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Retention Refresh: Recapping Our Last Think Tank Conversation

by Sharon Mvundura

Think Tank Conversations are bi-monthly meetups of 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 coordinators face in their roles. Our May session was the last one before a summer break. Read on for what Think Tankers had to say about volunteer retention.

Organizations are experiencing a variety of challenges when it comes to volunteer retention. Time was the buzzword of the morning and played an important role in the strain organizations feel. They’re experiencing high turnover rates, volunteers leaving for paid employment, and are investing in volunteer training and orientation only to have volunteers leave.

I thought the majority of the morning would be spent talking about challenges, but organizations were quickly producing questions and possible solutions to their volunteer retention woes. Some that came out of our framing conversation were:

  • Who is your audience?
  • How can we meet volunteers where they are?
  • How can we instill ownership and accountability in volunteers?

First: audience.

Volunteer managers admitted that in order to retain volunteers it is important to recruit the right volunteers first. It just doesn’t cut it to fill volunteer spots.

During the recruitment process, identify what type of volunteer your organization needs and wants. Ensure skill sets match the needs of the program and screen out unsuitable candidates. One volunteer manager shared their story of recruiting volunteers in a rush to fill spots only to reflect later that some of those volunteers just weren’t the right fit. It’s time to get strategic about the recruitment process.

Second: meeting volunteers where they’re at.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How can your program and roles be more flexible?
  • What are the goals of your volunteers?
  • How can you help them fulfill or find their passion or purpose through your organization?
  •  Is there room for volunteers to grow in your organization?

You can explore those questions in the recruitment process with potential volunteers.  In this Think Tank, we used Volunteer Alberta’s handy “Window of Work” tool. This is a one page worksheet that can be used by organizations to discover volunteer’s motives, their intentions and non-negotiables when it comes to volunteer work. Try it! It got great response in the room.

But what about volunteers who have been in your organization for many years? It’s never too late to check in with them. Doing check-ins, one-on-one feedback sessions to gauge volunteer engagement is a great way to know where there’s room for improvement and how you can continue to provide a rewarding experience for all volunteers.

Lastly: ownership and accountability.

The truth is we’ll never get the volunteer retention thing down to a science. Volunteers will always leave at some point, but there are ways to increase buy-in and engagement. It starts with training and orientation, ensuring that they have what they need to be successful. Besides having volunteer appreciation events and methods, it’s important to nurture and build relationships. This might come in the form of increasing face to face interaction with your volunteers, or creating a buddy system, allowing shadow shifts at your organization or other formal ways for strong relationships to be the foundation of your volunteer program.

One aha! moment happened when one Think Tanker said “Our organization has changed, but we didn’t bring volunteers along with us.”

My biggest takeaway from the morning was: those who manage and coordinate volunteers are ready to make their programs engaging and inviting for volunteers.  They even all committed to one incremental change that they would make in their organization. Here are some of the commitments:

  • Explore other ways to collect feedback in my organization
  • Train staff on how to maintain positive relationships with volunteers
  • Find more opportunities to give face to face feedback with other volunteers
  • Check in with long term volunteers on their satisfaction
  • Pull together a focus group of volunteers to give feedback

We’ll be back in the fall with more Think Tanks and engaging mornings filled with learning and connection.

Read our other Think Tank recaps:

Volunteer Recruitment

Volunteer Recognition


Demonstrating Your Volunteers’ Impact

The theme for the 2018 National Volunteer Week was “celebrating the value of volunteerism-building confidence, comptetence, connections and community”. ECVO celebrated with a volunteer fair and week-long campaign. We also held our third annual celebration for volunteer managers. We believe that without trained and supported professionals to manage and engage volunteers, the ability to successfully give back to your community in formal roles is greatly hindered.

This year’s celebration was a breakfast seminar titled “Demonstrating Your Volunteers’ Impact.” Close to 50 volunteer managers filled the Kingsway room at the Polish Hall to discuss the seminar by Everyone Ready and dive into how they can show their volunteers, colleagues, funders and stakeholders the impact of their program. Here are the top 5 takeaways from the morning:

Not everyone in organizations is informed on the work volunteers do.

