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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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Annual weeks of giving: An informal volunteer story

Growing up, December was the season of giving. My family celebrated Christmas by sharing with the community. Early on, my parents instilled the lessons that Christmas was not about the presents under the tree, it was about gifting our time and creating joyful memories for those around us.

I recall many a December preparing shoeboxes for Operation Shoebox, donating our gently used toys and household items to Goodwill, or inviting those who had no one to celebrate with over for a warm meal and conversation. Regardless of my faith or the seasons I celebrate, it is the lessons about community that I carry with me throughout the year and inspires my love for informal volunteering.

Starting a tradition based on community and generosity

Annual weeks of giving is a tradition I started during post-secondary. December is a busy time for students and nonprofits. December is about fundraising campaigns, volunteer drives, and requests for donations because nonprofits rely heavily on the goodwill and charitable nature of others.

Annual weeks of giving became my way of contributing to the cause and giving back when I had limited funds and time. I was able to balance my chaotic schedule with the needs of the community by being an informal volunteer (e.g. food bank donations or gently used winter clothes).

Although I am no longer in post-secondary, my tradition continues! It has even grown over the years – from my original two weeks to six weeks. Now, I see the impact my contributions have on those around me and inspire others to volunteer. And, this year was no exception! I made connections within my neighbourhood and inspired others to keep paying it forward.

Bonding neighbours together by cleaning up shared green spaces

One of my contributions for 2018 was a commitment to clean up shared green spaces – picking up trash, upcycling plastics, and recycling reusable products. A small action had HUGE consequences. Starting with just my bags, a stick, and a wheelbarrow, my single person mission turned into a neighbourhood cleanup.

It started with children being curious about what I was doing, their curiosity gave way to a desire to help, and eventually became a family activity. By the end of the walk, we had cleared two public parks from surface litter and upcycled enough one-time use plastics that I can start my entire garden from seedlings!

This action of cleaning up shared spaces didn’t just end at the park, it allowed me to foster connections in my relatively new neighbourhood. Even though we’ve been in our current home for three years, work schedules and travel made it difficult to get to know our neighbours. Surprisingly, the fastest way to get to know people is by looking like you’re storing plastic for the end of the world. It’s a great ice breaker!

I’ve met several neighbours with an avid love of gardening. We’ve traded tips on maximizing space, what yields the best results in certain spaces, and some new ideas on how to upcycle our old plastics. I even have someone who is willing to teach me the basics of jam and jelly making this fall! I’m excited to learn from a Farmer’s Market master and to have some new friends that live close by.

I hope that I’ve inspired others to join me on the journey or create their own traditions. Supporting community through informal volunteering and random acts of kindness is a win-win. For everyone!

Do you want to spread some kindness? Check out RandomActsofKindness.org for some inspiration and get started!

 

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

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Member Spotlight: Hinton FCSS emboldens informal volunteering in community

Imagine trees wrapped in hand-knitted scarves on a cold winter’s day or children handing out lemonade on a hot summer day. In Hinton, you can easily come across informal volunteering or random acts of kindness. And, Hinton’s Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) is no different.

One of Hinton FCSS’s main goals is to foster community connection and reduce social isolation. As a result, informal giving or volunteering organically flourishes in their programs and services.

Friendly Visitor Program turns strangers into friends

Recently, Hinton FCSS launched the Friendly Visitor Program; a program made possible entirely by volunteers. The volunteer centre provides the framework, but it is brought to life by people deliberately offering their friendship to another person. Adults are welcome to apply to become a volunteer companion or a recipient.

“Friends are just strangers waiting to happen,” says Lisa Brett, Volunteer Centre Coordinator at Hinton FCSS.

Formal volunteer transforms opportunity into informal volunteering

While the program is relatively new and typically considered a formal way of volunteering, one volunteer match, Ginnie and Kim, demonstrates how formal volunteering can transform into informal volunteering.

