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Nonprofit Experiences: A Lifetime of Involvement

Our experiences with nonprofits are varied: we may work or volunteer in the sector, or donate to our favourite organizations. We are also personally impacted through school, religion, community, sports, recreation, and support. Regardless, the nonprofit sector is central to many of our lives.

A couple years ago, Sam shared five of her personal experiences with the nonprofit sector. We are continuing to share Volunteer Alberta staff experiences, turning this into an ongoing series. Up next is Cindy!

Cindy has shared some of the key moments from her life as she has engaged with nonprofits and become the volunteer she is today. Here are her 5 key personal experiences (and a step-by-step guide for a lifetime of involvement!):

1. Start with Family: The County Clothes-Line Store was where I first formally volunteered! The organization receives donations of clothes to sell to the public (specifically offering affordable pricing to those unable to spend a lot) and the money goes into the CCL Foundation. The Foundation funds various programs and scholarships in Strathcona County. My mom volunteered there and brought me along. I was fairly young, so folding clothes, ragging, and tidying up was often what I was asked to do.

Jazz2. Benefit from Nonprofits: I was a band girl growing up. I enjoyed music, I was good at it (or so I heard!), and I had a great time hanging out with my friends. One year, I happened to be the right age to play with a number of amazing musicians. Between my school’s jazz band, jazz combo, and concert band, we were often entered into band competitions and sometimes lucky enough to go to MusicFest Canada, a national competition. It was great fun! At that time, I didn’t realize it was a nonprofit – now I can recognize the amount of work that went into organizing it all. Some of my band friends continue to play, while others, like me, have taken different paths, but still appreciate what music has brought to my life.

3. Fulfill a Passion and Get Inspired: My friend’s son is a virtuoso cello player (check out his YouTube channel!) and has received support from the Anne Burrows Music Foundation. I have volunteered for their casino several times. I choose to support them because I believe in their mission of supporting upcoming musicians, I have a direct connection to someone benefiting from their work, and I actually met the very inspiring namesake, Anne Burrows, through my piano teacher many years ago.

4. Have Fun: At Fort Edmonton Park I was fortunate to volunteer for an organization I love, while supporting local tourism. My role was scaring people. To be clear, this was in costume during their Halloween event: Spooktacular. We had the opportunity to build the scenarios and create the scenes ourselves, and then the fun of entertaining guests throughout the event. I am definitely hoping to volunteer with them again in the future.

5. Be Recognized: Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival has such a wide variety of positions open that there is something for everyone! I worked with the finance team and we had a lot of fun, including daily team challenges from the Festival. The Fringe also has good processes in place for volunteer orientation and recognition – including Fringe Bucks for hours volunteered (to purchase show tickets). It’s fun, I get to see a few shows and participate in the festival, and support the organization’s due diligence!

Stay tuned for more Volunteer Alberta staff experiences with amazing nonprofit organizations, and please share your own experiences in the comment section!

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From the Vault: What I Learned By Listening

This blog was originally posted April 17, 2012.

A few months ago I sat in on a workshops helping organizations market their volunteer opportunities to recruit new volunteers, as well as retain their current volunteers. One of my key takeaways was the need to conduct satisfaction interviews with your current volunteers – see if they’re happy in their role, happy with the way the organization works, and ask if there are any areas they’d like to expand into within the organization.

One of my volunteer activities is managing a completely volunteer-run online magazine, Sound and Noise, so I decided to apply that learning to my own organization. It had never occurred to me to actually ask our volunteers whether they were happy with their experience, which is strange because the reason I began managing the magazine was that I was dissatisfied with my own experience.

While the prospect of sitting down with our volunteers and asking for feedback on how I was doing seemed daunting, I was surprised at how easy the process ended up being. The Editor and I sat down to decide what questions we wanted to start with. I was a little wary, as the four questions we came up with seemed so basic. I wasn’t sure if we would get the feedback we wanted (or needed!) from our questions, but I decided to give it a shot.

We decided to ask:

  • General check in – what do you want to do more of? What do you want to do less of? Are there any particular skills you’d like to improve by being involved with Sound and Noise?
  • If you weren’t a writer, would you read Sound and Noise? Why or why not? What would make you a regular reader?
  • Do you find our writing workshops helpful? How do you feel about the quality of writing on the magazine?
  • How is the writing and editing process? How can we improve it?

