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KnowledgeConnector Improves Your Access to Learning

In an increasingly complex world, organizations are established to develop and meet the needs of our communities. We are fortunate in Alberta, as there are over 19,000 nonprofit/voluntary organizations working to make Alberta a better place to live and work. These organizations have needs and need to develop as well. Like anyone else, the leaders and managers in those organizations are happy to receive support and guidance. ­­

You may already be aware of many of the capacity-building organizations in Alberta, such as Volunteer Alberta, Volunteer Centres, Community Learning Councils, colleges, and many others. In my experience, however, most organizations, especially those who do not have paid staff, are unaware of all of the learning opportunities, and resources available in their own communities or throughout Alberta. They may also find the learning opportunities and resources more difficult to access, or believe they are not able to access them, due to limited financial resources and time.

KnowledgeConnector, managed by Volunteer Alberta, helps connect leaders and managers – both volunteer and paid – in the nonprofit/voluntary sector with learning opportunities. This is exciting! With time at a premium, a “one-stop shop” to find the right learning opportunities at the right time is key – KnowledgeConnector is the answer.

So, how do you know which learning opportunities suit you at this point in time? The answer is a key feature of the KnowledgeConnector website – the A.S.K. Leadership Assessment tool. You can complete the assessment online to gain a better understanding of your growth areas, and then be matched with learning opportunities in your area to fill your learning gaps!

Another great opportunity is for an organization’s board (or an advisory committee) to schedule an A.S.K. Leadership Assessment workshop from Volunteer Alberta! The benefits include identifying common areas for development for learning together, identifying gaps for recruiting purposes, building teamwork, and discovering untapped knowledge and skills!

Contact me to schedule an A.S.K. Leadership Assessment Workshop, or discuss the many other opportunities provided by Volunteer Alberta!

Cheers,

Diana Bacon

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (North Region)

 

P.S. – Until August 31st, it is free to register as a Learning Provider on KnowledgeConnector.ca, and you may post an unlimited number of learning opportunities – no matter what time of the year the opportunities take place!

Term Limits: A Positive or Negative?

Term limits for board directors, or a lack thereof, is one of the most controversial topics of conversation in the nonprofit/voluntary sector. Each new organization must decide at the outset, when writing their bylaws, whether or not to include a cap on the number of consecutive terms a board director can serve. In an effort to learn more about the perceived pros and cons of term limits, I searched out books, articles and other resources on the subject in the Volunteer Alberta Resource Centre. Right away I found an article entitled “Term Limits: Pro or Con” in the May 2012 edition of The Journal of the Institute of Corporate Directors. In the article, Deepak Shukla, Corporate Director and Board Trustee with Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, makes the case for term limits; and David Dominy, Chairman of 3D Capital Inc., makes the case against having term limits. Both made great points in support of their arguments.

One of Shukla’s primary arguments in favour of term limits for boards is that it ensures there is a continuous supply of fresh blood. This school of thought suggests organizations are best served by having a constantly evolving board of directors, with staggered terms to ensure that there is a healthy balance of fresh perspective and experience. Dominy, on the other hand, insists that organizations should focus on recruiting, and retaining, the best and the brightest, rather than forcing perfectly capable board members to step down. The key question to consider is, “which approach is best for my organization?”

According to Shukla, having unlimited consecutive terms can often result in ‘group think’ – a situation where a board ceases being a true democracy. Both sides of the issue provided examples of boards that do not have term limits for their board directors; Shukla cited Research In Motion (RIM) as an organization with a board that has no term limits and has seen a negative impact as a result. Yet, Dominy is quick to point out that some of the most successful corporations in Canada, such as BMO, RBC, BCE and Shaw, have no board term limits. While these examples are for-profit enterprises, instead of nonprofit/voluntary organizations, it demonstrates that each organization has its own needs and that there is no one size fits all approach.

Having term limits in place can work as a safeguard to prevent board members from steering the organization down the wrong path, and, according to Shukla, there is no effective evaluation process for boards, as the most common form is a self-evaluation. However, Dominy suggests that term limits can put an organization in the undesirable position of having to replace a strong board member with a candidate from a less desirable talent pool.

