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Giving back: The benefits of getting involved with nonprofits during your post-secondary education

“What do you want to do when you graduate?”

September means a few things: green leaves and grass begin turning yellow and gold, the wind is a little crisper, pumpkin-spiced drinks are back, and of course, students are back in school.

As a recent grad, I reflect on my post-secondary and employment journey often. The truth is, I didn’t always know I would be working in the nonprofit sector. That’s because I had no idea what it was, and the important role it plays in civil society.

When I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, I was unsure of where and how to apply the important theories I learned. And once I left the campus environment, it felt like there were no options.

So, I went back to school and finished another Bachelor’s degree in 2018 following a failed attempt at being a barista along with a string of other odd jobs.

Praxis makes perfect

In the last year of my first degree, I enrolled in a course with a Community Service-Learning component, which paired me with a nonprofit organization for a 20 hour volunteer placement.

During my placement, I had to reflect on my volunteer experiences, and draw connections from course materials and content. As a post-secondary student, this was exactly what I was looking for – a way to apply concepts and theories that appeared abstract and intangible to real life.

I also developed practical skills that expanded my interests in addition to my capabilities. The organization I was matched with was looking for someone to develop marketing materials, which I happily took on. The work I did ended up sparking an interest that I didn’t realize I had in graphic design and outreach.

I realized that Praxis, or the bridge between theory and practice, was the ‘thing’ that was missing from my education.

I continued to pursue other experiential learning opportunities, and by the end of my second degree, I accumulated over 150 volunteer hours to complete a certificate in Community Engagement and Service-Learning in addition to my degree. It also encouraged me to pursue other volunteer opportunities in areas that were relevant to my degree.

Although not every post-secondary institution has Community Service-Learning, more institutions are realizing the importance of experiential learning. Talk to your respective career centres about similar opportunities on your campus.

3 ways giving back gives you an enriched experience

So what can my story tell you? By making the extra effort to give back to your communities through volunteerism, you’ll receive an enriching experience to learn new skills and more about yourself.

A feedback loop of learning

Volunteering with nonprofits can have a tremendous impact on post-secondary students as well as the nonprofits they participate in. In my case, I had the chance to impact social issues I care about by getting involved with nonprofits that address those issues.

That is, you get to help create the change that you want to see in the world. Organizations also have a chance to be exposed to the newest forms of thinking that come out of post-secondary institutions.

Exploring untapped potential

While the possibility to work on things beyond what your volunteer job description ranges from organization to organization, being immersed in a professional setting can give you a chance to practice skills that you already have or can help you realize skills that you didn’t even know you had!

Awards for community-oriented students

While many awards exist for high GPAs and other scholarly achievements, being involved in your community through volunteerism also pays off.

For example, the Edmonton Community Foundation provides bursaries to Edmonton and/or Northern Alberta students with financial need who have a history of community involvement or leadership.

In addition to specific post-secondary institutions and awards for non-campus related activities, the Government of Alberta also has a comprehensive list of awards for community-oriented students.

For some institutions, being involved with nonprofit organizations can also give you extra credentials that will make you stand out after you graduate.

How can you get involved?

The first step to finding the right opportunity to get involved with nonprofits is a tricky task. Luckily, Volunteer Connector has made finding volunteer opportunities easy for Albertans. The opportunities posted on the site can be filtered by your interests, skills and time commitment.

Eunice Doroni

Volunteer Alberta

Low Ropes Course at Alberta 4-H Centre

Member Spotlight: 4-H Alberta invite youths’ imaginations to soar

Has the belief that youth can change the world disappeared? Nowadays, people seem more pessimistic than ever towards youth – that youth today are more apathetic and consumed by their phones and social networks.

As a result, a lot of people tend to overlook how to motivate youth to participate. But, 4-H Alberta still believes that youth can change the world and they’re helping them do it with a unique approach to engaging youth.

4-H Alberta is a youth-oriented organization offering both urban and rural youth a dynamic and inspiring environment to learn and grow by doing. In their 2018 program year, 4-H had 5,885 youth members from ages 6 to 20 across Alberta. And, it’s not hard to see why youth sign up.

