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The psychology behind the decline in giving and what you can do about it

It’s no secret that the number of people in Canada who give has been declining since 1990. This means charities and nonprofits have had to rely on a decreasing pool of donors for their fundraising and operational needs. But, the bigger question is why are fewer people donating than ever before and what can we do about it?

As a former psychology major, I wondered if any social psychology theories could help explain this phenomenon. During my research, I realized that my intuition was right. So, here are three social psychology theories that may point to why Canadians are donating less:

Social loafing

Have you ever been assigned a group project and noticed that some of your group members put in less effort than other group members? This is known as social loafing: the tendency for people to put in less effort because they are aware that there are more people to contribute to the same project or goal.

Now, imagine you send out a generic email asking for a donation. One of your potential donors receives the email and realizes that it was sent to numerous people. Based on the email content, there doesn’t seem to be much urgency to donate. So, your donor decides not to donate because “someone else will” eventually. This is social loafing in action.

What you can do about it

When you request a donation, it’s important to clearly articulate the donation’s impact (that every penny counts) and your financial need. Let your donors know that donations are low. Your donors may be more willing to help if they know how and why their contribution will make a difference.

Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the feeling of discomfort when you realize there’s an inconsistency between your attitudes and/or behaviours. So, you rationalize the attitude or behaviour to make yourself feel better.

For example, say someone donated once because they believe in your cause, but they decide against donating again and become uncomfortable. So, they justify their decision to make themselves feel better through objections like, “I needed the money more” or “my small donation won’t make much of difference.”

What you can do about it

Again, communicating the impact and value of a donation may motivate your donor to take action. But, consider taking it one step further by putting yourself in your donor’s shoes; tell your donor your organization understands not everyone can contribute monetarily. And instead, offer alternatives to cash donations such as volunteering or in-kind donations. Your donor may be more likely to give if they feel understood.

Social exchange theory

Social exchange theory is how we evaluate our relationships based on its costs and benefits, what we think we deserve, and whether there are better alternatives.

For example, if a friend doesn’t return your texts or calls, or cancels plans more frequently, we may wonder whether the friendship is worth our time. And if the costs outweigh what we put into the friendship, we will be more likely to end it. And it’s no different for your donors who will evaluate whether their social exchange (i.e., their donations, volunteer time, etc.) is reciprocated by your organization.

What you can do about it

Do you have a donor retention strategy? If not, now is the time to build one. And if you already have one, think of new or more ways you can thank your donors. For example, share your successful volunteer stories or your mission success stories that tell your donors how they helped to make a difference.

And when you ask for another donation, don’t start with big requests like legacy giving or large sums. Instead, build trust through the foot-in-the-door technique by asking for something small. As a result, your donor will be more likely to consider the big ask later on.

Are you looking for more funding ideas or resources? We can help!

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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Member Spotlight: Propellus gets innovative with volunteer recruitment (and you can too!)

Volunteers needed is a common phrase and challenge that nonprofits know all too well. With the lack of data on Alberta volunteerism since 2013 and the migration to the digital age, Alberta nonprofits have been left in the dark on how to reach volunteers today, especially youth.

But, thanks to Propellus, Calgary’s volunteer centre, Alberta’s volunteer recruitment landscape is changing. In 2018, Propellus officially launched a new website called VolunteerConnector, Alberta’s first platform that connects volunteers with available opportunities shared by nonprofits across Alberta.

Propellus creates Alberta’s largest online volunteer recruitment platform

On VolunteerConnector, volunteers can search by region, causes they care about, time commitment, and skills they can provide! And, the number of regions across Alberta grow each day; currently, there are nonprofits sharing volunteer opportunities from Calgary, Campbell River, Cochrane, Cold Lake, Comox Valley, Edmonton, Hanna, Innisfail, Lethbridge, Okotoks, and St. Albert, just to name a few!

“VolunteerConnector is a simple and easy to use tool that helps nonprofits with recruitment in multiple geographies,” says Janet Rock at Propellus. We provide micro-sites for every organization, so that means even organizations that don’t have websites have a web presence. We also get to do the heavy lifting of marketing volunteering so organizations don’t have to!”

Thanks to the support of the Alberta Volunteer Centre Network (AVCN) and Propellus’ hard work on the platform, VolunteerConnector is now Alberta’s largest volunteer recruitment platform.

“VolunteerConnector is one of Google’s top landing pages and in the top 10% of websites in Canada, says Janet. “That means it gets a lot of visits – 885,000 in 2018 in fact. It demonstrates that it does what we hope it does – connect people to opportunities to volunteer, easily.”

What VolunteerConnector’s data can tell us about volunteer trends in Alberta

But VolunteerConnector is more than a volunteer matching platform, it is also a valuable resource of volunteer data for nonprofits across Alberta. In 2019, Propellus released three unique reports from data they collected from the platform:

According to Janet, up-to-date reports like these can support nonprofits by providing information on volunteer recruitment trends; research that can spark new ideas and ways of reaching the volunteers you want and need to reach.