Shukla and Dominy both want what is best for their respective organizations and, in the nonprofit/voluntary sector, the board must consider the organization and the stakeholders with every decision. The foundation of any nonprofit/voluntary organization are its bylaws, and whether or not to have term limits is one of the most important decisions founders must make for the future of their organization.

Now, my question to readers: what is most important to your organization: a fresh supply of independent thinkers or experienced board directors?

Tim Henderson

Office and Communications Coordinator

The Super Volunteer in Rural Alberta

A few weeks ago, I attended an interagency meeting where the term “STP” was used in reference to volunteering. I had not heard this term used before, so I was relieved when someone else asked if the acronym could be explained. As it turns out, STP refers to the “Same Ten People” who always volunteer their time and energy on different projects and events. Now you might be chuckling to yourself, as you probably know that handful of people, and chances are you might even be one of them. In our community, I immediately thought of a young couple who both work full time and volunteer tirelessly for their children’s sporting teams. This past winter, they coached and managed their son’s hockey team and then, in the spring, they stepped forward and did the same for lacrosse. They do not have more time than the rest of us, nor did they magically acquire the skills to coach and manage a team. So why do they do it?

There are many reasons why people volunteer: recognition and feedback, personal growth, giving something back, bringing about change, friendship, bonding and/or a feeling of belonging. When managing volunteers, we need to know which of these incentives will motivate our volunteers, either to recruit them to our organization, or to keep them coming back. While speaking at the Didsbury Museum, I was engaging the group on this very subject, and one of the participants explained to the group how once a month they recruit volunteers to DUST (yes dust!) the museum. She explained that they started at a convenient time and they provided pizza for everyone at the lunch break, but she said the biggest reason they had people coming back was that they made it fun! The same goes for the couple who volunteers with their son’s hockey team – I am sure it is not fun getting up at 6:00 am on a Sunday morning to freeze in a cold arena (come on, we live in Canada, we’re meant to be tough). However, it is fun to give back to your community and watch the kids as they develop new skills and grow individually and as a team. It is fun being a part of the bigger picture and belonging to a group, a society or a team.

So next time you hear the term “STP”, whether it be same two people, or same ten people, count yourself in as one of those extraordinary people who volunteers their time, for whatever fun reason is close to your heart!

Wondering what it is that motivates STPs? Book a session to break down the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating statistics into information you can use to recruit volunteers!

Diane Huston

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (Central Region)

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Home is where our hearts are, and happiness is where your friends are. But you know you are truly blessed when the two fall under the same roof.

I am pleased and proud to announce that I am back with Volunteer Alberta after a three-month absence.  Having spent a year as a Regional Capacity Coordinator in the Southern Alberta, I am familiar with the organization and the region. In my new role with Volunteer Alberta, I will be serving as a Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (KnEC).  My area will continue to be Southern Alberta with the addition of Hanna!

As before, I am dedicated to the success of the nonprofit/voluntary sector.  I am still involved with the KnowledgeConnector program; my duties include reaching out to learning providers and the ASK Workshop. However, I also support all the programs Volunteer Alberta has to offer!  I am very excited to spread my wings within Volunteer Alberta.

Here is a brief list of some of the programs that I support in my new role:

  • OASSIS employee benefits program
  • Intersections project, which provides information about engaging a culturally diverse base of volunteers
  • People Lens – an approach to engaging specifically-skilled volunteers
  • Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) – post-secondary student internships in nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations
  • Volunteer Alberta Membership
  • Selling the Invisible workshops that provide information and methods to more effectively recruit and retain volunteers

I support these programs by sharing the information with you through workshops, brochures, and one on one meetings.  Each program can play a different role in the success of your organization.

My goal for the summer is to reintroduce myself to members of the nonprofit/voluntary sector and get to know each of you again and see how your needs have changed.  Volunteer Centres across the province have been key partners in getting the word out about what KnEcs have to offer each community – I would like to thank each and every Volunteer Centre for their continued support and dedication!

I am looking forward to this new role and continuing to make a positive impact on the sector!

See you soon,

Amanda Liepert

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (South)

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

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