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4 Tips for Happy Volunteers – Part 1

If you have ever worked at a nonprofit, I’m sure you already know the value of volunteers. After all, none of our organizations could run without them!  Every nonprofit organization has a volunteer board, and in Alberta, 58% of nonprofit organizations operate with no paid staff at all. But, just because we see volunteers doing indispensable work in our organizations doesn’t mean that we always recognize how important it is to take care of our volunteers.

Think of your volunteers as unpaid staff. Now think of any jobs you have held where you wouldn’t have lasted long if you weren’t being paid (I’m thinking of you, paper route.). So how can you ensure your volunteers are enjoying a positive experience that will keep them coming back for more?

1. First off, know why your volunteers do come out. This is different for each volunteer and some volunteers may have more than one motivation. Some common reasons volunteers get involved:

  • It’s a way to make a difference about something you care about.
  • It’s an opportunity to give back, pay it forward, or help others. This might fulfil a moral obligation, or give you warm, fuzzy feelings (satisfaction, fulfillment, happiness, pride, etc.).
  • It builds your resume and offers great work experience.
  • It can improve your language skills and help you get acquainted with a new culture.
  • It can offer new knowledge and skills.
  • It’s a chance to try something new or different.
  • It can include great perks like food, tickets, parties, and swag.
  • Volunteering is fun (and not volunteering is boring)!
  • It’s a great way to meet new people and become part of a community.

Once you know why your volunteer is involved, you can help tailor their experience to better meet their goals. For example, if they are there because they want to try something new, find out what they do at their job or in their free time, and choose something a little bit different for them to work on.

Regardless of their main reason for showing up, volunteers tend to stay in a position that offers them a chance to make friends and join a community. Make an effort to bring your volunteers together with meetings or volunteer recognition events. Ensure your volunteers work with, or near, others so they have a chance to chat with someone (other than themselves). Make sure there is some kind of interpersonal connection for those working more independently, and don’t forget to create your own connections and friendships with your volunteers! It will make your job more enjoyable as well.

2. Practice good communication with your volunteers so that they feel informed and included. Any time a volunteer starts a new task, give them some information and instruction. This might involve a walk-through or role-playing a situation, or asking them to look over a handbook. Make sure you include clear goals for your volunteers, and show them how these goals fit with the overall goals of your organization. Check in throughout each project and debrief at the end of a task.  This means making time for one-on-one meetings, formal or informal, so that your volunteers have a chance to ask questions, share concerns, and provide feedback.

Check out the Learning Resource Guides in Volunteer Alberta’s Resource Centre (VARC) for more ideas and information on volunteer recruitment, retention, and recognition, and visit us later this week for tips 3 and 4!

Sam Kriviak, Program Coordinator

Putting out the Burnout Fire

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… As we approach the holiday season, many nonprofits launch into their capital campaign and annual fundraising efforts. It’s a big time for both staff and volunteers – and everyone is crucial to making these efforts a success. Of course, with so much to do, it’s easy to get burnt out.

KnowledgeConnector has published two previous blogs about volunteer burnout (links at the bottom of this blog), so I wanted to revisit the topic and see what we can learn going forward. Both of these blogs recognize that a passionate and committed nonprofit/voluntary sector is critical to Alberta’s communities, but how do we ensure it stays vibrant? I wanted to share some tips of my own about avoiding burnout that I have developed while managing volunteers, but please feel free to share your own in the comments section!

