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volunteeringduringcovid

Volunteering during COVID-19: Experiences from the network 

As volunteers, our first instinct is to focus on how we can help. We want to be good neighbours and support our community through a crisis, but it is a bit more difficult now as we’re working to flatten the curve. In this blog, Daniela Seiferling from Volunteer Alberta and Ilya Ushakov from ECVO share examples of how to stay involved while stopping the spread of COVID-19. 

What is your engagement style, and how do you like to stay involved? 

DS: I like to give back to my community without the pressures of formal engagement. I tend to look for opportunities that match my schedule, don’t require a long-term commitment, and can be done in my own time.   

IU: I love getting to know the many initiatives around me as if I do not have time to commit to one. I like to broadly share it with people I know and help be an ambassador for several organizations. I enjoy helping where I can and indulge in spontaneous volunteering often. 

What advice do you have for people looking to volunteer during COVID-19? 

DS: The most important thing you can do is stay at home. I recommend looking for volunteer opportunities that you can do from home. Like knitting masks, making cards for frontline health workers, or donating items to your local food banks. 

If you want to play a more active role, start by asking your family, friends, and neighbours, what types of supports they may need. Keep in contact with your loved ones to reduce the risk of loneliness and isolation by setting up virtual game nights, crafting a newsletter, sharing stories or dropping off care packages.  

We’re all in this together, so remember to be patient and kind to one another! 

IU: Safety comes first. It’s great to be passionate passionate about essential services and community supports. Still, your first priority is to protect yourself and truly understand the health measures. Now, I’m not telling you to not volunteer, you absolutely should, just make sure you do it safely. If the oxygen mask drops while you’re flying, you always have to put your own first before assisting others.  

Once you are ready to assist others, you can find opportunities that work for you and comply with physical distancing. Remember to stay on top of government announcements, listen to volunteer supervisors and fully understand the health measures. 

Can you tell us about your experience with micro-volunteering or remote volunteering before COVID-19? During COVID-19? 

DS: I’m an introvert. My role involves a lot of meetings and relationship building, so I like to recharge at home after a long day. Before the pandemic, I tended to gravitate to activities that were short-term and remote: 

Fun fact: most people born after the year 2000 are unable to read handwriting; it’s a dying art. I volunteer remotely with several museums to transcribe handwritten documents for exhibits and archives. 

I also have a tradition of annual weeks of giving around Christmas. For six weeks, I choose different charities and find ways to informally support my community and the causes I am most passionate about. 

With COVID-19, my response became more neighbourhood focused. As soon as the measures for social distancing were put in place, I reached out to my immediate neighbours to see how I could help. We live in a neighbourhood with a high population of seniors, and some are more vulnerable than others. If they need me to pick up groceries or other essentials, they leave a list in my mailbox and e-transfer money.  

IU: I love opportunities that are based around the community, make me feel a part of something bigger, and where I can make a difference. I haven’t volunteered much remotely or with micro-volunteering, but I’m excited to discover new opportunities: 

  • Baking for friends and family. 
  • Knitting for organizations that provide essential services.  

It’s been incredible to see Edmonton be innovative with the idea of micro-volunteering and remote volunteering by: 

  • Organizing online classes.
  • Making masks for essential service workers. 
  • Creating colouring pages for working parents.
  • Hosting virtual or community birthday parties for friends, family & neighbours. 

What would you say has been the most significant impact for you? 

DS: Connecting with my neighbours. Before COVID-19, they were friendly faces I’d occasionally wave to from my backyard or say a quick “hi” to in passing. We’ve built lines of communication and a great deal of trust over the last few weeks. The relationship has shifted from pressing and transactional to laidback and personal. We leave notes in mailboxes or “thinking of you” cards to brighten the day. 

We plan on hosting a block party or BBQ after social restrictions are lifted to keep up the relationships.  

IU: Learning what organizations are doing during this time, it’s incredible to see so many nonprofits adapt to the circumstances and make the best of a rough situation. Our nonprofit sector is remarkable!  

Although many organizations have suspended their volunteer programs, others have adapted, and found ways to support their clients while ensuring proper safety and hygiene practices. It’s lovely to see the community being creative and looking out for one another. It’s also been fantastic to see neighbours offering to help and being so supportive throughout this time. 

How do you find volunteer opportunities?

DS: For remote volunteering, I signed up for VolunteerConnector because it’s easy to filter opportunities by cause category, commitment level, and remote opportunities. 

For micro-volunteering, I often look at local charities and see if they have lists for needed items, donation drives, or fundraising initiatives.  

