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What I learnt by listening

A few months ago I sat in on a presentation of The Art of Selling the Invisible – one of Volunteer Alberta’s newest workshops, helping organizations market their volunteer opportunities to recruit new volunteers, as well as retain their current volunteers. One of my key takeaways was the need to conduct satisfaction interviews with your current volunteers – see if they’re happy in their role, happy with the way the organization works, and ask if there are any areas they’d like to expand into within the organization.

One of my volunteer activities is managing a completely volunteer-run online magazine, Sound and Noise, so I decided to apply that learning to my own organization. It had never occurred to me to actually ask our volunteers whether they were happy with their experience, which is strange because the reason I began managing the magazine was that I was dissatisfied with my own experience.

While the prospect of sitting down with our volunteers and asking for feedback on how I was doing seemed daunting, I was surprised at how easy the process ended up being. The Editor and I sat down to decide what questions we wanted to start with. I was a little wary, as the four questions we came up with seemed so basic. I wasn’t sure if we would get the feedback we wanted (or needed!) from our questions, but I decided to give it a shot.

We decided to ask:

  • General check in – what do you want to do more of? What do you want to do less of? Are there any particular skills you’d like to improve by being involved with Sound and Noise?
  • If you weren’t a writer, would you read Sound and Noise? Why or why not? What would make you a regular reader?
  • Do you find our writing workshops helpful? How do you feel about the quality of writing on the magazine?
  • How is the writing and editing process? How can we improve it?

I was blown away by the responses I got.

Once I bought our volunteers a coffee and sat down to chat with them, they completely opened up about everything that is right – and wrong – with the magazine. But more than that, they were more than willing to give me concrete suggestions for things I should keep the same and ways I could improve their experience. I went into my meetings expecting to hear general comments such as, “I like the atmosphere” or, “I want to improve my articles,” but I ended up hearing things like:

  • You should highlight the events you think we should review.
  • The workshops are great, but can we do more workshops about concept pieces?
  • I’m interested in helping out with the editorial process.

On top of all the great suggestions I got directly from the people who see “the other side” of the work I do, I got the sense that the volunteers were happy they were able to contribute in a different way to the magazine. In turn, asking for feedback makes it more likely that they’ll continue on as volunteers, and maybe take on greater roles within the magazine.

What about you? Have you ever conducted a satisfaction interview with your volunteers? What types of questions did you ask and what feedback did you get?

For more information on The Art of Selling the Invisible please contact Annand at aollivierre@volunteeralberta.ab.ca or (780) 482-3300 ext 231.

Jenna Marynowski
Marketing and Communications Manager

UN Report Paints New Picture of Volunteerism

“It is essential to understand and appreciate volunteerism in terms of the focus which it places on people centred approaches, on partnerships, on motivations beyond money, and on openness to the exchange of ideas and information.  Above all, volunteerism is about the relationships it can create and sustain among citizens of a country. It generates a sense of social cohesion and helps to create resilience [which] are often the mainstay of a decent life for which all people strive. Volunteerism is an act of human solidarity, of empowerment and of active citizenship.”

This is one of the closing remarks of the 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, an informative and enthusiastic testament to the value of volunteering in all corners of the world. The report is the United Nation’s first on volunteering and marks the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers.

While the focus of the report is on how volunteerism contributes to peace and development globally, the insights it shares are certainly applicable right here in Alberta. The report defines ‘development’ as much more than economic growth, instead it sees development as “expanding the choices available to people so that they may lead lives that they value”. This definition challenges us to think about volunteering differently, to see it as even more powerful than many of us in the voluntary sector believe.

The Volunteerism Report dismisses the idea that volunteerism is a one-way street where the volunteer gives and someone else benefits. Instead advocating an understanding of volunteering as a reciprocal relationship where volunteering works to benefit the volunteer and their community simultaneously.

With this in mind, the report provides a wide range of examples of how those engaging volunteers around the world are changing their techniques to achieve their goals.  Rather than only sending volunteers from developed countries to developing countries, international volunteering programs are involving people from developing countries as volunteers themselves. Volunteers living in poverty remind us that while a lack of income may restrict their opportunities, they also have knowledge, skills, labour, and networks. Through volunteering, they are able to improve their own lives while sharing these assets with their communities. These are lessons that we can apply here in our own province.

A quick glance at the 2010 Canadian Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating (CSGVP) statistics, released last month, shows the pronounced effect volunteering has on our communities. For volunteers, the benefits of getting involved are numerous; volunteering offers people an opportunity to change the society they live in, for example, through political lobbying and activism. Volunteering provides individuals with skills and values they can bring with them into the workforce, or to continue to use a lifetime of knowledge. There is a correlation between volunteering and improved mood, life satisfaction, self-respect, and increased physical health. Alberta is great because of our volunteers, but volunteers may just be the biggest winners of all.

Join us in celebrating volunteerism in Canada and all the good that it represents during National Volunteer Week, April 15th–21st.

If you’d like to find out more about world-wide volunteerism, you can read the 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report here.

