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What DO Volunteers Want?

CCI-Lex Cultural Connections EDITED (2)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.

The 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 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, please visit their Guidelines and Helpful Hints for Volunteer Recognition. You can also visit Volunteer Alberta’s Resource Centre (VARC) for books and articles on the subject.

Sam Kriviak, Program Coordinator

VA Blog: Big Land, Big Landmarks

holly big skyI recently joined the Volunteer Alberta team after moving to Edmonton from my hometown of Sarnia, Ontario. I attended school at The University of Western Ontario, and have experience working and volunteering in the nonprofit sector.

As a newbie to this province, I jumped at the chance to tag along with a fellow co-worker on a work trip through Southern Alberta. The plan was to attend career fairs at Medicine Hat College and Lethbridge College to interact with students and promote the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP). While our trip was productive, it also proved to be a great introduction to rural Alberta and it made for some excellent photo ops.

hollly dinosaur

What we found amidst the vast fields and open skies were some unique (and large!) Albertan gems including the world’s largest dinosaur in Drumheller, world’s largest teepee in Medicine Hat , and what I am going to assume is the world’s largest Star Trek themed town, Vuclan.

These oversized landmarks served as a reminder that each city and town in Alberta has its own identity, its own set of values and unique challenges. What intrigued me about these landmarks, aside from their sheer size, was that the citizens embraced them to create an immersive experience for visitors. There is much more to Drumheller than just a giant dinosaur but it serves as a symbol of how the entire town built an identity around its past by decorating their yards and store-fronts, in turn helping to enrich their community.

holly teepee


On this trip, I came to the realization that Alberta and its people are as diverse as their landmarks. It gave me an understanding of the people and communities that Volunteer Alberta serves. Our trip through Southern Alberta involved a lot of driving but I cannot think of a better way to get to know my new home and communities that we strive to help succeed.

Alberta is a big land with big landmarks.

Holly Claeys, Program/Administrative Assistant

ECVO Mayoral Forum October 15, 2013

City_HallI had the pleasure of attending the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO) Mayoral Candidate Forum on Tuesday. The well organized and attended event had candidates focus on their plans for Edmonton’s nonprofit/voluntary sector should they be elected Mayor. The format was standard, with opening and closing statements, questions chosen from sector submissions, and questions selected from the audience. Candidates were given one minute to respond to questions; a short amount of time that separated candidates with well-thought-out ideas from those with plans that seemed more ad hoc.

Here are a few of the notable questions with candidates’ responses.

What do you see as the priority issue facing Edmonton’s NPVS and how would City Council collaborate with the sector for the best outcomes?

Diotte – Wants to control City spending; would keep funding to NPVS flowing regardless.

Iveson – Inclusion and closing the economic gap is a priority; the NPVS is a partner and a source of expertise in this matter and would consult.

Leibovici – It is time to focus on social infrastructure. We must ensure newcomers are welcome and that our institutions reflect that diversity.  The lack of rental housing is also an issue.

Semotiuk – Accessibility of services is an issue; would consult with the sector on solutions.

Ward – ‘Hard’ infrastructure is at the expense of ‘soft’ infrastructure and communities.

How can the City of Edmonton partner with the nonprofit/voluntary sector to improve quality of life for underprivileged communities in our city?

D –Address these issues through listening and communication and have an “open door” to speak about the issues.

I – Frontline workers’ relationships with marginalized communities can create safe spaces for the city to hear directly from the communities in question, in addition to front line workers expertise.

L – The city is already accomplishing this and cites Edmonton’s 10 Year Plans to End Homelessness as an example of success.

S – Would like the city to improve its listening skills and would work through sector consultation to address this issue.

W – Agreed with Liebovici, thinks that Edmonton is already doing a good job of this and would like to approach solutions from a business perspective.

What role could the City play in strengthening Edmonton’s nonprofit/voluntary sector workforce?

D – Would keep the city affordable to live in by limiting property tax increases to inflation.

I – Would help organizations advocate to the Government of Alberta for funding that is structured to allow more HR expenditure.

L – Would advocate to the provincial government for more support.

S – Would support organizations seeking affordable space.

W – Had no answer, reiterates that he would work through advocacy and listening to solve problems.

Final Impressions

Overall, the forum was very informative. Diotte and Leibovici stuck mainly to their campaign platforms, with Leibovici promoting her experience as her greatest asset, and Diotte repeating his promises to keep property taxes, spending, and debt low. Ward and Semotiuk’s answers were consistent, both onboard with consultation and working in partnership with the sector. Ward, however, had an explicit business perspective that differed from all other candidates in the race. Of the five candidates present, my impression was that Iveson had the most nuanced understanding of the business of nonprofits, with Leibovici coming in second, both having experience on similar, or the same, initiatives as councillors.

