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Skilled Volunteerism: Why I volunteer and how to find a position that suits you

When I give skilled volunteerism presentations, I feel there is always a little bit of a disparity between how we talk about conventional volunteering as opposed to “skilled volunteering”. We frame skilled volunteering as this newfangled, shiny amazing thing.

And while the term is new, skilled volunteering is not a new phenomenon. So, it is important for the sustainability of organizations to look at people engagement in a new way and to understand the motivations of why skilled volunteers, volunteer.

At Volunteer Alberta, we believe volunteerism is a transformative and essential part of humanity and society. We are all committed to giving back in our own ways: whether it is formal or informal, and each of us have our own preferences.

A formal way of giving back: Skilled volunteering

Personally, I like to engage in skilled volunteering which is a more formal way of giving back. I like positions where I can use my unique skills and knowledge to help a cause that I am passionate about.

I like defined parameters of a role, but something where I can put my own stamp on my work, and clearly see how I as an individual volunteer am making a difference. I also like roles that have a flexible time commitment to allow me to both work, and participate in other social activities.

How I came to self-identify as a skilled volunteer

I realized skilled volunteering is for me through a lot of introspection, trial and error, and activities that provided me with more clarity of the type of volunteer position I am suited for. For example, I completed the Window of Work, which walks you through why you want to volunteer, what you want to share with organizations, what you’d like to gain, and what you are not interested in or able to do.

Volunteer Canada has a handy quiz that I found was spot on in describing the type of volunteer I am. The quiz identified me as a “roving consultant volunteer”. The quiz described me as, “incredibly focused and intense, wants to volunteer specialized skills, but it has to be at my discretion and within my timeframe.”

The quiz further described that roving consultant volunteers gravitate towards organizations that are clear and specific about what they need. The results also identified some things I should consider before volunteering based on my type and my main passion as international development, which is definitely true for me.

Benefits of skilled volunteering

Finding skilled volunteer opportunities became easier when I found out the type of volunteer I am. I enjoy skilled volunteering because I feel like I am valued as an individual for my own unique skills, aptitudes and experiences.

I am able to give back to my community, but also receive valuable experience and training to leverage in my career that as a young professional, I value. I have been told by some supervisors that I was considered for a position based on my volunteer experience!

I see volunteering as an important part of making me a whole person, and contributing to the resilience of my community. I don’t believe there is only one right way of volunteering, but skilled volunteering is the right way for me!

Do you want more information on skilled volunteerism? We offer a webinar on skilled volunteerism which discusses volunteer trends in the sector from the data available, as well as introducing tools to use going forward to support nonprofit people engagement. Check our learning calendar for the next scheduled webinar!

 

Victoria Hinderks

Volunteer Alberta

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Leading the way: 2018 Member Spotlight rewind

Volunteer Alberta Members are leaders in the nonprofit voluntary sector. Last year, we started a new blog series called Member Spotlight to highlight and share their successes and leading practices in our communities across Alberta.

By sharing each other’s knowledge and expertise, we hope to strengthen, promote and connect the sector. After all, we are better, together.

For January, we thought we’d kick off the New Year by celebrating the amazing work of our members. Here is how our members led the way in their communities in 2018.

Capacity building

Grande Prairie Volunteer Services Bureau (GPVSB) provides a range of services to nonprofits and recognition programs for volunteers in their community. “Our impact on the community becomes more visible as the fruits of our labour become more apparent,” says Carol-Anne Pasemko, Executive Director. “As people become more aware of what we offer, we’re getting busier and busier. When you’re successful with one organization, it brings two more in the door.”

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.

Community outreach and services

Cold Lake & District FCSS is building a vibrant community with neighbourhood block parties. “Once somebody has a block party, they’re hooked,” says Leanne Draper, Volunteer Services Program Facilitator at Cold Lake & District FCSS. “Individuals and families get to meet each other and form social bonds that they might not have otherwise.”

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. 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.

Through its various outreach programs, Stony Plain FCSS builds 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.

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.

Youth engagement

carya encourages youth engagement by hosting a full day leadership conference for 12-18- year-old girls, called ‘HERstory’. Last December, HERstory provided young women the opportunity to connect with each other outside of their regular social circle and explore their power to make a positive difference in their community.

Vegreville and District FCSS takes a unique approach to encourage youth to volunteer through a program called, Youth Making a Change. The program successfully engages students in grades 10 and 12 in board governance, and as a result, encourages succession planning for the future of our sector.

Volunteer Airdrie breaks 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.

We hope our members’ stories from 2018 encourage and affirm your own organization’s initiatives and community outreach. Stay tuned for more inspiration and feel-good stories as we will continue to spotlight Volunteer Alberta Members in 2019.

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Share the gift of cheer: Random acts of kindness

Often times when we think of social impact, we think of the grand gestures that are at the forefront of the sector and the most talked about. We think about impact in terms of financial donations, advocacy, and formal volunteering because these are the easiest stories to tell (and the ones our funders usually want to hear about).

As a result, we tend to forget about the day-to-day actions that strengthen and vitalize community, and support our overall wellbeing – random acts of kindness and the simple gesture of paying it forward.

The science of kindness

I came across an article from Random Acts of Kindness that talks about the science of kindness, and how easy it is to make a difference. Kindness is teachable and contagious – we can inspire kindness in others and build up compassion, creating a desire to help others. Simply witnessing an act of kindness can improve your mood and can create a domino effect of good deeds in your community.

So, what do we mean by a random act of kindness?

  • Hold the door open for the person behind you.
  • Pay a sincere compliment to a stranger on the bus or train.
  • Shovel your neighbour’s walkway.
  • Buy a person in need a meal or hot beverage.
  • Send a “thinking of you card” to someone you haven’t seen in a while.

These are just a few ideas to spark your next random act of kindness. As you go about your day, think of one thing you can do to be kind to a stranger. Together, we can help spread kindness and goodwill across the community.

For resources or to learn more about kindness and ways to improve your overall wellbeing, visit the Random Acts of Kindness website.

Follow Daniela’s six days of giving journey!

Daniela is passionate about helping her community. Currently, she is encouraging others to join her six weeks of giving initiative. You can follow her journey on our Facebook page.

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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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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.

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