation as “refining current ways or exploring new ways of solving problems.” It is the community-based ownership of a solution and it supports Alberta’s nonprofits in solving complex issues.

Why does social innovation matter to the sector?

The nonprofit sector is an ecosystem – we are mission-driven organizations working collaboratively across sectors as part of a larger social system. Nonprofits impact communities through the work we do and the services we provide. Healthy communities start with us!

Nonprofits address complex, social challenges from volunteer recruitment and retention to poverty and food scarcity. Due to turnover and funding challenges, we are often in a state of change. Our programs and services, even our organizations, move from growth to destruction. This chaotic cycle presents unique challenges and opportunities; it’s where social innovation thrives.

Applying social innovation tools in your own work

As nonprofits working in complex systems, we find it easier to talk about and map our programs and services in a fluid state. More often than not, this leads us to explore patterns of conservation and growth. Organizations leave little room for foresight[1] and creative destruction[2].

For an ecosystem to be healthy and resilient, foresight is necessary to navigate your organization through challenging times.

To better understand these phases and build resiliency, we can apply a sense-making tool known as the Adaptive Cycle. The Adaptive Cycle has four distinct phases:

  • Growth (development): An idea or concept is born and organizations are accessing financial and human resources to help the idea grow to maturity.
  • Conservation (maturity): Where processes, programs and services reach full maturity and are at their peak. In this phase, our organizations are often running like an established, well-oiled machine.
  • Collapse/release (creative destruction): Following a disruption to the status quo, organizations or systems let go of resources, energy, and skills from our processes, programs to allow for exploration.
  • Reorganization (exploration & renewal): new opportunities are sought, explored, and implemented. This is a time of new growth and optimism.

If you’re just starting out with social innovation or systems change, this concept can be difficult to understand. To help with sense-making, imagine you decide to become a surfer. Before anyone can surf, they need to understand the ocean (foresight or reorganization) – the ebb and flow of the waves, where they break, and the direction of the wind – otherwise, the water can pull you under. Once you understand the flow of the waves, you paddle out to catch the surf. Along the way, you make course corrections and adjust your paddling to suit the ocean (growth). Then you wait for the perfect wave – the one that will break at the right moment and allow you to ride it into shore (conservation). Once you catch the wave, you need to give yourself over to the rhythm of the ocean and keep yourself and your board balanced to stay ahead of the cresting wave (creative destruction or collapse/release).

Surfing requires several skills: the strength to paddle, positioning, timing, and balance to catch the wave and ride it into shore. And, it requires practice. Lots of practice! For new surfers, it is difficult to catch a wave and you may stay in shallow water, honing your skills by practicing on smaller waves. Once you become more familiar with the ocean and your skills, you move further from the shore.

The Adaptive Cycle is a great reflection of the current state but also leaves the necessary space for innovation to thrive. Using the cycle to make sense of a problem, experience, or program, can support new thinking or help us get “unstuck” when challenges arise. It can also support us in creating strategies or approaches to addressing key phases of transition.

The Adaptive Cycle allows us to see programs, problems, or ideas from a bird’s eye view. Where did we start? How far have we come? Where do we need to go?

Like surfing, if you start to feel discouraged with innovation and systems change, it’s important to remember that these tools are meant to encourage idea generation. They won’t solve the problem nor will they always get it right, but they will support you on the journey. Let the creativity flow!

Learn more about social innovation and access Volunteer Alberta’s Social Innovation Toolkit for easy to use templates and examples to apply in your own work.

[1] Foresight: the ability to anticipate or the action of anticipating what will happen or be needed in the future.

[2] Creative Destruction: the undoing of long-standing processes and/or programs to make way for innovation or to use resources in new ways.

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

 

volunteerstock

Member Spotlight: Propellus gets innovative with volunteer recruitment (and you can too!)

Volunteers needed is a common phrase and challenge that nonprofits know all too well. With the lack of data on Alberta volunteerism since 2013 and the migration to the digital age, Alberta nonprofits have been left in the dark on how to reach volunteers today, especially youth.

