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Guest blog: Five ways nonprofits can impart soft skills to volunteers

A big part of retaining volunteers is finding new and innovative ways to engage them. By helping volunteers to develop soft skills, nonprofits can enrich volunteers’ experiences.

Soft skills such as the ability to gel well in a team, make sound and/or quick decisions and communicate effectively are important for any nonprofit volunteer to successfully contribute to your organization’s cause, initiatives and activities.

While some volunteers intrinsically possess these skills, others need to hone them. Luckily, these are abilities which can be taught. In this blog, we look at how your nonprofit can impart soft skills to their volunteers.

1. Hold training sessions and workshops

Volunteers, especially first-timers, may find it difficult to work in a new environment due to their lack of experience. A simple way to fix this is to periodically organize training sessions and workshops for volunteers to develop skills like effective communication, time-management, and decision making.

Through talks by senior members, games focusing on building teamwork, interactive discussions and role-playing situations, your nonprofit can help its volunteers improve their interpersonal skills while boosting their confidence. And the best part is everyone can learn while bonding with each other and having fun!

2. Let volunteers take ownership

While soft skills can be taught, there is no better teacher than experiential self-learning. Give volunteers opportunities to take charge of tasks, while gently guiding them along the way if required. It makes sense to give responsibility based on the volunteer’s experience and comfort level.

For instance, give new volunteers the opportunity to represent your nonprofit’s stall during one of your events; as they gain more experience, perhaps they could take up bigger tasks like organizing an entire event.

Letting volunteers take the initiative helps them hone their interpersonal skills while giving them a taste of real-life leadership and accountability; important skills you helped them learn by themselves!

3. Encourage teamwork

Team up volunteers of different age groups and backgrounds on tasks and watch the learning flow from within! When grouped together to achieve a common goal, volunteers inevitably end up learning from one another.

Doing so allows them to gain new perspectives, listen to diverse experiences, and feel a collective sense of thrill from overcoming obstacles together.

Pro-tip: Assign a mentor to each team to monitor work and defuse any conflicts if they arise.

4. Promote creativity

By performing creative tasks, volunteers can improve their problem-solving skills. Encourage volunteers to take up activities which require exercising the inventive side of their brain.

When volunteers get creative and learn a new skill-set or grow an existing skill-set, it becomes a stepping stone for them to become a skilled volunteer or apply their newly developed skills in other volunteer positions.

From designing posters for rallies and creating catchy event invites, to shooting and producing a ‘behind-the-scenes’ nonprofit video, the creative possibilities are endless!

Pro-tip: Whatever the activity happens to be, ensure that it’s in sync with your nonprofit’s voice and tone by sharing the necessary guidelines beforehand.

5. Organize get-togethers and similar events

Depending on the size of your nonprofit and the number of volunteers, there is a fair chance that not everyone has spoken to each other. Perhaps first-time volunteers didn’t get a chance to interact with senior staff or board members due to a lack of opportunity or a lack of confidence.

By organizing get-togethers, outdoor barbeques, or parties exclusively for staff, board members and volunteers, everyone loosens up and learns to bond with each other. Volunteers can interact with everybody in a relaxed setting, resulting in a cooperative environment which boosts their communication skills and confidence.

Pro-tip: These networking opportunities also help volunteers get to know your organization from the inside out, gain new perspectives and see how their efforts contribute to your organization’s cause and mission. And when they understand their impact, they are more likely to continue volunteering for your nonprofit.

Final thoughts

When nonprofits impart soft skills to their volunteers, it not only fosters volunteer engagement, but it also equips your volunteers to carry out your mission. In this sense, it is an investment back into your organization’s operational plan and strategic directions.

Nurturing soft skills in your volunteers also provides your volunteers the opportunity to transfer their skills to different volunteer positions in your organization, and even to their careers or everyday life.

Final pro-tip: Ask your volunteers what skills they want to develop or use to match them to the appropriate volunteer position and/or activity that suits their wants and needs. Feedback is important. Be sure to find out what your volunteers thought about the opportunities your nonprofit offered so your nonprofit can learn and adjust as needed.

Guest blog author bio: Shaunak Wanikar is part of the Marketing team at CallHub, a cloud telephony company which connects campaigns with their supporters through its voice and SMS software. He helps deliver compelling content which bridges knowledge gaps for nonprofit organizations, political campaigns, advocacy groups, and businesses. An engineering graduate, Shaunak is passionate about seeing the world improve through the medium of technology. Movies, football, and books keep him sane.

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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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Volunteer Screening: Finding the Right Fit Makes All the Difference

This blog was first published on the Community and Adult Learning Program website on November 28, 2017.


Volunteer screening is key to your organization’s success – it provides better volunteer matches, improves safety and quality of programs, and reduces risks and liabilities. Screening is about making informed, reasonable judgements about people based on information gathered from a variety of sources. It begins before onboarding a volunteer and continues throughout their involvement with your organization.

The Volunteer Screening Program (VSP) supports non-profits to implement effective volunteer screening practices. The program has two primary components:

  1. Education & Training
  2. Financial Support

EDUCATION & TRAINING

Data gathered from our workshops and presentations showed us that the biggest challenge faced by organizations is access to resources and best practices related to volunteer screening. Organizations want to maximize their volunteer engagement strategies and support a deeper understanding of participation, privacy, and protection at all levels – volunteer managers, leadership, and board.

Organizations also shared they want to hear from their peers. It’s important to have a space to share organizational best practices, discuss challenges faced by the community, and learn from the experts (e.g. police services or insurance agencies). Exploring organizational mindsets around volunteer screening and employing best practices from peers and experts can lead to new solutions and possibilities!

For these reasons, VSP offers lots of free online resources including templates, tools, and workbooks, as well as interactive learning opportunities such as webinars and in-person learning forums.

Access these education and training opportunities and support volunteer screening best practices at your non-profit.


FINANCIAL SUPPORT

VSP provides funding to eligible organizations to support development in the areas of volunteer screening as well as funding for eligible organizations to support costs associated with Vulnerable Sector Checks (VSCs).

The Volunteer Screening Development Grant is designed to help support organizations in developing effective screening practices and processes. The grant provides $2,000 to support non-profits facing resource and capacity challenges in the area of volunteer screening.

The Vulnerable Sector Check Fee Waiver alleviates costs associated with VSCs. The waiver is available for organizations operating in participating communities. Eligible organizations must work with vulnerable populations and engage volunteers in approved positions of trust and authority in order to access the fee waiver.

Find more information on financial assistance.

Daniela Seiferling
Volunteer Alberta

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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