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Volunteer Engagement: It’s Not Just a Walk in the Park

Rocky w Volunteer at PitPThis past Sunday, I had the pleasure of taking my four-legged family member, Rocky, to the Edmonton Humane Society’s annual Pets in the Park event at Hawrelak Park. Rocky got to enjoy some doggy carnival games as well as copious amounts of attention from both humans and other dogs. Meanwhile, I had the opportunity to brush up on my pet-care best practices, pick up some pet insurance information and scout out some cute toys to spoil him with later, all while taking in performances by The Alberta Redneck Furry Fliers Disc Dogs. I also found some time to chat with some of the hard-working volunteers who chose to donate their weekend to Edmonton Humane Society, and they all have one thing in common: they love those dogs.

Recruiting engaged volunteers is one of the most challenging tasks organizations face, with over 26% of Volunteer Alberta Members naming a lack of volunteers as one of the biggest challenges they encounter. On Sunday I picked up some pointers that can assist you in recruiting and retaining the volunteers who will make the biggest impact on your organization.

Encourage your already engaged volunteers to share why they think you’re great.

Word of mouth is the most effective form of promotion, and who is better equipped to tell your story than the people who are dedicated to your cause and devoting their free time to your organization? Your volunteers are the best ambassadors your organization has. You can encourage them to share their experiences through social media, through sites such as volunteerville.ca, or even by quoting them on your own website. Volunteers are a simple, free, and effective avenue to get the word out on the work you’re doing, while encouraging likeminded people to get involved with your cause.

Reach out. Connect with your community.

If you don’t have adorable puppy faces for volunteers to rally around, don’t fret – you can still reach out to your community in a variety of ways. One organization that connects with their audience in imaginative ways is The Foothills Country Hospice Society in Okotoks. Instead of trying to pull volunteers in, they are pushing their own name out into their community. From restaurant fundraisers to law office hot dog sales, Foothills County Hospice is engaging the people and organizations of Okotoks in every way they can. This includes their major annual fundraiser each fall (this year’s theme is The Great Gatsby!), where instead of trying to find volunteers one person at a time, they approach the town’s organizations for assistance.

Businesses are often looking to give back to their communities and many have volunteer programs in place to help them do just that. The number of businesses partnering with or sponsoring Edmonton Humane Society’s Pets in the Park is staggering, and the event couldn’t be held without them. Not only does connecting with a business this way give you access to talented bodies to assist with your program or event, but the company also gains recognition within the community for its contribution, and your organization fosters awareness amongst businesses and consumers who may not be familiar with you.

Take Time to Find the Right Roles for the Right People

When engaging volunteers, it is important that no relevant skills are wasted. Taking the time to uncover the talents of the people involved with your organization may not be your highest priority, but by nurturing the talents of your volunteers, they feel more fulfilled by the work they do for you and it increases your organization’s efficiency. It can also be beneficial to have a variety of volunteer opportunities available, so people with a variety of skill-sets have an opportunity to get involved with your organization. When acting as a manager of volunteers, it is important to make sure that both the needs of the organization and the needs of the volunteers are being met.

From 200 pound Saint Bernards to 5 pound Chihuahuas (and even a couple of ferrets and a pot-bellied pig), all pets were encouraged to come down and enjoy the sun on Sunday. It was obvious by the volunteer’s faces that they loved every minute of the animal-filled day, maybe even more than their furry guests. The Edmonton Humane Society did a wonderful job finding the right people to donate their time to this event to make it as spectacular as possible, and those volunteers made sure I came away from the day with more than just pet insurance brochures.

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 please leave your own volunteer engagement tips in the comment section!

How to Use Volunterville

1.       Volunteer!

There are many ways to do this and there are many ways to find a place to volunteer in your community. Here are a few options:

Visit Govolunteer.ca

Visit Getinvolved.ca

Contact your local Volunteer Centre

Or directly contact an organization that has a mission you connect with. There are different ways to volunteer, like being a Big Sister, serving on a board, or helping rescue animals find their forever home.

