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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

Volunteer Management Isn’t Just a Buzzword

 

Being (what I term) a serial volunteer, as well as working in the nonprofit/voluntary sector, has given me some special insight into how to go about managing volunteers. I’m always happy every time a volunteer manager (either by title or by their role within the organization) makes sure that I, as a volunteer, am satisfied with my experience, and know that I am appreciated. One of the reasons I started working at Volunteer Alberta was because I was interested in ensuring every volunteer has a good experience, and wants to become even more involved in their community.

However, I’m sure we’ve all had experiences where we – as volunteers – were managed poorly. I had one such experience recently while attending a meeting of an organization that is just in the early stages of incorporating as a nonprofit. So, what did I, as a manager of volunteers at another organization, learn about volunteer recruitment and management from this experience? Here are just three things, but I’m sure there’s many more:

  1. Ask your volunteers what they want from you. What are they looking to get out of their experience? Why are they giving their time? By asking these two simple questions, you can create a role that’s suited to the volunteer – not ask them to take on a role that they are either unsuited for, or that doesn’t interest them.
  2. Always let your volunteers know what to expect from a meeting. If volunteers know what to expect from a meeting, they can come prepared to contribute in a meaningful way. If they know what to expect, they will also leave the meeting knowing how their input contributed to the organization or the project, and will be more satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. Personally, if I had known what to expect from the meeting I recently attended, I would have left the meeting much more satisfied with the outcome, and would be much more likely to come back and volunteer my skills to them again.
  3.  Show your volunteers that you value their time. Whether you send out an agenda (which is something I frequently do for the volunteers I manage), or just manage the meeting in an efficient way (including being there when the volunteers arrive), volunteers are giving their time (personally, one of my most valuable resources), and we should be appreciative of that.

Volunteer Alberta has some great resources on management of volunteers, including resources about:

Your turn! What lessons have you learnt about volunteer management – either through the way you, as a volunteer, were managed, or in your role of managing volunteers in your organization?
– Jenna Marynowski
Communications and Marketing Manager

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