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Screening learning lab, a new learning offering, may uncover leading volunteer screening practices for the sector

There is a misconception that volunteer screening is only about screening people out as a form of risk mitigation. And to a certain extent, volunteer screening is meant to accomplish this; but, screening is also about screening people in, finding the right fit for any type of volunteer role. However, volunteer screening – and screening people in, is not without its challenges.

Tackling challenges with a volunteer screening learning lab

In the fall of 2018, the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO), Boys and Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton (BGCBIGS), and Volunteer Alberta completed a collaborative initiative on volunteer screening.

Together, they designed the first-ever volunteer screening learning lab; a new learning offering with the design of a social innovation lab and a traditional workshop that combines learning content connected to the issue of screening.

Instead of delivering a simple PowerPoint or webinar, the learning lab is a more holistic approach that combined learning with practical application based on participants’ organizational challenges and needs.

ECVO, BGCBIGS of Edmonton and Volunteer Alberta designed the lab to help nonprofits tackle common external challenges when it comes to volunteer screening. Some of the challenges include (but are not limited to):

  • the inclusion of individuals with criminal records
  • the inclusion of individuals with disabilities
  • the inclusion of new Canadians
  • episodic and crisis volunteering
  • limited time, high volunteer turnover rates
  • increasing demand for skilled volunteer roles

Over the course of three months, four full-day screening lab sessions ran with nonprofits participating from Edmonton and area.

Building adaptive leadership and capacity with the screening lab

While the screening lab wasn’t necessarily about how to become a good leader, it reinforced strong leadership practices and capacities. The lab allowed participants to play with and explore effective strategies for their work, as well as accept constructive criticism and implement changes.

Adaptive capacity and adaptive leadership approaches mean anyone at any part in the organization can carry out change. “The screening lab was about increasing their leadership capacity to lead change in their organization relative to where they are and what the subject is,” said Annand Ollivierre, Networks & Engagement Director at Volunteer Alberta.

“The lab allowed them to evaluate their own biases – which I believe is an important part of leadership,” said Annand.

The screening lab provides an opportunity for nonprofits to become leaders in effective screening practices. This helps to build capacity for the sector when newly equipped nonprofits can share their knowledge with other organizations. At least, this is the hope with the learning lab.

What’s next for the screening lab?

Currently, ECVO, BGCBIGS of Edmonton and Volunteer Alberta are in the debrief and evaluation phase. Specifically, we are evaluating whether we should conduct another lab and when. Additionally, we will be putting together a lab report and exploring how the results could be shared with others in our sector.

It has also prompted Volunteer Alberta to look at their learning offerings, but more specifically, what is it that nonprofits want to learn? Based on initial findings, participants’ needs for more solutions for volunteer recruitment, retention and engagement may spark the next iteration of the learning lab.

At some point in the future, Volunteer Alberta may help to expand this learning offering across the province. While we do not know what this looks like yet, members can be sure that they will be the first to know about potential learning lab opportunities for their communities.

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Member Spotlight: IVC for Strathcona County’s spirit of giving

As the holidays draw near, you can feel that the spirit of giving is in the air. It’s a great time of year that reminds us of how powerful giving back and spreading kindness can be. But, Alberta nonprofits remind us each day; they model this spirit of giving by voluntarily and selflessly giving back to their communities year-round.

Throughout the year, the Information Volunteer Centre (IVC) for Strathcona County generously gives back to their community through their various programs and services. But, one program, in particular, is unique in how it supports other nonprofits in the community.

Giving to local nonprofits and their community

The ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program helps to enhance the effectiveness of other nonprofits by providing much needed equipment or items free of charge. Many of the items can be used for fundraising events, and organizations are welcome to borrow any item. Items include a cotton candy machine, an overhead projector, a bookbinding machine, just to name a few.

“I can tell you it’s wildly successful. In fact, we’ve recently received a grant from Suncor to increase our inventory as we were getting so many requests for equipment,” says Judy Ferguson, Executive Director at IVC for Strathcona County.

Impact on the community

Many nonprofits can’t afford to rent or buy this type of equipment for organizational use. As a result, the ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program helps nonprofits in the Strathcona County community to save money.

“It’s an interesting program that is very popular here in the county, and I don’t know who else could do it,” says Judy. “It’s a difficult thing for other organizations to purchase equipment like that and make it available free of charge to community organizations.”

By spending less on equipment for overhead purposes or fundraising events, it allows nonprofits to maximize their dollar for their causes. That is, nonprofits can re-allocate their funds to achieve more social good.

IVC for Strathcona County actively works to achieve inclusion and affordability, and their ‘We Care… so We Share!’ program is an example of this work. By considering the needs of the community and filling that need, they support and empower nonprofits, big or small.

