Stand Up for our Profession

Susan Ellis is one of only a handful of internationally recognized speakers in the field of volunteer management. And, thanks to AVRBC, she was in Victoria last week to help inspire administrators of volunteer resources from across the province.  

As you might expect from an expert practitioner, author, researcher, and advocate with more than 30 years experience in the voluntary sector Ellis’s presentation was crammed with nuggets of wisdom and skilled intention. Her straight to the point messages about the importance and power of volunteerism hit the proverbial nails on the head.

Ellis’s presentation was not, however, a gentle walk down memory lane. She challenges all coordinators, managers, and advocates of volunteers to revisit our personal and organizational assumptions about how we articulate and recognize the value of volunteerism and asks us to address any complacency that weakens the impact of our profession and collective work. Her point is that if volunteer management professionals don’t determine the future of our sector, who will?

Here are just a few Ellis inspired questions to contemplate:

– How do we inspire more emerging professionals to choose volunteer management as an intentional career path?
– There are very few accredited Volunteer Management Training programs in Canada and trends suggest that established programs across the world are closing. How do we sustain and share research about volunteer management related issues and advocate for volunteer management training as a priority for our sector?
– How do we ensure that volunteerism is identified as an essential service  (like IT or HR) across the entire organization and is not viewed as just an isolated program function?
– What steps will we personally take to ensure that volunteer managers have the tools and resources we need to respond to emerging trends and increasing demands for volunteer services from both the non-profit and public sector?
– How will we share best practices and learnings with each other?

The questions may be simple, but the solutions are complex and far reaching.

Volunteer Victoria, and our colleagues and peers at AVRBC, Volunteer BC, and Volunteer Canada welcome you to share your ideas and experiences in volunteer management. Visit our websites to find out how you can get connected and thanks for choosing this profession!

New Regional Rep for AVRBC

I’d like to announce that Tina Lowery of the BC Cancer Agency has stepped in to share the Regional Representative position with me for our local Administrators of Volunteer Resources British Columbia (AVRBC) chapter.  Tina replaces Nancy Martens (more on Nancy below) in this shared position as of this summer, just in time to start off our new meeting year in September.  Tina is the Coordinator of Volunteer Services at the Vancouver Island Cancer Centre and, in her words, “works with and in support of the most amazing, talented and dedicated volunteers.”

If you haven’t heard of AVRBC before, please let me tell you about this wonderful organization.  AVRBC is BC’s provincial network for people who are involved in the administration/coordination/management of volunteers.  (Yes, this actually is a profession in our sector!) All over British Columbia groups of professionals are meeting regularly to talk about how to engage volunteers effectively in our organizations, and in our South Island region we have a particularly amazing chapter.

Our members in South Island meet from September to June on the third Thursday of every month over the noon hour. Sometimes we bring in a guest speaker, sometimes we participate in round-table sharing sessions amongst members, and sometimes we teach each other things that we are doing in our own organizations.  Whatever we’re up to each month, it is sure to be an engaging, fun and friendly atmosphere.  I have been proud to be co-leading this group here in Victoria for the last five years.

As mentioned above, Tina replaces Nancy Martens in the co-Regional Rep position.  Nancy works at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health and has contributed many wonderful years of service to AVRBC in this position.  Her energy and positive attitude have always made our meetings a success.  Even though Nancy will no longer be a Regional Representative, we are lucky that she will continue to grace us with her presence at meetings by remaining as a member of AVRBC.

Nancy, thank you for all you’ve done in this leadership role! And Tina, I look forward to working with you to create a shared vision for what this chapter will accomplish from this point forward. I know many more good times are ahead!

Creating Enticing Volunteer Positions

For many years, Volunteer Victoria has had a strong partnership with the Administrators of Volunteer Resources British Columbia (AVRBC), BC’s professional group for people involved in the administration of volunteers.  Every month between September and June on the third Thursday of the month, local coordinators of volunteers gather in Victoria at AVRBC meetings to learn about topics in volunteer management. 

AVRBC South Island’s most recent meeting, held on June 16th, featured a panel of presenters speaking on the topic of Creating Enticing Volunteer Positions.  Panelists Kelly Sprackett, Nancy Martens, and Christine Foster led an informative and interactive presentation.  In this first post of a two-part series, I’ll outline for you some of the beginning steps to creating attractive and enticing volunteer positions that these panelists discussed during their presentations.

