Sign up for Sector Connector
Login / Logout Link

Youth Engagement – You Already Know How!

Last week I had the privilege of sitting on the Vitalize 2012 Conference youth engagement panel, ‘Volunteerism: The Next Generation’ moderated by my colleague Steven Kwasny. I joined 16-year old co-founder of 8th Rung Jocelyn Davis, Volunteer Calgary’s Community & Service Learning Coordinator, Ralamy Kneeshaw, and Banff Volunteer Centre Executive Director (and all-around youth engagement guru) Katherine Topolniski, on the panel for a fun and interactive afternoon session.

Two of the themes I found particularly interesting that emerged over the course of the conversation seem on the surface to be contradictory: we need to start treating youth more similarly to ‘non-youth’, and, at the same time, we need to start treating youth differently.

Just like with everyone else, youth engagement only works well when good recruitment, retention, and recognition practices are in place. And, just like everyone else, if these processes aren’t in place (and even if they are) sometimes youth won’t show up, or won’t stay on long term. As Ralamy reminded those at the session, you have likely had an absentee board member or a problem with high volunteer turn-over – even when it isn’t youth that you are engaging! Blaming either of these problems on age is a failed opportunity to improve your volunteer program and increase youth engagement at your organization.

At the same time though, it is important to recognize that ‘youth’ is a relevant category insofar as it tends to describe shared experiences. For example, many young people have a schedule quite different from other age groups: they have school 8:30-4:30 if they are still in grade school, or they have school all the time if they are attending post-secondary. In other words, a 15-year-old is never going to be able to attend your lunch meeting, and a university student will have a hard time committing themselves to an organization that can’t work around their exam schedule.

Youth might have a curfew or need parental permission, they might rely on public transit or rides from relatives, and many of them, students and older youth in particular, are low-income, have entry-level positions, poor job security, and are in debt or have lots of expenses like tuition. Recognizing these needs and challenges will help to inform more successful ways of recruiting, retaining, and recognizing youth volunteers.

Some specific tips and recommendations that came out of the session include:

  • Ask youth how they would like to be engaged at your organization. This is good practice in any volunteer’s orientation, but take it a step further and organize a focus group including youth you have already engaged, as well as youth that aren’t yet involved. Find out what their needs are and, more importantly, where their passions and skills lie, and how to tap into both.
  • Remember that ‘youth’ is not a homogenous category. Be prepared to engage everyone from youth with disabilities, to immigrant youth, to outgoing youth, to youth who hate public speaking, to youth who never show up on time, to youth who love spreadsheets (I am one of them!).
  • Relationship-building is a fantastic technique for retaining any volunteer. Don’t isolate youth from the rest of your team, and make the effort to encourage friendships. As I mentioned during the panel, the reason I have stayed on for extended periods at certain organizations is always because I love who I work with, even more than I love what I am doing.
  • Get started by using existing youth groups, like sports teams, church groups, or classes. The relationships are already there. An audience member told us about a playground in his community that was built by a football team who already had a built-in volunteer manager: the coach.
  • Put youth on equal footing in your organization. They might not have all the skills or knowledge as older team members, but that’s because they haven’t yet had the opportunity to learn them, not because they aren’t able to do a good job once the tools are provided. Their ideas are no less likely to work than someone else’s; in fact they might be exactly what your organization needs to reach people in the 21st century.

In short, we recommend approaching youth as people who have excellent motivations for getting involved in the nonprofit/voluntary sector, and a few minor obstacles standing in the way of them doing that. Just like the rest of your volunteers.

Now, go help them get involved!

 

Sam Kriviak

Program Coordinator

There are options! Nonprofit Sector Employee Benefits

On Tuesday, Volunteer Alberta hosted a two-hour interactive discussion on employee benefits in the nonprofit/voluntary sector! Mike Babichuk, our resident expert, answered questions about employee benefits. Here are the questions, and answers to what people wanted to know about employee benefits:

Q – Rachel McBeath Hi Mike! I just started with a small organization (6 People) and we don’t have any kind of benefit plan…Are we just too small to have benefits?

A – Mike Babichuk Not at all Rachel, OASSIS can provide benefits to even a single person organization. We of course can also provide those same benefits to 1000’s

Q – Rachel McBeath Are we limited in what we can get because we are smaller?? I hear that benefits can be really expensive for smaller places like the one I work with

A – Mike Babichuk Size for the most part is irrelevant. OASSIS offers 6 different plans with a number of options in each plan which can be tailored to everyone’s needs and budget. OASSIS is very competitive as we do not use brokers and all savings are passed on to our customers.

