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Lessons Learned from Vitalize 2014

vitalizeEach year, Volunteer Alberta holds our Annual General Meeting during Vitalize, Alberta’s provincial voluntary sector conference. This year, the conference was held in Calgary at the Telus Convention Centre, so the whole office made the trip down. Sam, Annand, Rosanne and Jann represented VA as session speakers and a few others were able to register for the conference.

It was my first Vitalize, and I was able to listen to a variety of excellent speakers. I learned about starting a social enterprise, navigating cross-cultural communication, engaging volunteers and supporters, becoming a successful leader, and understanding the current trends in the nonprofit/voluntary sector. Though the topics were varied, all of the presentations shared common themes and strategies for increasing the success of individual organizations and the sector as a whole.

Whether the session was geared towards delegates looking to start an organization or those wanting to better engage those around them, I found that the advice was largely the same:

1)      Find the meaning

2)      Live your mission

3)      Know your audience

4)      Change the medium, not the message

Find the meaning

When creating or revamping your mission statement, the first thing often considered is what you want to do, and how. But the most important question to ask yourself is why.

What is the gap you’re trying to address? What will this work mean to the community? What is the driving force behind your actions? Any successful organization or business has a set of values informing its activities or products. It’s important to focus on why you’re passionate about what you’re doing and why it matters before focusing on the process or outcomes.

Live your mission

Once you have a mission that reflects your passion and communicates the meaning of your work to the public, you have to practice what you preach. It’s one thing to state what you stand for, but quite another to communicate it through your actions.

Does your branding and communications strategy align with your mission? Do the programs, services or products you offer reflect your values?

Know your audience

When looking for volunteers, it’s important to figure out who is likely to identify with your cause; people are much more likely to volunteer for an organization to which they feel connected. If you have a clear, passionate message and you align your actions as an organization with that message, you’re off to a good start. Once you accomplish these steps, you can find like-minded individuals to work alongside you.

If you take a moment to consider the audience when attending public events or taking out advertisements, you can put your time and effort into avenues that will reach the right people. The same goes for funders – if you look for organizations whose values are closely aligned with your own, you have a higher chance of success.

Change the medium, not the message

Times have changed and it can be more difficult than ever to keep up. The strategies that once worked well for organizations may not be as effective, and it might seem like you need to do a complete revamp in order to stay current.

But while you may need to change, you don’t want to lose sight of your purpose. Your values are the heart of your organization, and if you believe in them, you can be assured that others believe in them as well. Be open to exploring new pathways to your organization and finding new ways to communicate your message. This could mean an updated website or a larger social media presence, but it could also mean exploring new partnerships and collaborations. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help! If you know someone who is doing something well, talk to them about it – at the very least, at the end of the conversation, they’ll have you in mind.

Overall, I learned that passion, consistency, clarity and flexibility are integral to organizational success. As a relative newcomer to the sector, it was nice to hear that the most important things, like knowing your mission, are also the most effective tools for success. I took in a lot of information over the course of the three days, and am looking forward to putting it into practice. And yes, I do feel Vitalized!

Rachel Pereira, Program/Administrative Assistant

What DO Volunteers Want?

CCI-Lex Cultural Connections EDITED (2)Volunteer Canada just released their 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study, and I highly recommend it to anyone who works with volunteers! It’s an easy and enlightening read. Best of all, there some big surprises that will (hopefully) improve how the sector works with and recognizes our volunteers.

