Login / Logout Link
sandrachile-686986-unsplash

Annual weeks of giving: An informal volunteer story

Growing up, December was the season of giving. My family celebrated Christmas by sharing with the community. Early on, my parents instilled the lessons that Christmas was not about the presents under the tree, it was about gifting our time and creating joyful memories for those around us.

I recall many a December preparing shoeboxes for Operation Shoebox, donating our gently used toys and household items to Goodwill, or inviting those who had no one to celebrate with over for a warm meal and conversation. Regardless of my faith or the seasons I celebrate, it is the lessons about community that I carry with me throughout the year and inspires my love for informal volunteering.

Starting a tradition based on community and generosity

Annual weeks of giving is a tradition I started during post-secondary. December is a busy time for students and nonprofits. December is about fundraising campaigns, volunteer drives, and requests for donations because nonprofits rely heavily on the goodwill and charitable nature of others.

Annual weeks of giving became my way of contributing to the cause and giving back when I had limited funds and time. I was able to balance my chaotic schedule with the needs of the community by being an informal volunteer (e.g. food bank donations or gently used winter clothes).

Although I am no longer in post-secondary, my tradition continues! It has even grown over the years – from my original two weeks to six weeks. Now, I see the impact my contributions have on those around me and inspire others to volunteer. And, this year was no exception! I made connections within my neighbourhood and inspired others to keep paying it forward.

Bonding neighbours together by cleaning up shared green spaces

One of my contributions for 2018 was a commitment to clean up shared green spaces – picking up trash, upcycling plastics, and recycling reusable products. A small action had HUGE consequences. Starting with just my bags, a stick, and a wheelbarrow, my single person mission turned into a neighbourhood cleanup.

It started with children being curious about what I was doing, their curiosity gave way to a desire to help, and eventually became a family activity. By the end of the walk, we had cleared two public parks from surface litter and upcycled enough one-time use plastics that I can start my entire garden from seedlings!

This action of cleaning up shared spaces didn’t just end at the park, it allowed me to foster connections in my relatively new neighbourhood. Even though we’ve been in our current home for three years, work schedules and travel made it difficult to get to know our neighbours. Surprisingly, the fastest way to get to know people is by looking like you’re storing plastic for the end of the world. It’s a great ice breaker!

I’ve met several neighbours with an avid love of gardening. We’ve traded tips on maximizing space, what yields the best results in certain spaces, and some new ideas on how to upcycle our old plastics. I even have someone who is willing to teach me the basics of jam and jelly making this fall! I’m excited to learn from a Farmer’s Market master and to have some new friends that live close by.

I hope that I’ve inspired others to join me on the journey or create their own traditions. Supporting community through informal volunteering and random acts of kindness is a win-win. For everyone!

Do you want to spread some kindness? Check out RandomActsofKindness.org for some inspiration and get started!

 

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

priscilla-du-preez-234138-unsplash

Member Spotlight: Hinton FCSS emboldens informal volunteering in community

Imagine trees wrapped in hand-knitted scarves on a cold winter’s day or children handing out lemonade on a hot summer day. In Hinton, you can easily come across informal volunteering or random acts of kindness. And, Hinton’s Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) is no different.

One of Hinton FCSS’s main goals is to foster community connection and reduce social isolation. As a result, informal giving or volunteering organically flourishes in their programs and services.

Friendly Visitor Program turns strangers into friends

Recently, Hinton FCSS launched the Friendly Visitor Program; a program made possible entirely by volunteers. The volunteer centre provides the framework, but it is brought to life by people deliberately offering their friendship to another person. Adults are welcome to apply to become a volunteer companion or a recipient.

“Friends are just strangers waiting to happen,” says Lisa Brett, Volunteer Centre Coordinator at Hinton FCSS.

Formal volunteer transforms opportunity into informal volunteering

While the program is relatively new and typically considered a formal way of volunteering, one volunteer match, Ginnie and Kim, demonstrates how formal volunteering can transform into informal volunteering.

“Ginnie and Kim visit so often that Kim has become a part of Ginnie’s family,” says Lisa. “It has helped Kim’s life and her mental health, and fulfilled the gaps in her social life. It’s exceptional.”

Instead of doing bare minimum visits, volunteer Ginnie went above and beyond in the program by simply living and expressing kindness, and in the process, turned a stranger into a life-long family friend.

