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4 Tips for Happy Volunteers – Part 1

If you have ever worked at a nonprofit, I’m sure you already know the value of volunteers. After all, none of our organizations could run without them!  Every nonprofit organization has a volunteer board, and in Alberta, 58% of nonprofit organizations operate with no paid staff at all. But, just because we see volunteers doing indispensable work in our organizations doesn’t mean that we always recognize how important it is to take care of our volunteers.

Think of your volunteers as unpaid staff. Now think of any jobs you have held where you wouldn’t have lasted long if you weren’t being paid (I’m thinking of you, paper route.). So how can you ensure your volunteers are enjoying a positive experience that will keep them coming back for more?

1. First off, know why your volunteers do come out. This is different for each volunteer and some volunteers may have more than one motivation. Some common reasons volunteers get involved:

  • It’s a way to make a difference about something you care about.
  • It’s an opportunity to give back, pay it forward, or help others. This might fulfil a moral obligation, or give you warm, fuzzy feelings (satisfaction, fulfillment, happiness, pride, etc.).
  • It builds your resume and offers great work experience.
  • It can improve your language skills and help you get acquainted with a new culture.
  • It can offer new knowledge and skills.
  • It’s a chance to try something new or different.
  • It can include great perks like food, tickets, parties, and swag.
  • Volunteering is fun (and not volunteering is boring)!
  • It’s a great way to meet new people and become part of a community.

Once you know why your volunteer is involved, you can help tailor their experience to better meet their goals. For example, if they are there because they want to try something new, find out what they do at their job or in their free time, and choose something a little bit different for them to work on.

Regardless of their main reason for showing up, volunteers tend to stay in a position that offers them a chance to make friends and join a community. Make an effort to bring your volunteers together with meetings or volunteer recognition events. Ensure your volunteers work with, or near, others so they have a chance to chat with someone (other than themselves). Make sure there is some kind of interpersonal connection for those working more independently, and don’t forget to create your own connections and friendships with your volunteers! It will make your job more enjoyable as well.

2. Practice good communication with your volunteers so that they feel informed and included. Any time a volunteer starts a new task, give them some information and instruction. This might involve a walk-through or role-playing a situation, or asking them to look over a handbook. Make sure you include clear goals for your volunteers, and show them how these goals fit with the overall goals of your organization. Check in throughout each project and debrief at the end of a task.  This means making time for one-on-one meetings, formal or informal, so that your volunteers have a chance to ask questions, share concerns, and provide feedback.

Check out the Learning Resource Guides in Volunteer Alberta’s Resource Centre (VARC) for more ideas and information on volunteer recruitment, retention, and recognition, and visit us later this week for tips 3 and 4!

Sam Kriviak, Program Coordinator

What is a Brand Identity, Anyway?

Photo courtesy of sonc.co.uk

Photo courtesy of sonc.co.uk

If you’re “most people” you haven’t asked yourself this question in a while, or possibly ever. But, affirming, creating, or updating your brand identity is one of the most important things you can do. But, before you start, what is a brand identity?

A brand identity is a concise, but holistic, idea of what your organization is, from your stakeholder’s perspective. Who are you? What do you stand for? What you deliver to your stakeholders? These are all important parts of your organization’s brand identity. If your stakeholders cannot immediately and clearly answer you when you ask these questions, you might have a problem with your brand identity.

Something I hear time and time again when talking about brand identity is “but, we have a logo”. A logo is your visual identity. Sure, it represents your organization’s brand, but it does so visually. A true brand identity is the idea of your brand. Think about it – what is Apple? Do you only think of their logo when you read the name? My guess is no. You think of innovation and user-friendly design, among other things. Maybe you don’t even think of their logo.

So, what is it you want people to think of when they hear your nonprofit’s name? Is that idea clear, or is it complicated? Here’s an exercise for you: write down the idea you want your stakeholders to have of your organization.

Now, simplify it.

Great, now simplify it again.

Try it once more. How simple can you get that idea? One sentence? A couple of words? The reality is most of your stakeholders will associate your nonprofit with a far simpler idea than we want them to. It’s just the way our brain works – we organize our experiences and file them into the most appropriate “drawer” in our brains – and, believe me, “synergistic-capacity-building-underprivileged- youth-empowerment” likely isn’t a drawer that exists in many people’s brains.