“Implement our research in training for volunteer engagement and recruitment. It’s the first time real-time information has been available in our province, so it means we can help people learn about volunteerism as trends change.”

Specifically, Propellus’ recent data provides insight into volunteer opportunities that volunteers are interested in now, how to recruit volunteers in unpopular areas of interest, and what motivates Albertans to volunteer.

“Volunteers want to be part of causes in a way that I think we’ve really not understood before. In the past volunteers wanted to see the impact they were making,” says Janet. “Now I would articulate that volunteers want to belong to a cause, to find personal meaning in a volunteer role. So, organizations should be asking themselves if that’s the currency they are dealing in. Are they able to provide meaningful opportunities for volunteers?”

Propellus’ next steps for

And, Propellus plans to use their research and feedback from volunteer centres to continue to update and enhance VolunteerConnector. In the next eight weeks, upgrades to the platform will include:

  • A simpler search that focuses on causes and skills including easier to find flexible opportunities.
  • Dashboards with real-time reporting information for volunteer centres.
  • Volunteer centres as landing pages in the regions they serve. This will help increase volunteer centres’ profile to share more information about their centres.
  • Online applications for volunteers to apply directly to organizations. Volunteers can use their profiles to apply to any organization of their choosing, making their experience more seamless between organizations.
  • Automatic tracking for volunteer hours which will then be reported back to the volunteer centres’ dashboards.

Are you interested in posting your volunteer opportunities online? Learn more about how your nonprofit can get started with VolunteerConnector!

Propellus is the Volunteer Centre of Calgary that connects nonprofits with volunteers. Their biggest project is VolunteerConnector which is Alberta’s largest volunteer recruitment platform and Alberta’s up-to-date data source for trends in volunteerism! They are also one of the founding members of the Alberta Nonprofit Network (ABNN)

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Preventing and addressing gaps when engaging skilled volunteers

What does Volunteer Alberta mean by skilled volunteerism?

At Volunteer Alberta, we often speak of and promote skilled volunteerism and the value skilled volunteers can bring to nonprofit organizations. But what do we mean by “highly skilled volunteers”?

Highly skilled volunteers include any volunteer that offers specific skills, knowledge, or expertise in an area where not all volunteers could help out. Highly skilled volunteer roles go above and beyond more basic tasks like photocopying, filing, sorting, delivering, registering kids, soliciting small donations, or handing out refreshments. Instead, a highly skilled volunteer might offer pro bono legal advice, create the annual financial reports, conduct client research, or design a new logo for your program.

Nonprofit organizations often engage highly skilled volunteers on their Board of Directors or to help provide services that would otherwise be too expensive. Highly skilled volunteers can also ease the burden on paid staff who often take on many roles due to limited budgets.

While skilled volunteerism is a great way to build capacity into your organization, we must not overlook the potential gaps that may arise when we engage skilled volunteers.

Imagine Canada’s blog, ‘Re-thinking the way we share skilled expertise: the pro bono paradox’

I recently came across an interesting blog from Imagine Canada regarding the paradox of pro bono skilled volunteerism. That is, what gaps can skilled volunteerism create and how do we prevent and/or address them?

Here are some highlights and key insights from the blog:

“In many cases though, the application of pro bono skills can be a double-edged sword. If strong project management plans are not designed ahead of time (and in collaboration) with the nonprofit and the skilled volunteer, the experience runs the risk of creating more challenges than good…

Here are two things to think about that will support a better planning paradigm, and allow nonprofit leadership teams to focus on the longer term outcomes required.

1. Shift our mindset away from transactional volunteerism to longer term strategic bench strength

We should shift the focus away from transactional experiences used as a stop gap measure to an operational issue at the nonprofit, to designing the mechanics of the pro bono experience ahead of time and defining the ways each volunteer can help to empower a nonprofit leadership team to come from a place of strength when articulating what is actually required in the long term strategy (vs. the gift of what a volunteer sees as necessary today).

Much like designing an effective job description, nonprofit leadership teams and the volunteer can set up skilled experiences in ways that deliver a strong return on impact, integrity and investment for all involved. We must be thoughtful and learn how to map key competencies and capabilities required for the nonprofit’s organizational success, and how to say ‘no’ when necessary without impacting the interest of the volunteer to continue to be engaged.

2. Put the focus on skill development and cross-sector learning opportunities

We should also explore how a pro bono experience can be designed in ways that help to uncover new skills a volunteer might have (beyond what they do at the office day to day) and look at issues from as many angles as possible. In Volunteer Canada’s recent study Bridging the Gap, a survey of employer supported volunteers indicated that they were motivated by experiences working with nonprofits that helped them develop new skills, and some indicated they did not want to volunteer doing the same job as they do for work.

Thinking this way can help to get everyone excited about “what’s next” and ongoing engagement vs. having a one-off pro bono based experience where the recommendations become a dusty report on a shelf or the to-do list.”

Read the full Imagine Canada blog.

Check out our Highly Skilled Volunteers page for resources!

