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Volunteer Screening: The Best Fit Makes a Big Difference

Volunteer Alberta, along with the Government of Alberta, recently launched our Volunteer Screening Program, which includes education, resources, and funding to enhance Alberta nonprofits’ screening policies and procedures.

In this post, Jennifer shares the impact great volunteer screening has had for her family:


I am a mom of two wonderful kids. A teenage boy and an almost teenage girl. Both are very busy with extra-curricular activities and I am always aware of my children’s safety. From car seats to coaches, I have always wanted the best for my kids.

My son plays hockey, along with many other sports, but hockey is his favourite. Although hockey is not Canada’s official sport, in our family, we like to think of it as Canada’s favourite sport. It’s part of our collective DNA. Year after year, I trust the hockey association he plays for will do their due diligence when they are selecting coaching staff for our team.

Every volunteer coach my son has had is excited to share their passion for the game with the children, in every sport he plays. And really, what better way to do so than coaching! As a hockey mom, I am grateful there are so many wonderful parents (mostly dad’s) who are willing and able to make time in their busy lives to support our team by volunteering to be on the bench and in the dressing room.

I know before coaches enter the dressing room or take their spot on the players’ bench, the organization we belong to ensures a few boxes on the screening list have been checked off. When I look at the 10-step to Screening, I am proud to say the hockey association follows many of the 10-step:

  • The hockey association has volunteer screening policies clearly written and posted on their website.
  • Although they don’t have volunteer descriptions for their coaching staff, I feel that hockey coach doesn’t require too much of a description.
  • Coaches have to submit their application if they are interested in coaching.
  • Successful volunteer coach applicants complete the Respect In Sport Coaches Course, and complete a police check application form which the organization submits on their behalf.

Joining a hockey team, or any sport for that matter, gives our children so much more than the rules of the game. It gives them a chance to be a part of a team, learn to win together, and learn to lose with grace. It teaches them commitment, dedication, discipline, and respect. Sports give them life-long friends, and a place to go whether it’s the gym, the ice, or the field. Volunteer coaches, our coaches, provide the guidance our players need both on and off the ice.

Our players deserve coaches who are passionate and knowledgeable about hockey, but we also look for coaches who will graciously lead their team, modelling good sportsmanship on the bench for both wins and losses. Volunteer Screening allows for our sports organizations to ensure they right volunteers are involved in molding our children into good athletes and good sports!

Jennifer Esler
Volunteer Alberta

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From the Vault: Five Ideas to Borrow for Your Next Conference

This blog was originally posted May 25, 2016.


16-ntc-finalComing up with new experiences for attendees at conferences can be difficult. What is affordable? What keeps people connected during a break? What will participants talk about after the conference is over (aside from great sessions and speakers!)?

I had the privilege of attending this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (16NTC) – hosted by the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN). Check out my blog on Five Tech Trends Still Impacting Nonprofits for additional information!

There was a lot going on at the conference besides the numerous breakout sessions – from onsite activities to meetups, progressive parties to active sessions (like Yoga for Geeks). With so much happening, it was difficult to narrow down my favourite experiences from the conference to my top 5 – here they are, in no particular order:

1. Great Plenaries – I especially enjoyed the inspiring Ignite sessions and I’d love to see this format of sharing success stories at more conferences!

Ignite is a fast-paced, fun, thought-provoking presentation format that educates and entertains. Ignite talks give you the opportunity to share your fascinations and passions with the NTC Community.

My favourite Ignite sessions were part of the “NPTech Makers” theme – these presenters had seen a challenge or opportunity and made something of it. Not only did they share personal stories of creating opportunity from adversity that moved us to tears, but they also demonstrated how everyone working in the nonprofit sector is making a difference.

2. Networking – “Birds of a Feather” is an interesting and comfortable approach to networking lunches.

25673392254_d09f7b2f83_zWhen a bunch of extraverts and introverts (like me) get mixed up and told to ‘network’, it can make for some interesting dynamics. However, the “Birds of a Feather” exercise at lunch helped everyone to gravitate to tables with a variety of topics of interest to have a networking chats. Table topics ranged from regional, like the ‘Canadian, eh?’ table, to topical, like ‘Fundraising, Data, and Benchmarks, Oh My!’. Connecting and sharing experiences, whether we were experts or just curious about the topic, led to interesting conversations and introduced us to new colleagues.

