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From the Vault: What DO Volunteers Want?

NVW2016_WebBanner editNational Volunteer Week is just around the corner! From April 10-16, join the country in recognizing and celebrating volunteerism in our communities. Learn more about National Volunteer Week and how to take part in the celebration.

In this blog, we share some volunteer recognition tips you can use during National Volunteer Week and year round.

Originally published November 12, 2013.

Volunteer Canada just released their 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study, and I highly recommend it to anyone who works with volunteers! It’s an easy and enlightening read. Best of all, there some big surprises that will (hopefully) improve how the sector works with and recognizes our volunteers.

To give you a taste, here are some of the biggest gaps the study identified between what our organizations think our volunteers want and what they truly appreciate:

1. In the study, volunteers said that their least preferred forms of recognition included formal gatherings (ex. banquets) and public acknowledgment (ex. radio ads or newspaper columns). These methods are common for many organizations, with 60% using banquets and formal gatherings, and 50% using public acknowledgement as their recognition strategies. Instead, volunteers indicated that they would prefer to be recognized through hearing about how their work has made a difference, and by being thanked in person on an ongoing, informal basis.

2. Over 80% of organizations said a lack of money was the most common barrier to volunteer recognition. Since the study shows that volunteers prefer personal ‘thank-you’s and being shown the value of their work over a costly banquet or a public advertisement, funds need not get in the way of good recognition!

3. Volunteers said that the volunteer activities they are least interested in are manual labour, crafts, cooking, and fundraising. According to the 2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP), fundraising is the most common activity in which organizations engage volunteers. Instead, volunteers said that their preference is to work directly with people benefiting from their volunteering, or in opportunities where they can apply professional or technological skills.

These findings ring true in my own experiences as a volunteer. I really appreciate it when I am told I did a good job, or that a client made special mention of my work – it shows me that giving my time truly made a difference, which is the reason I volunteer in the first place. Conversely, I tend to avoid going to volunteer appreciation parties or awards ceremonies. My dislike for big social events is a personal preference (I’d much rather stay home with my cats!), but even the most outgoing and social volunteers are likely busy just like me.  It is very difficult to schedule an event that every volunteer can come to, and, if that is the only time made for recognition, then a lot of volunteers won’t receive any at all.

VolunteersThe good news is that while our sector may at times drop the ball on volunteer recognition, the changes recommended by the 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study are very attainable. We already know the value of our volunteers – now we just have to remember to communicate that to them! Read the whole study for more straightforward tips and ideas on how to step up your organization’s volunteer recognition.

For more from Volunteer Canada on volunteer recognition, check out their other resources.

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta



Coping After Natural Disasters – Care for your community with Psychological First Aid

Guest post by Owen Thompson, Alberta Museums Association

Albertans are no strangers to natural disasters. We have been faced with the threat of wildfire, flood, avalanche, extreme storms, extreme heat, tornados, the list goes on.

Yet, even within the framework of an experienced and professional infrastructure, the unprecedented flooding in summer of 2013 left a lasting impression on Alberta. It very literally changed the landscape of the Rockies in some areas and along the Bow River specifically. As one researcher from UBC explained, “the river widened substantially and degraded up to two meters in some places as the channel pattern was reorganized completely.”

Billions of dollars have been spent to recover from those few days almost three years ago. But the damage was not just physical; it also had psychological impact on many people, such as nonprofit staff and volunteers who were engaged in the aftermath of the floods, as well as the individuals they helped.

ThoughtfuNatural disasters, like other traumatic events, can have a last effect on the mental health of all those involved. Years later, residents of High River continue to report feeling “jittery” in June, or when heavy rains come through. The stress levels and anxiety that come with facing such drastic events can be debilitating. Helplessness can set in and action may stop when it is needed most. However, similar to the ways we mitigate physical damage, there are also ways to mitigate psychological damage.

For that reason, the Alberta Museums Association, through its Museum Flood Funding Program, is proud to be partnering with Volunteer Alberta and Alberta Health Services (AHS) to offer two workshops on Psychological First Aid (PFA) in southern Alberta.

Psychological First Aid (PFA) provides the tools Albertans working in the aftermath of natural disasters need to help other members of their communities. PFA can also lessen the emotional and mental impact for those workers themselves.

