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volunteeringduringcovid

Volunteering during COVID-19: Experiences from the network 

As volunteers, our first instinct is to focus on how we can help. We want to be good neighbours and support our community through a crisis, but it is a bit more difficult now as we’re working to flatten the curve. In this blog, Daniela Seiferling from Volunteer Alberta and Ilya Ushakov from ECVO share examples of how to stay involved while stopping the spread of COVID-19. 

What is your engagement style, and how do you like to stay involved? 

DS: I like to give back to my community without the pressures of formal engagement. I tend to look for opportunities that match my schedule, don’t require a long-term commitment, and can be done in my own time.   

IU: I love getting to know the many initiatives around me as if I do not have time to commit to one. I like to broadly share it with people I know and help be an ambassador for several organizations. I enjoy helping where I can and indulge in spontaneous volunteering often. 

What advice do you have for people looking to volunteer during COVID-19? 

DS: The most important thing you can do is stay at home. I recommend looking for volunteer opportunities that you can do from home. Like sewing masks, making cards for frontline health workers, or donating items to your local food banks. 

If you want to play a more active role, start by asking your family, friends, and neighbours, what types of supports they may need. Keep in contact with your loved ones to reduce the risk of loneliness and isolation by setting up virtual game nights, crafting a newsletter, sharing stories or dropping off care packages.  

We’re all in this together, so remember to be patient and kind to one another! 

IU: Safety comes first. It’s great to be passionate passionate about essential services and community supports. Still, your first priority is to protect yourself and truly understand the health measures. Now, I’m not telling you to not volunteer, you absolutely should, just make sure you do it safely. If the oxygen mask drops while you’re flying, you always have to put your own first before assisting others.  

Once you are ready to assist others, you can find opportunities that work for you and comply with physical distancing. Remember to stay on top of government announcements, listen to volunteer supervisors and fully understand the health measures. 

Can you tell us about your experience with micro-volunteering or remote volunteering before COVID-19? During COVID-19? 

DS: I’m an introvert. My role involves a lot of meetings and relationship building, so I like to recharge at home after a long day. Before the pandemic, I tended to gravitate to activities that were short-term and remote: 

Fun fact: most people born after the year 2000 are unable to read handwriting; it’s a dying art. I volunteer remotely with several museums to transcribe handwritten documents for exhibits and archives. 

I also have a tradition of annual weeks of giving around Christmas. For six weeks, I choose different charities and find ways to informally support my community and the causes I am most passionate about. 

With COVID-19, my response became more neighbourhood focused. As soon as the measures for social distancing were put in place, I reached out to my immediate neighbours to see how I could help. We live in a neighbourhood with a high population of seniors, and some are more vulnerable than others. If they need me to pick up groceries or other essentials, they leave a list in my mailbox and e-transfer money.  

IU: I love opportunities that are based around the community, make me feel a part of something bigger, and where I can make a difference. I haven’t volunteered much remotely or with micro-volunteering, but I’m excited to discover new opportunities: 

  • Baking for friends and family. 
  • Knitting for organizations that provide essential services.  

It’s been incredible to see Edmonton be innovative with the idea of micro-volunteering and remote volunteering by: 

  • Organizing online classes.
  • Making masks for essential service workers. 
  • Creating colouring pages for working parents.
  • Hosting virtual or community birthday parties for friends, family & neighbours. 

What would you say has been the most significant impact for you? 

DS: Connecting with my neighbours. Before COVID-19, they were friendly faces I’d occasionally wave to from my backyard or say a quick “hi” to in passing. We’ve built lines of communication and a great deal of trust over the last few weeks. The relationship has shifted from pressing and transactional to laidback and personal. We leave notes in mailboxes or “thinking of you” cards to brighten the day. 

We plan on hosting a block party or BBQ after social restrictions are lifted to keep up the relationships.  

IU: Learning what organizations are doing during this time, it’s incredible to see so many nonprofits adapt to the circumstances and make the best of a rough situation. Our nonprofit sector is remarkable!  

Although many organizations have suspended their volunteer programs, others have adapted, and found ways to support their clients while ensuring proper safety and hygiene practices. It’s lovely to see the community being creative and looking out for one another. It’s also been fantastic to see neighbours offering to help and being so supportive throughout this time. 

How do you find volunteer opportunities?

DS: For remote volunteering, I signed up for VolunteerConnector because it’s easy to filter opportunities by cause category, commitment level, and remote opportunities. 

For micro-volunteering, I often look at local charities and see if they have lists for needed items, donation drives, or fundraising initiatives.  

IU: VolunteerConnector is my go-to. However, if there is an organization I genuinely care about, I reach out to them to see if they have any volunteer postings.  

I love governance, so helping out with board activities or sitting on nonprofit boards has always been a pleasure. Now, there are even COVID-19 and Virtual Volunteering pages on VolunteerConnector, so it’s much easier to find relevant opportunities and help out where I can.  

