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6 ways to recognize volunteers during a pandemic this National Volunteer Week

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown everyone a curveball of some kind this past year. And, National Volunteer Week is no exception. Many communities are struggling with how to pivot volunteer recognition and engagement for safety and social distancing purposes.

But! There are many ways communities can still recognize volunteers in their communities during National Volunteer Week and year-round while staying safe and adhering to current health measures in place.

To help you get inspired for National Volunteer Week 2021, we’ve compiled six ways communities celebrated in 2020 and other innovative ways you can recognize and celebrate volunteers this April.

1. Volunteer recognition items and gift baskets

In 2020, many communities created gift baskets with different kinds of volunteer recognition items and delivered them to volunteers’ homes to say thank you. Here are some things they included:

  • Discounts, coupons, or gift certificates to local stores to support the local economy.
  • Pamphlets, brochures or information guides that listed ways volunteers can help the community, including informal and formal volunteer opportunities.
  • Personalized or branded hand sanitizer and masks – things that volunteers can use in their day-to-day lives or would need for volunteering.

But, you can include anything in your gift basket you think your volunteers would appreciate!

2. Online storytelling and paid promotion

You can recognize volunteers by sharing the impact of their contribution to your organization and community. For example, organizations in 2020 promoted their volunteers by:

  • Telling volunteer impact stories on their social media and websites. Some even paid to promote their volunteer stories through social media too.
  • Broadcasting their volunteer stories on the local radio and newspapers. Many media outlets or advertisers offer discounts to nonprofits, so be sure to find savings where you can!
  • Creating a ‘thank-you’ video featuring prominent figures in your community, such as government officials like the mayor or town councillors.

3. Virtual gatherings and recognition

With in-person events being limited due to the pandemic, you can always opt for virtual gatherings or virtual forms of recognition. Here are some ways communities celebrated last year and what you can do this year:

  • Create a virtual online event by using platforms like Zoom or Google Meet to gather volunteers together. For your online event, you can distribute awards, play games, tell stories and more.
  • Call volunteers or create personalized emails and texts to thank volunteers for their service.
  • Create or find online learning opportunities to help volunteers learn or grow their skill-sets in between volunteer gigs.

4. Public displays in your community

You can show volunteers you appreciate them in a big way by creating public displays in your community. Some ideas for public displays include:

  • Dedicating a park bench to volunteers.
  • Creating and raising a flag to honour volunteers in your community.
  • Design and advertise a billboard for April. (Many advertisers offer discounted advertising for nonprofits!)
  • Start a mural and encourage community members to drop by and add to it. Whether it’s painting something or bringing a poster they made to add to the mural. You can keep it socially distanced and adhere to health measures in place.

5. Volunteer recognition program or contest

Open volunteer awards/nominations to the community and have residents send in volunteer stories. Start a contest and get residents to nominate volunteers in the community to win bigger prize packages.

Use your volunteer nomination process as an opportunity to collect volunteer stories to share publicly. This could include sharing stories online, in newspapers and the radio, or even posters or flyers around town. Just be sure to have an option for people to give consent for their story publicly.

6. Encourage your entire community to get involved

Get creative and get the entire community involved! For example:

  • Encourage residents to do random acts of kindness for a volunteer they know. Then get them to share their experience online. Create a specific hashtag for them to use so you can track the stories as they come in.
  • Create or find and print volunteer-themed colouring pages for children in your community.
  • Encourage residents to put signs in their windows that say, “I volunteer at [organization name].”

No matter how you decide to recognize volunteers in your community this National Volunteer Week, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try something your organization has never done before! And most importantly, stay safe and have fun!

Looking for financial support to celebrate your volunteers? Apply for National Volunteer Week Enhancement Funding! Applications close Monday, March 8th, 2021. Funding is provided by the Government of Alberta and distributed by Volunteer Alberta.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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Strategic planning online: Lessons and recommendations for your nonprofit

Strategic planning is a significant part of determining where your organization is and where it needs to go. By developing a strategic plan, your organization can clarify and determine its priorities and what you need to achieve these priorities.

In 2020, Volunteer Alberta undertook the task of developing our new mission and vision statements and our strategic priorities for 2021-2023. COVID-19 presented our team with a new challenge of creating a strategic plan virtually and effectively since we could not gather in-person.

The following is a summary of how we got to our final draft of our new strategic priorities for the next three years, and what we learned along the way by developing a strategic plan online.

Planning out the process

Before you develop a strategic plan, you need to determine what you need to be successful. Questions and processes to consider include:

Who should be at the table?

Think of which key players need to be part of the planning sessions that will ultimately help you and your organization to be successful.

At Volunteer Alberta, we included staff, board members, Volunteer Alberta Members, relevant organizations in our network and funders in our conversations.

What tools should we use or do we need?

With the pandemic still ongoing, what tools does your organization have access to? Which tools are accessible for participating staff in the planning process? The tools that we found to help facilitate our process online included Zoom and Mural.

Zoom was handy for group activities where broader discussions needed to take place. In this instance, we used the breakout room feature to have smaller conversations and then came back together to report on what took place.