I was blown away by the responses I got.

Happy coffee ladyOnce I bought our volunteers a coffee and sat down to chat with them, they completely opened up about everything that is right – and wrong – with the magazine. But more than that, they were more than willing to give me concrete suggestions for things I should keep the same and ways I could improve their experience. I went into my meetings expecting to hear general comments such as, “I like the atmosphere” or, “I want to improve my articles,” but I ended up hearing things like:

  • You should highlight the events you think we should review.
  • The workshops are great, but can we do more workshops about concept pieces?
  • I’m interested in helping out with the editorial process.

On top of all the great suggestions I got directly from the people who see “the other side” of the work I do, I got the sense that the volunteers were happy they were able to contribute in a different way to the magazine. In turn, asking for feedback makes it more likely that they’ll continue on as volunteers, and maybe take on greater roles within the magazine.

What about you? Have you ever conducted a satisfaction interview with your volunteers? What types of questions did you ask and what feedback did you get?

Jenna Marynowski
Volunteer Alberta

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Alberta Stepping Up and Collaborating to Help Fort McMurray Evacuees

As the wildfire crisis in Fort McMurray and surrounding communities continues, the whole Volunteer Alberta office has been paying attention and keeping our Fort McMurray colleagues, partners, friends, and family in our thoughts.

We have been incredibly inspired by the response from Albertan’s across the province. Some of the stories we have heard so far:

  • Individuals are stepping up as impromptu, informal volunteers to deliver gas to stranded motorists and offer food and beds to evacuees.
  • Businesses are sharing what they have, including vets and kennels opening to pets in need of shelter, restaurants serving free food, family attractions waiving admission fees, and hotels, dorms, and camps providing lodging.
  • Nonprofits in all subsectors are helping in their own ways, including recreation and community centres providing shelter, counselling and referral services supporting evacuees, and disaster relief organizations meeting immediate needs.
  • Government at all levels is getting people out of immediate danger, communicating regularly about what is going on, and providing funding and resources where they are needed.

Not only are people in every sector stepping up to help, collaboration within and across sectors to support evacuees has been amazing. Some examples:

  • Alberta Food Bank Association has organized for food banks in Edmonton and Calgary to transport large amounts of food to Athabasca and Lac La Biche food banks, using the strength of their network to meet emergency needs arising in those small communities.
  • Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton is helping evacuees using the supplies, connections, and volunteers they have from welcoming Syrian refugees.
  • Airbnb is waiving service fees on listings from those wishing to share their accommodations with evacuees free of charge.
  • Both the provincial and federal governments are matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross, tripling donors’ efforts and enabling a coordinated disaster response. Many businesses are also donating and collecting donations to the Red Cross.
  • Oil companies including Shell and Suncor have been working with the evacuation effort to provide transportation and shelter to evacuees.
  • Volunteer Alberta has been sharing information and well wishes through Twitter, and waiting to hear how we can best help nonprofits, both from Fort McMurray and those helping around Alberta.

In the coming weeks and months, as both short and long term needs become more clear, communities will continue to respond and support evacuees and the community of Fort McMurray. I am sure we will continue to hear stories of Albertans in every sector and corner of the province finding ways to help out.

rogersIf you are looking for opportunities to help, keep in mind that the need has just begun.

Be patient as some organizations are experiencing overwhelming amount of support and donations, beyond what they can currently use or distribute! Your passion and enthusiasm is going to be very helpful as evacuees, organizations, and communities learn more about their ongoing needs – so hang tight.

To keep up to date on the help being provided for Fort McMurray evacuees, follow #ymmhelps on Twitter.

 

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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Building Strong Communities through Informal and Formal Volunteering

Volunteer AirdrieHappy National Volunteer Week!

This year for National Volunteer Week, Volunteer Airdrie is celebrating with a Red Carpet Event. As Melanie Taylor, Vice Chair of Volunteer Airdrie, explained: “We are rolling out the red carpet for our volunteers, providing free movie tickets and concession as a thank you for all they do to make our community great.”

