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Re-thinking volunteer engagement during a pandemic: Virtual volunteering

As COVID-19 has reached pandemic levels and physical distancing has become the best defence to stop the spread, many nonprofits have suspended volunteer recruitment efforts, modified frontline service delivery, or are searching for new ways to recruit or engage volunteers.

We all have a role to play in flattening the curve, and, while the process of modifying our programs and recruitment efforts may seem daunting, remember the same framework your organization uses to recruit and retain volunteers applies to remote opportunities.

What to consider if you’re moving to virtual volunteer engagement:

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel

The first step is taking stock of what already exists within the organization – screening processes, volunteer policies, and existing software and platforms. Chances are you already have a lot of the groundwork in place for remote engagement.

For screening, consider what aspects of the recruitment process can be postponed or done virtually:

  • Use an online application form to gather important you may need from prospective volunteers.
  • Meet with new volunteers online to get a feel for who they are as an individual and how they may fit within the organization. Many meeting platforms can support traditional interview processes.
  • Consider pairing up with your local volunteer centre or another nonprofit to offer online volunteer training for existing volunteers.

2. Get creative

Think outside the box – there are many ways to alter existing volunteer roles or offer programs and services while maintaining current health standards for physical distancing.

  • Look at existing volunteer roles and consider what tasks and responsibilities are suited to remote work
  • Talk to your existing volunteers – ask them how they want to be engaged and their ideas for how they can contribute during this time. Bonus: this fosters repeat engagement and supports volunteers in feeling valued.
  • Think of ways to engage your clients virtually through online programming or meeting spaces (e.g. drop-in programs for children or “adopt a senior” Facebook group)

The possibilities are endless!

3. Keep volunteers engaged

It’s important to keep volunteers engaged! When volunteers are involved, they will have a more positive volunteer experience, a stronger connection with the organization and its mission, and are more likely to stay committed.

While in-person relationships are important, we need to consider how to build online communities that are accessible and engaging.

  • Offer frequent updates: tell volunteers how the organization has adapted to COVID-19 and continues to meet its mission.
  • Share impact stories: share how volunteers make a difference in the community and the lives of your clients.
  • Offer online meeting spaces: create communities of practice amongst your volunteers and offer ways for them to connect with one another online (e.g. volunteer meet-ups on Skype).

4. If you can’t go remote, be safe

If you’re an organization that offers frontline services and must still provide in-person programs or services, ensure you take every precaution possible:

  • Regularly wash hands.
  • Respect the 2 metre rule.
  • Limit contact between the volunteer and client as much as possible.
  • Provide training for volunteers about COVID-19 processes and procedures.

When in doubt, defer to the advice of Alberta Health Services and the Government of Alberta’s recommendations. These websites are updated daily and have the most relevant information to keep volunteers and clients safe.

Traditional ways volunteering will always be around, but remote and micro-volunteering has changed the way we engage with volunteers. When the world returns to “normal” and physical distancing is something of a distant memory, remote engagement could open many doors you had not considered before.

For more resources related to volunteering, screening and recruitment, visit Volunteer Alberta or Volunteer Canada.

For more ideas on managing virtual volunteers, watch this webinar from IAVE.

To find or post a remote or micro-volunteering opportunity, visit VolunteerConnector.

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

Volunteering during pandemic

Re-thinking volunteer engagement during a pandemic: Micro-volunteering

As volunteer engagement specialists, it’s essential to recognize and respond to trends. Understanding who the volunteers are in the community and what types of opportunities they’re interested in helps engage and find volunteers in the current climate. This doesn’t change in a pandemic. In fact, we need to be more responsive and open to change since the situation is continuously evolving.

As COVID-19 has reached pandemic levels and physical distancing has become the best defence to stop the spread, you might be searching for new ways to support volunteers.  In this three-part blog series, we’ll be exploring different volunteer engagement trends at the forefront of pandemic response, starting with micro-volunteering.

What is micro-volunteering?

Micro-volunteering is volunteering that includes short-term commitment, a flexible schedule, and focuses on a specific project or one-time task. It can also look like small acts of kindness volunteers do on their own time that may not be tied to a particular cause or charity.

How to create a successful micro-volunteering program

By having a system in place to respond to micro-volunteering, you give your organization and existing volunteers a chance to grow.