The 4-H approach to youth: Learn to do by doing

What 4-H does differently is that they create a safe and supportive environment that invites youth to not only govern their own clubs but also direct their own learning and skills development in any subject that interests them.

“The possibilities are endless and limited only by the imaginations of the members themselves,” says Bernadette Sereda, Leader Screening Coordinator at 4-H Council of Alberta (the nonprofit division of 4-H Alberta that handles risk management). “4-H members can pursue whatever projects they can dream up so that potential is perhaps the most appealing reason for youth to join 4-H.”

Some of the possibilities include community service, summer or winter camp, projects, clubs, conferences, travel exchanges, and so much more. In fact, community service and public speaking are member requirements while projects can range broadly from computer coding and woodworking to horticulture and other food and agriculture related projects.

Youth members also elect their own club leaders and mentors based on who they want to further their learning and growth. By providing a solid and safe framework for young people to run the show, 4-H teaches youth life-long leadership skills.

Why youth join, return and become 4-H alumni

And, 4-H’s approach is working as youth keep joining or returning. According to their 2018 youth member survey, some of main reasons youth join are because they thought the events, programs, and projects sounded interesting, they wanted to develop or learn a new skill and/or they wanted to meet new people.

Interestingly, youth’s top five reasons for why they come back to participate are similar to why they joined:

  1. It was fun.
  2. I developed friendships with other members.
  3. I want to improve my leadership skills.
  4. I enjoy project competitions/I want to go to camp.
  5. My parents have encouraged me to continue.

4-H also attracts youth by engaging entire families into the program. “4-H leaders and families are vital to the program,” says Bernadette. “We engage families as volunteer leaders, parent volunteers or some simply show up for their children to help, support, share and celebrate.”

However, it is mainly youths’ experiences within 4-H that keep bringing them back even as alumni (age 20+). Beyond their programs, 4-H rewards youth through awards, trips, scholarships, and recognition of their accomplishments.

“Many members once aged out of the program return as leaders themselves as they are inspired to provide the sort of mentorship that they enjoyed,” shares Bernadette. “One of the reasons that 4-H is great is because it can be whatever it needs to be to serve and enrich individual lives and communities at large.”

4-H Alberta’s program year for 2019/2020 opens this October.

Are you looking for more ideas to captivate youth? Check out Volunteer Canada’s youth engagement resources.

About 4-H Alberta

This Alberta institution and popular program has been around since 1917. Over the years, 4-H has quietly evolved into a dynamic program whose projects encompass everything from active living, arts, science and technology, crafts, cooking, agriculture and so much more!  Today’s exciting 4-H program gives urban and rural youth and adults life-long skills such as co-operation, leadership, interpersonal relations, critical thinking, decision making, organization, public speaking and community service.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

City Jam promo

NextGen City Jam recognizes Edmonton volunteers: Why they give back and stay involved

Everyone’s volunteer journey is unique. When you ask volunteers why and how they started, their stories are often different.

Recently, we interviewed two Edmonton volunteers who are attending NextGen’s volunteer recognition event City Jam to give us insight into how they started volunteering and why they give back to the Edmonton community.

How long have you been volunteering for?

Maddy Shevchuk: I’ve been volunteering for different groups and organizations since I started university in September 2012.

Jim Walsh: I started volunteering in 2012 when I met a wonderful lady I now proudly call my wife. I got involved here in Edmonton in January 2019 with the Deep Freeze.

Why did you start volunteering?

Maddy: I love working with kids and helping kids makes me feel good! I love the feeling of volunteering.

Jim: My wife was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2011, a year before we met. Seeing her get involved to help support and educate others, and to witness her be an inspiration to so many others who were going through the same disease, made me want to get involved to support her and her cause.

Since then, I have discovered there are many wonderful things that can come from lending your time and talents to assist others. For example, it is a fantastic way to give back to your community. Here in Edmonton, I have a great friend of mine who asked me if I was interested in helping out at the Deep Freeze this year. It was a great way for me to find out more about what my new home city has to offer me. I have also felt a great sense of purpose and it helps me to reduce stress when I get involved in other activities.