2.       Capture and Tell!

While you’re volunteering, take a picture! It can be of yourself volunteering or of the people you’re helping. Or take a picture of the great ways your organization is recognizing your hard work: thank them for providing that piping hot Timmy’s coffee and donuts.

If you don’t want to take a picture, you can compose a tweet. Use those 140 characters wisely, though, they go quickly.

Not a fan of social media? Write your story down. That’s part of Volunteerville too! Next up…

3.       Share!

Throw your picture up on Instagram, use the hashtag #volunteerville and voila: your photo will now appear on Volunteerville.ca! Tweets with the hashtag #volunteerville will also show up on our website.

If you don’t like Twitter or Instagram and aren’t sure what a hashtag is, you can visit Volunteerville.ca and upload your photo and your story. Or just your photo…or just your story! It’s up to you how you want to share your experience.

Sharing your story builds your community.  We create our story by doing the things we love and spending time with friends and family, and that includes volunteering.

4.       Inspire!

When your picture, tweet or story shows up on Volunteerville.ca, you’ll be inspiring people across Alberta to get involved too.  For many of us, volunteering is a part of our lives that we often forget to talk about and celebrate. Volunteerville is your chance to share your volunteer experiences with the world.

What happens after Step 4? You can do it all over again! You can participate in Volunteerville as frequently as you like. We’ll be throwing in some fun giveaways and contests throughout the year to thank you for being a citizen of Volunteerville. Browse volunteerville.ca right now, and start liking photos, or even share them on your own social media.

Let’s make volunteering go viral!

Make sure to follow @volunteerville on Twitter and Instagram! For more information about Volunteerville, email Lisa at lmichetti@volunteeralberta.ab.ca.

Lisa Michetti, Member Engagement Manager

What DO Volunteers Want?

CCI-Lex Cultural Connections EDITED (2)Volunteer Canada just released their 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study, and I highly recommend it to anyone who works with volunteers! It’s an easy and enlightening read. Best of all, there some big surprises that will (hopefully) improve how the sector works with and recognizes our volunteers.

To give you a taste, here are some of the biggest gaps the study identified between what our organizations think our volunteers want and what they truly appreciate:

  1. In the study, volunteers said that their least preferred forms of recognition included formal gatherings (ex. banquets) and public acknowledgment (ex. radio ads or newspaper columns). These methods are common for many organizations, with 60% using banquets and formal gatherings, and 50% using public acknowledgement as their recognition strategies.Instead, volunteers indicated that they would prefer to be recognized through hearing about how their work has made a difference, and by being thanked in person on an ongoing, informal basis.
  2. Over 80% of organizations said a lack of money was the most common barrier to volunteer recognition. Since the study shows that volunteers prefer personal ‘thank-you’s and being shown the value of their work over a costly banquet or a public advertisement, funds need not get in the way of good recognition!
  3. Volunteers said that the volunteer activities they are least interested in are manual labour, crafts, cooking, and fundraising. According to the 2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP), fundraising is the most common activity in which organizations engage volunteers.Instead, volunteers said that their preference is to work directly with people benefiting from their volunteering, or in opportunities where they can apply professional or technological skills.

These findings ring true in my own experiences as a volunteer. I really appreciate it when I am told I did a good job, or that a client made special mention of my work – it shows me that giving my time truly made a difference, which is the reason I volunteer in the first place. Conversely, I tend to avoid going to volunteer appreciation parties or awards ceremonies. My dislike for big social events is a personal preference (I’d much rather stay home with my cats!), but even the most outgoing and social volunteers are likely busy just like me.  It is very difficult to schedule an event that every volunteer can come to, and, if that is the only time made for recognition, then a lot of volunteers won’t receive any at all.

The good news is that while our sector may at times drop the ball on volunteer recognition, the changes recommended by the 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study are very attainable. We already know the value of our volunteers – now we just have remember to communicate that to them! Read the whole study for more straightforward tips and ideas on how to step up your organization’s volunteer recognition.

For more from Volunteer Canada on volunteer recognition, please visit their Guidelines and Helpful Hints for Volunteer Recognition. You can also visit Volunteer Alberta’s Resource Centre (VARC) for books and articles on the subject.

