Sign up for Sector Connector
Login / Logout Link
Volunteer Airdrie LEAD Graduation Group 1

Member Spotlight: Volunteer Airdrie breaks down barriers to volunteerism in their community

Finding solutions that suit your community may not be easy. But, when you approach solving complex issues with a mindset of abundance versus scarcity, multiple solutions tend to present themselves.

This is how Volunteer Airdrie approached redesigning their programs and services within the past few years. By looking at what opportunities were available and identifying gaps in their community, Volunteer Airdrie realized they needed to shift their focus to serving Airdrie residents.

“We really started focusing on where can we fit in and came to the conclusion that a lot of residents struggle to find the right volunteer opportunity quickly and efficiently,” says Dave Maffitt, Chair of Volunteer Airdrie’s Board of Directors. “So, we redesigned our focus to help our residents to break down barriers.”

Creating a user-friendly way to find volunteer opportunities

One way Volunteer Airdrie is helping residents break down barriers to volunteering is through the development of the Better Impact MVP Software; a free online tool that allows residents to create a profile on the website based on their age, availability, interests, qualifications and much more.

“The system allows Airdrie residents to do searches based on those criteria. For youth, somebody under 18, the system isn’t going to show them volunteer opportunities that are restricted to adults,” says Dave. “It’s growing rapidly and it’s starting to get additional members on a daily basis.”

Engaging youth in Airdrie’s nonprofit community with LEAD

In their community, Volunteer Airdrie is also breaking down barriers for youth engagement through the Leadership Empowerment and Achieving a Difference (LEAD) program. LEAD is a ten-week program that is free of charge for youth grades 7-12 with ten in-class sessions and 20 hours of community service or volunteering.

In LEAD’s in-class sessions, young people learn about topics like problem-solving, organizing and planning, teamwork, conflict management skills and personal wellbeing to help them develop youth leadership skills to use while volunteering or out in their community in other ways.

“Kids often get exposure to a number of different opportunities and causes, and start to get an appreciation for the needs in Airdrie and some of the causes that are may be more meaningful to them,” says Dave. “In the long term, it attracts them to come back and continue to volunteer with that organization after they have finished LEAD. It’s been a big, big success!”

Overcoming volunteer age restrictions for youth

Despite nonprofits’ minimum age requirement policies, Volunteer Airdrie has also been able to match young teens with group volunteer opportunities successfully at local nonprofits by providing appropriate adult supervision.

“So, that’s where we step in because we can open a lot of doors for these youth, especially the 12-14 year age group,” says Dave. “It’s really difficult for them to find meaningful volunteer opportunities since most nonprofit organizations have policies in minimum age requirements that are in that 15-16 year range.”

Volunteer Airdrie will continue their youth engagement initiative by opening a youth volunteer centre next year. They hope the centre creates a caring environment for kids that provides them with community service opportunities that are meaningful to them.

Located in Airdrie, Alberta, Volunteer Airdrie is the recognized volunteer centre for the City of Airdrie and the immediate surrounding area of Rocky View County, Alberta. Volunteer Airdrie’s mission is to empower Airdrie residents to invest in themselves and their community through volunteerism.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

Special thanks to our summer intern, Navi Bhullar, for sourcing and helping to storyboard this Member Spotlight.

GEPartnership_FullGroupFun

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

 

Member Spotlight: How Network Leaders connect, collaborate and improve communities

Volunteer Lethbridge’s unique approach to community collaboration

Network leaders play an important role within the nonprofit sector. They create spaces for citizens, volunteers and organizations to collaborate and support one another. Volunteer Lethbridge is a nonprofit Network Leader in Alberta that promotes and fosters the value of volunteerism, community and the nonprofit sector.

Currently, Volunteer Lethbridge is working with the City of Lethbridge on mapping the assets of their community, to bring value to the city and the organizations they serve. This approach will assist in pinpointing the assets within the community and provide the opportunity to identify some of the gaps that could be filled to meet the needs of their community better.

