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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.

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

NextGenCityJam GroupShot

NextGen City Jam is increasing volunteerism – and you can too!

Imagine a room full of people excitedly anticipating for a concert to start. The room goes dark, lights flood the stage, and the crowd goes wild as the headliner takes the stage. But, this night isn’t just for anyone. This concert is exclusively for dedicated volunteers who generously donate their time to their community.

What is City Jam?

NextGen City Jam is a night full of live music in Edmonton with stellar bands that both thanks volunteers for their hard work, and also encourages volunteerism in the community. In exchange for 10 or more hours of their time, volunteers receive exclusive access to this event. Just one of the ways NextGen is engaging youth to get involved in their community.

“We know the important impact that young people can have on the future of this city,” says Christine Causing, Edmonton’s NextGen Coordinator. “This is why we’re hosting City Jam to encourage more Edmontonians, especially those between 18-40, to get involved and experience how rewarding it can be to give back.”

Encouraging volunteerism locally

Last year, NextGen City Jam helped raise 11,000 volunteer hours! That’s 11,000 hours given to local nonprofits to carry out their missions that they didn’t have before, with the assistance of one enticing event centered around engaging existing and first-time volunteers.

“It’s a brand new experience, something I’ve never really done before. And it’s giving me the opportunity to try even more new things. This is all great for me and is even better because I know and can see first-hand that I’m making a difference,” – Anonymous, Volunteer at Boys and Girls Big Brother Big Sisters of Edmonton Area.

Increasing the number of first-time volunteers

Last year, 10% of 400 volunteers were first-time volunteers. This year, NextGen’s goal is to increase the number of first-time volunteers, even if it’s for a minimum of 10 hours. To do this, NextGen will support first-time volunteers by hosting opportunities where they’d go out for the day and volunteer at a charity, event or nonprofit organization.

City Jam is an example of a new and exciting way to engage volunteers; it creates new opportunities for people to come together and contribute to their community.

NextGen consists of a group of volunteers who work together to provide a platform for new and engaging ideas and 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 28, and then submit your hours to NextGen to register to attend the concert taking place on December 1.

Blog written by: Navi Bhullar, Volunteer Alberta Intern

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