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Low Ropes Course at Alberta 4-H Centre

Member Spotlight: 4-H Alberta invite youths’ imaginations to soar

Has the belief that youth can change the world disappeared? Nowadays, people seem more pessimistic than ever towards youth – that youth today are more apathetic and consumed by their phones and social networks.

As a result, a lot of people tend to overlook how to motivate youth to participate. But, 4-H Alberta still believes that youth can change the world and they’re helping them do it with a unique approach to engaging youth.

4-H Alberta is a youth-oriented organization offering both urban and rural youth a dynamic and inspiring environment to learn and grow by doing. In their 2018 program year, 4-H had 5,885 youth members from ages 6 to 20 across Alberta. And, it’s not hard to see why youth sign up.

The 4-H approach to youth: Learn to do by doing

What 4-H does differently is that they create a safe and supportive environment that invites youth to not only govern their own clubs but also direct their own learning and skills development in any subject that interests them.

“The possibilities are endless and limited only by the imaginations of the members themselves,” says Bernadette Sereda, Leader Screening Coordinator at 4-H Council of Alberta (the nonprofit division of 4-H Alberta that handles risk management). “4-H members can pursue whatever projects they can dream up so that potential is perhaps the most appealing reason for youth to join 4-H.”

Some of the possibilities include community service, summer or winter camp, projects, clubs, conferences, travel exchanges, and so much more. In fact, community service and public speaking are member requirements while projects can range broadly from computer coding and woodworking to horticulture and other food and agriculture related projects.

Youth members also elect their own club leaders and mentors based on who they want to further their learning and growth. By providing a solid and safe framework for young people to run the show, 4-H teaches youth life-long leadership skills.

Why youth join, return and become 4-H alumni

And, 4-H’s approach is working as youth keep joining or returning. According to their 2018 youth member survey, some of main reasons youth join are because they thought the events, programs, and projects sounded interesting, they wanted to develop or learn a new skill and/or they wanted to meet new people.

Interestingly, youth’s top five reasons for why they come back to participate are similar to why they joined:

  1. It was fun.
  2. I developed friendships with other members.
  3. I want to improve my leadership skills.
  4. I enjoy project competitions/I want to go to camp.
  5. My parents have encouraged me to continue.

4-H also attracts youth by engaging entire families into the program. “4-H leaders and families are vital to the program,” says Bernadette. “We engage families as volunteer leaders, parent volunteers or some simply show up for their children to help, support, share and celebrate.”

However, it is mainly youths’ experiences within 4-H that keep bringing them back even as alumni (age 20+). Beyond their programs, 4-H rewards youth through awards, trips, scholarships, and recognition of their accomplishments.

“Many members once aged out of the program return as leaders themselves as they are inspired to provide the sort of mentorship that they enjoyed,” shares Bernadette. “One of the reasons that 4-H is great is because it can be whatever it needs to be to serve and enrich individual lives and communities at large.”

4-H Alberta’s program year for 2019/2020 opens this October.

Are you looking for more ideas to captivate youth? Check out Volunteer Canada’s youth engagement resources.

About 4-H Alberta

This Alberta institution and popular program has been around since 1917. Over the years, 4-H has quietly evolved into a dynamic program whose projects encompass everything from active living, arts, science and technology, crafts, cooking, agriculture and so much more!  Today’s exciting 4-H program gives urban and rural youth and adults life-long skills such as co-operation, leadership, interpersonal relations, critical thinking, decision making, organization, public speaking and community service.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

City Jam promo

NextGen City Jam recognizes Edmonton volunteers: Why they give back and stay involved

Everyone’s volunteer journey is unique. When you ask volunteers why and how they started, their stories are often different.

Recently, we interviewed two Edmonton volunteers who are attending NextGen’s volunteer recognition event City Jam to give us insight into how they started volunteering and why they give back to the Edmonton community.

How long have you been volunteering for?

Maddy Shevchuk: I’ve been volunteering for different groups and organizations since I started university in September 2012.

Jim Walsh: I started volunteering in 2012 when I met a wonderful lady I now proudly call my wife. I got involved here in Edmonton in January 2019 with the Deep Freeze.

