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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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Member Spotlight: St. Albert CIVC builds community through volunteer appreciation

It is essential for towns and cities to have a place to go for volunteer matching to create vibrant communities. And, St. Albert Community Information and Volunteer Centre (CIVC) does exactly this.

Also known as St. Albert’s hidden gem, St. Albert CIVC is celebrating their 40th birthday this year as the go-to place for volunteer opportunities and guidance. This is due in large part to St. Albert CIVC’s understanding that community building stems directly from volunteer appreciation.

The importance of volunteer appreciation events and programs

St. Albert CIVC recommends that nonprofits recognize their volunteers to engage and retain them. And, one way to facilitate volunteer appreciation is through planning recognition events, such as National Volunteer Week (NVW).

According to the Director of Volunteer Centre Services, Tracy Aisenstat, volunteer appreciation is what makes NVW special, “because volunteers really do appreciate the thank you.”

When it comes to planning volunteer appreciation events, Tracy says that keeping it simple always works best.

One way St. Albert CIVC keeps it simple is with their Coffee Break Coupon Program. St. Albert CIVC’s program partners with local coffee businesses to distribute coupons for free coffee to volunteers as a way to thank them for their contributions in the community.

“It doesn’t have to be a parade of fireworks, it can be as simple as a cup of coffee.”

Through their Coffee Break Program, St. Albert CIVC enhances their community by building connections between the private and nonprofit sector.

“Both the organizations and the volunteers love it. It’s the notion of giving the coupon that matters, rather than whether or not it gets used. It’s the idea of ‘you matter to me’” Tracy says.

Celebrating inspiring volunteer stories during National Volunteer Week

While planning a volunteer recognition event like NVW can take up to 50% of staff time, the best part of planning a recognition event is the chance to celebrate and share inspiring volunteer stories.

For example, St. Albert CIVC shared and celebrated this volunteer story at one of their recent NVW events. And, it is just one example of how St. Albert CIVC builds community through volunteer matching and encourages the spirit of volunteerism through storytelling.

St. Albert CIVC connected a stay-at-home dad with a volunteer opportunity to fulfill his community service hours. With his newborn baby in tow, he ended up volunteering at a thrift store! He enjoyed volunteering so much that he eventually recruited his wife, mother and two friends to volunteer as well.

Stories like this exemplify how volunteering provides people with the opportunity to integrate back into the community, giving them the chance to turn over a new leaf, reignite old connections or make new ones.

St. Albert CIVC’s plans for this year’s NVW event

This year, St. Albert CIVC plans to keep the Coffee Break Coupon Program running, along with scheduling NVW events in the evening, since this is when most volunteers can attend.

Tracy says she is seeing a trend towards these events becoming less formal with more of a focus on getting together to laugh and enjoy the company of other members in the community.

Tracy looks forward to NVW this year, as it is a great opportunity to celebrate how volunteering strengthens the sense of community connection in St. Albert and area.

Since 1979, St. Albert Community Information Volunteer Centre (CIVC) has provided community information and volunteer services to community members. The CIVC connects people in the city of St. Albert and area with the information and community services they need.

Do you need support for National Volunteer Week? Hire a SCiP intern!

 

Niabi Kapoor

Volunteer Alberta SCiP intern

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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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