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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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Leadership Takes Many Forms

The Casey Executive Coaching Leader as Coach Program is a developmental program for nonprofit leaders focused on building inclusive leadership practices and practical coaching skills. A leader-as-coach approach helps leaders, as well as staff, to develop to their highest potential.

In a unique partnership, Volunteer Alberta was given a spot in the program at a reduced cost in exchange for sharing the program with others. Our Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) Coordinator, Tim Henderson, signed up for the program to develop his mentorship style. Tim found the concepts, theories, and techniques, introduced by Melissa Casey, helped him to understand what kind of leader he is and how he can use his skills to better help others.

We asked Tim what he learned from the course. If you choose to take the Leader as Coach Program you may learn something similar, or you may focus on your own learning goals instead!


VA: What did you experience from the course?

TH: It was fascinating to hear from the other participants in the group and get a sense of the roles they play in their own organizations. We discussed what leadership meant to each of us and found each person in the group had completely different strengths and weaknesses. What was interesting to see was how those traits shaped their respective leadership styles.

Hearing the stories of others helped me appreciate my own strengths, but they also helped me understand the steps I can take to improve my weaknesses and become a better leader.

Throughout the program we were given a number of opportunities to practice ‘active listening’ in both one-on-one and group scenarios. This type of listening helped us build trust amongst ourselves and ended up paving the way for more fruitful conversations as the course progressed.

VA: What did you take away from the course overall?

TH: Overall, I learned that leadership takes many forms. Every personality is different, but through active listening, anyone can provide leadership in their organization. We all have something different to bring to the table and, if given the tools, we are all capable of stepping into leadership. Through this program, Melissa (our host), provided these tools. Coming back to my organization after finishing the course, I found that I was able to connect and communicate with my colleagues more effectively.


Leader as Coach is designed for the nonprofit sector. Continuous learning and development supports positive change in ourselves and our work. Implementing change in our lives, work, and organizations can be challenging, so we get excited about opportunities that build in time to have practical hands-on experience and provide transformative leadership learning! Tim would recommend this course for anyone who is looking for personal or professional development related to leadership.

Do you want to sign up for Leader as Coach? Register to participate in the fall session beginning in October. This program is offered in both Calgary and Edmonton. Find out more about this program on the Casey Executive Coaching website.

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Becoming a 21st Century Nonprofit

In the 21st century, nonprofits are under increased scrutiny and competition. It might feel like you are facing off against other charitable organizations – for funding, for volunteers, and even for clients who utilize similar programs and services. So what can you do to make your nonprofit stand out? How can your organization be successful in the 21st century?

Below are the top four traits of successful nonprofits who are embracing the changes, challenges, and opportunities of the 21st century:

1. They engage in collaborative relationships:

To thrive, nonprofits need relationships. They must connect and collaborate with other nonprofits, as well as work across sectors – with government and business.

Collaboration offers the opportunity to better understand our work and our sector. We can see the areas that need improvement, the gaps in service delivery, and the potential avenues for partnership when we look at the big picture.

Understanding that everyone, regardless of their background, has ideas and perspectives to bring to the table is the first step to engaging in collaborative relationships.

Organizations open to collaboration with other like-minded organizations create meaningful workspaces and deep, systemic change in their communities!

 

2. They build trust:

Organizations are more likely to be trusted by their stakeholders when they are well connected and communicate clearly. So how can your organization build trust for those they serve, engage, and work with?

A consistent brand:

Organizations with integrity are consistent – in their marketing, in their words, and by living up to the expectations of their clients, stakeholders, funders, volunteers, staff, and community. They have a strong sense of vision and purpose. They are unified and the entire organization both believes in and works to support the overall goals.

In understanding their brand and their role, these nonprofits are better able to actively promote their organization and work with other organizations to maximize shared goals.

Having a consistent brand makes a stronger organization.