Why did you start volunteering?

Maddy: I love working with kids and helping kids makes me feel good! I love the feeling of volunteering.

Jim: My wife was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2011, a year before we met. Seeing her get involved to help support and educate others, and to witness her be an inspiration to so many others who were going through the same disease, made me want to get involved to support her and her cause.

Since then, I have discovered there are many wonderful things that can come from lending your time and talents to assist others. For example, it is a fantastic way to give back to your community. Here in Edmonton, I have a great friend of mine who asked me if I was interested in helping out at the Deep Freeze this year. It was a great way for me to find out more about what my new home city has to offer me. I have also felt a great sense of purpose and it helps me to reduce stress when I get involved in other activities.

Why do you think volunteering/volunteerism is important?

Maddy: I think that volunteering is important because everybody could use a helping hand every once in a while. And the few spare hours you have to volunteer can make a world of difference for somebody else.

I think that other people should get involved with their communities through volunteering so they can see what else is out there. See how other people live and see the impact that different organizations have on their community.

Jim: Volunteering helps bring people together. Getting involved in volunteerism provides you a greater appreciation for where you live, helps foster a greater sense of pride in our neighborhood/town/city, etc. It gives you a chance to grow as a person. It’s also a fantastic way to relieve stress; you take the focus off yourself for a little while and focus on others. So get out there. Get involved in something, anything.

From your perspective as a volunteer, why do you think NextGen City Jam is important to your community? 

Maddy: I think NextGen City Jam is very important in our community because it encourages people to step out of their comfort zone, doing things that they would not normally do, it also helps out the communities that we live in and makes such a positive impact in so many different areas!

Jim: As a volunteer and as a NEW volunteer here in the Edmonton area, for me, NextGen City Jam is a way for organizers of the volunteer community to show their appreciation to all those who help make events and charities more successful/memorable. It is that thankful recognition that helps make the volunteers feel that their efforts are greatly respected. As people, we all like to be recognized and that makes us want to do more. This helps feed the desire to grow the volunteer community. So thank you NextGen.

Has NextGen City Jam encouraged you to volunteer more?

Maddy: It has encouraged me to keep volunteering in my community to give back.

Jim: The knowledge of NextGen City Jam has made me want to get more involved. From my view, it’s a great show of appreciation to the volunteer community for the hard work that the volunteers do.

I never realized how much work goes into creating and putting on an event. Volunteers are truly an integral part, and for an event like NextGen City Jam to honour the volunteers the way they do is amazing! People want to repeat actions that give them positive feelings, and recognition like NextGen City Jam certainly fills you with pride and appreciation.

If a friend of yours wanted to start volunteering but didn’t know where to start, what advice would you give to them?

Maddy: Look into volunteering in areas that you are passionate about. I for one love working with kids so I am always interested in opportunities in this field. If you are not sure what interests you, try volunteering for several different organizations and see how you like them. You never know what you might enjoy if you don’t try.

Jim: If someone was to ask me about volunteering I would tell them to start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself. You want the experience to be enjoyable, not a “chore”. Don’t try to be a superhero right out of the gate!  Get involved in something of interest. We all have skills/talents we can offer others. So, use those skills and compassion to help others, to bring someone else some enjoyment.

Have you or your volunteers donated at least 10 hours between May 1st and September 4th? Send in your hours to Edmonton’s NextGen and get your name on the guestlist for City Jam 2019 at Sonic Field Day!

Maddy Shevchuk is a University of Alberta elementary education student who loves volunteering with kids and making other people happy! Currently, she volunteers as a big sister mentor with the Boys & Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area. When Maddy is not in school, volunteering or working, she loves to bake cupcakes and read.  

 

Jim Walsh is originally from the east coast and recently moved to Edmonton for the second time in late 2018 with his beloved wife. He loves to volunteer to open his mind to new things and learn more about his city. Currently, Jim volunteers with Kaleido, the Deep Freeze with Arts on the Avenue, the Heart of the City, Heritage Festival and Edmonton Rock Fest. Jim and his wife are long-time breast cancer survivor advocates and dedicated volunteers who help raise funds and increase awareness.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

Fringe volunteers

Member Spotlight: Edmonton Fringe Theatre finds ‘the right fit’ with their volunteer program

Volunteers are integral to the nonprofit sector. Many nonprofits/charities, events, festivals and more, would not be possible without Albertans selflessly devoting their time to our communities and causes. But many nonprofits struggle with getting volunteers in the door and finding volunteers who are the right fit that will also come back to volunteer.