Sam Kriviak
Program Coordinator

Volunteers Vote 2012 Helps You Gear Up for the Spring Election!

With the provincial election coming soon, Volunteer Alberta is connecting you with the information you need to be an informed voter. Volunteers Vote 2012 is a non-partisan guide to the upcoming spring election. The webpage features the policies of each party, in their own words, on the issues relevant to volunteers and Alberta’s nonprofit/voluntary sector.

Between mainstream media and social media, there are hundreds of sources of information regarding this upcoming election. Volunteers Vote 2012 gives Albertans an impartial and non-partisan source of information with a focus on the issues facing the nonprofit/voluntary sector.

Volunteers Vote 2012 provides links to the campaign platforms of each provincial party and how their positions affect Alberta’s nonprofit/voluntary sector. In addition to the party platforms, Volunteers Vote 2012 provides basic information to help you determine which riding you vote in, and which candidates are running in your riding. There is also an FAQ page to answer questions regarding voter eligibility and voter registration.

People who work and volunteer in the nonprofit/voluntary sector are some of the most engaged Albertans, so you know better than anyone what challenges the sector faces in this province. This provincial election will affect the future of the sector, so make sure you are informed and take advantage of this opportunity to exercise your democratic right. Volunteer Alberta will be updating Volunteers Vote 2012 regularly so check back for updates as Election Day draws near. Please access this resource in the weeks leading up to the election.

Volunteer Alberta wants to know what most affects the way you vote. Is it the party, party leader, candidate, party platform or some other reason? Cast your vote in the Volunteers Vote 2012 poll.

 

Tim Henderson

Office/Communications Coordinator

Volunteer Management Isn’t Just a Buzzword

 

Being (what I term) a serial volunteer, as well as working in the nonprofit/voluntary sector, has given me some special insight into how to go about managing volunteers. I’m always happy every time a volunteer manager (either by title or by their role within the organization) makes sure that I, as a volunteer, am satisfied with my experience, and know that I am appreciated. One of the reasons I started working at Volunteer Alberta was because I was interested in ensuring every volunteer has a good experience, and wants to become even more involved in their community.

However, I’m sure we’ve all had experiences where we – as volunteers – were managed poorly. I had one such experience recently while attending a meeting of an organization that is just in the early stages of incorporating as a nonprofit. So, what did I, as a manager of volunteers at another organization, learn about volunteer recruitment and management from this experience? Here are just three things, but I’m sure there’s many more:

  1. Ask your volunteers what they want from you. What are they looking to get out of their experience? Why are they giving their time? By asking these two simple questions, you can create a role that’s suited to the volunteer – not ask them to take on a role that they are either unsuited for, or that doesn’t interest them.
  2. Always let your volunteers know what to expect from a meeting. If volunteers know what to expect from a meeting, they can come prepared to contribute in a meaningful way. If they know what to expect, they will also leave the meeting knowing how their input contributed to the organization or the project, and will be more satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. Personally, if I had known what to expect from the meeting I recently attended, I would have left the meeting much more satisfied with the outcome, and would be much more likely to come back and volunteer my skills to them again.
  3.  Show your volunteers that you value their time. Whether you send out an agenda (which is something I frequently do for the volunteers I manage), or just manage the meeting in an efficient way (including being there when the volunteers arrive), volunteers are giving their time (personally, one of my most valuable resources), and we should be appreciative of that.

Volunteer Alberta has some great resources on management of volunteers, including resources about:

Your turn! What lessons have you learnt about volunteer management – either through the way you, as a volunteer, were managed, or in your role of managing volunteers in your organization?
– Jenna Marynowski
Communications and Marketing Manager

Interning and Learning

University and college students spend so much time listening to professor’s lecture about what kind of skills they need to attain a successful career. I was tired of listening and was ready to just “do.” In other words, I thought it was about time to put my academic training into action. Gaining valuable work experience while being a student can be difficult; having the SCiP program available to students is an invaluable, flexible resource.

Signing up for SCiP was easy; I received my user name and password in a few days and was able to browse open positions right away. There were lots of internships available, I looked for one that fit my interests and complemented my degree.  After formally applying and going through the interview process, I was notified I was the successful candidate for the position of National Volunteer Week Coordinator at Volunteer Alberta. Having the opportunity to be a SCiP intern with Volunteer Alberta has been a great experience.

As the National Volunteer Week Coordinator, I am responsible for handling all incoming applications and processing them. I’m fortunate to be working on a project that recognizes hard working volunteers across the province of Alberta; I am able to make a difference for volunteers and their communities. My position at Volunteer Alberta has provided me with unique learning opportunities that I would have not experienced elsewhere. Working as a team and independently, meeting deadlines, and learning new skills, are just a few of my highlighted gains from this internship. One of the best parts about my internship was the “hands on” experience. I was able to work with different people, working in different areas at Volunteer Alberta. I was able to develop my strengths and tackle my weaknesses while helping me discover where my true passion lies in the career world.

I hope other students and organizations have the opportunity to get involved with SCiP.

– Kassie Russell
National Volunteer Week Coordinator

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