Staying at home and practicing physical distancing doesn’t mean we need to stop volunteering, we just need to do it differently. Remote and micro-volunteer opportunities offer ways to be involved without putting the most vulnerable, and ourselves, at risk. 

Want to find or post a volunteer opportunity? Visit VolunteerConnector!

Are you a volunteer engagement specialist looking for ideas on how to create remote or micro-volunteering opportunities? Refer to part 1 and part 2 of our blog series!

recruit volunteers 3 resources help

Are you ready to recruit volunteers? 3 resources to help you get started

Recruiting and engaging volunteers is much more than requesting a police information check or simply putting an ad up on social media that says, “volunteers needed!” It’s an ongoing process that matches the right volunteer with the right opportunity creating a meaningful and mutually beneficial experience.

At Volunteer Alberta, we believe that a successful volunteer recruitment and engagement program is crucial to onboard and retain outstanding, dedicated volunteers. So, is your organization ready to recruit volunteers? Here are three resources to help you get started:

1. Watch the 10 Steps to Screening video

If you don’t know where to start, watch the 10 Steps to Screening video. In this video, we adapted the Ten Steps from Volunteer Canada’s Screening Handbook to give you a quick overview of the screening process.

We also recommend taking a deeper dive into the Screening Handbook to guide you through important information like risk and liability, police checks, privacy, and social policy. The handbook is also a great resource to demonstrate the value of screening in case anyone in your organization needs convincing.

2. Create captivating volunteer position descriptions

Once you’re familiar with the principles of screening, you can start creating volunteer position descriptions. Our handy template will help you to develop specific positions and identify risks and relevant policies.

When creating position descriptions, we encourage you to think about tasks, roles or skilled work that would interest volunteers. Make sure the description is captivating enough to motivate potential volunteers to apply!

Bonus resource: The Window of Work can also help you to create an engaging volunteer posting.

3. Complete a risk assessment

Now that you’ve mapped out your volunteer positions, you can complete a risk assessment to determine what information you’ll need to screen volunteers into your organization.

Our risk assessment matrix can help you determine whether you need a police information check (PIC) or a vulnerable sector check (VSC). Generally, the higher the risk, the greater the degree of screening is necessary for the position.

Looking for more learning resources on volunteer recruitment and screening? Check out our seven-part webinar series starting February 26, 2020! Learn more.

Low Ropes Course at Alberta 4-H Centre

Member Spotlight: 4-H Alberta invite youths’ imaginations to soar

Has the belief that youth can change the world disappeared? Nowadays, people seem more pessimistic than ever towards youth – that youth today are more apathetic and consumed by their phones and social networks.

As a result, a lot of people tend to overlook how to motivate youth to participate. But, 4-H Alberta still believes that youth can change the world and they’re helping them do it with a unique approach to engaging youth.

4-H Alberta is a youth-oriented organization offering both urban and rural youth a dynamic and inspiring environment to learn and grow by doing. In their 2018 program year, 4-H had 5,885 youth members from ages 6 to 20 across Alberta. And, it’s not hard to see why youth sign up.

The 4-H approach to youth: Learn to do by doing

What 4-H does differently is that they create a safe and supportive environment that invites youth to not only govern their own clubs but also direct their own learning and skills development in any subject that interests them.

“The possibilities are endless and limited only by the imaginations of the members themselves,” says Bernadette Sereda, Leader Screening Coordinator at 4-H Council of Alberta (the nonprofit division of 4-H Alberta that handles risk management). “4-H members can pursue whatever projects they can dream up so that potential is perhaps the most appealing reason for youth to join 4-H.”

Some of the possibilities include community service, summer or winter camp, projects, clubs, conferences, travel exchanges, and so much more. In fact, community service and public speaking are member requirements while projects can range broadly from computer coding and woodworking to horticulture and other food and agriculture related projects.

Youth members also elect their own club leaders and mentors based on who they want to further their learning and growth. By providing a solid and safe framework for young people to run the show, 4-H teaches youth life-long leadership skills.

Why youth join, return and become 4-H alumni

And, 4-H’s approach is working as youth keep joining or returning. According to their 2018 youth member survey, some of main reasons youth join are because they thought the events, programs, and projects sounded interesting, they wanted to develop or learn a new skill and/or they wanted to meet new people.

Interestingly, youth’s top five reasons for why they come back to participate are similar to why they joined:

  1. It was fun.
  2. I developed friendships with other members.
  3. I want to improve my leadership skills.
  4. I enjoy project competitions/I want to go to camp.
  5. My parents have encouraged me to continue.

4-H also attracts youth by engaging entire families into the program. “4-H leaders and families are vital to the program,” says Bernadette. “We engage families as volunteer leaders, parent volunteers or some simply show up for their children to help, support, share and celebrate.”

However, it is mainly youths’ experiences within 4-H that keep bringing them back even as alumni (age 20+). Beyond their programs, 4-H rewards youth through awards, trips, scholarships, and recognition of their accomplishments.

“Many members once aged out of the program return as leaders themselves as they are inspired to provide the sort of mentorship that they enjoyed,” shares Bernadette. “One of the reasons that 4-H is great is because it can be whatever it needs to be to serve and enrich individual lives and communities at large.”