Fringe Theatre has a unique challenge to recruit, onboard, and engage more than 1,200 volunteers for their annual Fringe Festival in Edmonton. But, their volunteer program is extremely successful, so how do they do it?

How the Fringe Theatre finds and reaches volunteers

One of the ways the Fringe Theatre reaches volunteers is by posting their opportunities online on the VolunteerConnector platform; a new platform that allows volunteers to search for opportunities by cause, skills, time commitment, and more.

Sarah and Drew, Fringe Theatre Volunteer Team

“I love the new VolunteerConnector! As a volunteer and volunteer manager, I was previously so frustrated by the lack of an easy-to-use, visually appealing volunteer opportunities board,” says Drew Delbaere, Interim Volunteer Manager at Fringe Theatre. “It’s great that so many volunteer centres across the province are now using the platform, so we don’t have to put our postings in multiple places.”

In addition to online postings, Drew says they also put up posters around the city, attend other events and farmers markets, advertise on social media, and reach out to former volunteers. They also do targeted outreach for their more skilled volunteer roles.

“For some of our roles, we do targeted outreach to people or organizations that would meet the specific qualifications, like for our First Aid Team,” says Drew.

Using the 10 steps to volunteer screening to get ‘the right fit’

But reaching volunteers and getting people interested in your cause is only one piece of volunteer recruitment. It’s also about finding the right fit and good onboarding. And the Fringe Theatre finds the right fit not only for their organization but also for their volunteers using the 10 Steps to Volunteer Screening.

“The 10 Steps are the foundation of our volunteer screening process,” says Drew. “When we first developed our screening strategy, or subsequently look to adjust it from year to year, the 10 Steps are behind every decision that we make.”

For example, some key steps that help find the right fit include writing clear volunteer position/role descriptions and conducting interviews to get to know the volunteer. But, the 10 Steps or good screening practices start at developing policies and is carried through to the support and supervision a volunteer receives.

“I believe that screening is one of the most important parts of any volunteer program. As volunteer managers, we need to move beyond thinking about screening as just a background check because it is so much more than that,” says Drew. “To me, screening means finding people who are a good fit for your organization, and a background check alone can’t tell me that.”

While screening can take a lot of resources, both financially and in staff time, according to Drew, it is a worthwhile investment. “Without a good screening program in place, you will spend more time dealing with performance, disciplinary, and/or retention issues in the future.”

Recommendations for your volunteer program

With Fringe Theatre’s tall order of recruiting 1,200+ volunteers every year, they’ve learned a thing or two about running a successful volunteer program. Here are some tips/recommendations from Fringe Theatre’s Interim Volunteer Manager, Drew, that could help your organization’s volunteer program:

  • Set clear expectations from the start.
  • Make sure that position descriptions are easy to understand and that they encompass all parts of the role. There should be no surprises!
  • Make sure to communicate if there is a mandatory training session upfront. Even better if you can give the exact date and time.
  • If you are an organization that runs an annual event or festival, make sure to invite your previous volunteers back! A simple email inviting former volunteers to join you again can make a huge impact.
  • If you are an organization that recruits volunteers year-round, consider why someone should join you now, rather than a month or year from now.
    • Make sure you give a deadline because if you have ongoing recruitment it can be easy for potential volunteers to keep putting off applying.
  • For all volunteer managers, use your current group of volunteers to help your recruit. Beyond just asking, help facilitate this process. For example:
    • You could create a toolkit with graphics, photos, or messaging that your volunteers can share with their networks in emails or on social media.
  • Deliver a quality volunteer experience. For better or worse, volunteer programs will start to develop a reputation which can have an impact on the success or struggles of future recruitment.

