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Volunteer Management from the Volunteers Perspective

 

Courtesy David Suzuki Foundation

I was recently volunteering at the Freewill Players’ annual Shakespeare in the Park festival, where I gained some great insight into volunteer management. During my second shift, I was talking to one of the other volunteers and she told me, “It’s awesome to volunteer here! You are never bored, and you get to help make people happy and have a great time! It’s not like volunteering at other places. I mean, at [organization name] – that’s meaningful and important work, yeah, but it’s not nearly as fun.”

This really hit home for me – both in my work in helping promote Volunteer Alberta’s programs that help Managers of Volunteers, and my own volunteer work where I manage an e-zine, Sound and Noise, including its group of volunteers. As a life-long volunteer, I know meaningful work doesn’t have to be boring. So what did the Freewill Players do right to get that reaction from its volunteers?

1.       Break tasks into self-directed roles – Did you know post-secondary graduates are one of the groups most likely to volunteer? Volunteers are smart! There’s no need to micro-manage them. The Freewill Players ensured we understood how our role fit into the success of the festival, and gave us enough authority that we gained ownership of our role. Moreover, we didn’t need someone looking over our shoulders, telling us what to do every step of the way.

 

2.       Let volunteers see the impact they make – Hearing festival patrons say, “thanks so much!” at the end of the night was really gratifying, and it didn’t cost the Freewill Players a cent! 93% of volunteers say they volunteer to make a contribution to the community – so, why not show them that contribution? Even though it’s easier at an event where they interact with the public or clients, you can demonstrate the impact your volunteers make no matter what role they’re in! This could be as simple as sharing “thank-you” notes from stakeholders or client success stories with your volunteers regularly.

 

3.       Respect volunteer’s time– In creating the volunteer roles, Freewill Players listed the times each volunteer was expected to be at the festival for. The roles carried enough responsibilities  that there was never a dull moment during your shift, yet you didn’t feel overwhelmed. Moreover, if the organizers saw a volunteer without a task, they knew exactly which other areas needed help, ensuring no volunteers were bored or under-utilized. I was also pleasantly surprised at the orientation. The volunteers were sent a detailed volunteer handbook before the orientation, and it was kept short and sweet. A quick introduction to the organizing team members – so we could identify them during our shifts – and an overview of general information which every volunteer needed to know. There’s nothing worse (especially for busy people) than an orientation where volunteers get unnecessary information or spend time doing things that don’t add to the overall experience.

While volunteering at Shakespeare in the Park, I felt as though I was being engaged as a valued contributor, not just “free labour”. The three actions listed above – which any nonprofit/voluntary organization can do – made my experience with the Freewill Players fulfilling. I’ll be back next year!

Jenna Marynowski

Marketing and Communications Manager

Bigger is not always better.

The biggest conference in the world on volunteerism is held in America (where else?!). This summer the Points of Light Foundation hosted the annual National Conference on Volunteering and Service, an annual gathering of direct service volunteerism leaders and experts. This year’s event was in Chicago and three Volunteer Alberta staff members were fortunate enough to attend. My main goal in attending was to compare Alberta’s Vitalize conference to this National Conference on Volunteering and Service in an effort to see what would increase Vitalize’s relevancy and impact on Alberta’s nonprofit/voluntary sector.

A few things I noticed:

•             First off, they are very different conferences. Points Of Light offers several streams of learning from Corporate Connections to Military Families to AmeriCorps, as it recognizes that the vast diversity of the American nonprofit sector requires a more streamlined approach to be relevant.

•             One thing I was not a fan of at Points of Light was the lack of opportunities to network and make personal connections. The lack of ‘sit down’ meals or orchestrated networking events at POL reinforces what has made Vitalize a significant network event in Alberta – the evening dinner and entertainment and the lunchtime keynotes.

•             I noticed as well there was a great continuum of speaker expertise at. One speaker unfortunately lost her entire audience halfway through her session because of poor delivery style and lack of knowledge, especially relative to a room of nationally recognized experts. In my opinion, Vitalize’s speaker expertise finds itself on a much narrower spectrum hovering around the good to excellent range.

•             Maybe because it is an election year in the United States, the keynote session speakers were an even balance of former Democratic and Republican Presidents as well as both current presidential nominees appearing in pre-taped messages. The overly political theme was a bit overbearing, although as someone who follows American politicos, it was interesting to see the reaction from the crowd (definitely pro-Democrat and this was in Chicago, President Obama’s home turf). Vitalize’s opening remarks by the Minister of Culture were measured and appropriate to the setting; after the Minister finished speaking it was onto the sector speakers. Vitalize speakers always provide excellent perspective, but it definitely lacks the kind of star-power brought by POL.

•             Two similarities I noticed were that social service organizations make up the vast majority of participants at both conferences, and trade shows seems to be tapering off in terms of quality and quantity at both conferences.

Some recommendations moving forward would be to:

  • Recognize the value of networking at Vitalize and institutionalize that value in the programming and evaluation;
  • Develop three streams of learning for Vitalize;
  • Discontinue the separate model of youth programming and rethink the value of emerging leaders engaging with those of us who have been around the block in the sector (did not want to use the word ‘old’!);
  • Engage other ministries to negate the approach that this stellar conference is only appealing to Culture funded organizations. It makes absolutely no sense not to have the Education, Health, Recreation, Parks and Tourism and Justice/Solicitor General funded nonprofits at Vitalize.

A closing comment – I know of no other province that invests in a conference like Vitalize. I am darn glad I live here in Alberta!

Karen Lynch
Executive Director

The 2012 National Conference on Volunteering and Service Turning Point has untold impact for our organization.

The Points of Light Foundation in the USA has great capacity to bring together amazing speakers and panels to share their knowledge. So I had high expectations for the event. They did not disappoint. From political (current and former) to high-level leaders of successful businesses and nonprofits, the demonstration of the value they place on volunteerism is inspiring. As always, the opportunity to compare the US and Canadian/Albertan nonprofit/voluntary sectors is fascinating.

Session topics included engaging online communities, a new generation of service, volunteer management tips and tools, driving economies through action, using online campaigns to grow, and the importance of citizenship.

Some of the key learnings and reminders for me:

  •  Determining methods to remind staff about connecting to and incorporating our mission and vision in everything we do.
  • Developing plans for online communications by defining the scale, being engagement focused, maintaining interest through cross-platforms, finding trend watchers and comparing our conversation prism.
  • Building actions – “supporters should trip over action opportunities”.
  • The strongest message is someone else telling your story. Storytelling is vital.
  • People are more likely to say yes after you’ve said thank you.
  • Using tools to map gaps, pull together information and source wants and needs.
  • Looking at all areas of impact on sector as a whole, down to internal impact on and of staff/volunteers/board.
  • Ensure buy in at various levels of organizational goals – both strategic and operational. How to remain flexible and help organization manage change.
  • Clearer definitions for volunteers. Encourage advocating by managers of volunteers to upper management with stories and numbers.
  • Partnerships with private sector with clear accountability, raising expectations of the quality of work. Assessing risk of partnerships, determine win-win situations to encourage collaboration. Focus on outcomes beyond simple collaboration. We want to be part of a successful effort.
  • Asset development of the individual and community. Determining nonprofit readiness.
  • Reinforcing some things, like the value of lifelong learning, being open to creative thinking and ideas, and never missing an opportunity to share.

Thank you to The Muttart Foundation for the bursary to allow me to attend this year’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service. I have applied some of my learnings already and am looking forward to the opportunity to develop some of these ideas further.

Cindy Walter

Director of Operations

SCiP Success Stories

SCiP Success Profile: L’Arche Calgary       

SCiP internships produce many success stories for both organizations and students. One such story comes from L’Arche Calgary, which created a SCiP internship posting for a communications intern. After going through the interview process, they ultimately hired Gagan, a 21 year old Marketing major at Mount Royal University completing a Bachelor of Business Administration. Gagan’s role was optimizing the use of social media for organizational communications purposes and promoting special events.

L’Arche Communications Coordinator, Vern Begg, had only positive things to say about Gagan, remarking, “her enthusiasm for the project was evident in her initial interview and remained at a high level throughout her internship.” Gagan made a valuable contribution to L’Arche Calgary, introducing new methods of communicating the organization’s mission and story to internal and external stakeholders.

L’Arche Calgary found the process of creating the intern role description, and making the hire, to be a smooth process. According to Vern, “the forms that were provided streamlined the process and allowed us to focus on finding the right candidate.” Not only were the staff at L’Arche happy with their SCiP intern experience, they have already hired another SCiP intern!

 

SCiP Success Story: Calgary tour de nuit Society         

SCiP internships produce many success stories for both organizations and students. One great story comes from Calgary tour de nuit Society (CtndS) who have two SCiP marketing interns.

CtndS promotes cycling for both transportation and recreation – their mandate is ‘more people cycling more often’.  After posting the internships, Gary Beaton, Executive Director, hired SCiP students Mahsa Dokhani and Kristina Roberts. Their primary task at the beginning of the internship was evaluating a feasibility study conducted by the City of Calgary for a public bike rental system, a project with an estimated $3 million dollar price tag. The interns made a huge impact on both the CtdnS and Calgary as a whole.

