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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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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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Guest blog: Five ways nonprofits can impart soft skills to volunteers

A big part of retaining volunteers is finding new and innovative ways to engage them. By helping volunteers to develop soft skills, nonprofits can enrich volunteers’ experiences.

Soft skills such as the ability to gel well in a team, make sound and/or quick decisions and communicate effectively are important for any nonprofit volunteer to successfully contribute to your organization’s cause, initiatives and activities.

While some volunteers intrinsically possess these skills, others need to hone them. Luckily, these are abilities which can be taught. In this blog, we look at how your nonprofit can impart soft skills to their volunteers.

1. Hold training sessions and workshops

Volunteers, especially first-timers, may find it difficult to work in a new environment due to their lack of experience. A simple way to fix this is to periodically organize training sessions and workshops for volunteers to develop skills like effective communication, time-management, and decision making.

Through talks by senior members, games focusing on building teamwork, interactive discussions and role-playing situations, your nonprofit can help its volunteers improve their interpersonal skills while boosting their confidence. And the best part is everyone can learn while bonding with each other and having fun!

2. Let volunteers take ownership

While soft skills can be taught, there is no better teacher than experiential self-learning. Give volunteers opportunities to take charge of tasks, while gently guiding them along the way if required. It makes sense to give responsibility based on the volunteer’s experience and comfort level.

For instance, give new volunteers the opportunity to represent your nonprofit’s stall during one of your events; as they gain more experience, perhaps they could take up bigger tasks like organizing an entire event.

Letting volunteers take the initiative helps them hone their interpersonal skills while giving them a taste of real-life leadership and accountability; important skills you helped them learn by themselves!

3. Encourage teamwork

Team up volunteers of different age groups and backgrounds on tasks and watch the learning flow from within! When grouped together to achieve a common goal, volunteers inevitably end up learning from one another.

Doing so allows them to gain new perspectives, listen to diverse experiences, and feel a collective sense of thrill from overcoming obstacles together.

Pro-tip: Assign a mentor to each team to monitor work and defuse any conflicts if they arise.

4. Promote creativity

By performing creative tasks, volunteers can improve their problem-solving skills. Encourage volunteers to take up activities which require exercising the inventive side of their brain.

When volunteers get creative and learn a new skill-set or grow an existing skill-set, it becomes a stepping stone for them to become a skilled volunteer or apply their newly developed skills in other volunteer positions.

From designing posters for rallies and creating catchy event invites, to shooting and producing a ‘behind-the-scenes’ nonprofit video, the creative possibilities are endless!

Pro-tip: Whatever the activity happens to be, ensure that it’s in sync with your nonprofit’s voice and tone by sharing the necessary guidelines beforehand.

5. Organize get-togethers and similar events

Depending on the size of your nonprofit and the number of volunteers, there is a fair chance that not everyone has spoken to each other. Perhaps first-time volunteers didn’t get a chance to interact with senior staff or board members due to a lack of opportunity or a lack of confidence.

By organizing get-togethers, outdoor barbeques, or parties exclusively for staff, board members and volunteers, everyone loosens up and learns to bond with each other. Volunteers can interact with everybody in a relaxed setting, resulting in a cooperative environment which boosts their communication skills and confidence.

Pro-tip: These networking opportunities also help volunteers get to know your organization from the inside out, gain new perspectives and see how their efforts contribute to your organization’s cause and mission. And when they understand their impact, they are more likely to continue volunteering for your nonprofit.

Final thoughts

When nonprofits impart soft skills to their volunteers, it not only fosters volunteer engagement, but it also equips your volunteers to carry out your mission. In this sense, it is an investment back into your organization’s operational plan and strategic directions.

Nurturing soft skills in your volunteers also provides your volunteers the opportunity to transfer their skills to different volunteer positions in your organization, and even to their careers or everyday life.

Final pro-tip: Ask your volunteers what skills they want to develop or use to match them to the appropriate volunteer position and/or activity that suits their wants and needs. Feedback is important. Be sure to find out what your volunteers thought about the opportunities your nonprofit offered so your nonprofit can learn and adjust as needed.

Guest blog author bio: Shaunak Wanikar is part of the Marketing team at CallHub, a cloud telephony company which connects campaigns with their supporters through its voice and SMS software. He helps deliver compelling content which bridges knowledge gaps for nonprofit organizations, political campaigns, advocacy groups, and businesses. An engineering graduate, Shaunak is passionate about seeing the world improve through the medium of technology. Movies, football, and books keep him sane.

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Member Spotlight: Volunteer Airdrie breaks down barriers to volunteerism in their community

Finding solutions that suit your community may not be easy. But, when you approach solving complex issues with a mindset of abundance versus scarcity, multiple solutions tend to present themselves.

This is how Volunteer Airdrie approached redesigning their programs and services within the past few years. By looking at what opportunities were available and identifying gaps in their community, Volunteer Airdrie realized they needed to shift their focus to serving Airdrie residents.

“We really started focusing on where can we fit in and came to the conclusion that a lot of residents struggle to find the right volunteer opportunity quickly and efficiently,” says Dave Maffitt, Chair of Volunteer Airdrie’s Board of Directors. “So, we redesigned our focus to help our residents to break down barriers.”

Creating a user-friendly way to find volunteer opportunities

One way Volunteer Airdrie is helping residents break down barriers to volunteering is through the development of the Better Impact MVP Software; a free online tool that allows residents to create a profile on the website based on their age, availability, interests, qualifications and much more.

“The system allows Airdrie residents to do searches based on those criteria. For youth, somebody under 18, the system isn’t going to show them volunteer opportunities that are restricted to adults,” says Dave. “It’s growing rapidly and it’s starting to get additional members on a daily basis.”

Engaging youth in Airdrie’s nonprofit community with LEAD

In their community, Volunteer Airdrie is also breaking down barriers for youth engagement through the Leadership Empowerment and Achieving a Difference (LEAD) program. LEAD is a ten-week program that is free of charge for youth grades 7-12 with ten in-class sessions and 20 hours of community service or volunteering.

In LEAD’s in-class sessions, young people learn about topics like problem-solving, organizing and planning, teamwork, conflict management skills and personal wellbeing to help them develop youth leadership skills to use while volunteering or out in their community in other ways.

“Kids often get exposure to a number of different opportunities and causes, and start to get an appreciation for the needs in Airdrie and some of the causes that are may be more meaningful to them,” says Dave. “In the long term, it attracts them to come back and continue to volunteer with that organization after they have finished LEAD. It’s been a big, big success!”

Overcoming volunteer age restrictions for youth

Despite nonprofits’ minimum age requirement policies, Volunteer Airdrie has also been able to match young teens with group volunteer opportunities successfully at local nonprofits by providing appropriate adult supervision.

“So, that’s where we step in because we can open a lot of doors for these youth, especially the 12-14 year age group,” says Dave. “It’s really difficult for them to find meaningful volunteer opportunities since most nonprofit organizations have policies in minimum age requirements that are in that 15-16 year range.”

Volunteer Airdrie will continue their youth engagement initiative by opening a youth volunteer centre next year. They hope the centre creates a caring environment for kids that provides them with community service opportunities that are meaningful to them.

Located in Airdrie, Alberta, Volunteer Airdrie is the recognized volunteer centre for the City of Airdrie and the immediate surrounding area of Rocky View County, Alberta. Volunteer Airdrie’s mission is to empower Airdrie residents to invest in themselves and their community through volunteerism.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

Special thanks to our summer intern, Navi Bhullar, for sourcing and helping to storyboard this Member Spotlight.

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