“Informal volunteering is essential to individual, family, community, national, and global wellbeing,” says Lisa. “When you model kindness, you never know who you’re inspiring. Those small gestures, they add up. They are so critical to community health and wellness. You might create a ripple effect.”

How Hinton FCSS staff encourage informal volunteering

Another possible reason informal volunteering blooms in Hinton FCSS’s programs could be due in large part to its staff and their dedication to spreading kindness.

“My coworkers are mega informal volunteers! I am very inspired by their deeds all the time,” says Lisa. “Some bake and share the treats at work, some participate in every single fundraiser, some are animal advocates, and some babysit others’ children.”
“Informal volunteering is a new word, but not a new concept. To me, informal volunteering is consciously exhibiting kindness and caring. It is about performing without expectations. It is being human. It is being an active citizen,” remarks Lisa.

To learn how to encourage informal volunteering in your community, contact Lisa Brett at Hinton FCSS.

Hinton Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) focuses on “people helping people help themselves.” Hinton FCSS enhances the social well-being of individuals and families in the community through their programs and services. For over 24 years, Hinton’s Volunteer Centre has operated under Hinton FCSS, making volunteer matches and community connections as a way to sustain people as active participants in the community.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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

Lineup announcements:

Banner 24

Did you know you are a People Engagement Specialist? Thinking & Acting Differently Part 2

Getting creative

Jodi was inspired and wanted to read more about how to improve her volunteer engagement, so she dove into the Volunteer Recognition Study published by Volunteer Canada in 2013… she found it highly relevant and insightful.

It highlighted that volunteer recognition could be enhanced with a deeper understanding about volunteer motivations and interests, and about how engaging volunteers in developing and using their skills could create mutual benefit and added value for the volunteer. The study provided her with even more motivation to engage volunteers in meaningful ways.

The very next day Jodi received the Volunteer Alberta Member Exclusive email… and in it was a rather intriguing worksheet promising a quick and easy way to engage volunteers by gaining a deeper understanding of their motivations and interests. It was called the Window of Work. ­ She downloaded it right away and started thinking about how she could use it.

Then it dawned on her, one of the steps she was building into her volunteer screening process was step number 10 – the feedback step! She decided to invite some of the volunteers to complete the worksheet, she started with the STP’s (you know, the Same Ten People, the ones who always show up but risk burnout at every turn.)

Jodi emailed them. She shared the Window of Work and gave simple instructions about how to complete it. She requested a 30-minute conversation the next time they were in to volunteer. Within a week she had 10 appointments scheduled!

Some simple changes

Jodi was happy to hear that everyone was grateful that she wanted to know more about them! They told her how valued it made them feel that she wanted to connect about their interests, motivations, and to get their feedback on their volunteer experience.

Jodi discovered a lot in those conversations:

  • Almost all of them gave incredible insight into “why” they kept coming back… and she realized she could use those reasons to help recruit instead of just saying “volunteers needed!”. She made new volunteer recruitment posters and wrote a variety of social media posts that spoke directly to the meaning people experienced because of being engaged as volunteers in her organization.
  • One volunteer identified their love of meeting and talking to new people – so she invited them to come help with recruitment at the volunteer fair booth during NVW.
  • Two of them gave fantastic feedback and ideas about the training process – and one of them, who’d been with the organization for nearly a decade, even volunteered to help with training! The volunteer felt recognized as a resident expert and valued as a champion of the organization! And as a bonus, some of Jodi’s time was freed up to be strategic and to keep building new people engagement possibilities. 
  • One of her newest volunteers was an aspiring writer in his second year of communications in college. Together they came up with a project he could do as an intern through Volunteer Alberta’s Serving Communities Internship Program (a total Win-Win for them both! The student would get a $1000 from the Government of Alberta after successfully completing his internship and her organization was going to get a series of newsletters – which could really help improve outreach.)
  • One volunteer shared how much they loved photography and indicated an interest in photographing the special events. So she created a new position, Event Photographer, and together they outlined the expectations. (This was a huge bonus because they could use the photos on the website and social media to help with outreach!)
  • That same volunteer was working at a café but really wanted to put her Art History degree to work, but didn’t know where to get the vital job experience she needed…. After thinking about it together, they came up with another idea! Together they could create a display about the organization’s history and impact in the community that could travel between the local elementary schools and share important information with the younger generation!
  • One person revealed how much they wanted to volunteer with their family more. She had six kids and Jodi didn’t really have an opportunity for her to do… but thankfully Jodi remembered her colleague, the one from the Volunteer Managers Group, had lots of family-friendly opportunities! So Jodi advised the volunteer to contact that organization and provided her with a referral to the volunteer manager there.
  • Another volunteer was reluctant to reveal that they weren’t enjoying the weekly volunteer position anymore. It was too hard to make it on time and he was starting to feel obligated, which was disappointing to him because he really believed in the cause… Jodi suggested he become a special event volunteer instead and put his training to use by helping fill in here and there when he could. The volunteer felt valued and had a renewed understanding of the impact he could make for a cause that really mattered to him!