4-H Alberta’s program year for 2019/2020 opens this October.

Are you looking for more ideas to captivate youth? Check out Volunteer Canada’s youth engagement resources.

About 4-H Alberta

This Alberta institution and popular program has been around since 1917. Over the years, 4-H has quietly evolved into a dynamic program whose projects encompass everything from active living, arts, science and technology, crafts, cooking, agriculture and so much more!  Today’s exciting 4-H program gives urban and rural youth and adults life-long skills such as co-operation, leadership, interpersonal relations, critical thinking, decision making, organization, public speaking and community service.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

City Jam promo

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

Fringe volunteers

Member Spotlight: Edmonton Fringe Theatre finds ‘the right fit’ with their volunteer program

Volunteers are integral to the nonprofit sector. Many nonprofits/charities, events, festivals and more, would not be possible without Albertans selflessly devoting their time to our communities and causes. But many nonprofits struggle with getting volunteers in the door and finding volunteers who are the right fit that will also come back to volunteer.

Fringe Theatre has a unique challenge to recruit, onboard, and engage more than 1,200 volunteers for their annual Fringe Festival in Edmonton. But, their volunteer program is extremely successful, so how do they do it?

How the Fringe Theatre finds and reaches volunteers

One of the ways the Fringe Theatre reaches volunteers is by posting their opportunities online on the VolunteerConnector platform; a new platform that allows volunteers to search for opportunities by cause, skills, time commitment, and more.

Sarah and Drew, Fringe Theatre Volunteer Team

“I love the new VolunteerConnector! As a volunteer and volunteer manager, I was previously so frustrated by the lack of an easy-to-use, visually appealing volunteer opportunities board,” says Drew Delbaere, Interim Volunteer Manager at Fringe Theatre. “It’s great that so many volunteer centres across the province are now using the platform, so we don’t have to put our postings in multiple places.”

In addition to online postings, Drew says they also put up posters around the city, attend other events and farmers markets, advertise on social media, and reach out to former volunteers. They also do targeted outreach for their more skilled volunteer roles.

“For some of our roles, we do targeted outreach to people or organizations that would meet the specific qualifications, like for our First Aid Team,” says Drew.

Using the 10 steps to volunteer screening to get ‘the right fit’

But reaching volunteers and getting people interested in your cause is only one piece of volunteer recruitment. It’s also about finding the right fit and good onboarding. And the Fringe Theatre finds the right fit not only for their organization but also for their volunteers using the 10 Steps to Volunteer Screening.

“The 10 Steps are the foundation of our volunteer screening process,” says Drew. “When we first developed our screening strategy, or subsequently look to adjust it from year to year, the 10 Steps are behind every decision that we make.”

For example, some key steps that help find the right fit include writing clear volunteer position/role descriptions and conducting interviews to get to know the volunteer. But, the 10 Steps or good screening practices start at developing policies and is carried through to the support and supervision a volunteer receives.

“I believe that screening is one of the most important parts of any volunteer program. As volunteer managers, we need to move beyond thinking about screening as just a background check because it is so much more than that,” says Drew. “To me, screening means finding people who are a good fit for your organization, and a background check alone can’t tell me that.”

While screening can take a lot of resources, both financially and in staff time, according to Drew, it is a worthwhile investment. “Without a good screening program in place, you will spend more time dealing with performance, disciplinary, and/or retention issues in the future.”

Recommendations for your volunteer program

With Fringe Theatre’s tall order of recruiting 1,200+ volunteers every year, they’ve learned a thing or two about running a successful volunteer program. Here are some tips/recommendations from Fringe Theatre’s Interim Volunteer Manager, Drew, that could help your organization’s volunteer program:

  • Set clear expectations from the start.
  • Make sure that position descriptions are easy to understand and that they encompass all parts of the role. There should be no surprises!
  • Make sure to communicate if there is a mandatory training session upfront. Even better if you can give the exact date and time.
  • If you are an organization that runs an annual event or festival, make sure to invite your previous volunteers back! A simple email inviting former volunteers to join you again can make a huge impact.
  • If you are an organization that recruits volunteers year-round, consider why someone should join you now, rather than a month or year from now.
    • Make sure you give a deadline because if you have ongoing recruitment it can be easy for potential volunteers to keep putting off applying.
  • For all volunteer managers, use your current group of volunteers to help your recruit. Beyond just asking, help facilitate this process. For example:
    • You could create a toolkit with graphics, photos, or messaging that your volunteers can share with their networks in emails or on social media.
  • Deliver a quality volunteer experience. For better or worse, volunteer programs will start to develop a reputation which can have an impact on the success or struggles of future recruitment.

The Edmonton International Fringe™ Theatre Festival has been delighting, shocking, and surprising audiences since 1982. Of the 23 in North America, they are the oldest and largest! They transform theatre. Foster artists. Nurture audiences. Take chances. And help you find the artist inside.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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