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Preventing and addressing gaps when engaging skilled volunteers

What does Volunteer Alberta mean by skilled volunteerism?

At Volunteer Alberta, we often speak of and promote skilled volunteerism and the value skilled volunteers can bring to nonprofit organizations. But what do we mean by “highly skilled volunteers”?

Highly skilled volunteers include any volunteer that offers specific skills, knowledge, or expertise in an area where not all volunteers could help out. Highly skilled volunteer roles go above and beyond more basic tasks like photocopying, filing, sorting, delivering, registering kids, soliciting small donations, or handing out refreshments. Instead, a highly skilled volunteer might offer pro bono legal advice, create the annual financial reports, conduct client research, or design a new logo for your program.

Nonprofit organizations often engage highly skilled volunteers on their Board of Directors or to help provide services that would otherwise be too expensive. Highly skilled volunteers can also ease the burden on paid staff who often take on many roles due to limited budgets.

While skilled volunteerism is a great way to build capacity into your organization, we must not overlook the potential gaps that may arise when we engage skilled volunteers.

Imagine Canada’s blog, ‘Re-thinking the way we share skilled expertise: the pro bono paradox’

I recently came across an interesting blog from Imagine Canada regarding the paradox of pro bono skilled volunteerism. That is, what gaps can skilled volunteerism create and how do we prevent and/or address them?

Here are some highlights and key insights from the blog:

“In many cases though, the application of pro bono skills can be a double-edged sword. If strong project management plans are not designed ahead of time (and in collaboration) with the nonprofit and the skilled volunteer, the experience runs the risk of creating more challenges than good…

Here are two things to think about that will support a better planning paradigm, and allow nonprofit leadership teams to focus on the longer term outcomes required.

1. Shift our mindset away from transactional volunteerism to longer term strategic bench strength

We should shift the focus away from transactional experiences used as a stop gap measure to an operational issue at the nonprofit, to designing the mechanics of the pro bono experience ahead of time and defining the ways each volunteer can help to empower a nonprofit leadership team to come from a place of strength when articulating what is actually required in the long term strategy (vs. the gift of what a volunteer sees as necessary today).

Much like designing an effective job description, nonprofit leadership teams and the volunteer can set up skilled experiences in ways that deliver a strong return on impact, integrity and investment for all involved. We must be thoughtful and learn how to map key competencies and capabilities required for the nonprofit’s organizational success, and how to say ‘no’ when necessary without impacting the interest of the volunteer to continue to be engaged.

2. Put the focus on skill development and cross-sector learning opportunities

We should also explore how a pro bono experience can be designed in ways that help to uncover new skills a volunteer might have (beyond what they do at the office day to day) and look at issues from as many angles as possible. In Volunteer Canada’s recent study Bridging the Gap, a survey of employer supported volunteers indicated that they were motivated by experiences working with nonprofits that helped them develop new skills, and some indicated they did not want to volunteer doing the same job as they do for work.

Thinking this way can help to get everyone excited about “what’s next” and ongoing engagement vs. having a one-off pro bono based experience where the recommendations become a dusty report on a shelf or the to-do list.”

Read the full Imagine Canada blog.

Check out our Highly Skilled Volunteers page for resources!

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

 

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The Next Generation of Advocates

I’m a millennial. Yes, I like avocado toast, I take selfies, I use my phone at the dinner table, and I am partially responsible for the decline of print journalism. I am part of the elusive generation nonprofits worry about recruiting. After all, nonprofits are told that millennials don’t want to work in the sector. And truthfully, young people are notorious for job-hopping. So, if the sector figures out how to recruit us, will we even stay?

The future looks dire.

Unfortunately, I am part of the problem. I have worked at Volunteer Alberta for over six years – first as a Program Coordinator and now as the Communications Coordinator. Last year I went back to school to pursue a Master of Counselling. Unless Volunteer Alberta decides to hire on a therapist, I will soon be moving on in pursuit of my next career.

But is the outlook as bad as it seems?

I have worked and volunteered in the nonprofit sector for over nine years (a significant chunk of my young life) and in that time, I have learned a lot about the sector’s impact, diversity, and challenges. I know the opportunities nonprofits offer those of us who want to make a difference, as well as the sector’s importance in building and strengthening communities.

In other words, I have become an advocate with significant knowledge and experience that helps me see the possibilities and nuances of the nonprofit sector. This won’t change with career shifts. As an advocate, I will continue to share what I know with those I connect with. I will always donate to causes that move me (without complaining about overhead!). I will continue to use my strengths, interests, skills, and even my new education, as a volunteer. I might even continue to work in the sector at a nonprofit agency or mental health organization! And, I know I will share the amazing support services the sector offers with my future clients.

While worrying about how to hire younger generations is fair, the nonprofit sector can also embrace the benefits of engaging young people as volunteers, practicum students, and short-term employees. The future is collaborative and cross-sectoral! Consider thinking outside the box about the ways young people (like me) can, and will, make a difference and help communities meet shared aspirations.

Whether it is through programs like the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP), or by making the investment in training someone who is starting their career and new to our sector, engaging young people is how we ‘pass the torch’. Passing the torch is more than finding your next Executive Director – it’s igniting passion and engagement that can last a lifetime.

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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Twitter Tips and Tricks

We recently shared some social media tips in our blog “Getting Started on Twitter”. In this blog, we will offer some additional information for those of you who are new to Twitter!

What does following mean?