But, thanks to Propellus, Calgary’s volunteer centre, Alberta’s volunteer recruitment landscape is changing. In 2018, Propellus officially launched a new website called VolunteerConnector, Alberta’s first platform that connects volunteers with available opportunities shared by nonprofits across Alberta.

Propellus creates Alberta’s largest online volunteer recruitment platform

On VolunteerConnector, volunteers can search by region, causes they care about, time commitment, and skills they can provide! And, the number of regions across Alberta grow each day; currently, there are nonprofits sharing volunteer opportunities from Calgary, Campbell River, Cochrane, Cold Lake, Comox Valley, Edmonton, Hanna, Innisfail, Lethbridge, Okotoks, and St. Albert, just to name a few!

“VolunteerConnector is a simple and easy to use tool that helps nonprofits with recruitment in multiple geographies,” says Janet Rock at Propellus. We provide micro-sites for every organization, so that means even organizations that don’t have websites have a web presence. We also get to do the heavy lifting of marketing volunteering so organizations don’t have to!”

Thanks to the support of the Alberta Volunteer Centre Network (AVCN) and Propellus’ hard work on the platform, VolunteerConnector is now Alberta’s largest volunteer recruitment platform.

“VolunteerConnector is one of Google’s top landing pages and in the top 10% of websites in Canada, says Janet. “That means it gets a lot of visits – 885,000 in 2018 in fact. It demonstrates that it does what we hope it does – connect people to opportunities to volunteer, easily.”

What VolunteerConnector’s data can tell us about volunteer trends in Alberta

But VolunteerConnector is more than a volunteer matching platform, it is also a valuable resource of volunteer data for nonprofits across Alberta. In 2019, Propellus released three unique reports from data they collected from the platform:

According to Janet, up-to-date reports like these can support nonprofits by providing information on volunteer recruitment trends; research that can spark new ideas and ways of reaching the volunteers you want and need to reach.

“Implement our research in training for volunteer engagement and recruitment. It’s the first time real-time information has been available in our province, so it means we can help people learn about volunteerism as trends change.”

Specifically, Propellus’ recent data provides insight into volunteer opportunities that volunteers are interested in now, how to recruit volunteers in unpopular areas of interest, and what motivates Albertans to volunteer.

“Volunteers want to be part of causes in a way that I think we’ve really not understood before. In the past volunteers wanted to see the impact they were making,” says Janet. “Now I would articulate that volunteers want to belong to a cause, to find personal meaning in a volunteer role. So, organizations should be asking themselves if that’s the currency they are dealing in. Are they able to provide meaningful opportunities for volunteers?”

Propellus’ next steps for

And, Propellus plans to use their research and feedback from volunteer centres to continue to update and enhance VolunteerConnector. In the next eight weeks, upgrades to the platform will include:

  • A simpler search that focuses on causes and skills including easier to find flexible opportunities.
  • Dashboards with real-time reporting information for volunteer centres.
  • Volunteer centres as landing pages in the regions they serve. This will help increase volunteer centres’ profile to share more information about their centres.
  • Online applications for volunteers to apply directly to organizations. Volunteers can use their profiles to apply to any organization of their choosing, making their experience more seamless between organizations.
  • Automatic tracking for volunteer hours which will then be reported back to the volunteer centres’ dashboards.

Are you interested in posting your volunteer opportunities online? Learn more about how your nonprofit can get started with VolunteerConnector!

Propellus is the Volunteer Centre of Calgary that connects nonprofits with volunteers. Their biggest project is VolunteerConnector which is Alberta’s largest volunteer recruitment platform and Alberta’s up-to-date data source for trends in volunteerism! They are also one of the founding members of the Alberta Nonprofit Network (ABNN)

Youth @ the Table Team

Why engaging youth in board governance is important according to the Youth @ the Table team

Launched this year, Youth @ the Table is Volunteer Alberta’s new youth engagement initiative. The program aims to create governance opportunities for young people ages 18 to 30 who are interested in the nonprofit sector.