3. Digital Connectivity – Of course this was a tech conference; however, NTEN was ready with a great interactive app and preset social media hashtags.

The 16NTC mobile app was fantastic for creating my itinerary, checking into sessions/events, adding photos and comments during sessions and in between, and making connections with other attendees. Each presentation had a hashtag and collaborative notes set up, so I was able to check out discussions at the sessions I missed.

4. Inclusive Space – Conferences are at their best when everyone is welcome, included, and comfortable.

I appreciated the efforts the 16NTC coordinators made to ensure the conference was an inclusive event. From varied levels of access, to gender neutral washrooms, there were frequent reminders that the conference was a safe space for everyone to participate.

26250384426_a0635f2324_z5. Creative Sponsor Add-ons – Creativity and sponsorship really do go well together!

16NTC had some fantastic sponsors who helped make it a great experience overall. My personal favorite was the exclusive showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens one evening at the Tech Museum of Innovation dome IMAX. I felt spoiled!


Thanks to NTEN for a great conference experience! Check out all of their photos, used in this post.

Thank you to The Muttart Foundation for the bursary enabling me to attend this year’s conference, and to Volunteer Alberta for prioritizing professional development and a learning culture.

 

Cindy Walter
Volunteer Alberta

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From the Vault – Privacy Protection: 4 easy steps

This blog was originally posted August 30, 2016.


Young employeeEarlier this year, we shared three ways that being privacy conscious can improve your organization’s reputation. By being privacy conscious you can help strengthen your organization’s reputation, enhance the trust in your staff, and even increase the loyalty of donors, participants, and volunteers.

So what steps can your organization take to improve your privacy practices?

In Alberta, the Personal Information and Protection Act (PIPA) is part of our privacy legislation. PIPA is an outline of best practices for privacy protection, and all organizations can benefit by meeting these standards.

Did you know?

Most nonprofit organizations are only legally required to follow PIPA when collecting, using, or disclosing personal information as part of a commercial activity. For example, operating a day care, emailing your donor list, or selling products, training, or a membership.

Service Alberta has created a workbook specifically for nonprofit organizations to help evaluate and improve privacy protection practices. We have gone through the workbook and highlighted these four best practices for you.


4 Best Practices for Privacy Protection

1. Have a good reason for collecting the information you do.

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What personal information does your organization collect for each program or service that it offers?

Collecting a client’s birthday might be appropriate if your program has a minimum or maximum age requirement, but it would be unnecessary if the client simply wanted to sign up for your newsletter.

Your organization can create a list of the information your organization collects, along with the purpose for collecting each piece. If you find that your organization is collecting more information than it needs, arrange to get rid of the extra information you already have, and stop collecting the information from new participants.

2. Designate a privacy contact person.

Envelope cartoonChoose one person to be a privacy contact person (staff member, volunteer, or board member) to answer questions or requests about the personal information your organization collects.

This person should be familiar with your organization’s privacy policies and procedures, and be readily available to answer any questions.

3. Get consent for collecting, using, and disclosing personal information.

Pen cartoonThere are two types of consent, implied consent and express consent:

Implied consent: Implied consent is acceptable in situations where it is really clear why you are collecting personal information and how you will use it. For example, taking a donor’s credit card information on the payment screen.

Express consent: Most of the time it is a good idea for your organization to provide added clarity for people and provide the opportunity for them to expressly consent to the collection, use, and disclosure of their personal information.

Two examples of express consent statements your organization might use:

1. Your organization is collecting income information for program participants to ensure they meet the low-income requirement:

The income information you have provided will be used to determine your eligibility for the program, and will only be shared within our agency.

□ I consent this information can be used within the organization to verify eligibility.