“The city is really moving forward in a dynamic way to map the assets of our community and then be able to evaluate and see what are some of the trends, where are some of the gaps, and what are some of the programming that we need to develop,” says Diana Sim, Executive Director at Volunteer Lethbridge.

This Network Leader mindset encourages Diana to seek partnerships and potential connections to benefit nonprofits, volunteers, Lethbridge residents and their community as a whole.

“Our mission is about building connections and empowering individuals and organizations to enhance volunteerism and grow volunteer capacity,” says Diana.

Leveraging networks to help nonprofits grow in capacity with SCiP

One way Volunteer Lethbridge helps local nonprofits grow volunteer capacity is by promoting and leveraging the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCIP)* in their community. SCiP connects nonprofits with post-secondary students by facilitating internship opportunities for students to apply their skills and knowledge.

“As a Network Leader, we receive supports to be the local champion of SCiP and skilled volunteerism,” says Diana. “Over the past few years, I’ve leveraged SCiP in developing relationships with our local post-secondary institutions. The win-win-win ripple effect continues beyond what we see.”

By promoting SCiP in their community, Volunteer Lethbridge increases awareness of volunteerism and builds the future workforce of nonprofits by providing students a first-hand experience into the value of working in the nonprofit sector.

“SCiP interns really support the work of diverse agencies. It provides opportunities for students to gain experience and it helps relieve extra demands on staffing resources. More is accomplished with more people,” says Diana.

Connecting students with volunteer opportunities

Volunteer Lethbridge holds two volunteer fairs each year; one in September at the University of Lethbridge campus. The fair helps students discover ways they can connect with the community through volunteering and participating in SCiP, and prepares them to be a part of the community beyond their studies.

“Promoting SCiP always peaks interests, as students learn ways to gain valuable work experience and benefit financially as well,” says Diana. “Student engagement in the community is a great way for students to build their network, get to know the community and enrich an organization.”

*Administered by Volunteer Alberta and funded by the Government of Alberta

 

Over the years, Volunteer Lethbridge has established a solid reputation as a leader in the voluntary and nonprofit sector. Their services continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of nonprofit agencies, individuals and the community at large.

Navi Bhullar

Volunteer Alberta Intern

board-collaboration-advocacy-board-members

Preventing and addressing gaps when engaging skilled volunteers

What does Volunteer Alberta mean by skilled volunteerism?

At Volunteer Alberta, we often speak of and promote skilled volunteerism and the value skilled volunteers can bring to nonprofit organizations. But what do we mean by “highly skilled volunteers”?

Highly skilled volunteers include any volunteer that offers specific skills, knowledge, or expertise in an area where not all volunteers could help out. Highly skilled volunteer roles go above and beyond more basic tasks like photocopying, filing, sorting, delivering, registering kids, soliciting small donations, or handing out refreshments. Instead, a highly skilled volunteer might offer pro bono legal advice, create the annual financial reports, conduct client research, or design a new logo for your program.

Nonprofit organizations often engage highly skilled volunteers on their Board of Directors or to help provide services that would otherwise be too expensive. Highly skilled volunteers can also ease the burden on paid staff who often take on many roles due to limited budgets.

While skilled volunteerism is a great way to build capacity into your organization, we must not overlook the potential gaps that may arise when we engage skilled volunteers.

Imagine Canada’s blog, ‘Re-thinking the way we share skilled expertise: the pro bono paradox’

I recently came across an interesting blog from Imagine Canada regarding the paradox of pro bono skilled volunteerism. That is, what gaps can skilled volunteerism create and how do we prevent and/or address them?

Here are some highlights and key insights from the blog:

“In many cases though, the application of pro bono skills can be a double-edged sword. If strong project management plans are not designed ahead of time (and in collaboration) with the nonprofit and the skilled volunteer, the experience runs the risk of creating more challenges than good…

Here are two things to think about that will support a better planning paradigm, and allow nonprofit leadership teams to focus on the longer term outcomes required.

