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Thinking Woman

What does volunteering mean to Canadians?

Ahead of National Volunteer Week, Volunteer Canada, IPSOS Public Affairs, and Investors Group released their study “Recognizing Volunteers in 2017.” At first glance, we thought the study would be about volunteer recognition: how organizations can celebrate and recognize their volunteers in new and meaningful ways. Instead, this study identifies common trends in Canadian volunteerism.

As an organization who promotes the value of volunteerism, we understand how difficult it can be to capture data and share the value of volunteering for community. This study gave us some food for thought and some valuable takeaways that we want to share.

Common Definitions

Volunteer Canada offers four categories of volunteering and giving:

  • (Regular) formal volunteering: Giving unpaid help (at least once a month) through groups, clubs or organizations to benefit other people or the environment.
  • (Regular) informal volunteering: Giving unpaid help (at least once a month) as an individual to people who are not relatives.
  • Social action: Giving unpaid help to support a community event, campaign or project.
  • Charitable donation: Donating money to charitable causes.

These categories are helpful for distinguishing the different ways someone might support your organization or community; however, they are not all widely used by Canadians:

There is momentum building globally to expand the definition of volunteering to include informal volunteering, organic movements, and the many ways that people put their values into action. Canadians continue to perceive volunteering as a vital part of communities, and while they engage in community in diverse ways, they do not necessarily consider informal activities to be volunteering.

Canadian Opinions on Volunteering

So what do Canadians think about volunteering? For this report, IPSOS Public Affairs surveyed 1200 Canadians aged 16 and over in 2016. The poll found that Canadians greatly value volunteering: 87% felt that our society would suffer without volunteers, and 75% felt the economy would suffer without volunteers. At the same time, respondents considered helping family, random acts of kindness, and improving one’s community as more important than volunteering.

Some other interesting findings from the survey include:

  • 75% of Canadians view volunteering as an easy activity.
  • 75% of Canadians are very willing to volunteer in times of crisis.
  • 68% would be more motivated to choose an employer with a strong volunteer culture.
  • 82% of Canadians believe that all Canadians have something to offer.
  • 72% of Canadians agree that communities thrive when people know each other.

This is a great foundation of passion and interest for nonprofits to continue to build on!

The survey also explored the barriers to greater involvement that Canadians face. The main barrier is lack of physical or social opportunities (ex. lack of time and resources; friends and family not volunteering), followed by lack of physical or psychological capability (ex. lack of skills or knowledge). These insights provide opportunities for nonprofits to be flexible and meet volunteers where they are at. For instance, from the poll:

  • 60% agreed people would volunteer more if it was organized by their employer.
  • 68% agreed people would volunteer more if they could do it as a family.

Does your nonprofit currently offer employee-supported volunteering (ESV) opportunities or volunteer work that could be done as a family? Volunteer Canada has more resources on both styles of volunteer engagement on their website.

Find out more about “Recognizing Volunteers in 2017” – read the full report for more statistics and insights about volunteering in Canada.

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From the Vault – Microvolunteering: the benefits and drawbacks

April is a busy month for volunteerism! April 23-29, communities across the country will be celebrating volunteers and volunteerism for National Volunteer Week.

volunteer-lethbridgeBut first, Saturday, April 15 is Microvolunteering Day – an opportunity to learn more, get involved, or offer microvolunteering opportunities.

Last year, Volunteer Lethbridge promoted Microvolunteering Day as part of their National Volunteer Week celebrations, and shared with us some the benefits and drawbacks of Microvolunteering.

We originally shared the following post April 6, 2016.


From the Microvolunteering Day website:

“Microvolunteering is bite-sized, on-demand, no commitment actions that benefit a worthy cause.”

Some examples of microvolunteering include:

  • Tweeting about an organization or event
  • Baking a cake, knitting a hat, or writing a card for a cause
  • Picking up garbage in your community
  • Participating in a survey or research project
  • Signing a petition
  • Helping a senior with their groceries or yard work

I talked to Chelsea Sherbut, Volunteer Lethbridge’s Development Coordinator, to learn more about microvolunteering and what Volunteer Lethbridge has planned for the day.

Sam Kriviak: How is microvolunteering different from traditional volunteering? What are the benefits and drawbacks of microvolunteering?

Chelsea Sherbut: Unlike most normal volunteer opportunities, there is no application process, no screening, and no real commitment with microvolunteering. Usually you don’t have to go to a specific place to do it. It can often be done for home on your own time. You can see that there can be a lot of benefits!

