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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 sewing 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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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: 

Advocacy

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

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Giving back: The benefits of getting involved with nonprofits during your post-secondary education

“What do you want to do when you graduate?”

September means a few things: green leaves and grass begin turning yellow and gold, the wind is a little crisper, pumpkin-spiced drinks are back, and of course, students are back in school.

As a recent grad, I reflect on my post-secondary and employment journey often. The truth is, I didn’t always know I would be working in the nonprofit sector. That’s because I had no idea what it was, and the important role it plays in civil society.

When I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, I was unsure of where and how to apply the important theories I learned. And once I left the campus environment, it felt like there were no options.

So, I went back to school and finished another Bachelor’s degree in 2018 following a failed attempt at being a barista along with a string of other odd jobs.

Praxis makes perfect

In the last year of my first degree, I enrolled in a course with a Community Service-Learning component, which paired me with a nonprofit organization for a 20 hour volunteer placement.

During my placement, I had to reflect on my volunteer experiences, and draw connections from course materials and content. As a post-secondary student, this was exactly what I was looking for – a way to apply concepts and theories that appeared abstract and intangible to real life.

I also developed practical skills that expanded my interests in addition to my capabilities. The organization I was matched with was looking for someone to develop marketing materials, which I happily took on. The work I did ended up sparking an interest that I didn’t realize I had in graphic design and outreach.

I realized that Praxis, or the bridge between theory and practice, was the ‘thing’ that was missing from my education.

I continued to pursue other experiential learning opportunities, and by the end of my second degree, I accumulated over 150 volunteer hours to complete a certificate in Community Engagement and Service-Learning in addition to my degree. It also encouraged me to pursue other volunteer opportunities in areas that were relevant to my degree.

Although not every post-secondary institution has Community Service-Learning, more institutions are realizing the importance of experiential learning. Talk to your respective career centres about similar opportunities on your campus.

3 ways giving back gives you an enriched experience

So what can my story tell you? By making the extra effort to give back to your communities through volunteerism, you’ll receive an enriching experience to learn new skills and more about yourself.

A feedback loop of learning

Volunteering with nonprofits can have a tremendous impact on post-secondary students as well as the nonprofits they participate in. In my case, I had the chance to impact social issues I care about by getting involved with nonprofits that address those issues.

That is, you get to help create the change that you want to see in the world. Organizations also have a chance to be exposed to the newest forms of thinking that come out of post-secondary institutions.

Exploring untapped potential

While the possibility to work on things beyond what your volunteer job description ranges from organization to organization, being immersed in a professional setting can give you a chance to practice skills that you already have or can help you realize skills that you didn’t even know you had!

Awards for community-oriented students

While many awards exist for high GPAs and other scholarly achievements, being involved in your community through volunteerism also pays off.

For example, the Edmonton Community Foundation provides bursaries to Edmonton and/or Northern Alberta students with financial need who have a history of community involvement or leadership.

In addition to specific post-secondary institutions and awards for non-campus related activities, the Government of Alberta also has a comprehensive list of awards for community-oriented students.

For some institutions, being involved with nonprofit organizations can also give you extra credentials that will make you stand out after you graduate.

How can you get involved?

The first step to finding the right opportunity to get involved with nonprofits is a tricky task. Luckily, Volunteer Connector has made finding volunteer opportunities easy for Albertans. The opportunities posted on the site can be filtered by your interests, skills and time commitment.

Eunice Doroni

Volunteer Alberta

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