Sometimes this includes volunteers themselves. It’s important for coordinators to give everyone at the organization the opportunity to learn about the work of volunteers. It allows everyone to celebrate successes, learn from challenges and also gives volunteers the opportunity to discover other opportunities at your organization.

Each stakeholder at your organization might need to know different information.

This can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re the one compiling and reporting all the data. However, think about how current statistics or reports can be tweaked to meet the needs of different people.

Make your reporting numbers come alive.

You can still track and report on volunteer hours but try telling a specific story from a volunteer that demonstrates the impact the work has on them; you can also tap into a client’s experience rather than just reporting the number of people served.

Involve volunteers in demonstrating their impact.

Use volunteer feedback and surveys to gain insight for reports. You can also use the feedback to improve your service!

Revamp your website.

Websites are great way to showcase volunteer accomplishments. It’s also important to tie recognition into your plan on demonstrating the impact of volunteers. Once you know how valuable volunteers are, share that with them! That’s the best motivation you can give a hardworking volunteer corps.

No matter what reporting you do to your funders or organizations, remember there might be an opportunity to tell the story of your volunteer’s impact in creative ways. Demonstrating the impact of volunteer work will inspire, educate and motivate successful participation in your organization.


#YEGvolunteers: A Snapshot of National Volunteer Week 2018

Each year on National Volunteer Week, ECVO celebrates those unsung heroes who are the heart and soul of our communities.

Volunteers are all around us: at the mall, in our parks, in our schools, our workplaces, our neighbourhoods. Often unnoticed, rarely recognized, volunteers do what they do because they love the people and places around them.

Thankfully, National Volunteer Week comes around once each year to remind us all to stop and think about those who give up their time and energy to make the world a better place. Just take a look at the #yegvolunteers Twitter hashtag over the last week to see where volunteers have struck a chord throughout our city.

Earlier this week, we took to Twitter this week with a simple question: why do you volunteer?

And we received some really wonderful responses.

Thank you to everybody who let us know what lights their volunteer fire! Rest assured, even though National Volunteer Week is over, we won’t stop celebrating volunteers any time soon.

Equally exciting during National Volunteer Week is the opportunity to inspire new volunteers to embark on a volunteer adventure. We kicked off NVW last Saturday (a day early) with our 8th Annual Volunteer Fair. It was a great opportunity for volunteer-based organizations to get together, mingle with each other and make connections with curious Edmontonians looking to help out in their communities.

Whether you made it to the Volunteer Fair or not, there are still plenty of opportunities for you to find your dream volunteer gig. We hope that over the last week, you’ve chanced upon a story, profile, or idea that serves as the spark for your volunteer flame.

Keep up the great work, #yegvolunteers!


Where Can I Volunteer?

This week is National Volunteer Week, an annual celebration of all things volunteers. We’ve been giving you the tips you need to start volunteering. From the benefits, how to start and what kind of roles there are out there. We hope you feel confident enough to start seeking volunteer opportunities and now you’re probably wondering, where do I volunteer?

Read below for three places to find volunteer opportunities in Edmonton!

  1. Every year we host a volunteer fair at West Edmonton Mall. This year, we’re bringing the volunteer fair to Edmontonians online! If you missed the volunteer fair, visit our Virtual Volunteer Fair to see the organizations who are currently recruiting volunteers.
  2. Volunteer Connector: Edmonton’s one stop shop for volunteers is! With hundreds of volunteer roles, you’re sure to find something you like. New opportunities are being posted daily so visit back often to see what’s new.
  3. Web search: once you’ve narrowed down what you want to do, try doing a web search based on the cause you want to support. Type in “animal volunteering Edmonton” or “seniors volunteering Edmonton” or whatever cause you’d enjoy and browse the many different organizations. The plus side to this is that you’re able to visit their website and see more about their mission and values.

All of the options above will lead you to an organization. So what do you say when you find the right organization for you? Besides how you start volunteering, ask these important questions to know if it’s the one:

  • What training do you provide for this role?
  • Will I need a police information check?
  • Do I have to wear a uniform or anything in particular?
  • What hours are available for volunteering?
  • Is there an opportunity to try different roles in the organization?

