by Sharon Ruyter
Think Tank Conversations are bi-monthly communities of practice for those who manage, coordinate and engage volunteers in Edmonton. The space we’ve created is one of discussion, networking and working through the trends, challenges and success volunteer engagement specialists face in their roles. The Fall 2018 lineup of Think Tank Conversations are about Risk. First up was the September Think Tank where we tackled the question of risk and what it actually means in our organizations. The final Think Tank of 2018 explored risk through the lens of inclusion. Read on for what Think Tankers had to say…
When it comes to inclusion in our programs, we all want a diverse volunteer base that affirms and successfully engages eager people who want to give back. Often, we don’t accept certain volunteers based on perceived or assumed risks they pose for volunteer programs.
Common responses and justifications include:
“We don’t have the systems in place to support a volunteer with a disability”
“What I something goes wrong and we don’t know how to respond?”
“What if someone says something wrong and it negatively affects client or our organization?”
There are endless “what ifs” and those concerns are certainly real. Ideally, we should be taking extra time and consideration to make sure our programs support individuals with specific needs. However, we often let the potential risks stop us from engaging volunteers that would diversify our organizations and provide a meaningful experience for a volunteer. We all benefit from diversity, so how can we get to a place where we’re comfortable accepting volunteers with various needs?
The number one inquiry we at ECVO received in 2018 was about how to include volunteers with disabilities. So for the November Think Tank we tackled inclusion for people with disabilities but also used that as a jumping point to talk about inclusion and risk in general.
First, Think Tankers rated their organization’s capacity to support people with disabilities in volunteer roles with 1 being zero capacity and 5 being high capacity. Most marked themselves between a 3 and a 5 – wonderful! But, still room for learning and improvement.
Think Tankers discussed the fears, concerns and risks in engaging volunteers with special needs. The top concerns were:
- Our organization and/or volunteer team doesn’t have the capacity to reimagine different roles for volunteers. It’s difficult to customize some tasks.
- We are unsure how to work with support workers. How involved should they be in the volunteer role?
- We are unsure how to educate other volunteers and staff about volunteers needs.
We acknowledged that each person is unique and there is a wide range of disabilities that require different supports.
The discussion also explored other types of volunteers, from newcomers with English as a second language to individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. One Think Tanker said it is important for volunteers to be representative of the population you serve. This should be reflected not only in your volunteer base but in the materials and systems you have in place.
What language are you using in your applications and resources? Do your promotional materials feature people from diverse backgrounds? How do you know where the gaps are in your organization?
“Awareness” was the key word the emerged from this discussion. It’s up to each volunteer engagement specialist to increase our awareness, be open minded and learn about how to be inclusive. One Think Tanker shared that her organization has a diversity committee made up of various members in the community (you could also have one of diverse volunteers) that help give feedback on how their organization can decrease barriers for entry into their volunteer program. What a great idea!
We were lucky to have incredible resources on hand for this Think Tank in the form of Lynn Wade, a Community Connector at Winnifred Stewart Association. In her role, Lynn helps match and connect people with disabilities to volunteer opportunities in the community. She shared tips and advice for those who want to included people with disabilities in their organization.
My biggest takeaway: You don’t have to wait to incorporate practices and policies for when you get a diverse volunteer in your organization. Include education in your orientation and training of prospective volunteers and build your organizations capacity from the start!
To Learn More…
This was a big topic with rich conversation and there are many resources to aid organizations:
- The City of Edmonton’s Measuring Up Toolkit is a self-assessment guide to help you be more accessible and inclusive, it identifies where you can improve.
- Volunteer Canada has tons of information on being more inclusive. Some top ones:
- Removing Barriers to Inclusion for volunteers with disabilities
- Building Blocks for Engaging Newcomer Volunteers
- Supporting Volunteerism by People with Disabilities guidebook
- The Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration did a research study on engaging volunteers from diverse and immigrant communities. The Executive Summary has eight amazing recommendations. You can also read the full report.
As always, sometimes the biggest resource is the people around you. Have a question? Give us a call or connect with an organization that works with the population you’re trying to engage. Connect and collaborate!
Curious what’s been on the minds of Edmonton’s volunteer managers lately? Read more of our recent Think Tank recaps: