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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

SCiP Success Stories

SCiP Success Profile: L’Arche Calgary       

SCiP internships produce many success stories for both organizations and students. One such story comes from L’Arche Calgary, which created a SCiP internship posting for a communications intern. After going through the interview process, they ultimately hired Gagan, a 21 year old Marketing major at Mount Royal University completing a Bachelor of Business Administration. Gagan’s role was optimizing the use of social media for organizational communications purposes and promoting special events.

L’Arche Communications Coordinator, Vern Begg, had only positive things to say about Gagan, remarking, “her enthusiasm for the project was evident in her initial interview and remained at a high level throughout her internship.” Gagan made a valuable contribution to L’Arche Calgary, introducing new methods of communicating the organization’s mission and story to internal and external stakeholders.

L’Arche Calgary found the process of creating the intern role description, and making the hire, to be a smooth process. According to Vern, “the forms that were provided streamlined the process and allowed us to focus on finding the right candidate.” Not only were the staff at L’Arche happy with their SCiP intern experience, they have already hired another SCiP intern!

 

SCiP Success Story: Calgary tour de nuit Society         

SCiP internships produce many success stories for both organizations and students. One great story comes from Calgary tour de nuit Society (CtndS) who have two SCiP marketing interns.

CtndS promotes cycling for both transportation and recreation – their mandate is ‘more people cycling more often’.  After posting the internships, Gary Beaton, Executive Director, hired SCiP students Mahsa Dokhani and Kristina Roberts. Their primary task at the beginning of the internship was evaluating a feasibility study conducted by the City of Calgary for a public bike rental system, a project with an estimated $3 million dollar price tag. The interns made a huge impact on both the CtdnS and Calgary as a whole.

The City of Calgary’s study recommended that the bike rental project should go ahead, but Mahsa and Kristina, after many hours of research and analysis, found the city did not yet have the sufficient infrastructure for the program to be successful. Mahsa and Kristina presented their findings to the City of Calgary`s Transportation and Transit Committee.

Their presentation proved to be very influential as council decided to shelve the report for another year, after they invested further in dedicated bike lanes. The presentation, in effect, saved the taxpayers of Calgary $3,000,000! Their findings had such a large impact that they have been invited to make their presentation at the ProWalk/ProBike conference in Long Beach California in September.

Mahsa and Kristina are still in the middle of their internship and are working on a number of other projects, including fundraising and promotion of the Ride the Road tour, the year’s largest event for CtndS. Both interns are receiving extremely valuable experience and found the process of applying for SCiP internships very easy and straightforward. Gary Beaton has nothing but glowing reviews of these students and the work they are doing for the organization and their community.

 

SCiP Interns a Big Help

If you, or someone in your organization, feel that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, why not post a SCiP internship? A few weeks back our Marketing and Communications Manager, Jenna, did just that! Jenna spends part of her day marketing SCiP so she thought, “why not hire an intern to both experience how the program works and to help me accomplish projects that have been on the backburner?”

Both of the projects she posted internships for had been in the back of her mind for a while so writing the role description was very easy. In writing the role descriptions, she tried to use language that post-secondary students would recognize from their classes – such as SWOT and PESTLE analysis – and tried to avoid words that we use in the sector like “capacity” or “knowledge transfer”. The most surprising thing the process though was that the bulk of applications were submitted on the first day the internships were posted. Even better than that, the applications she received were from high-quality candidates. The hardest part of the process was deciding who to hire for which internship!

With success stories like these, how can your organization afford not to have a SCiP intern? For more information on SCiP internships, please visit the SCiP website or contact Ellie at emcfarlane@volunteeralberta.ab.ca or 780.482.3300 ext. 232.

 

Term Limits: A Positive or Negative?

Term limits for board directors, or a lack thereof, is one of the most controversial topics of conversation in the nonprofit/voluntary sector. Each new organization must decide at the outset, when writing their bylaws, whether or not to include a cap on the number of consecutive terms a board director can serve. In an effort to learn more about the perceived pros and cons of term limits, I searched out books, articles and other resources on the subject in the Volunteer Alberta Resource Centre. Right away I found an article entitled “Term Limits: Pro or Con” in the May 2012 edition of The Journal of the Institute of Corporate Directors. In the article, Deepak Shukla, Corporate Director and Board Trustee with Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, makes the case for term limits; and David Dominy, Chairman of 3D Capital Inc., makes the case against having term limits. Both made great points in support of their arguments.

