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Volunteer Screening: The Best Fit Makes a Big Difference

Volunteer Alberta, along with the Government of Alberta, recently launched our Volunteer Screening Program, which includes education, resources, and funding to enhance Alberta nonprofits’ screening policies and procedures.

In this post, Jennifer shares the impact great volunteer screening has had for her family:


I am a mom of two wonderful kids. A teenage boy and an almost teenage girl. Both are very busy with extra-curricular activities and I am always aware of my children’s safety. From car seats to coaches, I have always wanted the best for my kids.

My son plays hockey, along with many other sports, but hockey is his favourite. Although hockey is not Canada’s official sport, in our family, we like to think of it as Canada’s favourite sport. It’s part of our collective DNA. Year after year, I trust the hockey association he plays for will do their due diligence when they are selecting coaching staff for our team.

Every volunteer coach my son has had is excited to share their passion for the game with the children, in every sport he plays. And really, what better way to do so than coaching! As a hockey mom, I am grateful there are so many wonderful parents (mostly dad’s) who are willing and able to make time in their busy lives to support our team by volunteering to be on the bench and in the dressing room.

I know before coaches enter the dressing room or take their spot on the players’ bench, the organization we belong to ensures a few boxes on the screening list have been checked off. When I look at the 10-step to Screening, I am proud to say the hockey association follows many of the 10-step:

  • The hockey association has volunteer screening policies clearly written and posted on their website.
  • Although they don’t have volunteer descriptions for their coaching staff, I feel that hockey coach doesn’t require too much of a description.
  • Coaches have to submit their application if they are interested in coaching.
  • Successful volunteer coach applicants complete the Respect In Sport Coaches Course, and complete a police check application form which the organization submits on their behalf.

Joining a hockey team, or any sport for that matter, gives our children so much more than the rules of the game. It gives them a chance to be a part of a team, learn to win together, and learn to lose with grace. It teaches them commitment, dedication, discipline, and respect. Sports give them life-long friends, and a place to go whether it’s the gym, the ice, or the field. Volunteer coaches, our coaches, provide the guidance our players need both on and off the ice.

Our players deserve coaches who are passionate and knowledgeable about hockey, but we also look for coaches who will graciously lead their team, modelling good sportsmanship on the bench for both wins and losses. Volunteer Screening allows for our sports organizations to ensure they right volunteers are involved in molding our children into good athletes and good sports!

Jennifer Esler
Volunteer Alberta

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Guest Blog: Volunteers as Staff: Where Labels and Titles Collide

volunteer staffIn 2010 alone, 47% of Canadians volunteered 2 billion hours, the equivalent of 1.1 million full-time work positions. Volunteers, who freely offer their services, have become an essential component of our communities and the modern workforce. In the nonprofit sector, we know all too well the benefit volunteers bring to our organizations. For many of us, they are indeed a necessity. But having volunteers work for our organizations can and does expose us to potential risks.

With the important part volunteers play, should we as agencies recruit, screen, and manage them, as we would staff? Or do they require something different?

This may sound like a daunting question. How would we even begin to tackle this? My initial strategy was to ask as many people as possible, so I asked volunteers, managers, and those in-between, this very question. I found there were just as many points of view as there were individuals who held them:

• Some agencies I spoke with (such as Distress Centre Calgary) identified having worked towards an integrated Human Resources model. Their rational was that many volunteers provide a front line service and need similar training, time, support, and supervision as employees. “Volunteers do not get the financial benefits. However, the volunteer is here to do a job, shows up, and does it to the best of their ability. Volunteers represent the agency just as much as staff, and expectations around service seem the same for both volunteers and staff”.

• A few volunteers stated they enjoy being on an equal footing with staff. This made them feel respected and important; a peer in the organization. Others felt a sense of safety being separate from paid workers, feeling almost exempt from punishment over mistakes or errors in procedure. “I feel volunteers are lower in the hierarchy overall, and that there’s less responsibility on the volunteer when being directed in my role.”

• A surprising number of respondents worried of a volunteer/staff “synergy.” When asked to clarify, these individuals said the treatment of some nonprofit staff leaves something to be desired and worry about comparisons being made between the kinds of support given to volunteers and to staff. “Essentially, volunteers are held in a place of esteem while staff is often not. All too often staff does not get the same support to the same degree.”

• Others found an already organic union blurring of the lines between staff and volunteers. “I volunteered for a program essentially run by volunteers. With some volunteer roles, you are doing the same tasks as a staff anyways.”

With such a wide range of experiences and opinions, what’s a nonprofit to do? Do we work actively towards formalizing the volunteer position? Do we establish rigid screening and feedback processes? Or do we play it by ear depending on the volunteer role and/or specific individual? Much to my chagrin, it looks like there is no definitive answer.

However, there are a plethora of references and materials out there for agencies wanting to take a stab at formalizing the volunteer role. They make a strong case that it’s in our best interest, as nonprofit organizations, to put volunteers and staff on a similar plane. Authors such as Judith Wilson, Michelle Gislason, and Linda Graff highlight that as the risk for the agency or the volunteer increases, so does the need for formalized processes. Conveniently, you can find these and many other resources on the Volunteer Alberta Resource Centre, or why not ask other nonprofits (such as Distress Centre Calgary) what is working for them.

Chloé McBean, Contact Centre Volunteer Team Lead
Distress Centre Calgary

 

 

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