1. A strong social media presence

An online presence is an absolute must if you want to engage micro-volunteers successfully. Your organization will need a strong media presence to drive the potential campaigns and provide regular updates to your micro-volunteers and potential prospects.

Be sure to have a variety of different platforms for volunteers to engage with – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.

2. Be prepared to let go

Micro-volunteering is a time-sensitive ask and may not recruit long-term volunteers. Be sure to have a well-rounded plan – include short-term opportunities with regular, long-term opportunities to engage volunteers and support operations post-pandemic.

3. Tie micro-volunteering to your overall impact

Micro-volunteering can sometimes be thought of as slacktivism – merely liking an organization on Facebook doesn’t generate long-term impact for an organization. However, by creating macro-focused opportunities, we can establish a long-lasting impact through micro-volunteering. Find ways to gather data from your volunteers, program users, and social media metrics to address overall impact.

It’s important to keep the big picture in mind when trying new tactics for engagement. Lay a strong foundation to generate long-term impact.

Examples of micro-volunteering

Many hands make light work, and micro-volunteering is a great way to boost visibility for your nonprofit and build awareness of your mission. Here are some ways to engage micro-volunteers in your organization:

  • Organize a donation drive for your nonprofit.
  • Ask existing clients or volunteers to post impact stories about their experience with your organization to social media.
  • Create micro-projects for volunteers with technical skills (e.g. website design, coding, communications) to update webpages or create new marketing materials.
  • Conduct a virtual fundraiser and social media campaign (e.g. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge).

In the end, no matter how our programs and engagement tactics evolve, we can support our community in finding a sense of purpose, connection and impact.

For more resources related to volunteering, screening and recruitment, visit Volunteer Alberta or ECVO.

To find a micro-volunteer opportunity, visit Volunteer Canada.

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

 

 

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Giving back: The benefits of getting involved with nonprofits during your post-secondary education

“What do you want to do when you graduate?”

September means a few things: green leaves and grass begin turning yellow and gold, the wind is a little crisper, pumpkin-spiced drinks are back, and of course, students are back in school.

As a recent grad, I reflect on my post-secondary and employment journey often. The truth is, I didn’t always know I would be working in the nonprofit sector. That’s because I had no idea what it was, and the important role it plays in civil society.

When I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, I was unsure of where and how to apply the important theories I learned. And once I left the campus environment, it felt like there were no options.

So, I went back to school and finished another Bachelor’s degree in 2018 following a failed attempt at being a barista along with a string of other odd jobs.

Praxis makes perfect

In the last year of my first degree, I enrolled in a course with a Community Service-Learning component, which paired me with a nonprofit organization for a 20 hour volunteer placement.

During my placement, I had to reflect on my volunteer experiences, and draw connections from course materials and content. As a post-secondary student, this was exactly what I was looking for – a way to apply concepts and theories that appeared abstract and intangible to real life.

I also developed practical skills that expanded my interests in addition to my capabilities. The organization I was matched with was looking for someone to develop marketing materials, which I happily took on. The work I did ended up sparking an interest that I didn’t realize I had in graphic design and outreach.

I realized that Praxis, or the bridge between theory and practice, was the ‘thing’ that was missing from my education.

I continued to pursue other experiential learning opportunities, and by the end of my second degree, I accumulated over 150 volunteer hours to complete a certificate in Community Engagement and Service-Learning in addition to my degree. It also encouraged me to pursue other volunteer opportunities in areas that were relevant to my degree.

Although not every post-secondary institution has Community Service-Learning, more institutions are realizing the importance of experiential learning. Talk to your respective career centres about similar opportunities on your campus.

3 ways giving back gives you an enriched experience

So what can my story tell you? By making the extra effort to give back to your communities through volunteerism, you’ll receive an enriching experience to learn new skills and more about yourself.

A feedback loop of learning

Volunteering with nonprofits can have a tremendous impact on post-secondary students as well as the nonprofits they participate in. In my case, I had the chance to impact social issues I care about by getting involved with nonprofits that address those issues.

That is, you get to help create the change that you want to see in the world. Organizations also have a chance to be exposed to the newest forms of thinking that come out of post-secondary institutions.