One of Shukla’s primary arguments in favour of term limits for boards is that it ensures there is a continuous supply of fresh blood. This school of thought suggests organizations are best served by having a constantly evolving board of directors, with staggered terms to ensure that there is a healthy balance of fresh perspective and experience. Dominy, on the other hand, insists that organizations should focus on recruiting, and retaining, the best and the brightest, rather than forcing perfectly capable board members to step down. The key question to consider is, “which approach is best for my organization?”

According to Shukla, having unlimited consecutive terms can often result in ‘group think’ – a situation where a board ceases being a true democracy. Both sides of the issue provided examples of boards that do not have term limits for their board directors; Shukla cited Research In Motion (RIM) as an organization with a board that has no term limits and has seen a negative impact as a result. Yet, Dominy is quick to point out that some of the most successful corporations in Canada, such as BMO, RBC, BCE and Shaw, have no board term limits. While these examples are for-profit enterprises, instead of nonprofit/voluntary organizations, it demonstrates that each organization has its own needs and that there is no one size fits all approach.

Having term limits in place can work as a safeguard to prevent board members from steering the organization down the wrong path, and, according to Shukla, there is no effective evaluation process for boards, as the most common form is a self-evaluation. However, Dominy suggests that term limits can put an organization in the undesirable position of having to replace a strong board member with a candidate from a less desirable talent pool.

Shukla and Dominy both want what is best for their respective organizations and, in the nonprofit/voluntary sector, the board must consider the organization and the stakeholders with every decision. The foundation of any nonprofit/voluntary organization are its bylaws, and whether or not to have term limits is one of the most important decisions founders must make for the future of their organization.

Now, my question to readers: what is most important to your organization: a fresh supply of independent thinkers or experienced board directors?

Tim Henderson

Office and Communications Coordinator

The Super Volunteer in Rural Alberta

A few weeks ago, I attended an interagency meeting where the term “STP” was used in reference to volunteering. I had not heard this term used before, so I was relieved when someone else asked if the acronym could be explained. As it turns out, STP refers to the “Same Ten People” who always volunteer their time and energy on different projects and events. Now you might be chuckling to yourself, as you probably know that handful of people, and chances are you might even be one of them. In our community, I immediately thought of a young couple who both work full time and volunteer tirelessly for their children’s sporting teams. This past winter, they coached and managed their son’s hockey team and then, in the spring, they stepped forward and did the same for lacrosse. They do not have more time than the rest of us, nor did they magically acquire the skills to coach and manage a team. So why do they do it?

There are many reasons why people volunteer: recognition and feedback, personal growth, giving something back, bringing about change, friendship, bonding and/or a feeling of belonging. When managing volunteers, we need to know which of these incentives will motivate our volunteers, either to recruit them to our organization, or to keep them coming back. While speaking at the Didsbury Museum, I was engaging the group on this very subject, and one of the participants explained to the group how once a month they recruit volunteers to DUST (yes dust!) the museum. She explained that they started at a convenient time and they provided pizza for everyone at the lunch break, but she said the biggest reason they had people coming back was that they made it fun! The same goes for the couple who volunteers with their son’s hockey team – I am sure it is not fun getting up at 6:00 am on a Sunday morning to freeze in a cold arena (come on, we live in Canada, we’re meant to be tough). However, it is fun to give back to your community and watch the kids as they develop new skills and grow individually and as a team. It is fun being a part of the bigger picture and belonging to a group, a society or a team.

So next time you hear the term “STP”, whether it be same two people, or same ten people, count yourself in as one of those extraordinary people who volunteers their time, for whatever fun reason is close to your heart!

Wondering what it is that motivates STPs? Book a session to break down the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating statistics into information you can use to recruit volunteers!

Diane Huston

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (Central Region)

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

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