The PFA workshops provides tools and methods to:

  • offer practical care without forcing it
  • listen without pressure
  • connect people to the information and resources they need
  • protect people from further harm

The PFA workshops will address the deep psychological effects of trauma, with a focus on the aftermath of disaster situations, by sharing methods that can aid in the recovery process. This training is a great opportunity for staff, volunteers, and individuals who work with those struggling after natural disasters.

The training uses a “stepped-care” approach that tailors the type of care to the needs of each person. Some people will need access to professional therapy, while other people will recover on their own. While PFA is the first line of defense against stress-related mental health issues, it cannot replace the level of care offered by a professional.

The PFA workshops will be held in two southern Alberta locations:

  • High River on May 12
  • Medicine Hat on June 23

Find out more information on the workshops and register today.


Owen Thompson
Flood Advisory Lead
Alberta Museums Association






Computer and glasses

The 3 best nonprofit blogs to boost your work and your organization

There are plenty of websites, blogs, and online magazines for the nonprofit sector. So when I started in my role as Communication Coordinator at Volunteer Alberta, it seemed like I was wading through websites forever to find the best of the best.

After months and months of wading, I’ve found some really great sites that consistently publish engaging, quality articles on topics of interest to nonprofits.

These are my top three go-to blogs for great nonprofit information and inspiration:



#1. Nonprofit with Balls

Nonprofit with Balls isn’t just my favourite nonprofit blog – it’s my favourite blog. Period.

Vu Le, Nonprofit with Balls’ author, is smart and fearless. He is always ahead of the curve on nonprofit sector issues, and not at all afraid to share his insights, even if they are uncomfortable or unpopular. He’s also a master storyteller with a quirky sense of humour and can make any topic entertaining, trust me.

Some of his best blogs (although it’s hard to choose):



#2. Charity Village

Charity Village’s collection of articles are full of personality and expertise.

It is always worth checking Charity Village’s website for new articles. They feature experts on topics from fundraising to human resources to communications. They set a high bar for themselves and routinely exceed it with rich, detailed, and timely articles.

Here are four that I found valuable:


SV#3. Social Velocity

If you find yourself thinking or wondering about the ‘big picture’, Social Velocity has you covered.

Social Velocity has great analysis of nonprofit obstacles and tips for how organizations can change for the better. Nell Edgington is excellent at zeroing in on nonprofit problems. She offers clear and intelligent opinions and strategies, and also recruits great guest contributors and interviewees.

Some big thinking topics to get you started:


BBHonorable Mention: Beth’s Blog

You’ve heard ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ – well this is a case of ‘don’t judge a blog by it’s website’.

I was wary the first time I visited Beth’s Blog – the website looks dated, and Beth Kanter’s chosen photo featuring a very loud cowboy hat didn’t instill confidence. But it turned out that there was a reason I kept running into her material – she’s great at sharing her knowledge from the nonprofit sector in easy-to-read, often bite-sized, articles!

Some of my favourites:


Now it’s your turn. What are your favourite blogs for nonprofits? I always love finding new gems to share with other Alberta nonprofits!


Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta


Syrian Refugee Resettlement: What does it mean for nonprofits and supporters?

Guest post by Paula Speevak from Volunteer Canada.

Visit our Supporting Newcomers page for resources, tools, and referrals for organizations and individuals who want to help welcome Syrian refugees to Alberta.

*** Le texte français suit ***

Canada flagWelcoming refugees to Canada has been called an “important part of Canada’s humanitarian tradition.” As Syrian refugees arrive in Canada, many Canadians have been inspired to help.

The generosity of Canadians from coast-to-coast has been outstanding. There have been countless offers of household items, clothing, money and time.

Yet, despite the obvious need for donations, some Canadians may be wondering why no one has taken them up on their offers.

In times of natural disasters, health emergencies and other humanitarian crises, Canadians respond with overwhelming generosity. However, engaging their acts of kindness is anything but simple.

Although having a surge of interested volunteers and donors is indeed a wonderful problem to have, there are two things we must tackle: how to help organizations build their capacity to engage the surge of volunteers and how to keep Canadians from getting frustrated when their offers aren’t answered.

