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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

SCiP Internships: Flexible & Fulfilling

When I told some friends that I was doing a SCiP internship, I got a lot of shocked reactions.

“Another job? How are you going to juggle all of that?”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea, what with starting a new program and everything?”

I was just starting graduate school in Library and Information Studies, and I had a part-time job already, so I admit I had some of those doubts myself.

But when I saw the SCiP internship for a Library Policy Development Intern, I had to apply. It sounded interesting and applicable to my program, and I wanted some hands-on experience. Applying was easy: I put together my application, submitted it, and heard back about it right away.

When I met with someone from the organization, I expressed my concerns about fitting another thing into my very busy schedule. He reassured me that they would be flexible enough to make it work, and he certainly followed through!

The SCiP internship turned out to be a truly excellent experience. My organization, Volunteer Alberta, was very flexible, and I was able to easily make the internship fit around my school and work commitments. Everyone at the organization was friendly and helpful, and most importantly, I got that hands-on experience in my field that I had signed up for. The chance to develop policy for a small library helped me hone many skills, particularly my research skills, and enhanced my overall knowledge of the field and the nonprofit/voluntary sector. The $1000 bursary at the end is a major perk, but I definitely feel like the experience I gained is worth more than the money.

Now, when people ask how my internship worked out, I tell them to apply themselves! There are a ton of internships to choose from, so there’s bound to be one for anyone’s field of interest, and it’s easy to get involved. And the pay-off is huge: I was able to network with people in my field and gain valuable skills and experience for my resume for the future. Even though I was worried about fitting an internship into my schedule, I didn’t have to be. My organization recognized I was a student, and worked with me to make it a success. I loved my experience and I would highly recommend it!

For more information on SCiP internships visit joinscip.ca or call Sam at 780.482.3300 ext 225.
Alexandria Eldridge

Library Policy Development Intern, Volunteer Alberta

Everybody Loves Lunch: Thoughts on Networking

We have all heard it- It’s not what you know, but who you know. But, who are these people, and how do you get to know them? For some it comes very easily and for others it’s a fate worse than public speaking, which, according to numerous studies, is more terrifying than death. Personally, I love networking. I love going out there and meeting new people, finding out what they are up do, what they are passionate about and trying to make connections between what I am doing, what they are doing and what others are doing. Networking has opened up some fantastic opportunities and given me some awesome stories.

Personally it’s an absolute necessity to be out networking as often as you can; though it’s tough, and it’s work, but we’ll get to that shortly. Whether in your city, town, province, or country, in the nonprofit sector or the business community, decisions are made by the people with power and the small groups that influence them. The personal and professional payoffs that come with being “in” with any of these groups is immeasurable, but worth it. I wholeheartedly believe that there are very real benefits to your organization putting your staff in a position to network.

Networking allows you to build a personal relationship with people outside of your usual social circle. I have become very good friends with people I met “through work”. So now, should I need to, I can call on these people for advice or, potentially, a favour (I do try to avoid that as best I can). Professionally, you never know who the people you meet know, and they can often put you in contact with the right person to make your project or initiative happen. I suppose that is the abridged version of how the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) got started.

You also need to go into “networking” with an open mind, who knows what will come from it. However, in my experience it has always been worth it.

But how does one network?

First thing is getting in the door. Look around for public events and make time to be there. For me, the most successful networkers “live their brand” so to speak. It’s not about being a workaholic, but it’s about really believing in what you do, so you don’t mind spending your evenings “working”. Also, volunteer with groups that might be outside your usual sphere of influence. Chambers of Commerce, Boards, Committees or, for the more political, Election Campaigns are all great places to start.

While you are there, try not to be shy (which is easier said than done). Honestly, I find it helps to stand by the food or the bar, because people seem more talkative in those areas. That or, if there is open seating, just going up to a table, asking to sit there and then introducing yourself. Not every conversation will be fruitful, but there is rarely a negative that can come from it.

Also, business cards! They are like baseball cards for adults. I have learned people love trading them to each other. Collect as many as you can while at the event.

Another note about preparation for an event, catch up on the latest news. The worst part of networking is when things get awkward. So avoid that. Read up on sports, current events, weather, business, and yes even celebrity gossip (you never EVER know when knowledge about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorce will come in handy). It sounds labour intensive, however it’s not that bad, devote maybe an hour a day to learning about the world and you automatically become a better conversationalist;  as my grandpa used to say “know a little about a lot of things, and you’ll never be boring.”

Once you leave an event, take all the business cards you’ve collected and send them a note telling them it was great to meet them, that is unless you never want to talk to them again, which happens. If you had a particularly good conversation, or would like to connect further, do not hesitate to ask them for lunch.

Everybody loves lunch.


Steve Kwasny

Stakeholder Relations Coordinator

New Curriculum to Bundle Essential Learning Opportunities for Sector Leaders

Why is it that many organizations are still battling problems even though the solutions are available? Why is it that despite workshops, speakers, and seminars galore focused on solving issues, our sector leadership and funders are still frustrated in their efforts to motivate staff and volunteers to explore new solutions?

Many cynics refer to workshops as a day out of the office rather than an investment of a day into learning. I don’t believe this for a moment but I do believe that the sector as a whole is not reaping 100% of the benefits from participating in the hundreds of opportunities for learning available for our staff and volunteers in any given year.

Obviously something has to change. Volunteer Alberta is offering that change now.

One of the advantages of the experience gained from delivering years of learning opportunities throughout Alberta is insight as to what creates change. Volunteer Alberta’s new approach – bundling the traditional one hour or half day workshops about a specific issue into a formal, comprehensive, structured series of competency-based professional development seminars – is designed to increase the ability of sector leaders to create the required changes we need to continue to be competitive, effective, and focused on mission delivery. Offering one hour or half day single-issue learning does not move the sector to a greater understanding of what is needed to succeed and excel in mission-based organizations.

Volunteer Alberta’s new curriculum combined with our new approach to knowledge transfer is now ready to be implemented. The learning opportunities are clustered into three ‘clouds’:

•             Risk Management

•             People Engagement

•             Governance

The intensive curriculum is designed to identify the issues that learners are looking to resolve prior to the day-long seminars, provide expert-facilitated instruction and insights, and review the resolutions reached against the issues identified pre-seminar. This fall, Volunteer Alberta is offering day-long Risk Management seminars in seven locations throughout Alberta. Watch for more information in the August 21 Sector Connector.


Karen Lynch

Executive Director

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