To give you a taste, here are some of the biggest gaps the study identified between what our organizations think our volunteers want and what they truly appreciate:

  1. In the study, volunteers said that their least preferred forms of recognition included formal gatherings (ex. banquets) and public acknowledgment (ex. radio ads or newspaper columns). These methods are common for many organizations, with 60% using banquets and formal gatherings, and 50% using public acknowledgement as their recognition strategies.Instead, volunteers indicated that they would prefer to be recognized through hearing about how their work has made a difference, and by being thanked in person on an ongoing, informal basis.
  2. Over 80% of organizations said a lack of money was the most common barrier to volunteer recognition. Since the study shows that volunteers prefer personal ‘thank-you’s and being shown the value of their work over a costly banquet or a public advertisement, funds need not get in the way of good recognition!
  3. Volunteers said that the volunteer activities they are least interested in are manual labour, crafts, cooking, and fundraising. According to the 2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP), fundraising is the most common activity in which organizations engage volunteers.Instead, volunteers said that their preference is to work directly with people benefiting from their volunteering, or in opportunities where they can apply professional or technological skills.

These findings ring true in my own experiences as a volunteer. I really appreciate it when I am told I did a good job, or that a client made special mention of my work – it shows me that giving my time truly made a difference, which is the reason I volunteer in the first place. Conversely, I tend to avoid going to volunteer appreciation parties or awards ceremonies. My dislike for big social events is a personal preference (I’d much rather stay home with my cats!), but even the most outgoing and social volunteers are likely busy just like me.  It is very difficult to schedule an event that every volunteer can come to, and, if that is the only time made for recognition, then a lot of volunteers won’t receive any at all.

The good news is that while our sector may at times drop the ball on volunteer recognition, the changes recommended by the 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study are very attainable. We already know the value of our volunteers – now we just have remember to communicate that to them! Read the whole study for more straightforward tips and ideas on how to step up your organization’s volunteer recognition.

For more from Volunteer Canada on volunteer recognition, please visit their Guidelines and Helpful Hints for Volunteer Recognition. You can also visit Volunteer Alberta’s Resource Centre (VARC) for books and articles on the subject.

Sam Kriviak, Program Coordinator

The Value of Authenticity

Courtesy of Edmonton Journal

Courtesy of Edmonton Journal

The value of authenticity when fundraising cannot be over-emphasized. I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Rimbey FCSS golf tournament. It was put on by the FCSS to raise funds for their Volunteer Centre with a goal of $15,000 and it was an overwhelming success with about $22,000 raised. In reflecting on why I enjoyed being there and why this event was such a success the element that I believe was key is authenticity. The tournament was authentic for a number of reasons:

  • The focus was on the fun everyone was having and not how much money needed to be raised.
  • It was easy to financially contribute to the cause.
  • It was from the community, for the community, by the community.
  • A focus on the means and not just the end goal was evident.

When I was invited to attend the event I was told that it was like no golf tournament I had ever played before, and they were right! It was a pasture golf course (9 holes cut into a farmer’s field), there were ATVs pulling the drink cart and almost every hole had a fun theme or feature and often times free food. The lack of pretention allowed all of the participants to enjoy the day together and there was a strong feeling of a community coming together to support one of their key organizations.

I have attended many other fundraising events and sometimes they are focused on the glamour of the event or the auction items or the fundraising goal. There is a tendency to try to appeal the deep pockets in the room to spend the big money to ensure the event is successful. This approach can produce results and many nonprofit organizations rely on these types of events to meet their fundraising goals. However, often these gala based events feel like they are not about the cause and behind the scenes they can be taxing on the organizations and people who put them on. The Rimbey golf tournament is a great example of how important it is to take a step back when planning a fundraiser and first determine how it will be an authentic representation of what your organization does and the values it holds important, and how those values will be communicated.

Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager

Guest Blog: Thinking Differently about the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP)

When SCiP was first introduced to me it sounded like too much work to begin the process, and I felt like I didn’t have the time to take on another major task, so I put it out of my mind. Since becoming the Executive Director of Volunteer Lethbridge, I have opened my eyes to how great SCiP is and how simple the process of acquiring an intern can be. Here are some things for you to think about:

Shift Your Thinking: Is there a specific task that your organization would like done? Could you use help in completing this task? SCiP has hundreds of students lined to do that task for you. Sounds like a win-win doesn’t it? When you provide an opportunity to someone you are benefitting them, benefitting your organization and ultimately benefitting your community. That is the win-win-win experience that SCiP talks about!