“Ginnie and Kim visit so often that Kim has become a part of Ginnie’s family,” says Lisa. “It has helped Kim’s life and her mental health, and fulfilled the gaps in her social life. It’s exceptional.”

Instead of doing bare minimum visits, volunteer Ginnie went above and beyond in the program by simply living and expressing kindness, and in the process, turned a stranger into a life-long family friend.

“Informal volunteering is essential to individual, family, community, national, and global wellbeing,” says Lisa. “When you model kindness, you never know who you’re inspiring. Those small gestures, they add up. They are so critical to community health and wellness. You might create a ripple effect.”

How Hinton FCSS staff encourage informal volunteering

Another possible reason informal volunteering blooms in Hinton FCSS’s programs could be due in large part to its staff and their dedication to spreading kindness.

“My coworkers are mega informal volunteers! I am very inspired by their deeds all the time,” says Lisa. “Some bake and share the treats at work, some participate in every single fundraiser, some are animal advocates, and some babysit others’ children.”
“Informal volunteering is a new word, but not a new concept. To me, informal volunteering is consciously exhibiting kindness and caring. It is about performing without expectations. It is being human. It is being an active citizen,” remarks Lisa.

To learn how to encourage informal volunteering in your community, contact Lisa Brett at Hinton FCSS.

Hinton Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) focuses on “people helping people help themselves.” Hinton FCSS enhances the social well-being of individuals and families in the community through their programs and services. For over 24 years, Hinton’s Volunteer Centre has operated under Hinton FCSS, making volunteer matches and community connections as a way to sustain people as active participants in the community.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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NextGen City Jam is increasing volunteerism – and you can too!

Imagine a room full of people excitedly anticipating for a concert to start. The room goes dark, lights flood the stage, and the crowd goes wild as the headliner takes the stage. But, this night isn’t just for anyone. This concert is exclusively for dedicated volunteers who generously donate their time to their community.

What is City Jam?

NextGen City Jam is a night full of live music in Edmonton with stellar bands that both thanks volunteers for their hard work, and also encourages volunteerism in the community. In exchange for 10 or more hours of their time, volunteers receive exclusive access to this event. Just one of the ways NextGen is engaging youth to get involved in their community.

“We know the important impact that young people can have on the future of this city,” says Christine Causing, Edmonton’s NextGen Coordinator. “This is why we’re hosting City Jam to encourage more Edmontonians, especially those between 18-40, to get involved and experience how rewarding it can be to give back.”

Encouraging volunteerism locally

Last year, NextGen City Jam helped raise 11,000 volunteer hours! That’s 11,000 hours given to local nonprofits to carry out their missions that they didn’t have before, with the assistance of one enticing event centered around engaging existing and first-time volunteers.

“It’s a brand new experience, something I’ve never really done before. And it’s giving me the opportunity to try even more new things. This is all great for me and is even better because I know and can see first-hand that I’m making a difference,” – Anonymous, Volunteer at Boys and Girls Big Brother Big Sisters of Edmonton Area.

Increasing the number of first-time volunteers

Last year, 10% of 400 volunteers were first-time volunteers. This year, NextGen’s goal is to increase the number of first-time volunteers, even if it’s for a minimum of 10 hours. To do this, NextGen will support first-time volunteers by hosting opportunities where they’d go out for the day and volunteer at a charity, event or nonprofit organization.

City Jam is an example of a new and exciting way to engage volunteers; it creates new opportunities for people to come together and contribute to their community.

NextGen consists of a group of volunteers who work together to provide a platform for new and engaging ideas and create a vibrant community. Do you want to participate in City Jam? Volunteer for a minimum of 10 hours at a local charity or nonprofit between June 1 and November 28, and then submit your hours to NextGen to register to attend the concert taking place on December 1.

Blog written by: Navi Bhullar, Volunteer Alberta Intern

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Did you know you are a People Engagement Specialist? Thinking & Acting Differently Part 2

Getting creative

Jodi was inspired and wanted to read more about how to improve her volunteer engagement, so she dove into the Volunteer Recognition Study published by Volunteer Canada in 2013… she found it highly relevant and insightful.