Why do you think volunteering/volunteerism is important?

Maddy: I think that volunteering is important because everybody could use a helping hand every once in a while. And the few spare hours you have to volunteer can make a world of difference for somebody else.

I think that other people should get involved with their communities through volunteering so they can see what else is out there. See how other people live and see the impact that different organizations have on their community.

Jim: Volunteering helps bring people together. Getting involved in volunteerism provides you a greater appreciation for where you live, helps foster a greater sense of pride in our neighborhood/town/city, etc. It gives you a chance to grow as a person. It’s also a fantastic way to relieve stress; you take the focus off yourself for a little while and focus on others. So get out there. Get involved in something, anything.

From your perspective as a volunteer, why do you think NextGen City Jam is important to your community? 

Maddy: I think NextGen City Jam is very important in our community because it encourages people to step out of their comfort zone, doing things that they would not normally do, it also helps out the communities that we live in and makes such a positive impact in so many different areas!

Jim: As a volunteer and as a NEW volunteer here in the Edmonton area, for me, NextGen City Jam is a way for organizers of the volunteer community to show their appreciation to all those who help make events and charities more successful/memorable. It is that thankful recognition that helps make the volunteers feel that their efforts are greatly respected. As people, we all like to be recognized and that makes us want to do more. This helps feed the desire to grow the volunteer community. So thank you NextGen.

Has NextGen City Jam encouraged you to volunteer more?

Maddy: It has encouraged me to keep volunteering in my community to give back.

Jim: The knowledge of NextGen City Jam has made me want to get more involved. From my view, it’s a great show of appreciation to the volunteer community for the hard work that the volunteers do.

I never realized how much work goes into creating and putting on an event. Volunteers are truly an integral part, and for an event like NextGen City Jam to honour the volunteers the way they do is amazing! People want to repeat actions that give them positive feelings, and recognition like NextGen City Jam certainly fills you with pride and appreciation.

If a friend of yours wanted to start volunteering but didn’t know where to start, what advice would you give to them?

Maddy: Look into volunteering in areas that you are passionate about. I for one love working with kids so I am always interested in opportunities in this field. If you are not sure what interests you, try volunteering for several different organizations and see how you like them. You never know what you might enjoy if you don’t try.

Jim: If someone was to ask me about volunteering I would tell them to start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself. You want the experience to be enjoyable, not a “chore”. Don’t try to be a superhero right out of the gate!  Get involved in something of interest. We all have skills/talents we can offer others. So, use those skills and compassion to help others, to bring someone else some enjoyment.

Have you or your volunteers donated at least 10 hours between May 1st and September 4th? Send in your hours to Edmonton’s NextGen and get your name on the guestlist for City Jam 2019 at Sonic Field Day!

Maddy Shevchuk is a University of Alberta elementary education student who loves volunteering with kids and making other people happy! Currently, she volunteers as a big sister mentor with the Boys & Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area. When Maddy is not in school, volunteering or working, she loves to bake cupcakes and read.  

 

Jim Walsh is originally from the east coast and recently moved to Edmonton for the second time in late 2018 with his beloved wife. He loves to volunteer to open his mind to new things and learn more about his city. Currently, Jim volunteers with Kaleido, the Deep Freeze with Arts on the Avenue, the Heart of the City, Heritage Festival and Edmonton Rock Fest. Jim and his wife are long-time breast cancer survivor advocates and dedicated volunteers who help raise funds and increase awareness.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

Fringe volunteers

Member Spotlight: Edmonton Fringe Theatre finds ‘the right fit’ with their volunteer program

Volunteers are integral to the nonprofit sector. Many nonprofits/charities, events, festivals and more, would not be possible without Albertans selflessly devoting their time to our communities and causes. But many nonprofits struggle with getting volunteers in the door and finding volunteers who are the right fit that will also come back to volunteer.

Fringe Theatre has a unique challenge to recruit, onboard, and engage more than 1,200 volunteers for their annual Fringe Festival in Edmonton. But, their volunteer program is extremely successful, so how do they do it?

