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Guest blog: Five ways nonprofits can impart soft skills to volunteers

A big part of retaining volunteers is finding new and innovative ways to engage them. By helping volunteers to develop soft skills, nonprofits can enrich volunteers’ experiences.

Soft skills such as the ability to gel well in a team, make sound and/or quick decisions and communicate effectively are important for any nonprofit volunteer to successfully contribute to your organization’s cause, initiatives and activities.

While some volunteers intrinsically possess these skills, others need to hone them. Luckily, these are abilities which can be taught. In this blog, we look at how your nonprofit can impart soft skills to their volunteers.

1. Hold training sessions and workshops

Volunteers, especially first-timers, may find it difficult to work in a new environment due to their lack of experience. A simple way to fix this is to periodically organize training sessions and workshops for volunteers to develop skills like effective communication, time-management, and decision making.

Through talks by senior members, games focusing on building teamwork, interactive discussions and role-playing situations, your nonprofit can help its volunteers improve their interpersonal skills while boosting their confidence. And the best part is everyone can learn while bonding with each other and having fun!

2. Let volunteers take ownership

While soft skills can be taught, there is no better teacher than experiential self-learning. Give volunteers opportunities to take charge of tasks, while gently guiding them along the way if required. It makes sense to give responsibility based on the volunteer’s experience and comfort level.

For instance, give new volunteers the opportunity to represent your nonprofit’s stall during one of your events; as they gain more experience, perhaps they could take up bigger tasks like organizing an entire event.

Letting volunteers take the initiative helps them hone their interpersonal skills while giving them a taste of real-life leadership and accountability; important skills you helped them learn by themselves!

3. Encourage teamwork

Team up volunteers of different age groups and backgrounds on tasks and watch the learning flow from within! When grouped together to achieve a common goal, volunteers inevitably end up learning from one another.

Doing so allows them to gain new perspectives, listen to diverse experiences, and feel a collective sense of thrill from overcoming obstacles together.

Pro-tip: Assign a mentor to each team to monitor work and defuse any conflicts if they arise.

4. Promote creativity

By performing creative tasks, volunteers can improve their problem-solving skills. Encourage volunteers to take up activities which require exercising the inventive side of their brain.

When volunteers get creative and learn a new skill-set or grow an existing skill-set, it becomes a stepping stone for them to become a skilled volunteer or apply their newly developed skills in other volunteer positions.

From designing posters for rallies and creating catchy event invites, to shooting and producing a ‘behind-the-scenes’ nonprofit video, the creative possibilities are endless!

Pro-tip: Whatever the activity happens to be, ensure that it’s in sync with your nonprofit’s voice and tone by sharing the necessary guidelines beforehand.

5. Organize get-togethers and similar events

Depending on the size of your nonprofit and the number of volunteers, there is a fair chance that not everyone has spoken to each other. Perhaps first-time volunteers didn’t get a chance to interact with senior staff or board members due to a lack of opportunity or a lack of confidence.

By organizing get-togethers, outdoor barbeques, or parties exclusively for staff, board members and volunteers, everyone loosens up and learns to bond with each other. Volunteers can interact with everybody in a relaxed setting, resulting in a cooperative environment which boosts their communication skills and confidence.

Pro-tip: These networking opportunities also help volunteers get to know your organization from the inside out, gain new perspectives and see how their efforts contribute to your organization’s cause and mission. And when they understand their impact, they are more likely to continue volunteering for your nonprofit.

Final thoughts

When nonprofits impart soft skills to their volunteers, it not only fosters volunteer engagement, but it also equips your volunteers to carry out your mission. In this sense, it is an investment back into your organization’s operational plan and strategic directions.

Nurturing soft skills in your volunteers also provides your volunteers the opportunity to transfer their skills to different volunteer positions in your organization, and even to their careers or everyday life.

Final pro-tip: Ask your volunteers what skills they want to develop or use to match them to the appropriate volunteer position and/or activity that suits their wants and needs. Feedback is important. Be sure to find out what your volunteers thought about the opportunities your nonprofit offered so your nonprofit can learn and adjust as needed.

Guest blog author bio: Shaunak Wanikar is part of the Marketing team at CallHub, a cloud telephony company which connects campaigns with their supporters through its voice and SMS software. He helps deliver compelling content which bridges knowledge gaps for nonprofit organizations, political campaigns, advocacy groups, and businesses. An engineering graduate, Shaunak is passionate about seeing the world improve through the medium of technology. Movies, football, and books keep him sane.