First presenter Kelly Sprackett, responsible for managing volunteers at the Broadmead Care Society, reminded us that volunteer position descriptions (alternatively called role descriptions or other various terms) are the key documents that we need to recruit volunteers.  In part, she encouraged us to consider the following in creating them:

  1. Examine the mission, vision and philosophy of your organization before you create the volunteer position.  Any position you create needs to fit with these elements of your organization.
  2. Consider how you can promote organizational change and culture through the design of each volunteer role.
  3. Make sure that the volunteer position description is  consistent with your organization’s policies and procedures.  Check for clear and consistent language between all documents.  A clear role description will help you to both reduce risk and maintain good volunteer/staff relations in your organization.
  4. Build some flexibility into the role description to allow you to keep it interesting and motivational for the volunteer(s) who will perform that role.  Remember, creating volunteer roles is just as much about serving the needs of the volunteer as serving the needs of the organization.  Sometimes it will be appropriate to even create a volunteer position description for a particular person,  sometimes not.  (Re-read #1 in this list before you do this…i.e. will the new position fit your mission?)
  5. The volunteer position description serves as a measure for future supervision and evaluation of the volunteer; it’s a guideline for the volunteer and their supervisor to follow.
  6. Regular check-ins with the volunteer(s) performing the role may lead to changes in the role description, based on changing needs of the organization.
  7. Training for the volunteer extends from the role description; they must complement each other.
  8. The more clear and meaningful you make the volunteer’s role description, the easier it will also be to appreciate and recognize the volunteer performing that role. 

Stay tuned for my next blog post to learn what Nancy Martens and Christine Foster had to share during this worthwhile discussion about creating enticing volunteer position descriptions.

Questions to Consider for a Successful Training Experience

The following post is an article of mine originally published in the most recent issue (Volume 19.1) of the Canadian Journal of Volunteer Resources Management.  The focus of this issue is training and education.  The Journal is available to members of the Canadian Administrators of Volunteer Resources, our national association of administrators/managers of volunteer resources.  For those involved in the administration of volunteer resources in British Columbia, CAVR membership currently comes free with an annual membership to our provincial AVRBC (Administrators of Volunteer Resources British Columbia) association.

Ask Before You Speak: Questions to Consider for a Successful Training Experience

Some of us thrive on speaking in front of groups while others dread it.  Yet training is often an essential part of the job for a manager of volunteers.  Here are some questions to consider as you plan your next training event, working towards a successful outcome for both you and your participants.

1. What will my training event look like?

Develop a lesson plan well in advance.  A simple table format with three columns and multiple rows will work well.  The first column indicates the start time of each of the teaching elements within your plan and the second and third columns capture the content and handouts, audio visual or other materials you will need. 

Consider carefully how long each element in your lesson plan will take.  It is often most difficult to get the pace right and have the proper amount of content for the time available.

2. How will I make my content appeal to everyone in the room?

There are three types of learners – visual, auditory and kinesthetic – and they learn best by seeing, hearing and doing, respectively.  Visual learners relate well to images, videos or demonstrations while auditory learners may like listening to guest speakers or participating in group discussions.  Finally, kinesthetic learners may appreciate hands-on activities, role-plays and ice-breakers or other activities which get them up and moving around.

In addition, remember that some people process information more quickly than others.  Consider distributing pre-reading or hand outs to give participants more time to digest your content.

3. What stories will I tell?

Think of how you can incorporate stories related to your content into your training session to really deepen participants’ learning.

4. What can I do to enjoy the teaching experience?

First, visualize in advance that your teaching event will go well.  When the day comes, just try to relax and be authentic.  Participants feel uncomfortable when they can tell that the speaker feels uncomfortable, so just imagine them wishing you well.  If the topic warrants, use your natural humour and laughter to engage participants.  If you make a mistake, just carry on.  Never admit that you are not as good a trainer as you would like to be – chances are the participants will have no inkling of this unless you tell them.

Wear something professional that you feel good in.  Try out different styles and you will begin to develop a preference for what “teaching clothes” work for you.

5. What will I do to ensure participation?

Build time for participation into your lesson plan.  Ask open-ended questions and include activities that encourage people to contribute to the content in various ways.  Pay attention to how much you talk.  Allow others time to ask questions or interject their own experience.  Remember that – especially with adults – you are likely not the only person in the room with experience in the content.

 Guest speakers also may help liven up your classroom and allow your participants to tap into someone else’s experience with your subject matter.

6. How will I stick to my plan?

Sometimes things do not go exactly as planned.  Participants may jump ahead or venture outside the scope of your content in their questions or discussion; this is where your experience and good judgment can help. Decide in the moment what questions to address and what to put off. Keep an eye on your lesson plan timings.  Incorporate a “parking lot” to capture topics to address later or talk to participants informally at the end of the session if necessary.

7. What will my evaluation process look like?

Evaluate the training event right after the session using personal reflection as well as informal and formal feedback from participants.  Consider what you could change for next time, then go back and revise your lesson plan as necessary.

Keep asking these questions of yourself and you are sure to grow your success as a trainer.  Whether you deliver short information sessions to your own volunteers or large workshops at professional conferences, it pays to have a plan.

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