Category Archives: Blog

Volunteer Management…is dead!

by Sharon Ruyter, ECVO Projects & Events Manager

Engagement, retention, and recognition are always ripe for discussion at Think Tank Conversations.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the phrase, but it struck me: volunteer engagement specialist (VES). Not volunteer manager, volunteer coordinator, volunteer resource manager or whatever version of that title exists. On one hand, it could just be another iteration of the title that describes those who recruit, train, retain and recognize volunteers, but on the other hand it’s something different. Mid last-year we at ECVO were inspired to start calling people in those roles volunteer engagement specialists.

The decision is based in some fundamental beliefs:

  • We believe volunteer engagement specialists have one of the toughest jobs out there- motivating people to work for free.
  • We believe that volunteer engagement specialist should be leaders in their organization. We know that volunteers make up the largest people workforce in the nonprofit sector. Therefore, VES’ should be at the leadership table, having a say in decisions that impact the short and long term success of an organization
  • We believe that volunteer engagement is a vital and effective strategy to address and meet community needs

So what? If you already believe those things, then why is a title important?

One of the things I constantly hear from volunteer engagement specialists is that they’ve been experiencing the same challenges for years. How do we properly recognize volunteers? What’s the best way to recruit young people? Where can I seek professional development opportunities? Volunteer engagement specialists have been asking the same questions for many years- with no answers in sight.

Volunteerism in its very nature is also evolving. The Recognizing Volunteering in 2017 study published last year by Volunteer Canada identified that informal volunteering is on the rise. Many people who are engaged in community work don’t see themselves as volunteers, and many others are choosing to seek fulfillment by creating their own projects and giving back outside of the formal system of volunteering.

This means that the profession formerly known as volunteer management has to adapt; that cannot take place without increased capacity, a shift in mindsets and innovation.

It’s time for change. (That was the theme for the 2018 International Volunteer Managers Day and we couldn’t agree more). It’s time stop asking the same questions year after year. It’s time to stop managing and start engaging. It’s time to take the discussions and conversations and turn them into action; it’s time to be change makers. It’s time to think about how to address the challenges you face in innovative and strategic ways.

So this is a call to action for all volunteer engagement specialists, regardless of sector or experience to join us in 2019. Todd McMullin with Samaritan software, and who served on the US National Alliance for Volunteer Engagement taskforce, said: “We have to do a better job of helping ‘Joe The Volunteer’ identify his passions and segue that passion into actual service, followed up by demonstrating to him what kind of impact he is having on his goals as well as those in his community.” Todd is describing engagement; true engagement leads to community impact, self-fulfillment and organizational success.

2019 is the year of the volunteer engagement specialists. We plan to engage in conversations and support action to move this idea forward and we’re thrilled to do this in partnership with organizations like Volunteer Management Group Edmonton and other partner organizations dedicated to shifting the way we think about volunteerism. We invite you to join us. Stay updated on upcoming events by subscribing to our newsletter.

We would also like to know what you think. What resonates with you? What’s puzzling? Or, what do you disagree with? Let us know by email or on Twitter @EdmCVO — we’d love to chat!

Drinnon, A. (2018). Voices for Something New: The National Alliance for Volunteer Engagement. e-Volunteerism, XVIII(4).


Breaking Volunteer Barriers: A Recap of November’s Think Tank Conversation

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:

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:

Volunteer Recruitment

Volunteer Recognition

Volunteer Retention


Risky Business: A Recap of September’s Think Tank Conversation

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. Read on for what Think Tankers had to say. 

Risk looks different in every organization and the busy grind means we don’t take the time to actually examine all of its elements. The Volunteering Screening Handbook by Volunteer Canada has some definitions to help organizations think about risks. Think Tankers examined a few of those and explored what those definitions actually mean in practice. What are the implications of this definition for organizations?

Duty of care is a volunteer manager’s obligation to take reasonable measures to care for and protect staff, clients, participants, volunteers and the organization to an appropriate standard. The appropriate standard of care is dependent on the situation and risks. It is a legal principle that is designated to protect vulnerable individuals from manipulation or harm.”

Sounds intimidating, right?

Well for our Think Tankers it meant “always being up to date with best practices surrounding volunteering.” They felt duty of care sets the need for policies, screening practices and constant communication during a volunteer’s service to garner feedback. For one Think Tanker it meant continued training — orientation should not end on the day they start volunteering, instead it should be a constant practice that keeps communication channels open between volunteers and your organization.

How about this one:

Standard of care refers to the degree or level of service, attention, care and protection that one person owes another. Individuals and organizations are not legally required to absolutely guarantee that no harm will come to their client, their staff or the community at large. However, “the standard of care expected in individual circumstances is that of a reasonable or prudent person.”

For this one, they brainstormed actual processes and tools. In order to provide a good standard of care volunteers need to be aware of the risks. Do you know what the risks are for each volunteer role? Hazard or risk assessments are a good way to understand each volunteer role. Volunteer engagement should be reciprocal and two way- find out what volunteers know, explore ways to help them understand what you see as risks and what they see as a risk. Your volunteers might have boundaries and needs you haven’t considered. Volunteer Alberta has a great risk assessment matrix. We blew this up on a whiteboard and Think Tankers marked where their roles fell on the matrix:

There were a few “ahas” from the group. Some realized their roles actually had more risk than they thought and it was time to relook at policies and guidelines.

The truth is, we can’t stop bad things from happening in our organizations. This was a key takeaway from our meeting. The only solution to risk is doing everything to be prepared. Have a plan, do your assessments and, most importantly, keep communication lines open between yourself and volunteers. Here are some other key takeaways:

  • Risk is unavoidable
  • Professional helping relationships- that should be the foundation of volunteer’s interactions with your organization
  • Be reasonable
  • Take the time to craft a risk strategy/plan
  • Know what risk is associated with each role
  • Have a three-prong risk approach: volunteers, staff, client — they’re all involved.

Helpful Resources:

Curious what’s been on the minds of Edmonton’s volunteer managers lately? Read more of our recent Think Tank recaps:

Volunteer Recruitment

Volunteer Recognition

Volunteer Retention


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!