A typical settlement organization may receive 10 calls a month from potential volunteers. In times of crisis, such as the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees, they may find themselves receiving upwards of 200 calls a day.

Beyond that, a lot of work goes in to recruiting and onboarding volunteers. Who answers the flood of phone calls and emails? Who evaluates potential volunteers’ skills? Who screens them to ensure safety? Who provides orientation and training?

It’s human nature for Canadians to want to give back now, when planes full of refugees are arriving. And while many Canadians want to directly help refugees, right now, many organizations need assistance with volunteer coordination and administration.

But, as my colleagues in settlement and integration organizations remind me, there is often a great deal of focus on the immediate aspects of settlement: finding housing, registering for school, setting up bank accounts, learning a new language and accessing health care.

Young girlIntegration, on the other hand, is a years-long process.

The need for volunteers to help Syrian refugees connect with their new communities will continue – and that need goes beyond traditional settlement agencies.

Consider volunteering for schools, breakfast clubs, recreation and community centres, summer camps, health centres or neighbourhood associations. They will all face increased needs in service and program delivery as refugees begin integrating.

Volunteering is more than just giving time. It shapes the communities we want to live in and, by extension, creates the kind communities we want to welcome people to.

You can help Syrian refugees by making your community more vibrant and resilient. There is no shortage of organizations that will indirectly assist with integration. Take stock of your skills and interests to find the right fit. Be patient after submitting your application and don’t expect to start volunteering the next day. Volunteers will still be needed later in the year and beyond.

Paula Speevak
Volunteer Canada

BrothersOn a dit que l’accueil des réfugiés «  fait partie de la tradition humanitaire du Canada ». À mesure que les réfugiés syriens arrivent au Canada, beaucoup de Canadiens sont inspirés à aider.

D’un bout à l’autre du pays, les Canadiens font fait preuve d’une générosité extraordinaire, comme en témoignent les innombrables dons d’articles ménagers, de vêtements, d’argent et de temps.

Cela dit, malgré l’évidente nécessité de dons, certains Canadiens se demandent peut-être pourquoi personne n’a donné suite à leur offre d’aide.

Lors de catastrophes naturelles, d’urgences de santé et d’autres crises humanitaires, les Canadiens ont toujours réagi avec grande générosité.  Cependant, la concrétisation de leurs gestes de bonté est tout sauf simple.

Même si l’arrivée d’une grande vague de donateurs et de bénévoles intéressés constitue un heureux problème, deux difficultés se posent : comment renforcer l’aptitude des organismes à tirer profit du nombre accru de bénévoles et comment empêcher les Canadiens de se sentir frustrés quand on ne donne pas immédiatement suite à leur offre d’aide.

En temps normal, les organismes chargés de l’établissement reçoivent une dizaine d’appels par mois de la part de bénévoles désireux d’aider. En temps de crise, comme lors du rétablissement de 25 000 réfugiés syriens, ces organismes peuvent être inondés d’appels allant jusqu’à 200 par jour.

De surcroît, beaucoup d’efforts sont requis pour recruter et mettre à l’œuvre des bénévoles. Qui répond au tsunami d’appels téléphoniques et de courriels? Qui évalue les compétences des éventuels bénévoles? Qui s’occupe du filtrage de sécurité? Qui offre les séances d’orientation et de formation?

Il est dans la nature humaine des Canadiens de vouloir redonner à la société tandis que des avions pleins de réfugiés atterrissent en sol canadien. Mais alors que beaucoup de Canadiens veulent aider immédiatement et le faire directement, un grand nombre d’organismes ont besoin de soutien pour coordonner et gérer  leurs effectifs bénévoles.

Comme le soulignent mes collègues actifs au sein d’organismes chargés de l’établissement et de l’intégration, il faut souvent mettre  l’accent sur des aspects immédiats de l’établissement : trouver un logement, inscrire les enfants à l’école, ouvrir un compte de banque, apprendre une nouvelle langue, accéder aux soins de santé.

Par contre, l’intégration est un processus qui s’étale sur plusieurs années.

TogetherOn continue d’avoir besoin de bénévoles pour aider les réfugiés syriens à s’intégrer à leurs nouvelles collectivités – et ce besoin va au-delà du mandat des organismes d’établissement traditionnels.

