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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 beginning of NextGen’s City Jam: A skilled volunteer story

Rebecca Swanson started her volunteering journey back in high school and has since volunteered for over 20 years. Swanson’s involvement in volunteerism first began when her friends started to volunteer as a way to spend more time with people she knew.

However, what motivated her to volunteer after high school was the idea of supporting organizations she believed in and branching out within her community. Swanson began volunteering at organizations and charities such as: The Theatre Network, World Fit for Children, Metro Cinema Society and Edmonton’s NextGen.

One skilled volunteer and the beginning of City Jam

At Edmonton’s NextGen, Rebecca volunteered as a Strategy and Operations Chair from January 2016 to July 2017, where she played a key role in the development of City Jam. The event is a night full of live music exclusively dedicated for volunteers who generously donate their time to their community.

While brainstorming for new ideas to engage volunteers, Rebecca recalled similar events in other centers that gave back to volunteers and highlighted great music.

“City Jam was created as a way to highlight volunteerism, and to create something that hadn’t been done before in Edmonton,” says Rebecca Swanson.

The power of volunteerism and the nonprofit sector

Swanson believes volunteers make this world healthier and more vibrant. And, it is nonprofit organizations and charities that bring people together to support a cause they believe in and make their community a better place.

“The number of important initiatives that wouldn’t happen without millions of hours of volunteer time is mind-blowing if you actually step back and think about it,” says Rebecca.

Originally, NextGen City Jam was meant to be a one-time event, but the hard work volunteers put into the planning and preparation made it grow into the event it is today. Rebecca says she looks forward to seeing the event expand to meet the needs of Edmontonians.

City Jam thanks and celebrates volunteers

“I think celebrating volunteers and giving them a chance to celebrate the work they have done in a fun way is the key to this event,” says Swanson.

Swanson is proud of what City Jam has become and continues to cheer on the event. She believes that events similar to City Jam are a good example for other organizations when it comes to engaging new volunteers and thanking dedicated volunteers.

Edmonton’s NextGen consists of a group of volunteers who work together to provide a platform for new and engaging ideas to 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 30, and then submit your hours to register to attend the concert on December 1.

Who’s performing in 2018? 

  • HEADLINER – TBA 
  • Scenic Route to Alaska
  • Royal Tusk
  • Cadence Weapon

 

Navi Bhullar

Volunteer Alberta Intern

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Welcoming newcomers: A volunteer story

How we can support and welcome newcomers

Supporting and welcoming newcomers to Canada grows our communities and makes our communities more vibrant, diverse and strong. But, the integration process for newcomers is not easy.

In 2016, Paula Speevak from Volunteer Canada wrote the following about nonprofits’ and volunteers’ roles in assisting Syrian refugees:

“Integration is a years-long process. The need for volunteers to help Syrian refugees connect with their new communities will continue – and that need goes beyond traditional settlement agencies.”

Between October 2015 and February 2018, nearly 52,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Canada, and Albertans have opened their homes and hearts to these refugees. This means we, as community members, have the opportunity to help where we can. Refugee families in our communities require ongoing support such as food services, health services and community programs including language services.

How one volunteer made a difference

Often, having a friendly neighbour they can turn to can make all the difference. Volunteer, Kirsten Madden is one of these Albertans who opened their home to a Syrian family and recently shared her experience with us.

What inspired you to look into volunteering with a refugee organization?

“Over the years, we felt that there had been a lot of discrimination against Muslims and people fleeing to Canada from Syria. We have always been strong advocates for acceptance, love and peace across the globe, and understand that there are bad things that happen in every culture. This inspired us to open our family and our home.

We don’t believe in us versus them, we believe in We. We hoped that if we paired up with a family from Syria, we could learn more than what was just in our hearts, and hopefully be able to inspire others to realize that people are just people. Not to view others through our differences, but to recognize our humanity and that we are more alike than different.”

What was your volunteer experience like? How did it impact yours and your family’s life?

“It has been the most amazing experience. We don’t consider it volunteering anymore. In fact, we stopped submitting volunteer hours a long time ago. We consider them family.

We have learned about their home-life, culture, their food, their language, their struggles, beliefs etc., and visa versa from us to them. Our children have become friends.

For us it makes us feel like we have travelled to Syria in some small way. We have shared their pain when they have talked about the bullies that have destroyed their home, and we have shared their relief when they describe that they feel safe in Canada.”

How would you recommend other volunteers get involved in something they are interested in?

“Just do it! It will enrich your life, and open your heart and eyes.”

 

The inclusion of all people of different races and cultures enriches our communities, broadens our horizons and deepens our understanding of one another. If you are interested in engaging and supporting newcomers in your community, but don’t know how to get started, we recommend checking out our Supporting Newcomers page.

Adrienne Vansevenandt 

Volunteer Alberta    

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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:

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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 

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