The Information and Volunteer Centre (IVC) for Strathcona County has operated for 43 years. The organization gives back and strengthens its community by providing pathways to connect, engage and empower residents with volunteer opportunities and services, and by providing training and information to other nonprofits and community organizations.

Brainstorming (attr poptech photo on flickr )

What is the power in a network? Three ways networks support the nonprofit sector

We often talk about how Volunteer Alberta is a part of many local, provincial and national networks. But, what does this really mean for the Alberta nonprofit sector and our members? What is the power in a network and more specifically, what is the power in our network?

Recently, I sat down with our Executive Director, Karen Link, to get a greater understanding of what’s happening out in the provincial and national nonprofit landscape, and what networking opportunities we recently participated in. During our discussion, I realized how our networking opportunities (and networks in general) support, elevate and advocate on the nonprofit sector’s behalf in three key ways.

Networks help us to identify priorities, challenges and trends

On October 10th and 11th, Karen attended Ontario Nonprofit Network’s 2018 Nonprofit Driven conference to connect with like-minded people in nonprofit across Canada. The conference provided her with an opportunity to position Volunteer Alberta nationally and to broaden our awareness of what is happening in other provinces.

“By broadening our network nationally, it allows us to identify that other province’s challenges are similar to ours; that our challenges extend beyond provincial boundaries,” says Karen. “Because of these conversations, we can start to recognize relevant and current sector trends. This then allows us to prioritize accordingly and find innovative solutions, together.”

Networks help us to leverage each other’s knowledge and skill-sets

A new networking opportunity regarding volunteer screening came to us through our existing connection with Volunteer Canada’s board of directors and the Volunteer Centre Council (VCC). Last week, we sent one of our staff member’s, Daniela Seiferling, to the National Roundtable on Screening Volunteers in Ottawa.

The second of now two National Roundtables focused on looking at other provincial and national models to inform the proposed Volunteer Canada Volunteer Screening and Education Centre. Currently, Australia, Scotland and Ireland successfully administer national volunteer screening models in their countries.

“The fact that representatives from Scotland, Ireland and Australia are attending the roundtable presents us with an opportunity to learn from each other on a global scale and understand the global sector,” says Karen.

Networks help us to understand and build each other’s capacity

Back in June, we attended Alberta Culture and Tourism’s inaugural Enhanced Capacity Advancement Program (ECAP) meeting for all currently funded organizations. This meeting was an intentional effort to map out where all of the organizations are at with capacity building on three different levels: individual, organizational and system.

During this meeting, organizations identified where there’s a lot of work happening, where there are gaps, and how we could fill those gaps together.

“The Alberta Government wants to support and build greater collective capacity in the nonprofit sector. It’s a renewed effort and opportunity – to build a sense of shared ownership and explore partnership like never before,” says Karen.

Additionally, organizations identified and discussed how to link and leverage their programs and services during a second meeting this October.

“What’s yet to be determined is how will we do this? So, I asked two questions in the last meeting,” says Karen. “How do ECAP funded organizations scale up local programs and services across the province? And, what role can Volunteer Alberta play to support them in scaling up their programs and services?”

Alberta Volunteer Centre Network and final thoughts

Our opportunity to be involved in provincial and national conversations helps us to advocate on behalf of our members and the sector. Specifically, the Alberta Volunteer Centre Network (AVCN) plays a significant role in affecting and carrying out change locally and regionally.

Other networks and organizations like VCC, the Alberta Nonprofit Network and the Alberta Government recognize the value AVCN has. This is why network representation is important to Volunteer Alberta, as it is part of our same role and function.
We convene networks, connect the dots, and connect/encourage others to be part of a broader network. This is the real value of what we bring by working together; this is the power in our network.

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Member Spotlight: Stony Plain FCSS builds community resilience with local network

Strengthening and equipping communities with outreach programs can be key in connecting and creating a local network. And, when communities are connected through a local network, they know how and what type of resources they can access, as well as identify opportunities for collaboration.

Creating a ‘local network’ to end family violence

Through its various outreach programs, Stony Plain FCSS is building a local network that supports and establishes community resilience. Stony Plain FCSS’s most recent program, Cut it Out, leverages existing community relationships to create a safe haven for victims of family violence.

Stony Plain’s Cut it Out program provides education, awareness and skills to salon professionals for how to refer clients suffering from family violence to community resources, safely.

“The goal is to work collaboratively to end family and relationship violence in our community through education, awareness and support,” says Dianne Dube, Volunteer Development Coordinator.