They know their audiences:

Part of building a successful brand is knowing your audience. Your brand is democratic – it isn’t just chosen by your organization, but also by your funders, donors, clients, volunteers, and other supporters. Organizations will build more trust when they communicate with each of these audiences in a responsive, understanding, and connected way.

Awareness and engagement build relationships and support

 

3. They are innovative and purpose-driven:

Organizations that invest in branding, building trust, and being open to collaboration exude a sense of purpose and relentless innovation. Purpose-driven organizations don’t wait for opportunities to fall into their lap – they seek out opportunities for growth. They tap into the latent energy of the organization and encourage others to be passionate and purposeful.

Employee engagement is key to success! An employee is engaged when they believe in the overall purpose of an organization. They will strive for success and will be passionate about meeting goals.

 

4. They support a passion for growth:

Part of being a purpose-driven organization is not pigeon-holing your staff. Employees are highly skilled and have a variety of interests. Development – personal and professional – is key to overall success because it taps into staffs’ passions and drives.

Employees in the nonprofit sector want to make a difference and are passionate about their work, but the sector experiences high turnover. It is easy for staff to burnout from heavy workloads, move onto higher paying jobs, or seek out workplaces with better benefits.

One way to keep employees engaged throughout their career is to invest in professional development. Encourage staff to pursue their interests and learn a new skillset – their professional and personal development will bring passion and purpose to their work. Staff will be more likely to be engaged, contribute, and stay with your organization.

 

What are some other characteristics of successful 21st century nonprofits? What is your organization doing already? Let us know in the comments!

Daniela Seiferling
Volunteer Alberta

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Supporting Innovation in Rural Alberta

Last year, Volunteer Alberta’s Managing Director, Annand Ollivierre, started a new, additional role as Journeyman Partner at Alberta Social Innovation Connect (ABSI Connect). The inaugural role was created as part of a new project which engages champions working full-time in Alberta organizations.

Bringing together the work of Volunteer Alberta and ABSI Connect, Annand is working to reveal, engage, and support the social innovation capacity in Alberta with a unique focus on rural communities.

In this blog post, originally posted on ABSI Connect on December 15, 2016, Annand shares how he developed an interest in supporting rural communities in exploring new, innovative possibilities and his hopes for his new role:


In my early years at Volunteer Alberta (I’ve been here for over 5 years now), I spent part of my time presenting on volunteerism statistics. I would speak to nonprofit sector leaders about the volunteerism rates by age and demographic and the reasons why people volunteer and why they don’t. The whole purpose was to provide people with information that challenges assumptions and inspires new actions.

After one of these presentations, in a smaller rural community, a couple of participants approached me, thanked me and then proceeded to let me know that as valuable as the presentation was, they did not see how the information applied to their experience or how it was going to help them.

These community members were worried because it had become increasingly difficult to engage their neighbours, especially in volunteer opportunities. From their perspective, youth and young families were not volunteering, traditional institutions were losing funding, the volunteer base in the community was aging, and no matter what strategies these community members applied, nothing changed.

I empathized with their challenges, but, at the time, I did not have anything of value to offer them that would make a difference.

I returned to the office confused and concerned. I was confused as to why we were presenting information to communities that seemed to make no difference in reality and I was concerned that communities were asking for something that I did not have.  It was at that moment that I started on a journey to explore and unearth the root causes of volunteerism and engagement challenges facing rural communities. This has lead me down a number of paths and shaped a lot of my work over the years — and it continues to shape me.

One of the things I’ve learned is that there are limiting mindsets/paradigms/ways of thinking that pull the levers of what is possible in community. They are often hidden from our view, in the back of our minds and hearts, yet inform us all at the same time. It is often called ‘the status quo,’ but is more accurately the operating assumptions we don’t think to challenge; the established way that doesn’t have to be the only way.

Where communities are stuck or struggling, our operating assumptions are often an unchallenged stumbling block to change.  I’ve learned that there are effective approaches to disrupt and disconnect from our set mindsets and that transforming community with new perspectives and mindsets can make all the difference.