The City of Calgary’s study recommended that the bike rental project should go ahead, but Mahsa and Kristina, after many hours of research and analysis, found the city did not yet have the sufficient infrastructure for the program to be successful. Mahsa and Kristina presented their findings to the City of Calgary`s Transportation and Transit Committee.

Their presentation proved to be very influential as council decided to shelve the report for another year, after they invested further in dedicated bike lanes. The presentation, in effect, saved the taxpayers of Calgary $3,000,000! Their findings had such a large impact that they have been invited to make their presentation at the ProWalk/ProBike conference in Long Beach California in September.

Mahsa and Kristina are still in the middle of their internship and are working on a number of other projects, including fundraising and promotion of the Ride the Road tour, the year’s largest event for CtndS. Both interns are receiving extremely valuable experience and found the process of applying for SCiP internships very easy and straightforward. Gary Beaton has nothing but glowing reviews of these students and the work they are doing for the organization and their community.

 

SCiP Interns a Big Help

If you, or someone in your organization, feel that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, why not post a SCiP internship? A few weeks back our Marketing and Communications Manager, Jenna, did just that! Jenna spends part of her day marketing SCiP so she thought, “why not hire an intern to both experience how the program works and to help me accomplish projects that have been on the backburner?”

Both of the projects she posted internships for had been in the back of her mind for a while so writing the role description was very easy. In writing the role descriptions, she tried to use language that post-secondary students would recognize from their classes – such as SWOT and PESTLE analysis – and tried to avoid words that we use in the sector like “capacity” or “knowledge transfer”. The most surprising thing the process though was that the bulk of applications were submitted on the first day the internships were posted. Even better than that, the applications she received were from high-quality candidates. The hardest part of the process was deciding who to hire for which internship!

With success stories like these, how can your organization afford not to have a SCiP intern? For more information on SCiP internships, please visit the SCiP website or contact Ellie at emcfarlane@volunteeralberta.ab.ca or 780.482.3300 ext. 232.

 

Volunteerism: Two Birds with One Stone

Leland Bobbe/Digital Vision/Getty Images

 

A friend of mine was sharing a conversation she had with her 14 year old, they were talking about résumés, the importance of volunteering and how that can impact future jobs.  It started the wheels turning in my head… is there not enough information available to students in younger grades about volunteering?  Are we leaving it up to our school system to educate our children about volunteerism?  Are there enough resources available for parents to take the strong role of educating our younger generations on the importance of volunteering?

As a parent of an 8 year old and a 5 year old, I am also struggling with instilling strong values around volunteering.  Here are some tips that I thought I would share:

1.    Talk to your child about their strengths and interests. Not every volunteer opportunity fits every teenager. Before searching for organizations that use volunteers, talk to your child about what they would like to do and make a list of possible volunteer activities. Do they like animals? Perhaps the local shelter would be a good start. Does he/she enjoy talking to people? Consider a nearby hospital or retirement home. Try to find volunteer opportunities where your child will thrive. But, don’t be afraid to support your child in trying something new. Sometimes taking a risk can help your child develop entirely new interests and skills. Many times with younger children a parent needs to be there to help.  I can’t think of a better way to bond as a family.

2.    Search for local opportunities. Once you’ve made a list of your child’s strengths and interests, search for opportunities that fit the list. Many communities have structured volunteer programs for adolescents. You can find branches of major nonprofit organizations, such as the Red Cross, on the internet.  Also in Southern Alberta you can check out these Volunteer Centre websites!

•      Volunteer Lethbridge

•      Volunteer Resource Centre – Brooks

•      Volunteer Hanna

3.    Encourage your child to do a “trial run.” Help your child make arrangements for completing a short volunteer trial run before committing to any specific opportunity. The trial period can be anywhere from an afternoon to a week. If at the end of the trial run your child would prefer to choose another volunteer opportunity, help him/her find something that is a better fit.

4.    Help your child stay committed. Once your child commits to a volunteer project, encourage them to stay the course. There are almost always challenges, personality clashes, unexpected needs and alternative activities that look more fun. But, remind your child that they have a responsibility to stick with his/her commitment. Don’t force your child to continue with any program, but make sure you emphasize the importance of meeting obligations.

5.    Talk to your child about their volunteer experiences. Once your child completes his/her volunteer project, talk to them about their experiences and really listen. Discuss their triumphs and their struggles. Then, ask your teen where he/she wants to volunteer next.

With school obligations and multimedia distractions, it isn’t always easy for children to volunteer their time. But, with a little guidance, helping others can have tremendous rewards. It can also be a lot of fun.

A special thanks to about.com for their articles and, of course, Sharon for sharing her parenting experiences!

Until next time,

Amanda Leipert

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (South Region)

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