  1. Eyes on the prize – Make sure your volunteers know what they’re working towards. Everyone works better when they know what their work is accomplishing, and measuring progress can be a big motivator. There’s nothing worse than sinking your effort into a “black hole” and not knowing what it accomplished.
  2. Recognition – We all know that volunteer recognition is key, but it may be time to re-think how you’re doing it. While we might not have time to plan volunteer appreciation parties during this season, a simple “thank-you” or a specific note about how well you think they’re doing is always appreciated.
  3. YOU can do it! – There’s nothing worse than waiting around for someone to review what you’ve done so you can move on to the next stage in your project. You’re busy – we know! So, why not give your volunteers more power over their projects? Do you really need to review their work or give the “okay” before they move on to the next phase of a project? Try revising your “check-in” points with your volunteers and streamline the process wherever possible. While giving your volunteers decision-making power can be scary (and not appropriate in all cases), it may pay dividends in terms of time, as well as volunteer satisfaction.
  4. Have fun – You know what they say, “all work and no play…” Take a moment away from the stress and to-do lists to have fun. Whether that’s a five minute yoga breathing and relaxation exercise for staff and volunteers to do together, or a group hug, taking a few minutes away from all the action will refresh your brain and your spirits.
  5. Work smarter, not harder – I know, now might not be the best time to try out a new way of doing things. But as you work, take note of which tasks are taking up most of your time, energy, and thoughts. Is there a way that you can do these things better? Consider joining (or setting up) a peer circle to discuss these issues, taking courses in the new year to learn more about these areas, or just talking to your co-workers or friends for a fresh perspective.

And, if all else fails, read this.

More KnowledgeConnector blogs about burn out:

Volunteer Burnout: Wetaskiwin Leaders Working Smarter to Bust Burnout – by Victoria Poschadel

Grow a Community Garden – Yvonne Rempel


Jenna Marynowski, Communications and Marketing Manager

Is that a Teddy Bear on a Harley?

The normal hubbub of Saturday traffic was interrupted by the sound of over 800 motorcycle enthusiasts riding through the streets of Medicine Hat. One would need to do a double take to identify the passengers of these bikes; giant teddy bears and other toys rode alongside these big-hearted bikers!

The Medicine Hat News Santa Claus Fund (SCF) believes EVERY child deserves to have a Merry Christmas, and 800 bikers donating their mound of toys is just the start! Food hampers are also given to families in need during the holiday season. SCF also partners with the Medicine Hat Ministerial Association and the St. Vincent de Paul Society throughout the year to provide aid for families, and individuals, in need. SCF, like Santa Claus, works all year long to help community members in need.

Like Santa Claus, SCF would not be able to deliver toys and hampers without the help of elves! Hundreds of volunteer bikers, and non-bikers alike, pulled together for this incredible event! If you weren’t on a bike, you were helping with food, registering volunteers, gathering toys, or selling raffle tickets! Events like this make me proud to be a part of an amazing and generous community.

Executive Director, Celina Symmonds, was touched by the community’s commitment to their families. As I stood and watched this event unfold, she handed out hug after hug to donors and volunteers – everyone’s heart grew a little bit bigger this weekend!

Even though the Toy Ride is over, there are still plenty of other opportunities to help out in the Medicine Hat community:

• Corona Auction
• Mountain of Wishes
• Countless business events through the city

SCF is always looking for gift wrappers, office volunteers, or to be Santa Claus himself and deliver toys to families. Please call 403-528-9900 to find out how you can help.

A special thanks needs to go out to the Biker Enthusiasts, SCF Board of Directors, students at Crescent Heights High School, and the many volunteers who helped this year!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda Leipert

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (South Region)

Volunteer Management from the Volunteers Perspective


Courtesy David Suzuki Foundation

I was recently volunteering at the Freewill Players’ annual Shakespeare in the Park festival, where I gained some great insight into volunteer management. During my second shift, I was talking to one of the other volunteers and she told me, “It’s awesome to volunteer here! You are never bored, and you get to help make people happy and have a great time! It’s not like volunteering at other places. I mean, at [organization name] – that’s meaningful and important work, yeah, but it’s not nearly as fun.”

This really hit home for me – both in my work in helping promote Volunteer Alberta’s programs that help Managers of Volunteers, and my own volunteer work where I manage an e-zine, Sound and Noise, including its group of volunteers. As a life-long volunteer, I know meaningful work doesn’t have to be boring. So what did the Freewill Players do right to get that reaction from its volunteers?

1.       Break tasks into self-directed roles – Did you know post-secondary graduates are one of the groups most likely to volunteer? Volunteers are smart! There’s no need to micro-manage them. The Freewill Players ensured we understood how our role fit into the success of the festival, and gave us enough authority that we gained ownership of our role. Moreover, we didn’t need someone looking over our shoulders, telling us what to do every step of the way.


