Login / Logout Link

Volunteer Management from the Volunteers Perspective

 

Courtesy David Suzuki Foundation

I was recently volunteering at the Freewill Players’ annual Shakespeare in the Park festival, where I gained some great insight into volunteer management. During my second shift, I was talking to one of the other volunteers and she told me, “It’s awesome to volunteer here! You are never bored, and you get to help make people happy and have a great time! It’s not like volunteering at other places. I mean, at [organization name] – that’s meaningful and important work, yeah, but it’s not nearly as fun.”

This really hit home for me – both in my work in helping promote Volunteer Alberta’s programs that help Managers of Volunteers, and my own volunteer work where I manage an e-zine, Sound and Noise, including its group of volunteers. As a life-long volunteer, I know meaningful work doesn’t have to be boring. So what did the Freewill Players do right to get that reaction from its volunteers?

1.       Break tasks into self-directed roles – Did you know post-secondary graduates are one of the groups most likely to volunteer? Volunteers are smart! There’s no need to micro-manage them. The Freewill Players ensured we understood how our role fit into the success of the festival, and gave us enough authority that we gained ownership of our role. Moreover, we didn’t need someone looking over our shoulders, telling us what to do every step of the way.

 

2.       Let volunteers see the impact they make – Hearing festival patrons say, “thanks so much!” at the end of the night was really gratifying, and it didn’t cost the Freewill Players a cent! 93% of volunteers say they volunteer to make a contribution to the community – so, why not show them that contribution? Even though it’s easier at an event where they interact with the public or clients, you can demonstrate the impact your volunteers make no matter what role they’re in! This could be as simple as sharing “thank-you” notes from stakeholders or client success stories with your volunteers regularly.

 

3.       Respect volunteer’s time– In creating the volunteer roles, Freewill Players listed the times each volunteer was expected to be at the festival for. The roles carried enough responsibilities  that there was never a dull moment during your shift, yet you didn’t feel overwhelmed. Moreover, if the organizers saw a volunteer without a task, they knew exactly which other areas needed help, ensuring no volunteers were bored or under-utilized. I was also pleasantly surprised at the orientation. The volunteers were sent a detailed volunteer handbook before the orientation, and it was kept short and sweet. A quick introduction to the organizing team members – so we could identify them during our shifts – and an overview of general information which every volunteer needed to know. There’s nothing worse (especially for busy people) than an orientation where volunteers get unnecessary information or spend time doing things that don’t add to the overall experience.

While volunteering at Shakespeare in the Park, I felt as though I was being engaged as a valued contributor, not just “free labour”. The three actions listed above – which any nonprofit/voluntary organization can do – made my experience with the Freewill Players fulfilling. I’ll be back next year!

Jenna Marynowski

Marketing and Communications Manager

The 2012 National Conference on Volunteering and Service Turning Point has untold impact for our organization.

The Points of Light Foundation in the USA has great capacity to bring together amazing speakers and panels to share their knowledge. So I had high expectations for the event. They did not disappoint. From political (current and former) to high-level leaders of successful businesses and nonprofits, the demonstration of the value they place on volunteerism is inspiring. As always, the opportunity to compare the US and Canadian/Albertan nonprofit/voluntary sectors is fascinating.

Session topics included engaging online communities, a new generation of service, volunteer management tips and tools, driving economies through action, using online campaigns to grow, and the importance of citizenship.

Some of the key learnings and reminders for me:

  •  Determining methods to remind staff about connecting to and incorporating our mission and vision in everything we do.
  • Developing plans for online communications by defining the scale, being engagement focused, maintaining interest through cross-platforms, finding trend watchers and comparing our conversation prism.
  • Building actions – “supporters should trip over action opportunities”.
  • The strongest message is someone else telling your story. Storytelling is vital.
  • People are more likely to say yes after you’ve said thank you.
  • Using tools to map gaps, pull together information and source wants and needs.
  • Looking at all areas of impact on sector as a whole, down to internal impact on and of staff/volunteers/board.
  • Ensure buy in at various levels of organizational goals – both strategic and operational. How to remain flexible and help organization manage change.
  • Clearer definitions for volunteers. Encourage advocating by managers of volunteers to upper management with stories and numbers.
  • Partnerships with private sector with clear accountability, raising expectations of the quality of work. Assessing risk of partnerships, determine win-win situations to encourage collaboration. Focus on outcomes beyond simple collaboration. We want to be part of a successful effort.
  • Asset development of the individual and community. Determining nonprofit readiness.
  • Reinforcing some things, like the value of lifelong learning, being open to creative thinking and ideas, and never missing an opportunity to share.