2. Your organization is collecting medical information for day camp attendees:

My child’s provided medical information will be shared with camp volunteers to assist them in recognizing a medical emergency. I consent to the collection of my child’s personal information for this purpose.

Signature:  ______________

4. Safeguard and protect the information you collect.

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The personal information your organization keeps on your clients, donors, members, staff, and volunteers is sensitive. Take care of other people’s information as if it were your own:

  • Lock your filing cabinets and password protect all devices, including laptops, tablets, and flash drives.
  • Limit access to personal information to relevant staff or volunteers.
  • Don’t keep information you don’t need. For example, if you need to verify your volunteer has a driver’s license, make a note that it has been verified rather than keeping a copy of the driver’s license on file.

Remember: Social insurance numbers, credit card information, birthdates, names, and addresses can all be used in identity theft. Medical information, criminal record checks, and income information can also have serious impacts on personal relationships, careers, and housing.

While privacy protection may require you to create new policies, or change your procedures, in the end best practices help your organization to protect those people who are integral to the work you do. After all, nonprofit organizations exist for the people we serve – let’s all do the best job that we can!

Does your organization follow these best practices? Do you have room for improvement? Let us know in the comments!

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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Supporting Innovation in Rural Alberta

Last year, Volunteer Alberta’s Managing Director, Annand Ollivierre, started a new, additional role as Journeyman Partner at Alberta Social Innovation Connect (ABSI Connect). The inaugural role was created as part of a new project which engages champions working full-time in Alberta organizations.

Bringing together the work of Volunteer Alberta and ABSI Connect, Annand is working to reveal, engage, and support the social innovation capacity in Alberta with a unique focus on rural communities.

In this blog post, originally posted on ABSI Connect on December 15, 2016, Annand shares how he developed an interest in supporting rural communities in exploring new, innovative possibilities and his hopes for his new role:


In my early years at Volunteer Alberta (I’ve been here for over 5 years now), I spent part of my time presenting on volunteerism statistics. I would speak to nonprofit sector leaders about the volunteerism rates by age and demographic and the reasons why people volunteer and why they don’t. The whole purpose was to provide people with information that challenges assumptions and inspires new actions.

After one of these presentations, in a smaller rural community, a couple of participants approached me, thanked me and then proceeded to let me know that as valuable as the presentation was, they did not see how the information applied to their experience or how it was going to help them.

These community members were worried because it had become increasingly difficult to engage their neighbours, especially in volunteer opportunities. From their perspective, youth and young families were not volunteering, traditional institutions were losing funding, the volunteer base in the community was aging, and no matter what strategies these community members applied, nothing changed.

I empathized with their challenges, but, at the time, I did not have anything of value to offer them that would make a difference.

I returned to the office confused and concerned. I was confused as to why we were presenting information to communities that seemed to make no difference in reality and I was concerned that communities were asking for something that I did not have.  It was at that moment that I started on a journey to explore and unearth the root causes of volunteerism and engagement challenges facing rural communities. This has lead me down a number of paths and shaped a lot of my work over the years — and it continues to shape me.

One of the things I’ve learned is that there are limiting mindsets/paradigms/ways of thinking that pull the levers of what is possible in community. They are often hidden from our view, in the back of our minds and hearts, yet inform us all at the same time. It is often called ‘the status quo,’ but is more accurately the operating assumptions we don’t think to challenge; the established way that doesn’t have to be the only way.

Where communities are stuck or struggling, our operating assumptions are often an unchallenged stumbling block to change.  I’ve learned that there are effective approaches to disrupt and disconnect from our set mindsets and that transforming community with new perspectives and mindsets can make all the difference.

I am excited to be joining ABSI Connect as the first Journeyman Partner. I am privileged to be embarking on an adventure to surface, advance and grow the Alberta social innovation ecosystem by bringing in the perspective of rural Alberta.

I will be connecting with community and organizational leaders from Alberta’s diverse communities who are challenging, reshaping and transforming their communities. There are leaders throughout Alberta who are champions for mindsets and actions that are renewing and transforming communities. By illuminating the ways Albertans are addressing the complex challenges faced by rural communities, I hope to uncover unique patterns and approaches to amplify, expand our collective perspective on social innovation in the province and intentionally connect leaders across the province.