Jodi was on her way to becoming a People Engagement Specialist. You see, with a little research, creativity, a subtle shift in your thinking and a willingness to make some simple changes to your work, you can create new possibilities for meaningful people engagement.

In the making of a People Engagement Specialist, there are three the key ingredients: knowing volunteer’s interests and motivations, understanding impact, and creating meaningful engagement.

Katherine Topolniski

Volunteer Alberta 

Banner 24

Did you know you are a People Engagement Specialist? Thinking & Acting Differently Part 1

Our blog today is in the form of a story… one part fictional story, informed by real-world information, one part practical information that might help change the way you work, one part mindset shift that could change the way you think, and one part shameless promotion of helpful resources and information.

The tale of a Volunteer Manager who became a People Engagement Specialist. Jodi was doing it the way it was always done…. As Volunteer Manager, she was in charge of recruiting, training and recognizing volunteers. It was a very busy position; she often struggled to recruit and keep the amount of volunteers she needed – turnover was high and she was always training new people. She didn’t have much of a budget, or much support from other staff – they were always as busy as she was.

She needed volunteers for special events, service delivery and to help with outreach. She needed many outreach volunteers because it was how her organization was getting the word out about their services and special events.

She had posters up all over town. Each one said, “Volunteers needed” in bold, red font. On Facebook she posted “volunteers needed”, and she asked everyone she knew. Does this sound familiar?

Research

Hoping to find a solution to her recruitment woes, she signed up for a Volunteer Alberta webinar called Screening Volunteers In. Not Out. Jodi had heard about it from a colleague at the volunteer managers group she attended every few months.

In the webinar, she heard about Volunteer Canada’s Screening Handbook (a resource she would certainly download for future use!) and learned about the 10 Steps to Screening. Jodi realized, that like many other volunteer managers, she was following seven out of the ten steps to screening, but the process wasn’t formalized at her organization.

That week she started pulling together existing materials that might help her with the process of screening and onboarding volunteers. While she did that, she realized the volunteer position descriptions hadn’t been updated for many years, and there were no volunteer screening policies in place. That’s when she remembered hearing about the Volunteer Alberta Screening Development Grant and realized maybe there was a chance her organization would be eligible for it!

As it happens, her organization met the eligibility criteria so she applied. Later that summer they received a $2000 grant to help with developing volunteer positions and policies. After a few months she had created a volunteer screening process manual for her organization.

Then one day, in the not too distant future, she was surfing Volunteer Alberta’s website once again, and found some Volunteer Canada research – a Pan-Canadian study called Bridging the Gap.  The research was from 2010, but as she read it, she realized it still rang true. The study indicated a need to enrich the volunteer experience by closing the gap between what Canadians are looking for in volunteerism versus how organizations are engaging volunteers.

Shift in thinking

She had an ah-ha moment! A subtle shift in her thinking and mindset that gave her a new perspective and changed the way she thought about volunteers and her role as a volunteer manager.

Her responsibility was to create the space for volunteerism to exist!! Beyond filling the existing, traditional service delivery positions, she was responsible for creating meaningful opportunities for people to contribute to her organization, to the cause, and more importantly to their own community!

That evening her mind raced with excited thoughts. How could I create more meaningful volunteer positions? How could I better recognize volunteers?

It all seemed overwhelming and she didn’t know where to start. She had no control over programs or services, she didn’t have a big budget, she didn’t even really have a lot of extra time…. AND she still had a bunch of volunteers to recruit, train, and recognize…

Katherine Topolniski

Volunteer Alberta 

Make sure you read part 2 to learn how Jodi became a People Engagement Specialist!

 

  • 1
  • 2

Not-for-profit Web Consulting & Digital Marketing by Adster Creative