Now that you know what you want your brand identity to be – look around you, at your programs, services, and ways of operating. Does your organization embody your brand identity in every aspect? If not, this exercise will certainly help you identify areas to improve.

Jenna Marynowski, Communications and Marketing Manager

Arena Funding Proposal Raises Concerns for Nonprofits

Alberta’s unique charitable gaming model is a valuable financial contributor to the robust nonprofit sector Albertans have come to know and rely upon.  Provincially, Alberta generates $1.44 billion in annual gaming revenue and the percentage given to nonprofits and charities is invaluable to the sector. According to the Alberta Lottery Fund’s audited 2012 financials, 88% of the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission’s gross proceeds from provincial lotteries were disbursed to nonprofits and charities through the Alberta Lottery Fund.

The Wildrose Party, Alberta’s Official Opposition, has recently proposed that in order to fund new sports arenas for both Calgary and Edmonton, an existing lottery game, Keno, should be re-branded, re-vamped and the proceeds directed to building the arenas.

Their proposal (see this press release): a Keno game set up in bingo halls and sports bars would be used to cover the shortfall in funding arenas in Calgary and Edmonton. The problem with this idea is threefold. First is a logistical concern; second, one must wonder if this will grow the gaming revenue for the province, or if it will instead dilute the proportion charities receive; and third, does this put Alberta’s charitable gaming model at risk?

The first concern has been a definite cause for contention; however, the logistics of the model are outside of Volunteer Alberta’s area of expertise. The Wildrose Party is proposing that in order to reach their $194 million projection, it would need to be in at least 1000 bars and pubs in Alberta. According to the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, there are only 1,557 Class A Minors Prohibited Liquor Licenses in the province. This is the liquor licence that allows the use of Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) and Slot Machines. One could assume that even if the logistics of putting Keno in over 60% of Alberta’s bars, it would be in direct competition with the VLTs that people already use to gamble, and whose revenues go into the Alberta Lottery Fund, which supports many of Alberta’s nonprofits and charities.

This brings us to the second point, revenue dilution for nonprofits and charities. Volunteer Alberta’s worry is that while some “new gamblers” may be drawn to this NHL-branded Keno game, which would grow the total gaming revenue pie, the vast majority of Keno’s revenue will come from those who would have otherwise used an alternative game where the money would be directed to the Alberta Lottery Fund. This would effectively shrink the proportion of the pie directed to Alberta’s nonprofit sector, leaving already cash strapped organizations with fewer revenue sources, while private companies would benefit.

Lastly, Volunteer Alberta is concerned that the Wildrose’s proposal would leave Alberta’s charitable gaming model at risk. If we as a province make this exemption, what is there to stop it from happening again and again in other communities in Alberta? An expansion of this approach runs the risk of further diluting and diverting gaming funds away from the nonprofit and charitable sector. While Calgary and Edmonton may benefit from the building of new arenas, Alberta’s nonprofit and charitable sector relies on funding from the Alberta Lottery Fund to provide numerous programs and services Albertans need. Programs offered through Rotary clubs, athletics clubs, arts foundations, language and cultural groups and many others that make Alberta the best province to live in. Other jurisdictions have funded public-private partnerships like arenas through a number of different means.  While it is great to experiment with new ideas, it seems like, in this case, the cure is worse than the disease.

Steve Kwasny

Stakeholder Relations Coordinator

Marketing Myths that Annoy Me

I just finished reading the brilliant book, The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture by Terry O’Reilly and Mike Tennant. This was a fantastic book, full of things that remind me why I chose to be a marketer. But, as I finished the book, and remember people’s reactions when I say that I’m a marketing and communication manager, I get a little disheartened. So, I wanted to write about the top three marketing myths that grind my gears, explain why they’re not true, and give you some tips to begin thinking differently about marketing.

Myth #1 – “Advertising is sneaky. In order to be effective, you have to sell people things they don’t need or want.”

This may have been true in the early 1900’s, but modern day marketing has rejected that notion for quite some time. Most good marketers – or advertisers – think about what they do as informing people of options that are available to solve the needs people already have. We know no amount of shouting, subliminal advertising, or pleading will ever create a need. Our job is to inform about the benefits our products, services, or organizations give supporters or clients in trying to fulfill a need they already have, even if they are not consciously aware of it.