Promoting good mental health and social well-being

Salon professionals can play a key role in ending family violence, as they are experienced listeners who see their clients regularly, and thus build trusting relationships with their clients.

By engaging volunteers to provide necessary information and education to salon professionals, Stony Plain FCSS equips salon professionals to recognize and respond to signs of abuse. This valuable and educational service leverages salon professionals’ unique relationships with clients as

“We provide many programs that promote good positive mental health and social well-being. We are enhancing inclusion and diversity by spreading the news of how we can be an all-inclusive community, how can we do better, and how to remove barriers to inclusion,” says Dianne. “And that’s what the volunteer centre strives to promote is supporting volunteerism because that’s what makes a healthy community.”

Stony Plain FCSS launched the program in early fall of this year, in partnership with other agencies and volunteers in the community. “I think the impact our organization has is that we are connecting the community,” says Dianne.

Located in Stony Plain, AB, Stony Plain FCSS supports families and individuals in all life stages through prevention-focused programs, to promote and maintain social wellness for a healthy community.

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Guest blog: Four questions to ask when approaching small business donors

How to approach small business donors

Creating a Community Involvement Program for your Small Business helps businesses – and nonprofits – understand the components that drive a successful community-giving plan.

Now more than ever, small businesses know about the benefits of giving back. A well-executed community involvement strategy can create a proud and united employee culture, attract new customers and engage existing ones, and improve brand reputation. Really, building relationships with the nonprofit sector should be a no-brainer for companies looking to gain a competitive edge.

And yet, approaching a business for support can be one of the most awkward situations for any nonprofit. It can be an intimidating conversation, filled with uncertainty about expectations and etiquette surrounding a potentially sensitive topic.

But these conversations don’t have to be uncomfortable. When approached transparently and respectfully, nonprofits and small businesses can come to understand objectives on both sides and find common ground to build the foundation for a mutually beneficial partnership.

The community involvement toolkit from Alberta’s Promise, Creating a Community Involvement Program for your Small Business, breaks down the giving process into bite-sized segments for small businesses interested in supporting their community. The toolkit is a free resource available for download online. Here are four questions drawn from the toolkit that your nonprofit should consider asking when approaching local businesses for support.

What are your business’ goals for giving?

Before a business can even think about building a relationship with your nonprofit, they must identify their own internal objectives of giving back. Help them understand the “why” behind their community involvement strategy, and what they hope to gain.

Goals may include generating positive publicity, improving company morale, winning new business, developing the future workforce, or tackling issues that matter most to employees and customers. For an extensive list of giving objectives, check out page 9 of the toolkit.

What causes matter most to your business?

Alberta’s Promise – Pink Shirt Day

Small businesses simply can’t support every nonprofit that comes knocking, so it is up to them to narrow down the causes they want to support. If they have already defined their giving priorities, it will be easy to recognize whether or not your nonprofit’s cause aligns well.

For example, if the company believes in supporting education, your child literacy program may be a great fit. However, if the business has not defined their giving priorities, help them identify causes that connect with what they do, what they stand for, and what customers and employees value. Read page 11 of the toolkit for more on identifying giving priorities.

What resources are you interested in giving to the causes you care about?

Like any business activity, a community involvement program must be tied to a set budget and pool of resources. Find out what the business has to give, and remind them that giving can take all forms – not just financial support.

Employee volunteering, offering pro bono services, donating the use of meeting space, extending purchasing power, or launching a new product in support of a cause are just some of the creative and strategic ways in which businesses can support local nonprofits. See page 21 of the toolkit for more great ways to give.

Is there an opportunity for our organizations to work together?

Relationships should make sense for everyone involved. And community giving should never be a one-way transaction. Brainstorm ways your organization would be able to further the business’ giving objectives.

Would you be able to promote the company’s community giving to a large social media following or in your monthly newsletter? Could you offer unique teambuilding opportunities for the company’s staff? In exchange for event sponsorship, could you offer the company exclusive perks like media opportunities and complimentary VIP tickets? Get creative, and go into your conversation with a mental list of possibilities.

One final tip when approaching small businesses: don’t forget to communicate the impact of your organization. A well-rehearsed elevator pitch that is customized to your audience has the potential to spark a great conversation, a partnership, or even other donor referrals down the road.

Ready to forge some amazing local partnerships? Download the community involvement toolkit and add it to your arsenal of resources for approaching local businesses.

 

Alberta’s Promise makes community investment easy. The organization helps businesses in Alberta direct financial gifts, volunteer hours, and in-kind donations to non-profits that support the well-being of kids and their families. Learn more at www.albertaspromise.org.

Adison Wiberg

Marketing Communications Coordinator at Alberta’s Promise

 

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