To make the event even more unique, and as inspiration for continued volunteerism in Airdrie, volunteers won their tickets to the event by completing formal or informal volunteer activities and sharing their volunteering stories with Volunteer Airdrie.  Find more information about how Volunteer Airdrie is celebrating National Volunteer Week here.

Melanie explained: “Informal volunteering opportunities are all around us. Helping a fellow Airdrie resident, family, friend, or neighbour directly [is informal volunteering]. Formal volunteering includes activities where you volunteer your time with social/nonprofit organizations, service clubs, community associations, and so on.

Here are some ideas to inspire you to take informal or formal action in your community:

Informal volunteering:

  • Shovel your neighbours walk
  • Pick up garbage in your neighbourhood
  • Run a carpool
  • Babysit for free
  • Help a newcomer practice their English
  • Drive a senior to their appointment
Formal volunteering:

  • Volunteer at a casino fundraiser
  • Coach minor hockey
  • Sit on a nonprofit board
  • Become a peer-to-peer counselor
  • Sort donations at a food bank or thrift store
  • Walk dogs at a shelter

 

Volunteer Airdrie’s campaign for informal or formal volunteering was a huge success!.

“We received more than 100 stories and they were all amazing examples of Airdrie’s community culture and spirit,” said Melanie, “By contributing time, energy, and skills to our community, people gain a greater sense of belonging and connection. They are more likely to care for their environments and the people around them; imagine less graffiti, more local shopping, less crime, more block parties, and increasing community pride. This is especially important in a rapidly growing city like Airdrie, where we are seeing the strains of growth and the current economy.”

And Airdrie volunteers seem to be enjoying the red carpet treatment as well – just look at them!

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Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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Creating vibrant communities starts with you

Promovo Community - Biking TogetherBuilding vibrant communities is complicated work. It relies on cooperation, participation, inclusion, and diversity. This means people from all walks of life, in all areas including business, government, community, and nonprofit organizations, must work together.

Volunteerism, in particular, has the power to transform your life, the lives of others, and entire communities. As nonprofit professionals, we know volunteers are the roots of our communities and our work depends on them!

When people, like you, come together, at home, in your job, or as a volunteer, positive impact can be made. Volunteerism creates vibrant communities.

Next week is National Volunteer Week (April 10-16), and, to celebrate, Volunteer Alberta has created a short, informative video. This video not only tells the story of how a single person makes a difference, it also introduces some complex ideas that we are exploring about system change through combined and collective efforts.

Last fall Volunteer Alberta explored these idea when we hosted, interCHANGE, a unique one-day conference (learn more about it here). We brought dynamic players from government, business, and nonprofit sectors together to explore how to tackle complex challenges that affect people’s quality-of-life.

interCHANGE was a step forward in a collective attempt to answer the question: “What relationships need to exist in order to create the conditions to make a positive impact in Alberta’s communities?”.

Together we explored how boundaries between sectors and service delivery are blurring. If we embrace these areas of overlap, we can create opportunities for dynamic collaborations and social innovation.

We learned challenges in today’s society require adaptive responses in order to have positive results – and that adaptive responses have three components:

  • Participatory – you have to be involved to make changes
  • Systemic – the issues and solutions are interconnected
  • Experimental – we need to be willing to try different and new approaches

(Did you know: We regularly post articles on systems change like this one on systems thinking, and this one on systems learning, and we’ll continue to dive deeper into our findings from interCHANGE in the future.)

CoachLet’s consider participatory action and look at it through the lens of volunteerism.

Volunteerism provides an opportunity for us to get involved, experiment in our community, and learn about the experiences of different people who lead different lives, aka. the ‘other’. Volunteering provides the opportunity for everyone involved to develop newfound understanding and empathy for the ‘other’.

The video, Vibrant Communities and You, highlights the role volunteers play in creating vibrant communities and is our gift to you for National Volunteer Week. Please share it on social media, pass it along, or even play it at your National Volunteer Week event.

You can find the video on our website to watch or download, or share/embed it via YouTube and Vimeo.

Volunteer Alberta supports community-service learning, when students gain experience and develop their skills by contributing to nonprofits. We are proud to have worked with the students and faculty at Pixel Blue College to create the animation in this video and grateful for their hard work.

 

Katherine Topolniski
Volunteer Alberta

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