Asking a few simple questions will help you know for sure if you’ve found the right role for you. So what are you waiting for? Your volunteer adventure is right around the corner!


Every weekday during National Volunteer Week, we’ll post an article about a different aspect of volunteering in Edmonton. Missed our other NVW blog posts? Check them out here.

What brings your volunteer spirit to life? We encourage you to join the conversations on Twitter this week by following @EdmCVO and by using the hashtags #yegvolunteers and #NVW2018!


What Do Volunteers Do?

When you think about volunteering, what comes to mind first? Is it serving a meal at a shelter, playing games with seniors, or picking up litter in Edmonton’s river valley? Does only one type of volunteer role come to mind or many? The truth is, there are thousands of ways one can give back in the city of Edmonton.

The most common type of volunteering is working at human service organizations. These are your homeless shelters, food banks, child and family resources centres, to name a few. Within these organizations there are tons of different volunteer roles. For example, at ABC Head Start, you can help tutor children in a classroom. At Old Strathcona Youth Society, you can provide referrals and support to homeless youth.

Volunteers at the Servus Heritage Festival

If you’ve spent a summer in Edmonton you know there’s always an event or festival going on, we’re not named the festival city for nothing! Festival volunteering is a great way to try your hand and working in a formal volunteer role. They’re usually one-time events in a fast paced and fun environment. Did you know the Heritage Festival has booths representing over 100 countries and cultures and over 600 cultural foods? This fun event looks for volunteers every summer and is currently recruiting along with two other great Edmonton Festivals. Check out opportunities from the Heritage Festival as well as The Works Art & Design Festival, St Albert Children’s Festival and Edmonton Pride Fest, and K-Days, your summer will be an unforgettable one with those experiences.

Even family pets can be considered volunteers!

Many people volunteer because they can directly relate to a cause, many of the volunteers we’ve encountered volunteer for cancer organizations to give back and support those who are impacted by the horrible disease. There are a number of cancer focused organizations in Edmonton that rely on the support from volunteers. Our Virtual Volunteer Fair features opportunities from Canadian Cancer Society, Ovarian Cancer Canada and Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation.

From working to rescue animals, help individuals who are visually impaired, rescue fruit to give to those in need, to working with newcomers to Canada, there truly are so many volunteer opportunities available in Edmonton. Tomorrow on the blog, we’ll give you tips on where you can find some of these amazing volunteer roles. You can also head over to our Virtual Volunteer Fair and see some of the ones mentioned and more!

Every weekday during National Volunteer Week, we’ll post an article about a different aspect of volunteering in Edmonton.

What brings your volunteer spirit to life? We encourage you to join the conversations on Twitter this week by following @EdmCVO and by using the hashtags #yegvolunteers and #NVW2018!


How Can I Volunteer?

Every weekday during National Volunteer Week, we’ll post an article about a different aspect of volunteering in Edmonton. Yesterday, we looked at why volunteering is one of the best things you can do. We encourage you to join the conversations on Twitter by following @EdmCVO and by using the hashtags #yegvolunteers and #NVW2018!

The biggest question we get here at the ECVO is how do I start volunteering? There are thousands of volunteer organizations in Edmonton and trying to find a position right for you can be overwhelming. The number one tip that will land you your dream volunteer role actually takes place before you even start searching: reflection. But what does that even mean?

Think about the last time you looked for a job or went to purchase something of significance. You might have just applied to every open position or picked the first option you saw in the store, but you probably sat down and thought about what you wanted from a job or your purchase. The same thing applies to volunteering.

You should ask yourself some simple questions before searching for a volunteer role:

  • What would I enjoy doing? What are my hobbies? (painting, writing, playing sports, organizing)
  • What are my hobbies? (painting, writing, playing sports, organizing)
  • What kind of environment do I want to work in? (busy, slow paced, lots of people, solo work)
  • How will I get to my volunteer role? (public transit, car, ride with a friend or family)
  • What kind of cause do I want to support? (cancer organizations, newcomers to Canada, sports and recreation)
  • When can I volunteer and for how long? (weekdays, weekends, two hours a week, a year commitment, or a short term event volunteer role)

A volunteer role has the potential to truly change your life for the better. No matter what your reasons are for volunteering, starting off on the right foot is the key to finding that life changing experience. So you’ve spent some time reflecting but now it’s time to see what’s out there, tune in to our blog to tomorrow to learn about the different volunteer roles available!