It highlighted that volunteer recognition could be enhanced with a deeper understanding about volunteer motivations and interests, and about how engaging volunteers in developing and using their skills could create mutual benefit and added value for the volunteer. The study provided her with even more motivation to engage volunteers in meaningful ways.

The very next day Jodi received the Volunteer Alberta Member Exclusive email… and in it was a rather intriguing worksheet promising a quick and easy way to engage volunteers by gaining a deeper understanding of their motivations and interests. It was called the Window of Work. ­ She downloaded it right away and started thinking about how she could use it.

Then it dawned on her, one of the steps she was building into her volunteer screening process was step number 10 – the feedback step! She decided to invite some of the volunteers to complete the worksheet, she started with the STP’s (you know, the Same Ten People, the ones who always show up but risk burnout at every turn.)

Jodi emailed them. She shared the Window of Work and gave simple instructions about how to complete it. She requested a 30-minute conversation the next time they were in to volunteer. Within a week she had 10 appointments scheduled!

Some simple changes

Jodi was happy to hear that everyone was grateful that she wanted to know more about them! They told her how valued it made them feel that she wanted to connect about their interests, motivations, and to get their feedback on their volunteer experience.

Jodi discovered a lot in those conversations:

  • Almost all of them gave incredible insight into “why” they kept coming back… and she realized she could use those reasons to help recruit instead of just saying “volunteers needed!”. She made new volunteer recruitment posters and wrote a variety of social media posts that spoke directly to the meaning people experienced because of being engaged as volunteers in her organization.
  • One volunteer identified their love of meeting and talking to new people – so she invited them to come help with recruitment at the volunteer fair booth during NVW.
  • Two of them gave fantastic feedback and ideas about the training process – and one of them, who’d been with the organization for nearly a decade, even volunteered to help with training! The volunteer felt recognized as a resident expert and valued as a champion of the organization! And as a bonus, some of Jodi’s time was freed up to be strategic and to keep building new people engagement possibilities. 
  • One of her newest volunteers was an aspiring writer in his second year of communications in college. Together they came up with a project he could do as an intern through Volunteer Alberta’s Serving Communities Internship Program (a total Win-Win for them both! The student would get a $1000 from the Government of Alberta after successfully completing his internship and her organization was going to get a series of newsletters – which could really help improve outreach.)
  • One volunteer shared how much they loved photography and indicated an interest in photographing the special events. So she created a new position, Event Photographer, and together they outlined the expectations. (This was a huge bonus because they could use the photos on the website and social media to help with outreach!)
  • That same volunteer was working at a café but really wanted to put her Art History degree to work, but didn’t know where to get the vital job experience she needed…. After thinking about it together, they came up with another idea! Together they could create a display about the organization’s history and impact in the community that could travel between the local elementary schools and share important information with the younger generation!
  • One person revealed how much they wanted to volunteer with their family more. She had six kids and Jodi didn’t really have an opportunity for her to do… but thankfully Jodi remembered her colleague, the one from the Volunteer Managers Group, had lots of family-friendly opportunities! So Jodi advised the volunteer to contact that organization and provided her with a referral to the volunteer manager there.
  • Another volunteer was reluctant to reveal that they weren’t enjoying the weekly volunteer position anymore. It was too hard to make it on time and he was starting to feel obligated, which was disappointing to him because he really believed in the cause… Jodi suggested he become a special event volunteer instead and put his training to use by helping fill in here and there when he could. The volunteer felt valued and had a renewed understanding of the impact he could make for a cause that really mattered to him!

Jodi was on her way to becoming a People Engagement Specialist. You see, with a little research, creativity, a subtle shift in your thinking and a willingness to make some simple changes to your work, you can create new possibilities for meaningful people engagement.

In the making of a People Engagement Specialist, there are three the key ingredients: knowing volunteer’s interests and motivations, understanding impact, and creating meaningful engagement.

Katherine Topolniski

Volunteer Alberta 

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