IU: VolunteerConnector is my go-to. However, if there is an organization I genuinely care about, I reach out to them to see if they have any volunteer postings.  

I love governance, so helping out with board activities or sitting on nonprofit boards has always been a pleasure. Now, there are even COVID-19 and Virtual Volunteering pages on VolunteerConnector, so it’s much easier to find relevant opportunities and help out where I can.  

Staying at home and practicing physical distancing doesn’t mean we need to stop volunteering, we just need to do it differently. Remote and micro-volunteer opportunities offer ways to be involved without putting the most vulnerable, and ourselves, at risk. 

Want to find or post a volunteer opportunity? Visit VolunteerConnector!

Are you a volunteer engagement specialist looking for ideas on how to create remote or micro-volunteering opportunities? Refer to part 1 and part 2 of our blog series!

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Re-thinking volunteer engagement during a pandemic: Virtual volunteering

As COVID-19 has reached pandemic levels and physical distancing has become the best defence to stop the spread, many nonprofits have suspended volunteer recruitment efforts, modified frontline service delivery, or are searching for new ways to recruit or engage volunteers.

We all have a role to play in flattening the curve, and, while the process of modifying our programs and recruitment efforts may seem daunting, remember the same framework your organization uses to recruit and retain volunteers applies to remote opportunities.

What to consider if you’re moving to virtual volunteer engagement:

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel

The first step is taking stock of what already exists within the organization – screening processes, volunteer policies, and existing software and platforms. Chances are you already have a lot of the groundwork in place for remote engagement.

For screening, consider what aspects of the recruitment process can be postponed or done virtually:

  • Use an online application form to gather important you may need from prospective volunteers.
  • Meet with new volunteers online to get a feel for who they are as an individual and how they may fit within the organization. Many meeting platforms can support traditional interview processes.
  • Consider pairing up with your local volunteer centre or another nonprofit to offer online volunteer training for existing volunteers.

2. Get creative

Think outside the box – there are many ways to alter existing volunteer roles or offer programs and services while maintaining current health standards for physical distancing.

  • Look at existing volunteer roles and consider what tasks and responsibilities are suited to remote work
  • Talk to your existing volunteers – ask them how they want to be engaged and their ideas for how they can contribute during this time. Bonus: this fosters repeat engagement and supports volunteers in feeling valued.
  • Think of ways to engage your clients virtually through online programming or meeting spaces (e.g. drop-in programs for children or “adopt a senior” Facebook group)

The possibilities are endless!

3. Keep volunteers engaged

It’s important to keep volunteers engaged! When volunteers are involved, they will have a more positive volunteer experience, a stronger connection with the organization and its mission, and are more likely to stay committed.

While in-person relationships are important, we need to consider how to build online communities that are accessible and engaging.

  • Offer frequent updates: tell volunteers how the organization has adapted to COVID-19 and continues to meet its mission.
  • Share impact stories: share how volunteers make a difference in the community and the lives of your clients.
  • Offer online meeting spaces: create communities of practice amongst your volunteers and offer ways for them to connect with one another online (e.g. volunteer meet-ups on Skype).

4. If you can’t go remote, be safe

If you’re an organization that offers frontline services and must still provide in-person programs or services, ensure you take every precaution possible:

  • Regularly wash hands.
  • Respect the 2 metre rule.
  • Limit contact between the volunteer and client as much as possible.
  • Provide training for volunteers about COVID-19 processes and procedures.

When in doubt, defer to the advice of Alberta Health Services and the Government of Alberta’s recommendations. These websites are updated daily and have the most relevant information to keep volunteers and clients safe.

Traditional ways volunteering will always be around, but remote and micro-volunteering has changed the way we engage with volunteers. When the world returns to “normal” and physical distancing is something of a distant memory, remote engagement could open many doors you had not considered before.

For more resources related to volunteering, screening and recruitment, visit Volunteer Alberta or Volunteer Canada.

For more ideas on managing virtual volunteers, watch this webinar from IAVE.

To find or post a remote or micro-volunteering opportunity, visit VolunteerConnector.

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

Volunteering during pandemic

Re-thinking volunteer engagement during a pandemic: Micro-volunteering

As volunteer engagement specialists, it’s essential to recognize and respond to trends. Understanding who the volunteers are in the community and what types of opportunities they’re interested in helps engage and find volunteers in the current climate. This doesn’t change in a pandemic. In fact, we need to be more responsive and open to change since the situation is continuously evolving.