Why Volunteer?

Every weekday during National Volunteer Week, we’ll post an article about a different aspect of volunteering in Edmonton. We encourage you to join the conversations on Twitter by following @EdmCVO and by using the hashtags #yegvolunteers and #NVW2018!

Volunteering—most of us know what that word means: giving your time, talent and effort to a cause for free. Yes, for free! But why do it?

We live in a fast-paced society where all of us have responsibilities and limited time. The secret about volunteering is that it’s not just about giving. You also receive when you volunteer. These benefits of volunteering may surprise you:

Social Connections

Photo courtesy of the City of Edmonton

Volunteering is a great way to meet new people in an organized setting. The great thing is, you probably have something in common with your co-volunteers because you all have interest in giving back. If you’re new to Edmonton or looking to expand your social circle, try volunteering.

Career & Professional Development

Whether you’re exploring a new field of work, seeking experience for your resume, or wanting to boost your chances of getting a scholarship for school, volunteering is the answer. There are so many volunteer opportunities out there that cover a variety of skills that can give you valuable experience. You can list your volunteer experience on your resume to show your interests and personality but also the transferrable skills that might help you land that position.


This may surprise you, but volunteering is great for your health and wellness. Many volunteer activities involve being active but it also just feels good. In fact, there’s even a study that found people that volunteer live longer! When you actively engage in your community and spend your time doing something positive, you’re sure to feel good in your mind, body and soul.

What’s your reason for volunteering? Let us know by tweeting at us at @EdmCVO and by using the hashtags #yegvolunteers and #NVW2018!

Still unsure where to go from here? Visit our blog tomorrow where we’ll explore HOW you can start volunteering!


Recognition Reflection: Recapping Our Last Think Tank Conversation

Think Tank Conversations is a bi-monthly meetup of 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 coordinators face in their roles. Our March session was prep for National Volunteer Week (April 15-21 2018). As always, Think Tankers had a lot to say about this topic. Here’s what we heard:

There are a multitude of ways to show recognition, but we wanted to find out what organizations in the room did to show their volunteers they’re valued. So we took a poll.

The majority of organizations shared that they give handwritten thank you notes to their volunteers. Managers also said their organizations give small gifts, host annual appreciation events ranging from banquets and galas to training events for volunteers, or give special recognition for years of service. These are pretty standard recognition methods.

Digging deeper, we realized organizations had many other unique ways they gave back to volunteers. Interestingly, many managers didn’t even consider these as recognition:

  • Social media shoutouts sharing volunteer successes (this is especially great for younger volunteers on Twitter or Instagram and Facebook for older volunteers)
  • Inclusion in staff training (giving access to training helps show that you value volunteers and want to invest in their development)
  • Nomination for city, provincial or community awards
  • Profile in organization newsletter
  • Recognition wall at the office
  • Perks to arts and cultural events

Needless to say, organizations recognize volunteers in a variety of ways. But how do organizations decide on their recognition methods?

Some organizations struggle to get volunteers out to their recognition events. Others find that volunteers don’t want the gifts or tokens they give them, and instead want that money invested back into the organization.

David McClelland developed a Human Motivation Theory that can be useful in working through recognition struggles. His theory argues there are three different motivational styles: achievement, power and affiliation.

When you think of volunteers that might be those different motivational styles, what recognition things would they be most receptive to?

And maybe the question is more so do your recognition methods reflect the diversity of volunteers you have in your program? It sounds like a lot of work to try and figure these things out. Luckily there’s research to help you out.

Volunteer Canada’s 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study asked Canadians: how do you want to be recognized for your volunteer contributions? The biggest takeaway was “volunteers want to be thanked and shown how they have made a difference—they want to know the impact of their contributions.” The study goes on to say that “volunteers and volunteer organizations have identified a need to redefine perceptions of volunteer recognition—away from once a year banquet and towards a holistic, year round practice…”

Volunteer recognition shouldn’t be just a once-per-year concern. How about ongoing formal recognition (tied to volunteer success and achievement) or ongoing informal (finding small ways to show appreciation)? Volunteer organizations need to incorporate recognition throughout the year and into their daily practice.