Regardless of who you think should be Edmonton’s next mayor, be sure to get out and vote! Information on voting in Edmonton can be found here.

Ellie McFarlane, Program Coordinator

The Learning Journey

walkI just spent the large part of the last two weeks at two very interesting and dynamic professional development opportunities; the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) and the Tamarack Communities Collaborating Institute (CCI). These opportunities have filled my head with a lot of ideas, tools and have built new connections and many new possibilities. It is hard to summarize what I have learned and thought about throughout the last two weeks but one idea that has stuck with me was introduced by Adam Kahane at the CCI.

Adam Kahane talked to us about a “learning journey” as a tool to build a greater understanding between players in a complex system so that social systems change becomes possible. As Mr. Kahane described it, a learning journey is when individuals who are from different parts of a system or community go and visit the system together to learn more about each other, their perspectives, and how they are impacted by, and contribute to, the community. It is a literal walk together that Mr. Kahane has seen as an essential component in orienting people towards working on complex problems together. It is a tool to build shared understanding between members within a diverse group, community or society.

It is so simple, going on a walk together, but how often are we asked or interested in walking with someone we don’t understand, have an opposing view point with, or can’t identify with? I find that in professional circumstances the risk for these types of conflicts are high and are also avoided. We go into meetings knowing we may not agree and are unsurprised when we leave without a shared understanding of what needs to change. I have found myself thinking that for community or society to improve we just need to take a “walk in the other person’s shoes” however, I think what the learning journey approach suggests is that we should seek to listen to how someone else lives in their “own shoes”. It’s not about switching places, rather it is about experiencing that same place together and sharing perspectives.

More information on Adam Kahane’s approaches to social change and dealing with complex societal challenges can be found in his three books; Solving Tough Problems, Transformative Scenario Planning, and Power and Love and at REOS Partners.

Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager

Guest Blog: Stepping Up and Stepping Into Challenges

stepping upI was recently faced with the challenge of developing a workshop for a group of volunteers. Even though I don’t wear a cape or Wonder Woman bracelets, the client was anticipating I would be able to address the long list of needs identified in their stakeholder survey. In a mere two hours, they expected me to provide participants with solutions and tools to help engage more citizens, and to address a declining volunteer base. It wasn’t an easy workshop to design and one that in some ways I had been dreading.

While I felt a longer session would be required to address the issues and challenges in a meaningful way, there was only so much time. And not only were we short on time, but participants attending the workshop were stretched pretty thin, bearing out the Statistics Canada survey results showing that 10% of volunteers account for 53% of all volunteer hours dedicated to nonprofit/voluntary organizations. It wasn’t my first rodeo, so I dug deep and thought back to what I had learned, taught and applied over the years that really had an impact when it came to engaging citizens, and recruiting and retaining volunteers.

While it was a lot of work, it was all worth it when one of the participants spoke to me after the workshop and thanked me for what she had learned and for ‘talking her off the ledge’. When I asked her what she meant by ‘talking her off the ledge’, she explained that coming into the workshop she had been planning to quit her volunteer position. As a result of the workshop she decided to stay on as a volunteer.

That result in itself made it all worthwhile.

I left feeling happy that I was able to address a tough challenge and see results. It turns out that author Rosabeth Moss Kanter has come to a similar conclusion. She suggests that the happiest people are those dedicated to dealing with the most difficult problems. Many of these people are working or volunteering to make our communities healthier, safer, and more vibrant places to live, work, and play. They face tough challenges and are willing to serve others. In her book, Evolve!, Moss Kanter identifies three primary sources of motivation: mastery, membership(belonging) and meaning. Another M, money, turns out to be a distant fourth. As she puts it, money is a form of measurement, but it doesn’t necessarily get people excited about getting up in the morning, or leave them with a sense of fulfillment at the end of the day.

While it’s common these days to encourage people to find their purpose and passion, Moss Kanter suggests that regardless of our paid work, we each need to embrace a sense of responsibility for changing the world in one small way.

While Charlie Brown said that happiness is a warm blanket, maybe it’s more about stepping up and stepping into a challenge to try to make a difference.

Brenda Herchmer

CEO of Campus for Communities of the Future
Owner of Grassroots Enterprises


If you are interested in contributing to the VA blog as a Guest Blogger, please contact Tim at thenderson@volunteeralberta.ab.ca

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