As COVID-19 has reached pandemic levels and physical distancing has become the best defence to stop the spread, you might be searching for new ways to support volunteers.  In this three-part blog series, we’ll be exploring different volunteer engagement trends at the forefront of pandemic response, starting with micro-volunteering.

What is micro-volunteering?

Micro-volunteering is volunteering that includes short-term commitment, a flexible schedule, and focuses on a specific project or one-time task. It can also look like small acts of kindness volunteers do on their own time that may not be tied to a particular cause or charity.

How to create a successful micro-volunteering program

By having a system in place to respond to micro-volunteering, you give your organization and existing volunteers a chance to grow.

1. A strong social media presence

An online presence is an absolute must if you want to engage micro-volunteers successfully. Your organization will need a strong media presence to drive the potential campaigns and provide regular updates to your micro-volunteers and potential prospects.

Be sure to have a variety of different platforms for volunteers to engage with – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.

2. Be prepared to let go

Micro-volunteering is a time-sensitive ask and may not recruit long-term volunteers. Be sure to have a well-rounded plan – include short-term opportunities with regular, long-term opportunities to engage volunteers and support operations post-pandemic.

3. Tie micro-volunteering to your overall impact

Micro-volunteering can sometimes be thought of as slacktivism – merely liking an organization on Facebook doesn’t generate long-term impact for an organization. However, by creating macro-focused opportunities, we can establish a long-lasting impact through micro-volunteering. Find ways to gather data from your volunteers, program users, and social media metrics to address overall impact.

It’s important to keep the big picture in mind when trying new tactics for engagement. Lay a strong foundation to generate long-term impact.

Examples of micro-volunteering

Many hands make light work, and micro-volunteering is a great way to boost visibility for your nonprofit and build awareness of your mission. Here are some ways to engage micro-volunteers in your organization:

  • Organize a donation drive for your nonprofit.
  • Ask existing clients or volunteers to post impact stories about their experience with your organization to social media.
  • Create micro-projects for volunteers with technical skills (e.g. website design, coding, communications) to update webpages or create new marketing materials.
  • Conduct a virtual fundraiser and social media campaign (e.g. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge).

In the end, no matter how our programs and engagement tactics evolve, we can support our community in finding a sense of purpose, connection and impact.

For more resources related to volunteering, screening and recruitment, visit Volunteer Alberta or ECVO.

To find a micro-volunteer opportunity, visit Volunteer Canada.

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

 

 

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Get to know social innovation and how it can support you in your work

What is social innovation?

Social innovation – we hear this buzzword used a lot by the sector, but what does it really mean?

Social innovation pulls from a variety of sectors and disciplines – social services, anthropology, human ecology, project management, systems thinking, etc. – to address complex, social issues at the root cause.

At Volunteer Alberta, we define social innovation as “refining current ways or exploring new ways of solving problems.” It is the community-based ownership of a solution and it supports Alberta’s nonprofits in solving complex issues.

Why does social innovation matter to the sector?

The nonprofit sector is an ecosystem – we are mission-driven organizations working collaboratively across sectors as part of a larger social system. Nonprofits impact communities through the work we do and the services we provide. Healthy communities start with us!

Nonprofits address complex, social challenges from volunteer recruitment and retention to poverty and food scarcity. Due to turnover and funding challenges, we are often in a state of change. Our programs and services, even our organizations, move from growth to destruction. This chaotic cycle presents unique challenges and opportunities; it’s where social innovation thrives.

Applying social innovation tools in your own work

As nonprofits working in complex systems, we find it easier to talk about and map our programs and services in a fluid state. More often than not, this leads us to explore patterns of conservation and growth. Organizations leave little room for foresight[1] and creative destruction[2].

For an ecosystem to be healthy and resilient, foresight is necessary to navigate your organization through challenging times.

To better understand these phases and build resiliency, we can apply a sense-making tool known as the Adaptive Cycle. The Adaptive Cycle has four distinct phases:

  • Growth (development): An idea or concept is born and organizations are accessing financial and human resources to help the idea grow to maturity.
  • Conservation (maturity): Where processes, programs and services reach full maturity and are at their peak. In this phase, our organizations are often running like an established, well-oiled machine.
  • Collapse/release (creative destruction): Following a disruption to the status quo, organizations or systems let go of resources, energy, and skills from our processes, programs to allow for exploration.
  • Reorganization (exploration & renewal): new opportunities are sought, explored, and implemented. This is a time of new growth and optimism.