Sam Kriviak, Program Coordinator

Guest Blog: Stepping Up and Stepping Into Challenges

stepping upI was recently faced with the challenge of developing a workshop for a group of volunteers. Even though I don’t wear a cape or Wonder Woman bracelets, the client was anticipating I would be able to address the long list of needs identified in their stakeholder survey. In a mere two hours, they expected me to provide participants with solutions and tools to help engage more citizens, and to address a declining volunteer base. It wasn’t an easy workshop to design and one that in some ways I had been dreading.

While I felt a longer session would be required to address the issues and challenges in a meaningful way, there was only so much time. And not only were we short on time, but participants attending the workshop were stretched pretty thin, bearing out the Statistics Canada survey results showing that 10% of volunteers account for 53% of all volunteer hours dedicated to nonprofit/voluntary organizations. It wasn’t my first rodeo, so I dug deep and thought back to what I had learned, taught and applied over the years that really had an impact when it came to engaging citizens, and recruiting and retaining volunteers.

While it was a lot of work, it was all worth it when one of the participants spoke to me after the workshop and thanked me for what she had learned and for ‘talking her off the ledge’. When I asked her what she meant by ‘talking her off the ledge’, she explained that coming into the workshop she had been planning to quit her volunteer position. As a result of the workshop she decided to stay on as a volunteer.

That result in itself made it all worthwhile.

I left feeling happy that I was able to address a tough challenge and see results. It turns out that author Rosabeth Moss Kanter has come to a similar conclusion. She suggests that the happiest people are those dedicated to dealing with the most difficult problems. Many of these people are working or volunteering to make our communities healthier, safer, and more vibrant places to live, work, and play. They face tough challenges and are willing to serve others. In her book, Evolve!, Moss Kanter identifies three primary sources of motivation: mastery, membership(belonging) and meaning. Another M, money, turns out to be a distant fourth. As she puts it, money is a form of measurement, but it doesn’t necessarily get people excited about getting up in the morning, or leave them with a sense of fulfillment at the end of the day.

While it’s common these days to encourage people to find their purpose and passion, Moss Kanter suggests that regardless of our paid work, we each need to embrace a sense of responsibility for changing the world in one small way.

While Charlie Brown said that happiness is a warm blanket, maybe it’s more about stepping up and stepping into a challenge to try to make a difference.

Brenda Herchmer

CEO of Campus for Communities of the Future
Owner of Grassroots Enterprises


If you are interested in contributing to the VA blog as a Guest Blogger, please contact Tim at thenderson@volunteeralberta.ab.ca

Coffee Donations A Reminder of Alberta’s Generous Nature

coffeeLast week’s random mass coffee donations that started in Alberta (and quickly spread across the country) said something great about our province. It demonstrated the genuine and selfless generosity of people in Alberta. Now, of course, that money may have made a greater impact had it gone to a worthy nonprofit organization, but that doesn’t make the gestures any less generous. These anonymous coffee donations serve as a reminder that while there is always more to be done and room for improvement, Albertans are a giving people – whether it is a cash (or in kind) donation or contribution of volunteer hours.

According to the 2010 CSGVP, Albertans contributed an average of 140 volunteer hours and $562 in donations in 2010. Those are positive numbers, but the really encouraging trend is the steady increase in the rate of volunteerism among Albertans from 2004 (48%) to 2007 (52%) to 2010 (55%). Alberta’s population currently sits at 4 million people, with the provincial government projecting that it will swell to 6 or 7 million by 2041. That means demand will certainly rise for services provided by Alberta’s nonprofits, but if the promising upward trend in volunteerism continues we will meet the challenge.

A donation of 500 cups of coffee doesn’t directly address any of the social problems the nonprofit/voluntary sector is currently focused on. However, it serves as a reminder that Albertans care about one another and that the people of Alberta possess a powerful spirit of giving. This spirit of giving will be tested in the coming years, but there is reason for optimism for Alberta, its nonprofit sector and its most vulnerable citizens.


Tim Henderson, Office and Communications Coordinator

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