The reality: You know that your organization does good work, but which of your supporter’s needs are you meeting? If you have a large base of volunteers, perhaps you’re meeting volunteer’s needs for a community to meet people and make friends. Perhaps you’re meeting your donor’s need to be recognized and celebrated. Once you know what needs your organization meets, it makes your appeal for continued, or first-time, support a lot more compelling. 


Myth #2 – “Marketing? Don’t you mean advertising?”

No, I mean marketing. Advertising is one aspect of marketing. Public relations is another. Social media is another. Product or service design is another aspect. So is pricing. So is evaluating the customer experience. Marketing is every way your organization interacts with a person. The organizations – nonprofit or otherwise – that have succeeded in the 20th century realize that supporter/client experience is king.

The reality: Examine your organization from the outside in. Do you do the things you say you’ll do? If you say you want to end a certain disease NOW, do you take 5 days to respond to an email, or do you respond immediately? If you exist to engage youth in the nonprofit sector, are you willing to employ young graduates with little experience? Evaluate if the way an outsider experiences you is consistent with your mission, values, and brand.


Myth #3 – “Our audience is everyone”

I guarantee you your audience is not everyone. Unless absolutely everyone donates to your organization, volunteers with your organization, or uses  your services, your audience isn’t everyone. Most likely there is a specific group of people that your product, service, or organization appeals to.

The reality: Start collecting data about who engages with you, why, and how. If you already collect that data, spend some time exploring it, getting to know it, and using it to find and appeal to the people who are the best fit for your organization or cause.


Jenna Marynowski, Marketing and Communications Manager

Putting out the Burnout Fire

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… As we approach the holiday season, many nonprofits launch into their capital campaign and annual fundraising efforts. It’s a big time for both staff and volunteers – and everyone is crucial to making these efforts a success. Of course, with so much to do, it’s easy to get burnt out.

KnowledgeConnector has published two previous blogs about volunteer burnout (links at the bottom of this blog), so I wanted to revisit the topic and see what we can learn going forward. Both of these blogs recognize that a passionate and committed nonprofit/voluntary sector is critical to Alberta’s communities, but how do we ensure it stays vibrant? I wanted to share some tips of my own about avoiding burnout that I have developed while managing volunteers, but please feel free to share your own in the comments section!

  1. Eyes on the prize – Make sure your volunteers know what they’re working towards. Everyone works better when they know what their work is accomplishing, and measuring progress can be a big motivator. There’s nothing worse than sinking your effort into a “black hole” and not knowing what it accomplished.
  2. Recognition – We all know that volunteer recognition is key, but it may be time to re-think how you’re doing it. While we might not have time to plan volunteer appreciation parties during this season, a simple “thank-you” or a specific note about how well you think they’re doing is always appreciated.
  3. YOU can do it! – There’s nothing worse than waiting around for someone to review what you’ve done so you can move on to the next stage in your project. You’re busy – we know! So, why not give your volunteers more power over their projects? Do you really need to review their work or give the “okay” before they move on to the next phase of a project? Try revising your “check-in” points with your volunteers and streamline the process wherever possible. While giving your volunteers decision-making power can be scary (and not appropriate in all cases), it may pay dividends in terms of time, as well as volunteer satisfaction.
  4. Have fun – You know what they say, “all work and no play…” Take a moment away from the stress and to-do lists to have fun. Whether that’s a five minute yoga breathing and relaxation exercise for staff and volunteers to do together, or a group hug, taking a few minutes away from all the action will refresh your brain and your spirits.
  5. Work smarter, not harder – I know, now might not be the best time to try out a new way of doing things. But as you work, take note of which tasks are taking up most of your time, energy, and thoughts. Is there a way that you can do these things better? Consider joining (or setting up) a peer circle to discuss these issues, taking courses in the new year to learn more about these areas, or just talking to your co-workers or friends for a fresh perspective.

And, if all else fails, read this.

More KnowledgeConnector blogs about burn out:

Volunteer Burnout: Wetaskiwin Leaders Working Smarter to Bust Burnout – by Victoria Poschadel

Grow a Community Garden – Yvonne Rempel


Jenna Marynowski, Communications and Marketing Manager

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