The Edmonton International Fringe™ Theatre Festival has been delighting, shocking, and surprising audiences since 1982. Of the 23 in North America, they are the oldest and largest! They transform theatre. Foster artists. Nurture audiences. Take chances. And help you find the artist inside.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

volunteerstock

Member Spotlight: Propellus gets innovative with volunteer recruitment (and you can too!)

Volunteers needed is a common phrase and challenge that nonprofits know all too well. With the lack of data on Alberta volunteerism since 2013 and the migration to the digital age, Alberta nonprofits have been left in the dark on how to reach volunteers today, especially youth.

But, thanks to Propellus, Calgary’s volunteer centre, Alberta’s volunteer recruitment landscape is changing. In 2018, Propellus officially launched a new website called VolunteerConnector, Alberta’s first platform that connects volunteers with available opportunities shared by nonprofits across Alberta.

Propellus creates Alberta’s largest online volunteer recruitment platform

On VolunteerConnector, volunteers can search by region, causes they care about, time commitment, and skills they can provide! And, the number of regions across Alberta grow each day; currently, there are nonprofits sharing volunteer opportunities from Calgary, Campbell River, Cochrane, Cold Lake, Comox Valley, Edmonton, Hanna, Innisfail, Lethbridge, Okotoks, and St. Albert, just to name a few!

“VolunteerConnector is a simple and easy to use tool that helps nonprofits with recruitment in multiple geographies,” says Janet Rock at Propellus. We provide micro-sites for every organization, so that means even organizations that don’t have websites have a web presence. We also get to do the heavy lifting of marketing volunteering so organizations don’t have to!”

Thanks to the support of the Alberta Volunteer Centre Network (AVCN) and Propellus’ hard work on the platform, VolunteerConnector is now Alberta’s largest volunteer recruitment platform.

“VolunteerConnector is one of Google’s top landing pages and in the top 10% of websites in Canada, says Janet. “That means it gets a lot of visits – 885,000 in 2018 in fact. It demonstrates that it does what we hope it does – connect people to opportunities to volunteer, easily.”

What VolunteerConnector’s data can tell us about volunteer trends in Alberta

But VolunteerConnector is more than a volunteer matching platform, it is also a valuable resource of volunteer data for nonprofits across Alberta. In 2019, Propellus released three unique reports from data they collected from the platform:

According to Janet, up-to-date reports like these can support nonprofits by providing information on volunteer recruitment trends; research that can spark new ideas and ways of reaching the volunteers you want and need to reach.

“Implement our research in training for volunteer engagement and recruitment. It’s the first time real-time information has been available in our province, so it means we can help people learn about volunteerism as trends change.”

Specifically, Propellus’ recent data provides insight into volunteer opportunities that volunteers are interested in now, how to recruit volunteers in unpopular areas of interest, and what motivates Albertans to volunteer.

“Volunteers want to be part of causes in a way that I think we’ve really not understood before. In the past volunteers wanted to see the impact they were making,” says Janet. “Now I would articulate that volunteers want to belong to a cause, to find personal meaning in a volunteer role. So, organizations should be asking themselves if that’s the currency they are dealing in. Are they able to provide meaningful opportunities for volunteers?”

Propellus’ next steps for

And, Propellus plans to use their research and feedback from volunteer centres to continue to update and enhance VolunteerConnector. In the next eight weeks, upgrades to the platform will include:

  • A simpler search that focuses on causes and skills including easier to find flexible opportunities.
  • Dashboards with real-time reporting information for volunteer centres.
  • Volunteer centres as landing pages in the regions they serve. This will help increase volunteer centres’ profile to share more information about their centres.
  • Online applications for volunteers to apply directly to organizations. Volunteers can use their profiles to apply to any organization of their choosing, making their experience more seamless between organizations.
  • Automatic tracking for volunteer hours which will then be reported back to the volunteer centres’ dashboards.

Are you interested in posting your volunteer opportunities online? Learn more about how your nonprofit can get started with VolunteerConnector!

Propellus is the Volunteer Centre of Calgary that connects nonprofits with volunteers. Their biggest project is VolunteerConnector which is Alberta’s largest volunteer recruitment platform and Alberta’s up-to-date data source for trends in volunteerism! They are also one of the founding members of the Alberta Nonprofit Network (ABNN)

10fund

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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