Some drawbacks are that volunteers might miss out on making some of the “real life” connections that you get with traditional volunteering, and it’s not the kind of volunteer opportunity that improves your résumé. It still can be tremendously impactful, though, and is a fantastic option for people who feel like they are too busy to volunteer.

SK: What about for volunteer-engaging organizations?

CS: For organizations, microvolunteering offers a way to create more engagement and an easy platform for people to get to know your organization better. It’s a good opportunity to expose people to your mission and slowly build an ambassador for your work!

It can also be a lot easier to attract volunteers for these kind of opportunities. We often talk about eliminating barriers to volunteering and this is one great way. If you can create an opportunity that requires as few barriers as possible you’ve made it almost impossible for a prospective volunteer to say no!

Creating microvolunteering opportunities isn’t without challenges, but if you are creative, there are a lot of potential ways to use volunteers on a micro-scale: research and data collection, citizen science, online petitions, donations of specific items, brainstorming (i.e. naming your new exhibit/campaign), social media marketing, clean ups, etc.!

SK: Along with many other community celebrations, Volunteer Lethbridge is recognizing Microvolunteering Day as part of National Volunteer Week. What are your plans for the day?

CS: Yes we have a very busy week, so this one is a bit low key. Our main plans are:

  • to highlight a different microvolunteering opportunity each hour throughout the day on social media;
  • to complete some microvolunteering actions in our office.

SK: Why did you feel it was important to celebrate Microvolunteering Day? How does microvolunteering benefit Lethbridge?

CS: We want everyone in Lethbridge to consider themselves a volunteer. Microvolunteering is one super simple, super fast way to get involved that EVERYONE has time for. We’d also like to start building an awareness of how agencies can be creative when they are coming up with ways to engage more volunteers.

SK: If people are interested in microvolunteering, where can they go for more information or to get involved?

CS: For people outside of Lethbridge, check out the Microvolunteering Day website. In Lethbridge, check out our Facebook page on Friday, April 15th for a ton of great ideas and opportunities all day long! We would love to hear what micro-actions others in the province are doing too!


Thank you so much to Chelsea from Volunteer Lethbridge for sharing with us!

Do you have plans or ideas for Microvolunteering Day? Let us know in the comments! Places to find out more:

skilled-volunteer

Engaging New Volunteers: 2 Trends to Tap Into

Here at Volunteer Alberta, we keep our finger on the pulse of volunteer trends in Alberta and across the country. Two strong trends we have noticed over the past couple years: skilled volunteerism and student involvement.

Skilled Volunteerism

Skilled volunteers share unique skills or talents. Volunteers may share professional skills (accountants, lawyers, veterinarians, or photographers), or they may bring a personal talent or hobby (coaches, home cooks, face painters, or podcasters). Skilled volunteers can also be trained specifically for roles by your organization.

CoachSome examples of amazing skilled volunteers include:

  • an event photographer with an eye for storytelling through pictures
  • a lawyer providing legal advice or assistance
  • translators for newcomers
  • a soccer coach with an understanding of the game
  • web developers creating or enhancing a website

I’ve had some wonderful skilled volunteer experiences. I volunteer as a yoga teacher offering both professional skills and a hobby I enjoy – I am an accredited yoga teacher, and yoga is a personal passion.

I also volunteer as a Distress Line Listener with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), offering support over the phone for people in crisis. I am not a therapist, but this is still a skilled role that required 64 hours of training at CMHA and lots of ongoing development once I started on the lines.

What skills do you have that you might consider contributing to a cause you believe in?

The Window of Work is a great way to identify what skills or talents you may have to share.

Student Involvement

smiling-woman2In many ways, the trend of student involvement at nonprofit organizations is an extension of skilled volunteerism.

Students may volunteer for the opportunity to build their portfolios or gain professional experience. This includes offering newly acquired skills in areas like communications, medicine, counselling, or business planning. Nonprofits also provide real world experience for classroom concepts through programs like Community Service Learning (CSL). CSL is offered as a required placement in some postsecondary courses such as Human Ecology, Native Studies, Public Health, and Languages.

Serving Communities Internship Program

Volunteer Alberta’s Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) is another way students can offer their skills and learn new ones in Alberta nonprofit organizations. Launched in 2011, SCiP supports nonprofits to create skilled, part-time internships for post-secondary students. Organizations access talent, skills, and added human capacity, and students build their resumes, networks, and work experience while earning a $1000 award from the Government of Alberta. Over the past five years, SCiP has filled 4000 internships at 500 organizations in 50 Alberta communities. For the 2016/17 program year, SCiP has already filled over 400 of our available 1000 internship positions.