Participants will be paired with a nonprofit board in their community and spend six months learning directly from a mentor on the nonprofit’s leadership team. Over the course of the program, they will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to influence operations and strategic directions. By sitting at the decision-making table, youth will lead the nonprofit sector into the future and create space for young people to influence social issues in Alberta.

Hear from the Youth @ the Table team about why they believe engaging youth in Alberta’s nonprofit sector is important:

What is your role at Volunteer Alberta?

Eunice: I am the Youth @ the Table Coordinator! I help figure out the logistics of our overall game plan.

Lauren: My role is the Youth @ the Table Project Manager. I lead a great team who has been working hard to develop and implement the Youth @ the Table project!

Navneet: I’m the Senior Coordinator, Marketing & Communications! I curate our social media, draft external communications, and lead strategic directions on branding.

Have you ever had any governance experience? What was it like?

Eunice: Yes! I participated in the Non-profit Board Internship, a program run by Community Service-Learning at the University of Alberta. I was paired with interVivos, a nonprofit that provides forums for emerging leaders in Edmonton. I sat on a board for 8 months as an intern it really elevated my confidence and my ability to connect with professionals.

As a young person trying to navigate what comes next in a fast-paced world, developing communication, leadership, critical thinking and decision-making skills are crucial. I am now a more well-rounded community member. I know what goes on at the decision-making level of groups who shape our community to be better and more livable and I can ask meaningful questions, and really understand the avenues where real change can happen.

Lauren: I am relatively new to governance! During my first year at the University of Alberta, I served a term on the Alberta Mentorship Program (AMP)’s Executive Committee. It gave me the opportunity to volunteer with various organizations like the Mustard Seed and local initiatives like The Youth Restorative Justice Project.

Before and after AMP, I’ve asked myself “how do I get more involved in nonprofit organizations?”. I didn’t know how or where to seek out governance opportunities. Looking back, I think to have a program like Youth @ the Table would have really benefited me because Youth @ the Table bridges that gap between nonprofits who are looking to engage youth and youth who are looking to take action and get involved.

Navneet: During my time as a student at the University of Alberta, I was involved in a wide range of board and governance roles. I served as a Team Leader at the Campus Food Bank for a couple years then as a Member at Large on The Gateway Student Journalism Society’s board. I loved these roles because I got to go beyond the day to day operations and be part of major decisions such as which fundraisers to approve and how to transition the newspaper into a magazine.

Currently, I sit on the Winspear’s Young Leadership Council and get to do similar work. I provide input on how to make guest experiences more youth-friendly and engage young people in musical endeavours. This work is incredibly rewarding because I get to express my ideas and watch them get implemented to improve an organization that I care deeply about.

Why is getting youth (18-30 years old) involved in governance so important?

Eunice: This age group makes up the biggest chunk of Canada, I think finding opportunities for people in this age bracket to exercise their passions and channel their energy would only benefit society as a whole. It’s about time that folks who fall in this age bracket are recognized as important knowledge keepers, not just receivers.

Lauren: We are experiencing so much change in our world right now, I think there has never been a more important time for young people to get involved in decision-making, not only in the nonprofit sector but in every sector. I think as we continue to make space for them in these conversations, we will begin to recognize how much knowledge they have to contribute and how passionate they are about social issues.

Navneet: Young people are our future leaders. This fact, though obvious, is all too often overlooked in many sectors. By failing to include this age group at decision-making tables, we fail to prepare for the future and lose opportunities for growth in our sector. For young people to gain the skills necessary to tackle the world’s most complex social issues, we must break down the barriers that prevent them from being heard. Young people bring diverse perspectives and innovative ideas to the table — it’s important that they are taken seriously!

Do you have any last thoughts about engaging youth in the nonprofit sector?

Navneet: Governance can often be an intimidating concept that seems reserved for those who are interested in politics or traditional leadership roles. With Youth @ the Table, we want to break down this perception of governance and push decision-making spaces to be more open and inclusive. For progress to happen in our sector, we have to make sure young people have access to the board rooms in which decisions are made.

Are you between the ages of 18-30 and interested in making a difference in your community? Apply for Volunteer Alberta’s Youth @ the Table program by June 15th, 2019! Learn more.

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