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

 

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The Next Generation of Advocates

I’m a millennial. Yes, I like avocado toast, I take selfies, I use my phone at the dinner table, and I am partially responsible for the decline of print journalism. I am part of the elusive generation nonprofits worry about recruiting. After all, nonprofits are told that millennials don’t want to work in the sector. And truthfully, young people are notorious for job-hopping. So, if the sector figures out how to recruit us, will we even stay?

The future looks dire.

Unfortunately, I am part of the problem. I have worked at Volunteer Alberta for over six years – first as a Program Coordinator and now as the Communications Coordinator. Last year I went back to school to pursue a Master of Counselling. Unless Volunteer Alberta decides to hire on a therapist, I will soon be moving on in pursuit of my next career.

But is the outlook as bad as it seems?

I have worked and volunteered in the nonprofit sector for over nine years (a significant chunk of my young life) and in that time, I have learned a lot about the sector’s impact, diversity, and challenges. I know the opportunities nonprofits offer those of us who want to make a difference, as well as the sector’s importance in building and strengthening communities.

In other words, I have become an advocate with significant knowledge and experience that helps me see the possibilities and nuances of the nonprofit sector. This won’t change with career shifts. As an advocate, I will continue to share what I know with those I connect with. I will always donate to causes that move me (without complaining about overhead!). I will continue to use my strengths, interests, skills, and even my new education, as a volunteer. I might even continue to work in the sector at a nonprofit agency or mental health organization! And, I know I will share the amazing support services the sector offers with my future clients.

While worrying about how to hire younger generations is fair, the nonprofit sector can also embrace the benefits of engaging young people as volunteers, practicum students, and short-term employees. The future is collaborative and cross-sectoral! Consider thinking outside the box about the ways young people (like me) can, and will, make a difference and help communities meet shared aspirations.

Whether it is through programs like the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP), or by making the investment in training someone who is starting their career and new to our sector, engaging young people is how we ‘pass the torch’. Passing the torch is more than finding your next Executive Director – it’s igniting passion and engagement that can last a lifetime.

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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Twitter Tips and Tricks

We recently shared some social media tips in our blog “Getting Started on Twitter”. In this blog, we will offer some additional information for those of you who are new to Twitter!

What does following mean?

When you follow someone you are subscribing to their tweets. Some users have private accounts and you will have to request to follow them before you can see their tweets.

What’s a hashtag?

A hashtag looks like this: #volunteers. By placing a # in front of a word or phrase (no spaces!), you create a searchable link. Twitter users can follow the link to see tweets with the same hashtag. Keep in mind that hashtags are most useful when numerous other people are using them.

Hashtags are a great way to interact with other nonprofits or individuals who are talking about similar things. Hashtags are most often used for events, locations, campaigns, or news topics.

What does the @ do?

You can link to another Twitter user and let them know you are mentioning them by using @username (ex. @VolunteerAB). This is called a handle.

You can use @ when you are mentioning a person or organization to give them credit, sharing their work or event, or directing others to their Twitter page. Using a handle to link to someone is a good tool for engaging or communicating with followers of your organization and other nonprofits!

@ vs. .@

Keep in mind, when you begin a tweet with @username the tweet will go directly to that account and won’t always show up for your other followers.

You can use @ at the start of your tweet when you want to send a semi-private tweet – for example, to give someone specific information that isn’t necessarily important or relevant for all of your followers. These tweets won’t automatically be seen by your followers or the public, but they can still be viewed if someone either searches for them or follows both your account and the one you mention.

By adding a period, character, or word before the account you wish to tweet (for example: .@username or check out @username) your tweet will be sent normally – the tweet will be able to be viewed by the public as well as in your followers’ news feeds.

What does DM mean?

DM stands for direct message. This is a private message sent to the Twitter inbox of a selected recipient. DMs can be between two accounts or they can be sent to multiple people, making it a group message. A DM is completely private and is only seen by those included in the message, just like an email. It will not show up on your timeline or other’s news feeds.

What’s a retweet?

A RT or retweet is when you re-share someone else’s tweet. This action causes their tweet to appear on your organization’s profile page and appear in your followers’ news feeds. Basically, retweeting is how you share other people’s posts!

It’s a good idea to retweet relevant news, events, stories, comments, and information you think your followers would be interested in.  This way, you can share and learn from others, show what your organization both cares about and is interested in, and participate in what makes social media ‘social’: an interactive and connected community.

What’s the difference between blocking and muting?

Blocking is for ending all interaction with another account. This action will stop others from viewing your tweets from their account, directly mentioning you in a tweet, or DM’ing you. Blocking is helpful if you receive spam or abusive messages.

Muting hides tweets from an account you follow so they don’t show up in your front page news feed. You may mute accounts to keep your feed relevant and manageable or to ignore a really chatty account (for example: someone live-tweeting an event that doesn’t apply to your own organization). You will still get notifications if someone you muted directly mentions you in a tweet or replies to you.

Now that you understand more about Twitter, stay tuned for our next blog where we will share tips for managing your organization’s social media, utilizing Twitter analytics, and using pictures, emojis, polls, and memes appropriately!

Whitney Cullingham
Volunteer Alberta

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