Recognition shouldn’t only be the responsibility of the volunteer manager or coordinator either! It takes an entire organization to build and sustain a culture of appreciation and to recognize volunteers for their work. It starts from the minute volunteers enter the program. Do your roles inspire and motivate volunteers or are they just busy work? Are you matching volunteers to suitability of role or just filling in gaps? Those are all questions that should be considered.

Volunteers ultimately want to hear how they’ve made an impact in community and why your organization values them. With that, I leave you with three questions with which Think Tankers closed out our March conversation:

  • What positive outcomes have you seen as a result of volunteer effort in your organization?
  • How have volunteers made it easier to fulfill your organization’s mission?
  • Tell us about a volunteer who made an impression on you, why?

The next time you’re stumped with how to recognize volunteers reflect on those questions, and then find a way to tell and show volunteers your answers.

To read the last Think Tank recap and catch up with what Edmonton volunteer managers are thinking, click here.

Want to join fellow volunteer managers at our next Think Tank? Save the Date for May 25th and get notified about the next event via our newsletter. Subscribe Here


Little Pieces & Big Connections: What EMCN Learned from Becoming a Sustainability Champion

How can organizations work towards fulfilling their mission while also serving as role models of sustainability? The Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN) is among the many organizations that face this challenging tug-of-war in the face of limited time, funding, and capacity.

To give them a boost, the EMCN attended The Natural Step’s NGO Sustainability Champions Workshop Series in 2017 alongside a diverse group of Edmonton non-profits intent on building strategic planning capacity, improving sustainability and networking with other organizations doing the same.

We spoke with Marla Welk, EMCN’s Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator, to hear more about what EMCN took into the workshop series and, more importantly, what benefits they’ve seen since.

Going into the workshop, how did EMCN see itself as an organization that needed to work on sustainability?

Initially, it was more to learn about different approaches to developing a strategic plan. There wasn’t a focus, per se, on sustainability or looking at it from an environmental perspective, but just different things we should be considering when we are developing a strategic plan and not limiting ourselves to one way or another.

What kind of tools did the workshop provide EMCN?

We’re a service agency and we’re definitely impacted by what’s going on globally. Being able to look at that not just from a human perspective but also looking at what’s going on in other countries can impact us. Looking at hurricanes, for example; they displace people and we’ve seen refugees coming from these countries.

When we’re looking at where we’re going to be in 20 years, those things definitely play a factor in areas where you need to pivot. Some of the things that popped up for us was, for example, ethical sourcing. I hadn’t even thought about it, but afterwards I came back to the office and started asking, “Where do we order our supplies from?”

One of the unique features of the workshop is that you are required to build yourself a tangible strategic plan. What did that look like for EMCN?

One of the goals that resulted from the workshop — and this was a goal that we had prior to it — was placing a commitment towards long term stability and sustainability. This is very broad, as strategic plans usually are. What we included in that was, for example, should we be doing an environmental scan? Do we need to do a facility assessment to see if there are things we could do to improve our carbon footprint?

We also worked through Manfred Max-Neef’s fundamental human needs and these are all things that tie heavily into our values and mission as an organization. We basically took that and it helped us place more focus on our staff’s health and well-being, because obviously if our staff are feeling really well then that projects onto our programs delivery.

When you’re in a workshop, it’s definitely a lot to absorb, but once you think of it on a smaller scale and think about the little pieces you really start to see the connections and why you have to look at all the pieces of sustainability to make it work. It was exciting to see how that played into who we are as an organization.

Now almost a year beyond the workshop, how is EMCN using the insight gained from the workshop?

Some of the things we’ve implemented are, for example, developing a succession framework, which promotes staff health and well-being and enhances their workplace practices.

And when we’re working in teams or doing strategic planning, it’s definitely something that has become part of that framework, for sure.

Anything else to share?

One thing I really enjoyed was working with other NGOs. You don’t get to do that in a setting like that to that extent. It was kind of like a safe space where you could explore big issues or challenges that you might face in incorporating something like this in your office. Some NGOs that were there were well ahead of the other groups, and we all looked to them and how they were doing things.

