This blog was originally posted November 23, 2016.
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 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.
Some 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.
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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.
In 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 post-secondary 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 5000 internships at 500 organizations in 50 Alberta communities.
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!