I look forward to meeting you!

Annand Ollivierre
ABSI Connect and Volunteer Alberta

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Connect with an Expert: Melissa Casey, Casey Executive Coaching

Connect with an Expert: 3 powerful questions to help you get connected to experts that can help.

Volunteer Alberta is focused on supporting the professional development of nonprofit professionals.

As nonprofit network stewards we connect information, resources, programs, and opportunities with  nonprofit leaders to develop themselves and their organizations. We identify and collaborate with experts who have valuable programs and services to offer nonprofit professionals.

Expert: Melissa Casey (MEd, BA, BSc, PCC, CEC) President Casey Executive Coaching

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We connected with Melissa as she was planning to host her 2017 Leader as Coach programs, a developmental program for nonprofit leaders focused on building inclusive leadership practices and practical coaching skills. A leader-as-coach approach is centered around helping leaders, as well as staff, to develop to their highest potential.


VA: What leadership problems seem to be more common for, or specific to, nonprofit leaders?

MC: Common for leaders in all sectors, is the experience of being hired or promoted into a leadership roles without having the necessary leadership skills in hand. There can be an expectation that once a person is in a leadership role the necessary skills will automatically evolve, which, for many, is not true. The desire to be successful is there, but the knowledge and confidence in knowing how to be a leader is another thing entirely.

Another challenge, which is somewhat unique to nonprofit leaders, is the experience of leading team members who may bring incredible heart to their jobs but might lack the skills required to operate in a successful, effective, and sustainable manner. The additional demand on leaders to mentor and coach staff may be another skill that is expected and doesn’t develop magically on its own.

youngteamVA: How does a leader-as-coach-approach help nonprofit leaders?

MC: Research shows a leader-as-coach approach results in higher levels of empowerment, increased staff productivity, engagement, and, ultimately, retention. A leader-as-coach approach is centered around a leader’s desire to develop staff to their highest potential through a combination of active listening, thought-provoking questions, and examination of barriers and stuck-points.

Coaching compels people to take action. Coaching supports the development of a fresh perspective, identifies what is wanted (and needed), explores what may hold someone back, and helps create plans to eliminate barriers. Coaching for nonprofit leaders, or from leaders to staff, provides dedicated time to explore ideas in an “agenda-free” space – like having a thinking partner who will support you in examining a challenge from multiple perspectives.

VA: What are some examples of coaching questions leaders can ask?

MC: Asking powerful questions which come from a place of genuine curiosity is the base of good coaching. I encourage leaders to ask questions of their staff and of themselves, including:

  • What might be a possible solution or next step in this situation?
  • Where are you stuck? What will support you in getting to where you need to be?
  • What is one thing you could do to make the greatest difference?

I ask leaders to think about:

  • What kind of leader does my organization need today? How about in 5-10 years?
  • Am I clear about my core values? Where might I be out of alignment? What impact is that having?
  • What one addition to my leadership would make the greatest difference?
  • Where do you want (and need) your leadership to be? How might you be getting in your own way? What will support you in getting there?

More about Melissa:

melisa-circleMelissa believes that our capacity to experience limitless potential comes with being bold, daring, brave, original, authentic, and inventive. She specializes in developing visionary leaders who are invested in the principles of inclusion and want to take their organization (and their lives) to the next level.

With 16 years of experience in leadership roles, management, and results-focused strategic planning, Melissa is a Certified Executive Coach and an accredited Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coach Federation, holds a Master of Education degree and is trained in strategic visioning methods, facilitative leadership, team development, communication effectiveness, and conflict resolution.

Why we recommend her program: Continuous learning and development supports positive transformation in ourselves and our work. It can be challenging to implement change in our lives, work, and organizations, so we get excited about opportunities that build in time to have practical hands-on experience and provide transformative leadership learning.

Melissa is offering an incredible opportunity for leadership development for nonprofit professionals in the Calgary and Edmonton areas – check out more about her upcoming programs.

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