Thank you to The Muttart Foundation for the bursary to allow me to attend this year’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service. I have applied some of my learnings already and am looking forward to the opportunity to develop some of these ideas further.

Cindy Walter

Director of Operations

KnowledgeConnector Improves Your Access to Learning

In an increasingly complex world, organizations are established to develop and meet the needs of our communities. We are fortunate in Alberta, as there are over 19,000 nonprofit/voluntary organizations working to make Alberta a better place to live and work. These organizations have needs and need to develop as well. Like anyone else, the leaders and managers in those organizations are happy to receive support and guidance. ­­

You may already be aware of many of the capacity-building organizations in Alberta, such as Volunteer Alberta, Volunteer Centres, Community Learning Councils, colleges, and many others. In my experience, however, most organizations, especially those who do not have paid staff, are unaware of all of the learning opportunities, and resources available in their own communities or throughout Alberta. They may also find the learning opportunities and resources more difficult to access, or believe they are not able to access them, due to limited financial resources and time.

KnowledgeConnector, managed by Volunteer Alberta, helps connect leaders and managers – both volunteer and paid – in the nonprofit/voluntary sector with learning opportunities. This is exciting! With time at a premium, a “one-stop shop” to find the right learning opportunities at the right time is key – KnowledgeConnector is the answer.

So, how do you know which learning opportunities suit you at this point in time? The answer is a key feature of the KnowledgeConnector website – the A.S.K. Leadership Assessment tool. You can complete the assessment online to gain a better understanding of your growth areas, and then be matched with learning opportunities in your area to fill your learning gaps!

Another great opportunity is for an organization’s board (or an advisory committee) to schedule an A.S.K. Leadership Assessment workshop from Volunteer Alberta! The benefits include identifying common areas for development for learning together, identifying gaps for recruiting purposes, building teamwork, and discovering untapped knowledge and skills!

Contact me to schedule an A.S.K. Leadership Assessment Workshop, or discuss the many other opportunities provided by Volunteer Alberta!

Cheers,

Diana Bacon

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (North Region)

 

P.S. – Until August 31st, it is free to register as a Learning Provider on KnowledgeConnector.ca, and you may post an unlimited number of learning opportunities – no matter what time of the year the opportunities take place!

Youth Engagement – You Already Know How!

Last week I had the privilege of sitting on the Vitalize 2012 Conference youth engagement panel, ‘Volunteerism: The Next Generation’ moderated by my colleague Steven Kwasny. I joined 16-year old co-founder of 8th Rung Jocelyn Davis, Volunteer Calgary’s Community & Service Learning Coordinator, Ralamy Kneeshaw, and Banff Volunteer Centre Executive Director (and all-around youth engagement guru) Katherine Topolniski, on the panel for a fun and interactive afternoon session.

Two of the themes I found particularly interesting that emerged over the course of the conversation seem on the surface to be contradictory: we need to start treating youth more similarly to ‘non-youth’, and, at the same time, we need to start treating youth differently.

Just like with everyone else, youth engagement only works well when good recruitment, retention, and recognition practices are in place. And, just like everyone else, if these processes aren’t in place (and even if they are) sometimes youth won’t show up, or won’t stay on long term. As Ralamy reminded those at the session, you have likely had an absentee board member or a problem with high volunteer turn-over – even when it isn’t youth that you are engaging! Blaming either of these problems on age is a failed opportunity to improve your volunteer program and increase youth engagement at your organization.