Songez à faire du bénévolat au niveau des écoles, des clubs de petits déjeuners, des centres récréatifs et communautaires, des camps d’été ou des associations de quartier. Toutes ces organisations seront appelées à répondre à de nouveaux besoins en matière de services et de programmes à mesure que les réfugiés s’intégreront à leurs nouveaux milieux.

Le bénévolat suppose beaucoup plus qu’un simple don de temps. Il influence nos milieux de vie et, par ricochet, aide à créer les genres de collectivités au sein desquelles nous sommes heureux d’accueillir les gens.

Vous pouvez aider les réfugiés syriens et rendant votre collectivité plus dynamique et résiliente. Il y a plein d’organismes qui sont en mesure d’aider indirectement les réfugiés à s’intégrer. Tenez compte de vos compétences et intérêts particuliers pour trouver ce qui vous convient le mieux. Une fois votre demande de bénévolat envoyée, soyez patient et ne vous attendez pas à commencer du jour au lendemain.  L’aide des bénévoles sera encore requise au fil des mois et des années à venir.\

Paula Speevak
Bénévole Canada


From the Vault: 4 steps to telling our untold, yet remarkable, stories

Originally posted August 4, 2015.

MagicIn the nonprofit sector we put our energy into making the world a better place. Our impact spans the horizon of life; from addressing health, cultural, and societal challenges to creating excitement, entertainment, and activities that bring us all together in community.

We are doing big, important work that impacts the lives of the people we serve, the people who volunteer to help us serve, and all other people who show up to help us make it happen (whatever ‘it’ is).

These stories deserve to be heard! And it’s up to us to tell them.

While we measure our impact as nonprofits, often we don’t know how to make the numbers interesting. We know it’s true that people take action on behalf of a cause when they feel emotionally connected, and yet we fumble in sharing our impact in exciting and emotionally relevant ways.

This may be because, as Andy Goodman puts it, “Even if you have reams of evidence on your side, remember: numbers numb, jargon jars, and nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. If you want to connect with your audience, tell them a story.”

So how do we tell stories better? Here’s four steps to telling our remarkable stories:

1. Let’s talk evidence.

Telling great stories only happens when you understand the data. A truly great story starts with research which is used as evidence to back up (and inspire) your story. This research could be from your own data you are collecting in outcome measurements or surveys. Or you can use even broader-based sector statistics, like you will find in the New Narrative.

Imagine Canada published the New Narrative in 2014 as a core resource intended to inform a new perspective on the roles and contributions of nonprofits and charities in Canada.

the narrative

In it you will find this and much more:

  • Data reflecting the breadth of the nonprofit sector’s work
  • Employment and volunteer statistics
  • Revenue and economic impact data

2. Let’s talk stories.

We have many tools in our hands (literally) to help us share our stories. After you have discovered a ‘golden nugget’ through your research, you can start to think about how that story could best be told.

Capacity Canada published Stories Worth Telling – an invaluable tool for nonprofits who need to tell their stories.

stories worth tellling

It goes into detail and has lots of tips about:

  • Finding your story
  • Collecting and analyzing stories
  • Preparing and capturing stories
  • Telling the story
  • And, most excitingly, creating a storytelling culture in your organization!

This is another free resources that has immense value and could be a perfect complement to the New Narrative in your storytelling strategy.

3. It’s actually about people first!

Remember, stories have the most impact when they tug at a person’s heartstrings. If you are looking for your audience to donate, volunteer or support your cause in anyway, a story that gives an emotional response is the most effective. Look at the data and find the ‘heartstrings tale’ for your organization that needs to be told.

People love to see themselves in other people. And the nonprofit sector is all about people: people who work in the sector, people who volunteer in the sector and the people who benefit, in whatever way, from the sector.

4. Switch it and reverse it.

So you have your evidence, your storytelling tool, and your personal angle – when you sit down to actually tell your story, begin with the person and end on the evidence. This might seem counter-intuitive, but evidence works best as back up to the emotional impact.

If you sit down to try these steps, let us know how it goes and share your story with us!

Katherine Topolniski
Volunteer Alberta

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