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From Nonprofit AF: Tips from introverts for introverts on how to survive a conference

This month, we focused on and talked about leveraging and expanding networks on social media and in our Member Exclusive newsletter. But, building the foundation of your network is no easy task, let alone leveraging and expanding it!

And, if you are introverted or shy, it can be incredibly intimidating to attend conferences, approach experts and other nonprofits, conduct government relations (the list goes on!), as part of your overall organizational network strategy.

Nonprofit AF’s blog post for introverts

So to help our introverted and shy nonprofit staff, volunteers, board members and leaders, we thought we would share this blog from Nonprofit AF’s Vu Le: Tips from introverts for introverts on how to survive a conference!

“If you are an introvert, attending a conference can be an overwhelming experience. The 12-hours of networking. The constant discomfort of trying to figure out where to sit. The intrusive icebreakers that involve disclosing to strangers things that even your own family members don’t know about you! (“Dad…there’s something I should tell you. My favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate fudge brownie.”)

If the thought of spending time with hundreds of other people at a conference for several days makes you want to run home and re-binge-watch all four seasons of “Battlestar Galactica,” you are not alone. (But you probably wish to be! #introvertjokes!) People think I’m an extrovert because I do so much public speaking, but the reality is that as a nonprofit leader I have learned to use extroversion skills for my job, but that I need a lot of alone time to reflect and recharge. This is why I like, and need, to write all the time…and why I’m fully caught up on most popular TV shows.

So I asked the NAF Facebook community for tips on attending conferences as an introvert, and within hours received over 220 comments from fellow introverts. Apparently this is a huge topic, and there are many great resources on it, including:

– This post by Kishshana Palmer called “Getting the Most Out of Your Next Conference

– This TED talk and podcast by Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”

– This post by Trina Isakson called “The Introvert’s Guide to Network Building

– This post by Robbie Samuels called “’Can I go home now?’ Networking Tips for Introverts.””

 

There are a lot of great tips from his community in his post, but there were too many for us to copy onto our blog!

See the full list of 43 tips from introverts for introverts!

A special thanks to Vu Le for allowing us to share his blog content with our audiences!

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

 

 

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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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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

Supports

Member Spotlight: Giving a voice to Albertans with disabilities

The Voice of Albertans with Disabilities advocates for full participation

People with disabilities, the largest minority group in the world, struggle greatly to overcome physical, mental, emotional and social barriers. Often, those with disabilities find themselves isolated from the world due to discrimination: a sheer lack of understanding and empathy.

The Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is a provincial organization actively working to reduce barriers by encouraging and advocating for full participation, accessibility and equality. Through their programs and services, they are dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities, as well as ensuring people with disabilities’ voices are heard.

By creating and facilitating committees and working groups, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities actively listens, brings forward and takes on issues affecting those with disabilities. Their advocacy work has resulted in broader awareness and accessibility.

“It’s the level of awareness that we strive to raise around those key areas that affect the daily life of individuals with disabilities,” says Meloney Patterson, Executive Director at the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities. “The community has an input into these initiatives.”

How you can get involved

Another way the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is encouraging full participation is by offering disability awareness presentations. These presentations contribute to an accessible environment by educating others and providing an in-depth understanding of removing barriers.

“The Disability Awareness Presentations are given by individuals with disabilities and they start with teaching the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” says Meloney. “There isn’t supposed to be any discrimination against any individual as a result of disability; however, we know that’s quite different.”

The experiences and perspectives put into these presentations by individuals with disabilities engages the audience to learn about the importance of differences while promoting acceptance.

Schools, businesses and organizations can sign up to take part in discussions, learn appropriate use of language and appropriate interaction with a person with a disability.

Breaking down physical barriers, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities also offers accessibility assessments to review blueprints and ensure that renovations and buildings are fully accessible to all individuals.

“These assessments have been well received by organizations. They save builders, municipalities and building contractors cost with upfront awareness of best practices for accessibility,” says Meloney.

Asking questions to enhance inclusion

Meloney believes that other organizations can remove service and structural barriers in their community through dialogue with an individual with a disability. “Take time to ask questions,” says Meloney.

Located in Edmonton, Alberta, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is a provincial cross-disability organization with 45 years of experience. They are dedicated to providing services and support to individuals, organizations, government representatives, schools, business personnel and employers to reduce the barriers and find solutions that prevent full participation.

Navi Bhullar

Volunteer Alberta Intern

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