Mural allowed us to write, edit and provide feedback on a live document as a group. The application was helpful to encourage group participation and engagement while being able to see the same screen and real-time updates.

Where is your organization in the environmental landscape now?

It’s important to know where you are to decide where you need to go. Conducting an environmental scan is a crucial piece in your strategic planning process. Does your organization’s current mission and vision align with what’s happening in your sector or across sectors? Do your clients/service users value what you do?

Connecting with your stakeholders during this process is of the utmost importance. It allows you to get an accurate picture of your organization now and what you should focus on next to meet your stakeholders’ needs.

The tool we decided to use to conduct our environmental scan is called the Challenge Dialogue System (CDS). For more information on the process and our results, see our CDS Challenge Paper final report.

What we learned and recommendations for your organization

Since this was the first time we attempted strategic planning online, we learned a few things along the way that may help your organization:

Give board members and staff sufficient time to complete activities

Our CDS Challenge Paper required participants to read information ahead of time and answer questions accordingly as part of our environmental scan. Conducting an environmental scan takes time and thought. Be sure to communicate how much time these activities will take to allow staff and board members to adjust their workloads or make time accordingly.

Include more than your current stakeholders in your environmental scan

It’s important to survey people or organizations that are not currently part of your network. By interviewing people outside of your network, you can find out why they’re not engaged with your organization and what it would take for them to be part of the work you do. While we are happy with the outcomes from our environmental scan, we would include more potential or prospective stakeholders for a more fulsome result if we could do it again.

Spread out your planning sessions to mitigate participant burnout

When we met to develop our strategic plan, we held two and a half day sessions spanning 10 days, with the board and staff over Zoom. Many participants recommended breaking up the full-day sessions into shorter and more frequent sessions to keep conversations flowing, and participants engaged in the process.

Hire a facilitator to manage conversations and keep time

When we conducted our CDS and strategic planning sessions over zoom, we engaged third-party facilitators to help manage and direct conversations. Hiring facilitators allowed full participation of staff and board and helped ensure our discussions stayed on topic and on time during our sessions.

In the end, we learned that strategic planning does not have to be in-person! There are many tools and ways to convene your team online to develop a successful strategic plan, and we encourage you to try it out for yourself. You may be surprised by your outcomes!

Find out what our new strategic priorities are for 2021-2023!

Adrienne Vansevenandt 

Volunteer Alberta

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Are you ready to recruit volunteers? 3 resources to help you get started

Recruiting and engaging volunteers is much more than requesting a police information check or simply putting an ad up on social media that says, “volunteers needed!” It’s an ongoing process that matches the right volunteer with the right opportunity creating a meaningful and mutually beneficial experience.

At Volunteer Alberta, we believe that a successful volunteer recruitment and engagement program is crucial to onboard and retain outstanding, dedicated volunteers. So, is your organization ready to recruit volunteers? Here are three resources to help you get started:

1. Watch the 10 Steps to Screening video

If you don’t know where to start, watch the 10 Steps to Screening video. In this video, we adapted the Ten Steps from Volunteer Canada’s Screening Handbook to give you a quick overview of the screening process.

We also recommend taking a deeper dive into the Screening Handbook to guide you through important information like risk and liability, police checks, privacy, and social policy. The handbook is also a great resource to demonstrate the value of screening in case anyone in your organization needs convincing.

2. Create captivating volunteer position descriptions

Once you’re familiar with the principles of screening, you can start creating volunteer position descriptions. Our handy template will help you to develop specific positions and identify risks and relevant policies.

When creating position descriptions, we encourage you to think about tasks, roles or skilled work that would interest volunteers. Make sure the description is captivating enough to motivate potential volunteers to apply!

Bonus resource: The Window of Work can also help you to create an engaging volunteer posting.

3. Complete a risk assessment

Now that you’ve mapped out your volunteer positions, you can complete a risk assessment to determine what information you’ll need to screen volunteers into your organization.

Our risk assessment matrix can help you determine whether you need a police information check (PIC) or a vulnerable sector check (VSC). Generally, the higher the risk, the greater the degree of screening is necessary for the position.

Looking for more learning resources on volunteer recruitment and screening? Check out our seven-part webinar series starting February 26, 2020! Learn more.


2019 Member Spotlight Rewind: Tips from nonprofits for nonprofits

In 2019, Alberta nonprofits faced new challenges. Together, we collaborated, advocated, and delivered innovative solutions. At Volunteer Alberta, we also featured our Members’ fantastic work including their insights and successes. 

So in case, you missed it in 2019, here is a breakdown of what some of our Members accomplished and their tips for you and your nonprofit: 


CCVO (Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations) helps Alberta nonprofits make a difference in our sector by teaching and sharing their knowledge in policy and advocacy work. Last year, CCVO developed an election toolkit to help nonprofits in their preparation for the Alberta election.

CCVO’s tip for nonprofits? Speak up in every way you can during election time. 

“If we stay silent during an election campaign, we let other sectors drive the agenda, which can mean that we won’t see meaningful commitments from political parties on issues that matter to the nonprofit sector.”