I am excited to be joining ABSI Connect as the first Journeyman Partner. I am privileged to be embarking on an adventure to surface, advance and grow the Alberta social innovation ecosystem by bringing in the perspective of rural Alberta.

I will be connecting with community and organizational leaders from Alberta’s diverse communities who are challenging, reshaping and transforming their communities. There are leaders throughout Alberta who are champions for mindsets and actions that are renewing and transforming communities. By illuminating the ways Albertans are addressing the complex challenges faced by rural communities, I hope to uncover unique patterns and approaches to amplify, expand our collective perspective on social innovation in the province and intentionally connect leaders across the province.

I look forward to meeting you!

Annand Ollivierre
ABSI Connect and Volunteer Alberta

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Why do your staff show up? Staff motivations, needs, and priorities

I recently attended a two-part mindfulness-based counselling workshop: Working with Couples from a Hakomi Perspective, offered by Hakomi Edmonton.

While this may not sound like it would directly connect to work at Volunteer Alberta, I was curious how this mindfulness approach to interpersonal relationships might relate to nonprofit staff management and brought back some insights to share with our staff.

How can staff find connection, security, and freedom at work?

triangleOne of the tools we looked at during the workshop is the Connectedness-Security-Freedom balance. In couples’ counselling, it’s helpful to explore what connectedness, security, and freedom in a relationship look like to each person, and what each person tends to value the most.

This relationship lens can be applied to nonprofit staff.

We all assess how well our jobs meet our needs based on factors like income, interest, passion, benefits, flexibility, location, colleagues, workplace culture, and so on. Some of these things are more important than others, based on who we are and the current demands of our lives.

What do these needs and priorities look like in the workplace?

Connectedness – Feeling connected to our work might include our passion, motivation, or investment in a cause or project. It could also mean strong relationships with our colleagues or clients.

Security – Job security, income, benefits, and opportunities for advancement  all provide security. But there are other subtle ways our jobs offer us security, like friendly and supportive workplace culture, or good reputations in our communities.

Freedom – Having freedom at work might mean pursuing projects that interest us, or having input at decision-making tables. It can also include flexibility, vacation time, and even succession planning to make it less difficult to move on from our jobs when the time comes.

Reminder: staff will relate to the Connectedness-Security-Freedom balance differently

  • Staff will define connectedness, security, and freedom differently
  • Staff will rank the importance and priority of each differently
  • Staff communicate their needs and priorities differently
  • Staff react differently when they aren’t getting what they need at work

What might this look like at your organization?

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A staff member who puts freedom first might jump at the chance to guide a new project or start a social enterprise for your organization. They might also be happy to forego the security of higher pay for more vacation time or flexibility.

A staff member who puts security before connectedness might be okay working on something they aren’t passionate about as long as the job is a full-time, permanent position.

On the other hand, someone who values connectedness over security might speak from their heart about an issue they are passionate about in staff meetings, even if doing so could put their job security at risk.

If the Connectedness-Security-Freedom balance aligns with nonprofit staff management, now what?

The Connectedness-Security-Freedom balance is a powerful tool to begin to get to know what motivates different staff so that you can meet their needs and support their success.

There isn’t a cookie cutter solution for how to motivate your staff to do their best. It typically isn’t possible to recruit or retain every person with the same perks and benefits, so knowing what staff members value is useful when you have limited resources.

Questions you might ask include:

Is a staff member more motivated by taking control of a project, or are they happy to work on what you give them as long as they can count on consistency?

Would they prefer a better benefits package, or the ability to work from home?

2-attrib-wocintechFor team members, it can also be helpful to understand what is important to your colleagues. Knowing where people are coming from and acknowledging differences can go a long way in combatting assumptions, confusion, and frustration.

With this tool, your staffs’ motivations may be becoming more clear to you. What questions would you still like to ask the people you work with?

Think of how you could apply the Connectedness-Security-Freedom balance in year-end staff reviews or in your hiring process. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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