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Did you know you are a People Engagement Specialist? Thinking & Acting Differently Part 1

Our blog today is in the form of a story… one part fictional story, informed by real-world information, one part practical information that might help change the way you work, one part mindset shift that could change the way you think, and one part shameless promotion of helpful resources and information.

The tale of a Volunteer Manager who became a People Engagement Specialist. Jodi was doing it the way it was always done…. As Volunteer Manager, she was in charge of recruiting, training and recognizing volunteers. It was a very busy position; she often struggled to recruit and keep the amount of volunteers she needed – turnover was high and she was always training new people. She didn’t have much of a budget, or much support from other staff – they were always as busy as she was.

She needed volunteers for special events, service delivery and to help with outreach. She needed many outreach volunteers because it was how her organization was getting the word out about their services and special events.

She had posters up all over town. Each one said, “Volunteers needed” in bold, red font. On Facebook she posted “volunteers needed”, and she asked everyone she knew. Does this sound familiar?

Research

Hoping to find a solution to her recruitment woes, she signed up for a Volunteer Alberta webinar called Screening Volunteers In. Not Out. Jodi had heard about it from a colleague at the volunteer managers group she attended every few months.

In the webinar, she heard about Volunteer Canada’s Screening Handbook (a resource she would certainly download for future use!) and learned about the 10 Steps to Screening. Jodi realized, that like many other volunteer managers, she was following seven out of the ten steps to screening, but the process wasn’t formalized at her organization.

That week she started pulling together existing materials that might help her with the process of screening and onboarding volunteers. While she did that, she realized the volunteer position descriptions hadn’t been updated for many years, and there were no volunteer screening policies in place. That’s when she remembered hearing about the Volunteer Alberta Screening Development Grant and realized maybe there was a chance her organization would be eligible for it!

As it happens, her organization met the eligibility criteria so she applied. Later that summer they received a $2000 grant to help with developing volunteer positions and policies. After a few months she had created a volunteer screening process manual for her organization.

Then one day, in the not too distant future, she was surfing Volunteer Alberta’s website once again, and found some Volunteer Canada research – a Pan-Canadian study called Bridging the Gap.  The research was from 2010, but as she read it, she realized it still rang true. The study indicated a need to enrich the volunteer experience by closing the gap between what Canadians are looking for in volunteerism versus how organizations are engaging volunteers.

Shift in thinking

She had an ah-ha moment! A subtle shift in her thinking and mindset that gave her a new perspective and changed the way she thought about volunteers and her role as a volunteer manager.

Her responsibility was to create the space for volunteerism to exist!! Beyond filling the existing, traditional service delivery positions, she was responsible for creating meaningful opportunities for people to contribute to her organization, to the cause, and more importantly to their own community!

That evening her mind raced with excited thoughts. How could I create more meaningful volunteer positions? How could I better recognize volunteers?

It all seemed overwhelming and she didn’t know where to start. She had no control over programs or services, she didn’t have a big budget, she didn’t even really have a lot of extra time…. AND she still had a bunch of volunteers to recruit, train, and recognize…

Katherine Topolniski

Volunteer Alberta 

Make sure you read part 2 to learn how Jodi became a People Engagement Specialist!

 

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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.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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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