If you’re just starting out with social innovation or systems change, this concept can be difficult to understand. To help with sense-making, imagine you decide to become a surfer. Before anyone can surf, they need to understand the ocean (foresight or reorganization) – the ebb and flow of the waves, where they break, and the direction of the wind – otherwise, the water can pull you under. Once you understand the flow of the waves, you paddle out to catch the surf. Along the way, you make course corrections and adjust your paddling to suit the ocean (growth). Then you wait for the perfect wave – the one that will break at the right moment and allow you to ride it into shore (conservation). Once you catch the wave, you need to give yourself over to the rhythm of the ocean and keep yourself and your board balanced to stay ahead of the cresting wave (creative destruction or collapse/release).

Surfing requires several skills: the strength to paddle, positioning, timing, and balance to catch the wave and ride it into shore. And, it requires practice. Lots of practice! For new surfers, it is difficult to catch a wave and you may stay in shallow water, honing your skills by practicing on smaller waves. Once you become more familiar with the ocean and your skills, you move further from the shore.

The Adaptive Cycle is a great reflection of the current state but also leaves the necessary space for innovation to thrive. Using the cycle to make sense of a problem, experience, or program, can support new thinking or help us get “unstuck” when challenges arise. It can also support us in creating strategies or approaches to addressing key phases of transition.

The Adaptive Cycle allows us to see programs, problems, or ideas from a bird’s eye view. Where did we start? How far have we come? Where do we need to go?

Like surfing, if you start to feel discouraged with innovation and systems change, it’s important to remember that these tools are meant to encourage idea generation. They won’t solve the problem nor will they always get it right, but they will support you on the journey. Let the creativity flow!

Learn more about social innovation and access Volunteer Alberta’s Social Innovation Toolkit for easy to use templates and examples to apply in your own work.

[1] Foresight: the ability to anticipate or the action of anticipating what will happen or be needed in the future.

[2] Creative Destruction: the undoing of long-standing processes and/or programs to make way for innovation or to use resources in new ways.

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

 

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Annual weeks of giving: An informal volunteer story

Growing up, December was the season of giving. My family celebrated Christmas by sharing with the community. Early on, my parents instilled the lessons that Christmas was not about the presents under the tree, it was about gifting our time and creating joyful memories for those around us.

I recall many a December preparing shoeboxes for Operation Shoebox, donating our gently used toys and household items to Goodwill, or inviting those who had no one to celebrate with over for a warm meal and conversation. Regardless of my faith or the seasons I celebrate, it is the lessons about community that I carry with me throughout the year and inspires my love for informal volunteering.

Starting a tradition based on community and generosity

Annual weeks of giving is a tradition I started during post-secondary. December is a busy time for students and nonprofits. December is about fundraising campaigns, volunteer drives, and requests for donations because nonprofits rely heavily on the goodwill and charitable nature of others.

Annual weeks of giving became my way of contributing to the cause and giving back when I had limited funds and time. I was able to balance my chaotic schedule with the needs of the community by being an informal volunteer (e.g. food bank donations or gently used winter clothes).

Although I am no longer in post-secondary, my tradition continues! It has even grown over the years – from my original two weeks to six weeks. Now, I see the impact my contributions have on those around me and inspire others to volunteer. And, this year was no exception! I made connections within my neighbourhood and inspired others to keep paying it forward.

Bonding neighbours together by cleaning up shared green spaces

One of my contributions for 2018 was a commitment to clean up shared green spaces – picking up trash, upcycling plastics, and recycling reusable products. A small action had HUGE consequences. Starting with just my bags, a stick, and a wheelbarrow, my single person mission turned into a neighbourhood cleanup.

It started with children being curious about what I was doing, their curiosity gave way to a desire to help, and eventually became a family activity. By the end of the walk, we had cleared two public parks from surface litter and upcycled enough one-time use plastics that I can start my entire garden from seedlings!

This action of cleaning up shared spaces didn’t just end at the park, it allowed me to foster connections in my relatively new neighbourhood. Even though we’ve been in our current home for three years, work schedules and travel made it difficult to get to know our neighbours. Surprisingly, the fastest way to get to know people is by looking like you’re storing plastic for the end of the world. It’s a great ice breaker!

I’ve met several neighbours with an avid love of gardening. We’ve traded tips on maximizing space, what yields the best results in certain spaces, and some new ideas on how to upcycle our old plastics. I even have someone who is willing to teach me the basics of jam and jelly making this fall! I’m excited to learn from a Farmer’s Market master and to have some new friends that live close by.

I hope that I’ve inspired others to join me on the journey or create their own traditions. Supporting community through informal volunteering and random acts of kindness is a win-win. For everyone!

Do you want to spread some kindness? Check out RandomActsofKindness.org for some inspiration and get started!

 

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

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