Q – Doray Veno Hello Mike, Would June 15th morning work for you to do a VC presentation to the Hanna Learning Centre Board? Thanks Doray

Q – Doray Veno What organizational information do you require to provide a quote?

A – Mike Babichuk June 15 is fine for me Doray, just confirm the logistics as soon as you can. As for a quote I actually don’t need any information as I would provide you a secure website location where you would answer just a few questions and you would receive a quote usually within 48 hours. I would of course be available to answer any questions during the process if you require.

Q – Rachel McBeath Not to ask you too many questions Mike…but in talking with the girls here, where do we begin with benefit plans? Like what are standard benefits that we should probably look at getting? Can they be set up to be different for different people in the organization?

A – Mike Babichuk Love the questions; very thoughtful and pertinent. Although I did say plans are highly customizable they are for the group as a whole not individually. So whatever is chosen for benefits is for everyone within the group. Having said that most plans cover the gambit of benefits most individuals require. There are a couple of ways of making choices; what can we as an organization afford or what benefits do we want to provide to retain our existing staff or recruit staff for future growth. Plans are very flexible so you can start for example with a Standard Plan that covers 80% of most prescription & dental services right up to 100% coverage. You also have choices on optional benefits like short & long term disability, dependent life, counselling services (EAP) and health spending accounts. Hope I answered your question.

Q – Maxine Charlton I have my own business; can I set up a benefit plan if it is a sole proprietorship?

A – Mike Babichuk To your question sorry we can’t provide benefits for self-employed persons just for paid staff. I know it may seem like splitting hairs but OASSIS was created to provide benefits for volunteer and not for profit organizations.

Thanks to everyone who posed some great questions about benefits. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact Mike via email or by phone 780.482.3300 ext.238 or visit the OASSIS website at http://www.oassisplan.com/

Mike Babichuk
OASSIS Sales and Marketing Leader

Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector in Flux

Can you think of all the ways Alberta’s nonprofit/voluntary sector is changing? What about your organization? How is it changing?

Like other sectors, the nonprofit/voluntary sector is in a state of fluctuation. Traditional modes of funding and people engagement are becoming less effective. Sector leaders have to face new societal realities and find new ways to compete for financial resources and attract volunteers to their organization. There is increasing demand for new, innovative services and programs, and the sector must work to keep up.

Recently I attended Creative Alberta’s Imagination Conversation conference in Edmonton. There was an interesting idea put forth by Dr. Peter Gamwell, superintendent of the Ottawa-Carleton District School board, articulating the atmosphere of change in which the sector finds itself. He spoke of ‘inbetweenity’; a time in between times, when one era is on its way out, and another has not yet fully started. This is a period of insecurities, of unknowns; a time when organizations jockey for advantage in the face of changes that have not yet been made. In many ways, Alberta’s nonprofit/voluntary sector is in a time of inbetweenity: politically, financially, and in the way the sector manages people and resources.

There are three main ways in which people deal with inbetweenity. First, there are those who will plow forward, in a linear manner, with the status quo. They keep doing the same things they have always done, engaging people the same way they always have, offering the same programming as has always been offered, and seeking funding from the same sources who gave in the past. The second group will make an attempt at change, but only superficially. In other words, they just rearrange the furniture. People in this group take what they already have, shuffle it around a bit, and hope it will work to address the evolving landscape of the sector.

However, both these approaches often lead to failure, as both of these tactics are plagued by deficit thinking. The period of inbetweenity is thought of as a disability, a problem to be solved, a roadblock halting business (as usual).

So how do we proceed?

Organizations and leaders must embrace the uncertainty as a time of possibility. They must begin to see the unknown as a strength and asset to their organization in order to move forward, because it is during inbetweenity where creativity can truly be allowed to flourish. This is an incredible opportunity to encourage innovation and imagination, and to give space to allow those ideas to grow.  New ways of thinking must be embraced and new ways of approaching old business must be encouraged, because an organizations capacity for creativity, and not its devotion to the status quo, is the most important tool with which future successes will be built.

Ellie McFarlane

Program Coordinator

Okotoks Engages in Knowledge Exchange

I was excited to have the opportunity to travel to the fine community of Okotoks to participate in the Selling the Invisible workshop presented by my fellow KnEC colleague, Diane Huston.  I was quite impressed with Diane’s ability to engage the audience with meaningful anecdotes, which supported learning opportunities and course content. Further, Diane’s very evident knowledge of the voluntary sector really added value to this workshop.