1. Shift our mindset away from transactional volunteerism to longer term strategic bench strength

We should shift the focus away from transactional experiences used as a stop gap measure to an operational issue at the nonprofit, to designing the mechanics of the pro bono experience ahead of time and defining the ways each volunteer can help to empower a nonprofit leadership team to come from a place of strength when articulating what is actually required in the long term strategy (vs. the gift of what a volunteer sees as necessary today).

Much like designing an effective job description, nonprofit leadership teams and the volunteer can set up skilled experiences in ways that deliver a strong return on impact, integrity and investment for all involved. We must be thoughtful and learn how to map key competencies and capabilities required for the nonprofit’s organizational success, and how to say ‘no’ when necessary without impacting the interest of the volunteer to continue to be engaged.

2. Put the focus on skill development and cross-sector learning opportunities

We should also explore how a pro bono experience can be designed in ways that help to uncover new skills a volunteer might have (beyond what they do at the office day to day) and look at issues from as many angles as possible. In Volunteer Canada’s recent study Bridging the Gap, a survey of employer supported volunteers indicated that they were motivated by experiences working with nonprofits that helped them develop new skills, and some indicated they did not want to volunteer doing the same job as they do for work.

Thinking this way can help to get everyone excited about “what’s next” and ongoing engagement vs. having a one-off pro bono based experience where the recommendations become a dusty report on a shelf or the to-do list.”

Read the full Imagine Canada blog.

Check out our Highly Skilled Volunteers page for resources!

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

 

IMG_20170117_171802

The beginning of NextGen’s City Jam: A skilled volunteer story

Rebecca Swanson started her volunteering journey back in high school and has since volunteered for over 20 years. Swanson’s involvement in volunteerism first began when her friends started to volunteer as a way to spend more time with people she knew.

However, what motivated her to volunteer after high school was the idea of supporting organizations she believed in and branching out within her community. Swanson began volunteering at organizations and charities such as: The Theatre Network, World Fit for Children, Metro Cinema Society and Edmonton’s NextGen.

One skilled volunteer and the beginning of City Jam

At Edmonton’s NextGen, Rebecca volunteered as a Strategy and Operations Chair from January 2016 to July 2017, where she played a key role in the development of City Jam. The event is a night full of live music exclusively dedicated for volunteers who generously donate their time to their community.

While brainstorming for new ideas to engage volunteers, Rebecca recalled similar events in other centers that gave back to volunteers and highlighted great music.

“City Jam was created as a way to highlight volunteerism, and to create something that hadn’t been done before in Edmonton,” says Rebecca Swanson.

The power of volunteerism and the nonprofit sector

Swanson believes volunteers make this world healthier and more vibrant. And, it is nonprofit organizations and charities that bring people together to support a cause they believe in and make their community a better place.

“The number of important initiatives that wouldn’t happen without millions of hours of volunteer time is mind-blowing if you actually step back and think about it,” says Rebecca.

Originally, NextGen City Jam was meant to be a one-time event, but the hard work volunteers put into the planning and preparation made it grow into the event it is today. Rebecca says she looks forward to seeing the event expand to meet the needs of Edmontonians.

City Jam thanks and celebrates volunteers

“I think celebrating volunteers and giving them a chance to celebrate the work they have done in a fun way is the key to this event,” says Swanson.

Swanson is proud of what City Jam has become and continues to cheer on the event. She believes that events similar to City Jam are a good example for other organizations when it comes to engaging new volunteers and thanking dedicated volunteers.

Edmonton’s NextGen consists of a group of volunteers who work together to provide a platform for new and engaging ideas to create a vibrant community. Do you want to participate in City Jam? Volunteer for a minimum of 10 hours at a local charity or nonprofit between June 1 and November 30, and then submit your hours to register to attend the concert on December 1.

Who’s performing in 2018? 

  • HEADLINER – TBA 
  • Scenic Route to Alaska
  • Royal Tusk
  • Cadence Weapon

 

Navi Bhullar

Volunteer Alberta Intern

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