At the same time though, it is important to recognize that ‘youth’ is a relevant category insofar as it tends to describe shared experiences. For example, many young people have a schedule quite different from other age groups: they have school 8:30-4:30 if they are still in grade school, or they have school all the time if they are attending post-secondary. In other words, a 15-year-old is never going to be able to attend your lunch meeting, and a university student will have a hard time committing themselves to an organization that can’t work around their exam schedule.

Youth might have a curfew or need parental permission, they might rely on public transit or rides from relatives, and many of them, students and older youth in particular, are low-income, have entry-level positions, poor job security, and are in debt or have lots of expenses like tuition. Recognizing these needs and challenges will help to inform more successful ways of recruiting, retaining, and recognizing youth volunteers.

Some specific tips and recommendations that came out of the session include:

  • Ask youth how they would like to be engaged at your organization. This is good practice in any volunteer’s orientation, but take it a step further and organize a focus group including youth you have already engaged, as well as youth that aren’t yet involved. Find out what their needs are and, more importantly, where their passions and skills lie, and how to tap into both.
  • Remember that ‘youth’ is not a homogenous category. Be prepared to engage everyone from youth with disabilities, to immigrant youth, to outgoing youth, to youth who hate public speaking, to youth who never show up on time, to youth who love spreadsheets (I am one of them!).
  • Relationship-building is a fantastic technique for retaining any volunteer. Don’t isolate youth from the rest of your team, and make the effort to encourage friendships. As I mentioned during the panel, the reason I have stayed on for extended periods at certain organizations is always because I love who I work with, even more than I love what I am doing.
  • Get started by using existing youth groups, like sports teams, church groups, or classes. The relationships are already there. An audience member told us about a playground in his community that was built by a football team who already had a built-in volunteer manager: the coach.
  • Put youth on equal footing in your organization. They might not have all the skills or knowledge as older team members, but that’s because they haven’t yet had the opportunity to learn them, not because they aren’t able to do a good job once the tools are provided. Their ideas are no less likely to work than someone else’s; in fact they might be exactly what your organization needs to reach people in the 21st century.

In short, we recommend approaching youth as people who have excellent motivations for getting involved in the nonprofit/voluntary sector, and a few minor obstacles standing in the way of them doing that. Just like the rest of your volunteers.

Now, go help them get involved!

 

Sam Kriviak

Program Coordinator

Okotoks Engages in Knowledge Exchange

I was excited to have the opportunity to travel to the fine community of Okotoks to participate in the Selling the Invisible workshop presented by my fellow KnEC colleague, Diane Huston.  I was quite impressed with Diane’s ability to engage the audience with meaningful anecdotes, which supported learning opportunities and course content. Further, Diane’s very evident knowledge of the voluntary sector really added value to this workshop.

Audience participation/engagement can make or break a presentation, and the 12 participants who took time out of their very busy work schedule to attend Selling the Invisible, were so engaged that they stayed an additional 30 minutes to share their own knowledge and ask questions.  Seeing this kind of participation, I was once again reminded about the commitment and dedication of the countless individuals who participate in over 20,000 nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations in Alberta.

The essence of the Knowledge Exchange Coordinator position is “to engage nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations across Alberta to enhance organizations’ capacity to provide programs and service to communities.”  Further, I see the KnEC role as one being about gathering strategies and information on effective volunteer engagement from people in the nonprofit/voluntary sector and disseminating that knowledge to others around Alberta.

Of the many tips discussed at the workshop on volunteer engagement, one participant shared this strategy on volunteer recruitment: “When holding any kind of volunteer appreciation event, encourage your volunteers to bring a friend.”  By bringing friends to an appreciation party, the newcomers will get firsthand experience  on how volunteers are treated and recognized, what other community members are in attendance, the variety of ways an organization engages volunteers, and what the overall culture is within the organization.   In so many ways, this really makes sense to me. The likelihood of a “good” volunteer bringing someone who has the same core values and beliefs is, in my opinion, quite likely.

If you have any questions about the role of KnECs in your community or Volunteer Alberta, I would be very happy to answer your questions.  You can reach me at 780.482.3300 (toll free in Alberta 1.877.915.6336) ext. 231 or by email at aollivierre@volunteeralberta.ab.ca

Not-for-profit Web Consulting & Digital Marketing by Adster Creative