2.       Let volunteers see the impact they make – Hearing festival patrons say, “thanks so much!” at the end of the night was really gratifying, and it didn’t cost the Freewill Players a cent! 93% of volunteers say they volunteer to make a contribution to the community – so, why not show them that contribution? Even though it’s easier at an event where they interact with the public or clients, you can demonstrate the impact your volunteers make no matter what role they’re in! This could be as simple as sharing “thank-you” notes from stakeholders or client success stories with your volunteers regularly.


3.       Respect volunteer’s time– In creating the volunteer roles, Freewill Players listed the times each volunteer was expected to be at the festival for. The roles carried enough responsibilities  that there was never a dull moment during your shift, yet you didn’t feel overwhelmed. Moreover, if the organizers saw a volunteer without a task, they knew exactly which other areas needed help, ensuring no volunteers were bored or under-utilized. I was also pleasantly surprised at the orientation. The volunteers were sent a detailed volunteer handbook before the orientation, and it was kept short and sweet. A quick introduction to the organizing team members – so we could identify them during our shifts – and an overview of general information which every volunteer needed to know. There’s nothing worse (especially for busy people) than an orientation where volunteers get unnecessary information or spend time doing things that don’t add to the overall experience.

While volunteering at Shakespeare in the Park, I felt as though I was being engaged as a valued contributor, not just “free labour”. The three actions listed above – which any nonprofit/voluntary organization can do – made my experience with the Freewill Players fulfilling. I’ll be back next year!

Jenna Marynowski

Marketing and Communications Manager

Volunteerism: Two Birds with One Stone

Leland Bobbe/Digital Vision/Getty Images


A friend of mine was sharing a conversation she had with her 14 year old, they were talking about résumés, the importance of volunteering and how that can impact future jobs.  It started the wheels turning in my head… is there not enough information available to students in younger grades about volunteering?  Are we leaving it up to our school system to educate our children about volunteerism?  Are there enough resources available for parents to take the strong role of educating our younger generations on the importance of volunteering?

As a parent of an 8 year old and a 5 year old, I am also struggling with instilling strong values around volunteering.  Here are some tips that I thought I would share:

1.    Talk to your child about their strengths and interests. Not every volunteer opportunity fits every teenager. Before searching for organizations that use volunteers, talk to your child about what they would like to do and make a list of possible volunteer activities. Do they like animals? Perhaps the local shelter would be a good start. Does he/she enjoy talking to people? Consider a nearby hospital or retirement home. Try to find volunteer opportunities where your child will thrive. But, don’t be afraid to support your child in trying something new. Sometimes taking a risk can help your child develop entirely new interests and skills. Many times with younger children a parent needs to be there to help.  I can’t think of a better way to bond as a family.

2.    Search for local opportunities. Once you’ve made a list of your child’s strengths and interests, search for opportunities that fit the list. Many communities have structured volunteer programs for adolescents. You can find branches of major nonprofit organizations, such as the Red Cross, on the internet.  Also in Southern Alberta you can check out these Volunteer Centre websites!

•      Volunteer Lethbridge

•      Volunteer Resource Centre – Brooks

•      Volunteer Hanna

3.    Encourage your child to do a “trial run.” Help your child make arrangements for completing a short volunteer trial run before committing to any specific opportunity. The trial period can be anywhere from an afternoon to a week. If at the end of the trial run your child would prefer to choose another volunteer opportunity, help him/her find something that is a better fit.

4.    Help your child stay committed. Once your child commits to a volunteer project, encourage them to stay the course. There are almost always challenges, personality clashes, unexpected needs and alternative activities that look more fun. But, remind your child that they have a responsibility to stick with his/her commitment. Don’t force your child to continue with any program, but make sure you emphasize the importance of meeting obligations.

5.    Talk to your child about their volunteer experiences. Once your child completes his/her volunteer project, talk to them about their experiences and really listen. Discuss their triumphs and their struggles. Then, ask your teen where he/she wants to volunteer next.

With school obligations and multimedia distractions, it isn’t always easy for children to volunteer their time. But, with a little guidance, helping others can have tremendous rewards. It can also be a lot of fun.

A special thanks to about.com for their articles and, of course, Sharon for sharing her parenting experiences!

Until next time,

Amanda Leipert

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (South Region)

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