Exploring untapped potential

While the possibility to work on things beyond what your volunteer job description ranges from organization to organization, being immersed in a professional setting can give you a chance to practice skills that you already have or can help you realize skills that you didn’t even know you had!

Awards for community-oriented students

While many awards exist for high GPAs and other scholarly achievements, being involved in your community through volunteerism also pays off.

For example, the Edmonton Community Foundation provides bursaries to Edmonton and/or Northern Alberta students with financial need who have a history of community involvement or leadership.

In addition to specific post-secondary institutions and awards for non-campus related activities, the Government of Alberta also has a comprehensive list of awards for community-oriented students.

For some institutions, being involved with nonprofit organizations can also give you extra credentials that will make you stand out after you graduate.

How can you get involved?

The first step to finding the right opportunity to get involved with nonprofits is a tricky task. Luckily, Volunteer Connector has made finding volunteer opportunities easy for Albertans. The opportunities posted on the site can be filtered by your interests, skills and time commitment.

Eunice Doroni

Volunteer Alberta

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NextGen City Jam recognizes Edmonton volunteers: Why they give back and stay involved

Everyone’s volunteer journey is unique. When you ask volunteers why and how they started, their stories are often different.

Recently, we interviewed two Edmonton volunteers who are attending NextGen’s volunteer recognition event City Jam to give us insight into how they started volunteering and why they give back to the Edmonton community.

How long have you been volunteering for?

Maddy Shevchuk: I’ve been volunteering for different groups and organizations since I started university in September 2012.

Jim Walsh: I started volunteering in 2012 when I met a wonderful lady I now proudly call my wife. I got involved here in Edmonton in January 2019 with the Deep Freeze.

Why did you start volunteering?

Maddy: I love working with kids and helping kids makes me feel good! I love the feeling of volunteering.

Jim: My wife was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2011, a year before we met. Seeing her get involved to help support and educate others, and to witness her be an inspiration to so many others who were going through the same disease, made me want to get involved to support her and her cause.

Since then, I have discovered there are many wonderful things that can come from lending your time and talents to assist others. For example, it is a fantastic way to give back to your community. Here in Edmonton, I have a great friend of mine who asked me if I was interested in helping out at the Deep Freeze this year. It was a great way for me to find out more about what my new home city has to offer me. I have also felt a great sense of purpose and it helps me to reduce stress when I get involved in other activities.

Why do you think volunteering/volunteerism is important?

Maddy: I think that volunteering is important because everybody could use a helping hand every once in a while. And the few spare hours you have to volunteer can make a world of difference for somebody else.

I think that other people should get involved with their communities through volunteering so they can see what else is out there. See how other people live and see the impact that different organizations have on their community.

Jim: Volunteering helps bring people together. Getting involved in volunteerism provides you a greater appreciation for where you live, helps foster a greater sense of pride in our neighborhood/town/city, etc. It gives you a chance to grow as a person. It’s also a fantastic way to relieve stress; you take the focus off yourself for a little while and focus on others. So get out there. Get involved in something, anything.

From your perspective as a volunteer, why do you think NextGen City Jam is important to your community? 

Maddy: I think NextGen City Jam is very important in our community because it encourages people to step out of their comfort zone, doing things that they would not normally do, it also helps out the communities that we live in and makes such a positive impact in so many different areas!

Jim: As a volunteer and as a NEW volunteer here in the Edmonton area, for me, NextGen City Jam is a way for organizers of the volunteer community to show their appreciation to all those who help make events and charities more successful/memorable. It is that thankful recognition that helps make the volunteers feel that their efforts are greatly respected. As people, we all like to be recognized and that makes us want to do more. This helps feed the desire to grow the volunteer community. So thank you NextGen.

Has NextGen City Jam encouraged you to volunteer more?

Maddy: It has encouraged me to keep volunteering in my community to give back.

Jim: The knowledge of NextGen City Jam has made me want to get more involved. From my view, it’s a great show of appreciation to the volunteer community for the hard work that the volunteers do.

I never realized how much work goes into creating and putting on an event. Volunteers are truly an integral part, and for an event like NextGen City Jam to honour the volunteers the way they do is amazing! People want to repeat actions that give them positive feelings, and recognition like NextGen City Jam certainly fills you with pride and appreciation.