Open Doors: Besides the tasks before you, are there new ideas you would like to bring to fruition? Consider the gifts that students have- I did! A student walked into my office and wanted to volunteer. I always ask, “what is it you would like to do?” He wanted to gain experience as a videographer.  This created a new opportunity for the organization, provided fresh experience for the intern and produced an end product to be proud of. Now I have a much better idea of how to engage more SCiP interns.

A second student was looking for graphic design experience. I showed him a project that I wanted to have redesigned. He had great enthusiasm for the project and he created a clean new look. One deliverable our organization added to his position description was for him to job shadow at a local print shop for a couple of hours. This experience was a major benefit for this intern, he was able to see the importance of the graphic work/design and how it reflected on the process at the printing stage.

Create a virtual opportunity. Students are busy people that must balance school, work, and possibly raising a family. Having a position that a student can work into their hectic schedule is a bonus. SCiP is a creative way for students to gain valuable experience while relieving the burden of student related expenses that come along with being a student. Communication through technology is key; ensure you provide them with what they need to succeed in the position.

Flexibility:  If your organization hires an intern and things aren’t turning out quite how you envisioned, take time to evaluate and adapt the deliverables with the intern and make the experience a constructive learning opportunity for you and the intern. Being adaptable cultivates the sense of significance of working in the nonprofit/voluntary sector as a valuable career choice. There are limitless opportunities, sometimes a shift is what brings about the positive experience.

SCiP has provided me with the resources of six talented students (so far). These students all had different areas of interest and various gifts and talents they wanted to share to gain experience. It was well worth the work. I have met students for whom I have created internship positions, when approached, to match their interests. Most important there is no limit to the number of interns your organization can hire. If you have a job that needs doing, there is a SCiP intern for that.

Expand your vision of what an intern can do for you. Not only are you building up the capacity of your organization but you are also expanding the range of experience for someone who may one day look back and say, “my SCiP experience provided me with the opportunity to reflect on my career choice. SCiP helped me discover what my strengths are and the direction that I wanted to take.”

SCiP engages students by providing tangible experiences that will enrich your organization, the student and the community.


Diana Sim

Volunteer Lethbridge

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Home is where our hearts are, and happiness is where your friends are. But you know you are truly blessed when the two fall under the same roof.

I am pleased and proud to announce that I am back with Volunteer Alberta after a three-month absence.  Having spent a year as a Regional Capacity Coordinator in the Southern Alberta, I am familiar with the organization and the region. In my new role with Volunteer Alberta, I will be serving as a Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (KnEC).  My area will continue to be Southern Alberta with the addition of Hanna!

As before, I am dedicated to the success of the nonprofit/voluntary sector.  I am still involved with the KnowledgeConnector program; my duties include reaching out to learning providers and the ASK Workshop. However, I also support all the programs Volunteer Alberta has to offer!  I am very excited to spread my wings within Volunteer Alberta.

Here is a brief list of some of the programs that I support in my new role:

  • OASSIS employee benefits program
  • Intersections project, which provides information about engaging a culturally diverse base of volunteers
  • People Lens – an approach to engaging specifically-skilled volunteers
  • Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) – post-secondary student internships in nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations
  • Volunteer Alberta Membership
  • Selling the Invisible workshops that provide information and methods to more effectively recruit and retain volunteers

I support these programs by sharing the information with you through workshops, brochures, and one on one meetings.  Each program can play a different role in the success of your organization.

My goal for the summer is to reintroduce myself to members of the nonprofit/voluntary sector and get to know each of you again and see how your needs have changed.  Volunteer Centres across the province have been key partners in getting the word out about what KnEcs have to offer each community – I would like to thank each and every Volunteer Centre for their continued support and dedication!

I am looking forward to this new role and continuing to make a positive impact on the sector!

See you soon,

Amanda Liepert

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (South)

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