Community building 

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.

Hinton FCSS’s tip for nonprofits? “Friends are just strangers waiting to happen.” 

Hinton FCSS launched a Friendly Visitor Program: a program brought to life by people offering their friendship to another person. Instead of volunteers doing bare minimum visits, volunteers tend to turn strangers into life-long family friends, connecting and building the community in Hinton.

St. Albert CIVC, also known as St. Albert’s hidden gem, celebrated its 40th birthday in 2019 as the go-to place for volunteer matching and recognition. Its success is due in large part to their understanding that community building stems directly from volunteer appreciation.

St. Albert CIVC’s tip for nonprofits? When it comes to planning volunteer appreciation events, keeping it simple always works best.

St. Albert CIVC’s Coffee Break program partners with local coffee businesses to distribute coupons for free coffee to volunteers as a way to thank them for their contributions to the community.

Risk Management

Capacity building organizations like the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO) provide education and guidance on not only managing risk, but also foundational knowledge for nonprofits in their community.

ECVO’s tip for nonprofits? When it comes to mitigating risk, nonprofits should consider exposure to any possible risks.

“In addition to general comprehensive liability insurance, director and officer insurance is a must. Cyber insurance is quickly becoming a standard insurance inclusion.”

Volunteer recruitment & engagement 

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’s tip for nonprofits? Inform your volunteer program with current data and trends. 

“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.”

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

Fringe Theatre’s tip for nonprofits? Use the 10 Steps to Volunteer Screening as the foundation for your volunteer program.

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

Youth engagement 

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

4-H Alberta’s tip for nonprofits? Create a program that is flexible for young people’s input and participation. 

“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.”

Vegreville & District FCSS’s Youth Making A Change (YMAC) successfully engages students in grades 10 to 12 in board governance, and as a result, encourages succession planning for the future of our sector.

Vegreville & District FCSS’s tip for nonprofits? Provide appropriate training for your board to mentor and engage youth.

“This can include not putting the youth on the spot or forcing them to participate in a conversation, warning them when a topic may become intense, and offering them words of encouragement throughout the meetings.”

Do you want tips like these and resources before everyone else? Join our network and receive a monthly, Member Exclusive newsletter with specially curated resources. Learn more about Membership.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta


3 psychology theories that explain why people aren’t motivated to donate and what you can do about it

It’s no secret that the number of people in Canada who give has been declining since 1990. This means charities and nonprofits have had to rely on a decreasing pool of donors for their fundraising and operational needs. But, the bigger question is why are fewer people donating than ever before and what can we do about it?

As a former psychology major, I wondered if any social psychology theories could help explain this phenomenon. During my research, I realized that my intuition was right. So, here are three social psychology theories that may point to why Canadians are donating less:

Social loafing

Have you ever been assigned a group project and noticed that some of your group members put in less effort than other group members? This is known as social loafing: the tendency for people to put in less effort because they are aware that there are more people to contribute to the same project or goal.

Now, imagine you send out a generic email asking for a donation. One of your potential donors receives the email and realizes that it was sent to numerous people. Based on the email content, there doesn’t seem to be much urgency to donate. So, your donor decides not to donate because “someone else will” eventually. This is social loafing in action.

What you can do about it

When you request a donation, it’s important to clearly articulate the donation’s impact (that every penny counts) and your financial need. Let your donors know that donations are low. Your donors may be more willing to help if they know how and why their contribution will make a difference.

Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the feeling of discomfort when you realize there’s an inconsistency between your attitudes and/or behaviours. So, you rationalize the attitude or behaviour to make yourself feel better.

For example, say someone donated once because they believe in your cause, but they decide against donating again and become uncomfortable. So, they justify their decision to make themselves feel better through objections like, “I needed the money more” or “my small donation won’t make much of difference.”

What you can do about it

Again, communicating the impact and value of a donation may motivate your donor to take action. But, consider taking it one step further by putting yourself in your donor’s shoes; tell your donor your organization understands not everyone can contribute monetarily. And instead, offer alternatives to cash donations such as volunteering or in-kind donations. Your donor may be more likely to give if they feel understood.

Social exchange theory

Social exchange theory is how we evaluate our relationships based on its costs and benefits, what we think we deserve, and whether there are better alternatives.

For example, if a friend doesn’t return your texts or calls, or cancels plans more frequently, we may wonder whether the friendship is worth our time. And if the costs outweigh what we put into the friendship, we will be more likely to end it. And it’s no different for your donors who will evaluate whether their social exchange (i.e., their donations, volunteer time, etc.) is reciprocated by your organization.

What you can do about it

Do you have a donor retention strategy? If not, now is the time to build one. And if you already have one, think of new or more ways you can thank your donors. For example, share your successful volunteer stories or your mission success stories that tell your donors how they helped to make a difference.

And when you ask for another donation, don’t start with big requests like legacy giving or large sums. Instead, build trust through the foot-in-the-door technique by asking for something small. As a result, your donor will be more likely to consider the big ask later on.

Are you looking for more funding ideas or resources? We can help!

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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