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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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What young volunteers can bring to the board governance table

Many nonprofits and charities experience challenges in recruiting young volunteers. What kind of language appeals to youth? What channels can you reach them on? And what type of opportunities are they looking for?

Luckily, at Volunteer Alberta, we’ve created a unique volunteer matching program that connects youth with nonprofit boards across the province: Youth @ the Table, taking the guess-work out of recruiting young volunteers for board governance.

In this guest blog, Janica and Paul, a mentor and youth board member duo from Youth @ the Table, tell us how trying something new and joining the program led to an impactful relationship between them, and uncovered lasting learnings.

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Janica:  I’m a person who loves the community. I’ve worked in the not-for-profit sector for most of my career. I am the Executive Director of Humanity In Practice (h!p), and I am a Youth @the Table mentor.

Paul: I’m currently a board member of Humanity in Practice and am part of Youth @ The Table. I am also a second-year undergraduate neuroscience student at the University of Calgary.

What made you want to participate in Youth @ the Table?

Janica: We were excited to engage youth at a board level. I thought this was an excellent opportunity to connect with Volunteer Alberta and other nonprofits across Alberta. We hoped to understand the challenges and experience the benefits that youth can bring to an organization.

Paul: I have experience in volunteering, but was always curious about the function and decision-making structure of the organizations that I volunteered for. The need for youth involvement became apparent when I came across a statement from Youth @ The Table saying that youth representation is lacking in nonprofit governance. I became motivated to participate in Youth @ The Table to learn more about nonprofit governance, but also increase youth engagement at this level.

Did Youth @ the Table allow you to connect and learn more about board governance easier?

Janica: YES! The process was simple. Volunteer Alberta handled all aspects of recruiting a board member, which we know can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating. This opportunity provided both h!p and youth with training, networking, and a board member match. Paul was a welcomed addition to our board.

Paul: Without Youth @ The Table, I don’t think I would have reached out and become part of a nonprofit board. It’s daunting for youth to participate. We do not have much experience nor knowledge about nonprofit governance and boards. Janica has been such a great mentor and has made me feel more confident in myself as a board member.

What are your key takeaways from this experience?

Janica: Youth are busy with school, work, and extracurricular activities, and thus, a successful role for them must contain flexibility. The youth want to be engaged and heard. Paul brought to our table fresh ideas and insights. By listening to his ideas, we tailored our program to be more youth-friendly!

Paul: Collaborating and presenting my perspective is not as scary as it seems. I really feel that my voice is valued on my board. With that said, I also learned that not all boards are the same. Finally, I learned that being a board member takes time, which some youth don’t have much of. Despite the challenges, the relationship you build with a board mentor and board can enhance your experience. Janica and h!p listen to my perspectives and points of view. I am genuinely thankful for all they have done to accommodate me.

Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to your peers?

Janica: I would tell boards: “Bring them on!” Create an environment where youth can be engaged with your organization at a higher level.

Paul: Don’t be scared. Both boards and youth should be willing to connect with each other without any barriers. We shouldn’t be afraid to get involved.

Any last thoughts?

Janica: Through Youth @ the Table, Volunteer Alberta created an opportunity to connect youth to a board-level experience that gives them insight into the nonprofit sector. I hope that experiences like Y@TT encourage youth to continue supporting and participating in the nonprofit sector.

Also, our board has met the other participating boards and given us an opportunity to network. We learned about other initiatives across our province. The possibilities of collaborations and shared learnings have been an unexpected outcome, one that has both strengthened our awareness of programs and services available and has introduced us to like-minded cheerleaders.

Looking for more resources about engaging youth on your boards? We’ve got you covered. Coming in the spring of 2020, Volunteer Alberta is releasing a Youth @ the Table Good Practice Guide that identifies what the 23 participating organizations did well to engage youth during the program. We are excited to share what we learned with you.

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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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What does the Alberta Government think about the nonprofit sector? Tips for government relations

Have you ever wondered what the Provincial Government’s take is on the nonprofit sector? Well, you’re in luck! Last fall, the Government of Alberta (GoA) released a discussion paper called Profiling the Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector (NPVS) in Alberta.

In this paper the Government of Alberta states, “The primary contribution of the NPVS is improving the quality of life in every community in the province. The sector drives community cohesion; it builds a sense of belonging and brings people together.” At Volunteer Alberta, we couldn’t agree more.

Reading the paper, we quickly realized that it is a great tool to use when talking to stakeholders about the sector, or as a starting point for nonprofit-Provincial Government relations. So, we decided to break down some key points in this blog in case you don’t have time to read the entire paper.

Definition and structure of the sector

The first section of the paper acknowledges that the NPVS is diverse and that, “[we] are the backbone supporting vibrant, welcoming and engaging communities and Albertans… [Our sector] touches every Albertan’s life in some way.”

There are more than 26,200 nonprofit organizations that make up 15 sub-sectors of nonprofit organizations. Notably, this paper recognizes a range of nonprofit structures; from informal to structured legal forms – and many in between.

The GoA then goes on to define nonprofits using the Alberta Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector Initiative’s (ANVSI) definition. They define nonprofits as:

“Self-governing organizations that exist to service the public benefit, generate social capital but not distribute profit to members, depend to a meaningful degree on volunteers, involve participation on a voluntary basis, and are independent or institutionally distinct from the formal structures of Government and the profit sector.”

Financial and social impact

Their paper also details the nonprofit’s contributions to Alberta’s economy and communities. This includes several different calculations on the economic and social value our sector holds in delivering complex services to communities, for example:

  • “$8.3 billion in volunteer labour is donated to the sector every year.”
  • “The number of nonprofit organizations in Alberta grew by 35 per cent between 2003 and 2018, from 19,356 to 26,212.”
  • “1.4 million Albertans volunteer across sub-sectors each year.”

Regarding impact, the report endorses the NPVS as “stewards of the collective wellbeing and common good” within Alberta. It recognizes that the NPVS faces “complex issues with efficiency, empathy and innovation” with an ability to take risks and find success which would not be possible in other sectors.

Nonprofit’s relationship with Government

Overall, the GoA believes that the nonprofit sector and Government have ‘interconnected mandates to provide services to Albertans.’ And when it comes to our participation in policy work, the nonprofit sector is seen as a “bridge to everyday Albertans.”

We, therefore, are responsible for holding each other accountable. For example, the Government holds us accountable via “regulatory and monitoring powers that ensure appropriate use of funds”, while we hold them accountable through “government relations efforts, writing position papers, and occasionally through judicial review.”

Building a positive relationship with Government

The paper ends with “the Building Blocks of a Positive Relationship” borrowed from Carter and Speevak’s Deliberate Relationships Between Government and the Nonprofit Sector. These are building blocks that support a positive Government-nonprofit relationship including seven points about communication, advocacy, and policy.

Finally, the appendices contain a glossary of terms, and “The Theory and History of Government/Nonprofit Sector Relationships in Canada.” This is beneficial as a brief overview for beginners. For more information, you can check out this blog from The Philanthropist.

 

Are you interested in reading the discussion paper? Profiling the Nonprofit/Voluntary Sector in Alberta is a great foundational document we recommend anyone involved in the nonprofit sector, advocacy, or their community read. This document can be leveraged as a starting place to build your organization’s government relations strategy.

 

Victoria Hinderks

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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