Audience participation/engagement can make or break a presentation, and the 12 participants who took time out of their very busy work schedule to attend Selling the Invisible, were so engaged that they stayed an additional 30 minutes to share their own knowledge and ask questions.  Seeing this kind of participation, I was once again reminded about the commitment and dedication of the countless individuals who participate in over 20,000 nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations in Alberta.

The essence of the Knowledge Exchange Coordinator position is “to engage nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations across Alberta to enhance organizations’ capacity to provide programs and service to communities.”  Further, I see the KnEC role as one being about gathering strategies and information on effective volunteer engagement from people in the nonprofit/voluntary sector and disseminating that knowledge to others around Alberta.

Of the many tips discussed at the workshop on volunteer engagement, one participant shared this strategy on volunteer recruitment: “When holding any kind of volunteer appreciation event, encourage your volunteers to bring a friend.”  By bringing friends to an appreciation party, the newcomers will get firsthand experience  on how volunteers are treated and recognized, what other community members are in attendance, the variety of ways an organization engages volunteers, and what the overall culture is within the organization.   In so many ways, this really makes sense to me. The likelihood of a “good” volunteer bringing someone who has the same core values and beliefs is, in my opinion, quite likely.

If you have any questions about the role of KnECs in your community or Volunteer Alberta, I would be very happy to answer your questions.  You can reach me at 780.482.3300 (toll free in Alberta 1.877.915.6336) ext. 231 or by email at aollivierre@volunteeralberta.ab.ca

Voluntourism: What do we know about giving out fish?

I traveled to Belize last August with the Rotary International Belize Literacy program. I really enjoyed my time in Belize, it was awe-inspiring in its natural beauty and the people were fantastic. I spent time in the Cayo region, which meant I had the chance to see Mayan ruins in my time off.  Awesome, right? It was.

However, this blog post is not really about the fact I got to swim with sharks or climb Mayan ruins. Rather, this is what I learned about volunteering while I was there.

Belize is about a two-hour flight from Houston, Texas. It is relatively safe, clean, the food is good, and the citizens speak English. As such, it is the go-to location for every church group, hospital, or student group with good hearts and a week to spend volunteering.

The vocational training team I was sent on was tasked with finding out why, after Rotary had been in Belize for over 10 years, it was not seeing the results it wanted. The Coles Notes version of the story is:

  • Belize needed more schools, so Rotary built schools.
  • Belize needed trained staff in their schools, so Rotary sent Canadian teachers down to train Belizean teachers.
  • Belizean teachers needed more support, so Rotary sent Canadian principals down to train the Belizean Principals.
  • Belizean principals needed support, so Rotary sent down a team to work with Ministry of Education officials.
  • Teachers, Principals and Government officials needed more support, so Rotary sent a team down to assess the situation with community leaders (that’s where I came in) and what we found was quite eye opening.

Belize is the half-finished project capital of the world. True, it is the destination of many voluntourism groups, but each group only stays for about one week at a time. Think about your home community – imagine your local community school was falling into disrepair; a group of people descend on your neighbourhood, paint part of it and go home. Great, except who will paint the rest? Who will do touch-ups when it gets chipped? Is the paint even the problem? These questions often go unanswered by communities working with voluntourist groups. Compounding the problem is that no one ever wants to say no to someone offering a hand, even if it won’t be more help.

What struck me as most troublesome was that there seemed to be little concept of sustainability or long-term planning amongst either the volunteers or the locals. The question “what happens when the volunteers leave?” was, for the most part, left unanswered. For example, the Belize Ministry of Education receives old computers from North America almost daily with no idea what to do with them. The places that need computers have no internet infrastructure, aren’t on a reliable power grid and, quite frankly, have greater needs beyond the internet, like access to clean water. Yet, the government receives more computers, at times without warning. Another example is one small town, which already had two community centres, said they needed another because the others were run down.  Without a plan for how to use and maintain the centres, it’s no wonder the community centres get run down.

The developing world, to be cliché, needs heads not hands. I learned that, while places like Belize are always looking for help, what we do while there doesn’t always help.  As the old adage goes “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” All too often, voluntourism programs hand out fish, when they should be teaching not just how to fish, but also healthy, sustainable fishing practises so they can share it with their communities. Admittedly, I may have really stretched that analogy. Fishing aside, the idea that every way in which we try to help should leave a lasting, positive impression seems obvious to say, though I have to admit the point seems all too often missed.

–          Steven Kwasny

Information Management Assistant

What do you think? Have you had a similar or maybe a different voluntourism experience? Share it with us in the comment section below.

 

Not-for-profit Web Consulting & Digital Marketing by Adster Creative