When you follow someone you are subscribing to their tweets. Some users have private accounts and you will have to request to follow them before you can see their tweets.

What’s a hashtag?

A hashtag looks like this: #volunteers. By placing a # in front of a word or phrase (no spaces!), you create a searchable link. Twitter users can follow the link to see tweets with the same hashtag. Keep in mind that hashtags are most useful when numerous other people are using them.

Hashtags are a great way to interact with other nonprofits or individuals who are talking about similar things. Hashtags are most often used for events, locations, campaigns, or news topics.

What does the @ do?

You can link to another Twitter user and let them know you are mentioning them by using @username (ex. @VolunteerAB). This is called a handle.

You can use @ when you are mentioning a person or organization to give them credit, sharing their work or event, or directing others to their Twitter page. Using a handle to link to someone is a good tool for engaging or communicating with followers of your organization and other nonprofits!

@ vs. .@

Keep in mind, when you begin a tweet with @username the tweet will go directly to that account and won’t always show up for your other followers.

You can use @ at the start of your tweet when you want to send a semi-private tweet – for example, to give someone specific information that isn’t necessarily important or relevant for all of your followers. These tweets won’t automatically be seen by your followers or the public, but they can still be viewed if someone either searches for them or follows both your account and the one you mention.

By adding a period, character, or word before the account you wish to tweet (for example: .@username or check out @username) your tweet will be sent normally – the tweet will be able to be viewed by the public as well as in your followers’ news feeds.

What does DM mean?

DM stands for direct message. This is a private message sent to the Twitter inbox of a selected recipient. DMs can be between two accounts or they can be sent to multiple people, making it a group message. A DM is completely private and is only seen by those included in the message, just like an email. It will not show up on your timeline or other’s news feeds.

What’s a retweet?

A RT or retweet is when you re-share someone else’s tweet. This action causes their tweet to appear on your organization’s profile page and appear in your followers’ news feeds. Basically, retweeting is how you share other people’s posts!

It’s a good idea to retweet relevant news, events, stories, comments, and information you think your followers would be interested in.  This way, you can share and learn from others, show what your organization both cares about and is interested in, and participate in what makes social media ‘social’: an interactive and connected community.

What’s the difference between blocking and muting?

Blocking is for ending all interaction with another account. This action will stop others from viewing your tweets from their account, directly mentioning you in a tweet, or DM’ing you. Blocking is helpful if you receive spam or abusive messages.

Muting hides tweets from an account you follow so they don’t show up in your front page news feed. You may mute accounts to keep your feed relevant and manageable or to ignore a really chatty account (for example: someone live-tweeting an event that doesn’t apply to your own organization). You will still get notifications if someone you muted directly mentions you in a tweet or replies to you.

Now that you understand more about Twitter, stay tuned for our next blog where we will share tips for managing your organization’s social media, utilizing Twitter analytics, and using pictures, emojis, polls, and memes appropriately!

Whitney Cullingham
Volunteer Alberta

Apple Computer

What does Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation mean for your nonprofit?

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) is coming into full force July 1, 2017 after a transition period of three years. The law prohibits sending commercial emails to Canadians without their consent. Here are some considerations to help ensure your organization is following this legislation:

We are a nonprofit! Our emails aren’t “commercial” are they? 

Your emails are commercial if they include or advertise any programs, services, or products the recipient could pay for.

For nonprofit organizations, commercial content in emails might include advertising membership, sharing workshop opportunities, selling event tickets, or promoting a corporate sponsor. If your emails include this type of information, CASL applies to your work.

For registered charities, soliciting donations is not considered a commercial activity.

CASL applies to my organization – what do we need to do?

You need to do three things to meet CASL: get consent, include identifying information about your organization, and include an unsubscribe function.

1. Get Consent

Your email recipients need to agree to receive emails from you.

In most cases, your organization is required to get expressed consent. This means email recipients need to ‘opt-in’ to receive your emails.

Implied consent is acceptable with your members, donors, volunteers, business relationships, and program participants who have been actively engaged with your organization in the past two years. Keep in mind, consent is only implied within the boundaries of that particular relationship – for example, you may only have implied consent from program participants for emails about said program. Implied consent needs to be renewed every two years.

When in doubt, get expressed consent!

2. Include Identifying Information

Your email recipients need to know who is sending the email (your organization) and how to get in touch with you. Add your nonprofits email, phone number, or address to your emails in a signature line or an email footer.

3. Include an Unsubscribe Function

Just because your email recipient gave consent, doesn’t mean they can’t withdraw that consent at a later time. You need to have a way for them to do this (like an unsubscribe button) and a process for ensuring you don’t keep emailing them after they have asked to be removed from your list.

What happens if my organization makes a mistake?

Originally, private citizens would have been allowed to file lawsuits against organizations and individuals who did not follow CASL as of July 1, 2017. The provisions allowing these private lawsuits were suspended this week.

The Competition Bureau, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and the CRTC can all still take legal action to enforce CASL, with penalties for the most serious violations ranging up to $10 million.

As well, personal assets of board members are no longer at risk in the case of a mistake or CASL noncompliance.

It is important for nonprofit organizations to ensure that their insurance covers possible risks.

More information on CASL for nonprofits

Lucky for all of us, there are many great CASL resources available for nonprofits! Here are some good places to look for more information, tools, and templates:

Please keep in mind that Volunteer Alberta is not able to offer legal advice. We hope the information we have offered is helpful and we encourage your nonprofit to contact a lawyer with any legal questions.

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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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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