It was really neat to see how some people new going into the course exactly what they were looking for and then they helped some of us other people who didn’t quite know what that was. I really liked that part of it. Having that diversity of opinions, it was nice to talk through that.

(Conversation edited for brevity)

The Sustainability Champions Workshop Series is back for 2018. Is your organization interested in improving its sustainability and capacity for strategic planning? There are still limited seats available.


The Recruitment Grind: Recapping Our Latest Think Tank Conversation

by Sharon Mvundura

Think Tank Conversations are a bi-monthly meetup of those who manage, coordinate and engage volunteers in Edmonton. The space we have created is one of discussion, networking and working through the trends, challenges and success volunteer coordinators face in their roles. We kicked off 2018 with a January discussion on Volunteer Recruitment and, as always, Think Tankers had a lot to say about this topic.

Here’s what we heard:

Edmonton organizations face a variety of challenges that affect their ability to successfully recruit volunteers. One organization found it difficult to recruit volunteers for the needed time slots  in their program. Others find it difficult to recruit during the “off season,” during the holidays there’s an excess amount of volunteer inquiries but the well dries up once January hits. For others, they are just simply finding it hard to recruit volunteers that will stay. In our fast paced society it seems the revolving door has arrived to volunteerism. So what can organizations do when faced with all those barriers?

While the morning was filled with sharing what isn’t working, there were some valuable learnings that led us to realize that maybesome solutions aren’t so out of reach.

One volunteer manager shared how, after facing challenges with scheduling or turnover, they decided to “rejig” some of their opportunities. They made some roles more flexible, shortened the commitment time, and worked with the feedback they were getting from prospective volunteers to adapt. This brings us to the first big unsurprising revelation:


Volunteer managers have little time between the daily grind of the volunteer cycle (recruit, train, orient, retain, recognize) to even think about changing up process. But what if it happened? What if looking at small or large tweaks to your program could fix some of the barriers of recruitment and retention you’re facing? It just might make the daily grind a little less… grindy.

Think Tankers shared a few other ways they achieved their recruitment goals. Don’t have recruitment goals? Then you should definitely start there. Figure out what outcome you want from recruitment. Do you want volunteers of a particular age group, or with particular skills? Decide, then figure out where those volunteers are and how to reach them.

One volunteer coordinator found success at some university career fairs; a great way to connect with young motivated volunteers.  Another one decided to let volunteers and clients recruit volunteers. They created videos and messaging with volunteers and clients to speaking about the impact of the program. Their campaign was a success and also used other tactics like local media.

We also spent a great deal of time talking about A/B testing. I first read about using this method for volunteer recruitment from an article by Erin R. Spink in the e-volunteerism Journal, which is unfortunately only available to subscribers. Basically, the method calls for taking aspects  of your recruitment ad such as a headline, colours, image or messaging and testing two different versions to see which one gets the most engagement. Here’s an example:

Which one are you more likely to click on?

These are two ads with the same image and a call to action, but using different messaging. This fake organization might use both these ads on their social media and track the number of clicks and engagements each of them get.  Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook have built in tools for you to track the engagement on your posts. You can also do this with physical advertising if you keep track of where you put certain ads and ask those who contact you how they heard about the opportunity. This means that you’ll be able to identify what’s working and what isn’t. Many organizations use the same ads, messaging and avenues for recruiting volunteers without ever analyzing whether it’s working. Using a simple A/B test might help refine your recruitment.

As our time came to end, Think Tankers mused on different questions for all of us to consider. How do we work collectively to educate the public on the various volunteer requirements? How can we be adaptive to meet the changing needs of volunteers? Questions that couldn’t be tackled then but… maybe at a future Think Tank!

To read past Think Tank recaps and catch up with what Edmonton volunteer managers are thinking, click here.

Want to join fellow volunteer managers at our next Think Tank on March 16th? RSVP Here!

Resources & Quick Tips:

  • If you’re getting a lot of volunteers that don’t quite fit your agency, why not recommend them to other local organizations?
  • Make it easier for people to find you and apply:
    • Develop an online application
    • Unique advertising: printing coasters and partnering with local eateries