SCiP is successful because it offers mutual benefit for students and nonprofits, as well as for the communities they serve. In the long term, SCiP is also strengthening communities by developing sector advocates, supporters, and successors.

The great thing is that none of these benefits are limited to the Serving Communities Internship Program – by tapping into skilled volunteerism and student involvement, these outcomes are available to the whole nonprofit sector far beyond SCiP’s yearly capacity for internships.

Skilled Volunteerism & Student Engagement beyond SCiP

To begin engaging volunteers in skilled positions at your organization, start asking questions:

  • How can we engage people based on their skills, passion, and unique gifts?
  • How can we use volunteerism and community involvement as a tool for education? As a means of promoting our sector?
  • How does our approach to volunteerism change when we fill skilled position or engage students? What are the concerns and the opportunities?

It’s likely your answers will be slightly different than other nonprofits – but, no matter what your answers are, they will open up new pathways for volunteer involvement in your organization.

Does your nonprofit already strive to involve skilled volunteers and students to meet your mission? Tell us about your tips and successes in the comments!

Keep reading about skilled volunteerism on our website or learn more about SCiP.  

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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student

Guest Post: The New Volunteer

This article originally appeared in FuseSocial‘s September 27, 2016 newsletter.


Organizations need volunteers more then ever, and the good news is; people want to volunteer!

But volunteerism has changed and volunteer expectations have evolved. It’s no longer enough to just put out a generic “call for volunteers” and then treat them all alike when they show up. Today’s volunteers have an expectation to receive something in return for their time, talents and skills they offer.  A study from JoinInUK.org sums up perfectly what volunteers are looking for in their volunteers roles.

  • planG: Personal growth and well-being
  • I:  Increased sense of purpose, such as knowing just how they make a difference
  • V: Voice regarding how volunteers are asked to give their time
  • E: Easy to sign up, to get there, and to get the job done
  • R: Recognition. Being thanked, appreciated, and celebrated
  • S: Social opportunities like making new friends and working in a team

In ten very straight forward steps your organization can work all these expectations into your volunteer programs.

smiling-woman2Volunteers want and expect:

  1. you to be prepared for them
  2. to feel welcome
  3. good training
  4. to do interesting work
  5. to know up front the duration of their shift
  6. to be appreciated
  7. you to clearly communicate with them and often
  8. to know what they are helping is making the community a better place
  9. to be socially connected 
  10. to learn something new

For more information on using volunteers to strengthen your organization please visit www.NGOConnect.NET

FuseSocial

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From the Vault: Six Insights for Systems Leadership

This blog was originally posted August 11, 2015.


In the Winter 2015 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania co-authored an incredibly valuable article: “The Dawn of System Leadership”. Leading up to Volunteer Alberta’s collective impact event, interCHANGE 2015, I have been reflecting on this article and, more generally, the world of systems thinking and leadership.

The article offers three key points regarding systems leadership:

  1. System leaders are not singular heroic figures but those who facilitate the conditions within which others can make progress toward social change.
  2. Any individual in any organization, across sectors and formal levels of authority, can be a system leader.
  3. The core capabilities necessary for system leadership are the ability to see the larger system, fostering reflection and more generative conversations, and shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future.

As a follow up this article, WGBH, FSG , and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley convened and recorded their event, Catalyzing Collective Leadership, which further expanded on the concepts introduced through the original SSRI article. In addition to the three key points offered in “The Dawn of Systems Leadership,” here are my three highlights from that recording:

  1. A system leader is not full of answers. They have a clear understanding that nothing will change if others are not able to contribute. Systems leaders are skilled at asking questions that surface the ingenuity and know-how of others.
  2. Change is accomplished through teams. Systems leaders foster compelling team cultures that inspire others but aren’t solely dependent on one leader. The culture ripples through the team and is perpetuated by each team member.
  3. Letting go is a pathway to success. Systems leaders bring what is most important to them to the table and are completely willing to have others take it on. This often looks like letting go of control and ownership over decisions and solutions. Sacrifice is not a loss but rather a gift given for the sake of the larger cause.

flockAs Peter Senge puts it: “We need lots of leaders in lots of places everywhere, all kinds of people stepping forward and doing all kinds of different things. We live in an era where the effective use of hierarchical power and authority is simply inadequate for the problems we face.”

The capabilities used by systems leaders are learned and more importantly practiced, reflected on, and refined. I encourage all of us to try on the capabilities of systems leadership and explore our world through a systems lens. Through practicing the capabilities above I am sure new worlds will open, old assumptions will crumble, and access to previously unidentified levers for positive change will emerge.

Annand Ollivierre
Volunteer Alberta

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