How the Fringe Theatre finds and reaches volunteers

One of the ways the Fringe Theatre reaches volunteers is by posting their opportunities online on the VolunteerConnector platform; a new platform that allows volunteers to search for opportunities by cause, skills, time commitment, and more.

Sarah and Drew, Fringe Theatre Volunteer Team

“I love the new VolunteerConnector! As a volunteer and volunteer manager, I was previously so frustrated by the lack of an easy-to-use, visually appealing volunteer opportunities board,” says Drew Delbaere, Interim Volunteer Manager at Fringe Theatre. “It’s great that so many volunteer centres across the province are now using the platform, so we don’t have to put our postings in multiple places.”

In addition to online postings, Drew says they also put up posters around the city, attend other events and farmers markets, advertise on social media, and reach out to former volunteers. They also do targeted outreach for their more skilled volunteer roles.

“For some of our roles, we do targeted outreach to people or organizations that would meet the specific qualifications, like for our First Aid Team,” says Drew.

Using the 10 steps to volunteer screening to get ‘the right fit’

But reaching volunteers and getting people interested in your cause is only one piece of volunteer recruitment. It’s also about finding the right fit and good onboarding. And the Fringe Theatre finds the right fit not only for their organization but also for their volunteers using the 10 Steps to Volunteer Screening.

“The 10 Steps are the foundation of our volunteer screening process,” says Drew. “When we first developed our screening strategy, or subsequently look to adjust it from year to year, the 10 Steps are behind every decision that we make.”

For example, some key steps that help find the right fit include writing clear volunteer position/role descriptions and conducting interviews to get to know the volunteer. But, the 10 Steps or good screening practices start at developing policies and is carried through to the support and supervision a volunteer receives.

“I believe that screening is one of the most important parts of any volunteer program. As volunteer managers, we need to move beyond thinking about screening as just a background check because it is so much more than that,” says Drew. “To me, screening means finding people who are a good fit for your organization, and a background check alone can’t tell me that.”

While screening can take a lot of resources, both financially and in staff time, according to Drew, it is a worthwhile investment. “Without a good screening program in place, you will spend more time dealing with performance, disciplinary, and/or retention issues in the future.”

Recommendations for your volunteer program

With Fringe Theatre’s tall order of recruiting 1,200+ volunteers every year, they’ve learned a thing or two about running a successful volunteer program. Here are some tips/recommendations from Fringe Theatre’s Interim Volunteer Manager, Drew, that could help your organization’s volunteer program:

  • Set clear expectations from the start.
  • Make sure that position descriptions are easy to understand and that they encompass all parts of the role. There should be no surprises!
  • Make sure to communicate if there is a mandatory training session upfront. Even better if you can give the exact date and time.
  • If you are an organization that runs an annual event or festival, make sure to invite your previous volunteers back! A simple email inviting former volunteers to join you again can make a huge impact.
  • If you are an organization that recruits volunteers year-round, consider why someone should join you now, rather than a month or year from now.
    • Make sure you give a deadline because if you have ongoing recruitment it can be easy for potential volunteers to keep putting off applying.
  • For all volunteer managers, use your current group of volunteers to help your recruit. Beyond just asking, help facilitate this process. For example:
    • You could create a toolkit with graphics, photos, or messaging that your volunteers can share with their networks in emails or on social media.
  • Deliver a quality volunteer experience. For better or worse, volunteer programs will start to develop a reputation which can have an impact on the success or struggles of future recruitment.

The Edmonton International Fringe™ Theatre Festival has been delighting, shocking, and surprising audiences since 1982. Of the 23 in North America, they are the oldest and largest! They transform theatre. Foster artists. Nurture audiences. Take chances. And help you find the artist inside.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

Youth @ the Table Team

Why engaging youth in board governance is important according to the Youth @ the Table team

Launched this year, Youth @ the Table is Volunteer Alberta’s new youth engagement initiative. The program aims to create governance opportunities for young people ages 18 to 30 who are interested in the nonprofit sector.

Participants will be paired with a nonprofit board in their community and spend six months learning directly from a mentor on the nonprofit’s leadership team. Over the course of the program, they will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to influence operations and strategic directions. By sitting at the decision-making table, youth will lead the nonprofit sector into the future and create space for young people to influence social issues in Alberta.

Hear from the Youth @ the Table team about why they believe engaging youth in Alberta’s nonprofit sector is important:

What is your role at Volunteer Alberta?

Eunice: I am the Youth @ the Table Coordinator! I help figure out the logistics of our overall game plan.

Lauren: My role is the Youth @ the Table Project Manager. I lead a great team who has been working hard to develop and implement the Youth @ the Table project!

Navneet: I’m the Senior Coordinator, Marketing & Communications! I curate our social media, draft external communications, and lead strategic directions on branding.

Have you ever had any governance experience? What was it like?

Eunice: Yes! I participated in the Non-profit Board Internship, a program run by Community Service-Learning at the University of Alberta. I was paired with interVivos, a nonprofit that provides forums for emerging leaders in Edmonton. I sat on a board for 8 months as an intern it really elevated my confidence and my ability to connect with professionals.

As a young person trying to navigate what comes next in a fast-paced world, developing communication, leadership, critical thinking and decision-making skills are crucial. I am now a more well-rounded community member. I know what goes on at the decision-making level of groups who shape our community to be better and more livable and I can ask meaningful questions, and really understand the avenues where real change can happen.

Lauren: I am relatively new to governance! During my first year at the University of Alberta, I served a term on the Alberta Mentorship Program (AMP)’s Executive Committee. It gave me the opportunity to volunteer with various organizations like the Mustard Seed and local initiatives like The Youth Restorative Justice Project.

Before and after AMP, I’ve asked myself “how do I get more involved in nonprofit organizations?”. I didn’t know how or where to seek out governance opportunities. Looking back, I think to have a program like Youth @ the Table would have really benefited me because Youth @ the Table bridges that gap between nonprofits who are looking to engage youth and youth who are looking to take action and get involved.

Navneet: During my time as a student at the University of Alberta, I was involved in a wide range of board and governance roles. I served as a Team Leader at the Campus Food Bank for a couple years then as a Member at Large on The Gateway Student Journalism Society’s board. I loved these roles because I got to go beyond the day to day operations and be part of major decisions such as which fundraisers to approve and how to transition the newspaper into a magazine.

Currently, I sit on the Winspear’s Young Leadership Council and get to do similar work. I provide input on how to make guest experiences more youth-friendly and engage young people in musical endeavours. This work is incredibly rewarding because I get to express my ideas and watch them get implemented to improve an organization that I care deeply about.

Why is getting youth (18-30 years old) involved in governance so important?

Eunice: This age group makes up the biggest chunk of Canada, I think finding opportunities for people in this age bracket to exercise their passions and channel their energy would only benefit society as a whole. It’s about time that folks who fall in this age bracket are recognized as important knowledge keepers, not just receivers.

Lauren: We are experiencing so much change in our world right now, I think there has never been a more important time for young people to get involved in decision-making, not only in the nonprofit sector but in every sector. I think as we continue to make space for them in these conversations, we will begin to recognize how much knowledge they have to contribute and how passionate they are about social issues.

Navneet: Young people are our future leaders. This fact, though obvious, is all too often overlooked in many sectors. By failing to include this age group at decision-making tables, we fail to prepare for the future and lose opportunities for growth in our sector. For young people to gain the skills necessary to tackle the world’s most complex social issues, we must break down the barriers that prevent them from being heard. Young people bring diverse perspectives and innovative ideas to the table — it’s important that they are taken seriously!

Do you have any last thoughts about engaging youth in the nonprofit sector?

Navneet: Governance can often be an intimidating concept that seems reserved for those who are interested in politics or traditional leadership roles. With Youth @ the Table, we want to break down this perception of governance and push decision-making spaces to be more open and inclusive. For progress to happen in our sector, we have to make sure young people have access to the board rooms in which decisions are made.

Are you between the ages of 18-30 and interested in making a difference in your community? Apply for Volunteer Alberta’s Youth @ the Table program by June 15th, 2019! Learn more.

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