If a friend of yours wanted to start volunteering but didn’t know where to start, what advice would you give to them?

Maddy: Look into volunteering in areas that you are passionate about. I for one love working with kids so I am always interested in opportunities in this field. If you are not sure what interests you, try volunteering for several different organizations and see how you like them. You never know what you might enjoy if you don’t try.

Jim: If someone was to ask me about volunteering I would tell them to start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself. You want the experience to be enjoyable, not a “chore”. Don’t try to be a superhero right out of the gate!  Get involved in something of interest. We all have skills/talents we can offer others. So, use those skills and compassion to help others, to bring someone else some enjoyment.

Have you or your volunteers donated at least 10 hours between May 1st and September 4th? Send in your hours to Edmonton’s NextGen and get your name on the guestlist for City Jam 2019 at Sonic Field Day!

Maddy Shevchuk is a University of Alberta elementary education student who loves volunteering with kids and making other people happy! Currently, she volunteers as a big sister mentor with the Boys & Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area. When Maddy is not in school, volunteering or working, she loves to bake cupcakes and read.  

 

Jim Walsh is originally from the east coast and recently moved to Edmonton for the second time in late 2018 with his beloved wife. He loves to volunteer to open his mind to new things and learn more about his city. Currently, Jim volunteers with Kaleido, the Deep Freeze with Arts on the Avenue, the Heart of the City, Heritage Festival and Edmonton Rock Fest. Jim and his wife are long-time breast cancer survivor advocates and dedicated volunteers who help raise funds and increase awareness.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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Skilled Volunteerism: Why I volunteer and how to find a position that suits you

When I give skilled volunteerism presentations, I feel there is always a little bit of a disparity between how we talk about conventional volunteering as opposed to “skilled volunteering”. We frame skilled volunteering as this newfangled, shiny amazing thing.

And while the term is new, skilled volunteering is not a new phenomenon. So, it is important for the sustainability of organizations to look at people engagement in a new way and to understand the motivations of why skilled volunteers, volunteer.

At Volunteer Alberta, we believe volunteerism is a transformative and essential part of humanity and society. We are all committed to giving back in our own ways: whether it is formal or informal, and each of us have our own preferences.

A formal way of giving back: Skilled volunteering

Personally, I like to engage in skilled volunteering which is a more formal way of giving back. I like positions where I can use my unique skills and knowledge to help a cause that I am passionate about.

I like defined parameters of a role, but something where I can put my own stamp on my work, and clearly see how I as an individual volunteer am making a difference. I also like roles that have a flexible time commitment to allow me to both work, and participate in other social activities.

How I came to self-identify as a skilled volunteer

I realized skilled volunteering is for me through a lot of introspection, trial and error, and activities that provided me with more clarity of the type of volunteer position I am suited for. For example, I completed the Window of Work, which walks you through why you want to volunteer, what you want to share with organizations, what you’d like to gain, and what you are not interested in or able to do.

Volunteer Canada has a handy quiz that I found was spot on in describing the type of volunteer I am. The quiz identified me as a “roving consultant volunteer”. The quiz described me as, “incredibly focused and intense, wants to volunteer specialized skills, but it has to be at my discretion and within my timeframe.”

The quiz further described that roving consultant volunteers gravitate towards organizations that are clear and specific about what they need. The results also identified some things I should consider before volunteering based on my type and my main passion as international development, which is definitely true for me.

Benefits of skilled volunteering

Finding skilled volunteer opportunities became easier when I found out the type of volunteer I am. I enjoy skilled volunteering because I feel like I am valued as an individual for my own unique skills, aptitudes and experiences.

I am able to give back to my community, but also receive valuable experience and training to leverage in my career that as a young professional, I value. I have been told by some supervisors that I was considered for a position based on my volunteer experience!

I see volunteering as an important part of making me a whole person, and contributing to the resilience of my community. I don’t believe there is only one right way of volunteering, but skilled volunteering is the right way for me!

Do you want more information on skilled volunteerism? We offer a webinar on skilled volunteerism which discusses volunteer trends in the sector from the data available, as well as introducing tools to use going forward to support nonprofit people engagement. Check our learning calendar for the next scheduled webinar!

 

Victoria Hinderks

Volunteer Alberta

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