Where Can Volunteering Take You?

Today’s blog post is contributed by Angela Vincent, a volunteer at the Victoria General Hospital. Angie’s story is a great example of how someone can discover their passion while volunteering! Read on…

Hello everyone! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Angie. I am a mother of two beautiful children: Keegan who is seven & Kenzie who is three! I would like to share a small story with you. It’s about my volunteer experience and where it has taken me – I think I should begin with how it all started.

Previously I worked in the retail industry for over eleven years. I enjoyed what I did but towards the end went through a difficult stage of feeling lost in life (a whole other story in itself :-)). I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do or how to do something about not knowing what to do… if you catch my drift. At the time I remember my mom saying to me, “Try volunteering at a hospital, it’ll be good for you”. I have to admit, I felt nervous even thinking about doing so. Up until that point I had not spent much time in a hospital environment; let alone done any volunteering!

With that said, I bit the bullet and went for it. Before I knew it, I was in a “meet & greet” with Petra Slaughter, the Coordinator of Volunteer Resources at the Victoria General Hospital (VGH). Petra immediately took my nervousness down a notch. I told her exactly how I felt and that it was time I tried new things. Petra’s support and encouragement (not just for me, but for the entire volunteer team), was noticeably infectious. She wanted me to find my right fit just as much as I was hoping to find it – and so it began, I started off in the Medical Imaging Department as an on-call volunteer.

While waiting for a more permanent position (the waitlist was quite extensive and still exists to this day), I began volunteering in the office area with Petra; more so to pass time. Now if there is one thing I quickly realized: what you expect something to be like isn’t always how it turns out (Petra told me this once)… and how true! I found I really enjoyed the office area. Since starting in June 2010, I have worked my way from general office duties to conducting intakes with new volunteers and have since started training volunteer team leaders to conduct intakes themselves.

My time in the office has given me a great deal of satisfaction. I have the opportunity of meeting a variety of self-giving people all with different backgrounds and stories to share. It has been and still continues to this day, a magnificent learning opportunity and has provided me with a valuable skill set that in my eyes was nonexistent before.

Soon after, I realized my passion was with people and it was Petra who suggested I consider a career in Human Resources. After some research and digging around, here I am – currently a full-time student at Camosun College enrolled in the Advanced Diploma in Human Resources Management. I can honestly admit that my volunteer experience thus far, along with Petra’s mentorship, has given my life direction – who knows where I would find myself today if I chose not take my mom’s advice.

As I say to my son, ‘you are your own person’ – decisions are to be made; dreams are to be followed. Looking back… my time spent at VGH has been stepping stones to the big goal – a goal I never knew I had until volunteering! (Thanks Petra!)

Telling Your Organization’s Story with Social Media

I was so pleased to recently coordinate a “Get Creative with Social Media” workshop for Volunteer Victoria, facilitated by Mandy Leith. It pleased me even more that I was able to attend the workshop with  my mother, Elaine Cougler. Her adoption of and enthusiasm for social media tools to further her writing career is proof positive that social media is being used and enjoyed by people of all ages. Here is her guest post about attending the workshop:

Last week, Mandy Leith, “media-savvy storyteller, documentary filmmaker, social media strategist, media educator, founder of www.opencinema.ca & community-building curious cat” led a social media workshop sponsored by Volunteer Victoria.  As she describes herself on Twitter (above), Mandy has broad experience and an eclectic mix of specialties.

About thirty people, representing various nonprofit and other organizations, attended the workshop.  Mandy showed us Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as well as mentioning other social media.  Her task was somewhat difficult because of the wide range of prior knowledge we attendees brought, but she soldiered on and participants seemed pleased with what they learned over the course of the day-long workshop.

Here are some of the exciting things I took away:

  1. Google Reader or the Pulse app (for iPad) can make social media much easier and faster to use.
  2. People on Twitter and Facebook are interested in your story and Mandy pointed out the five key elements every good story should have: passion, protagonist, antagonist, awareness and transformation.
  3. Facebook’s Page used to be called a Fan page, so they are the same thing.  Facebook, itself, changes constantly.
  4. Hashtags (#) in Twitter allow you to tag and search for specific groups or concepts.  Our workshop’s hashtag was #vvsm.
  5. Engagement strategies on social media sites are very important.  Among the things mentioned were giving 90% of the time and selling only 10% of the time.
  6. Users get 75% more functionality using Hootsuite than just using the separate apps (eg. Twitter, Facebook) themselves.  (I realized I really did need to conquer Hootsuite to save precious time.)

Mandy also mentioned a number of useful websites, both for agencies and people in general:

  1. www.cluetrain.com  (The Cluetrain Manifesto 1999 about the modern market place.)
  2. http://www.mediarising.ca/ (Mandy’s site)
  3. www.mashable.com (a site about all kinds of social media)
  4. www.getstoried.com  (teaching how to tell your story, a large focus of Mandy’s presentation)
  5. www.ehow.com  (has lots of life-oriented how-to information)

Keyword importance was one of Mandy’s important net strategies.  She encouraged us to make our blog post titles keyword-rich for Google SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  As a blog writer of two blogs, I especially appreciated that tip.

And, finally, she mentioned using Google or other analytics to gauge which strategies are bringing the most visitors to a website.  If no one visits our site then all of our social media strategies are for nothing.

What was the best part of Mandy Leith’s workshop for you?  Would you like Volunteer Victoria to run a social media workshop that is more advanced?  Please leave a comment and let us know.

Elaine Cougler

Pat Robertson – Valued Volunteer with Broadmead Care Society

The following guest blog post was written by Kelly Sprackett, Coordinator of Volunteer Services at Broadmead Care Society, in praise of one of their long-time volunteers.  Thank you Kelly, for recognizing and sharing Pat’s impact on your organization!


Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson - one of Broadmead Care Society's valued volunteers.

We are proud to say that Pat Robertson has been a volunteer with Broadmead Care Society (and before that, our predecessor Tillicum and Veterans Care Society) since 1975. 

Pat continues to lead the sing along for elderly residents of The Lodge at Broadmead that she began at Tillicum Lodge 36 years ago – and shows no signs of stopping!

 Pat is remarkably dedicated, a natural leader with a quiet and gentle manner.  She lives to connect with others through music.  Her commitment and passion for volunteerism is evident in all that she does.  She also leads a community choir and has volunteered in the school system and at Swan Lake among other organizations too numerous to mention. Pat also served as a founding member of the Board of Tillicum and Veterans Care Society.

Pat does not volunteer for the recognition and is, in fact, rather uncomfortable with being in the spot light.  She is a great inspiration, a leader, and a friend to other volunteers who enjoy helping residents to participate in the sing along program.  She views her volunteering as a team effort, and she always brings out the best in residents and volunteers alike.

Pat is a great ambassador for Broadmead Care Society and has always approached her leadership from the perspective that she is part of a team where everyone has an important role to play. 

Volunteers with Broadmead Care Society make every moment matter.  With Pat Robertson, moments matter in the most honest and heart felt ways. Thank you Pat for all you do and have done for us!

If you would like to learn more and/or volunteer with Broadmead Care Society contact Kelly Sprackett (kelly.sprackett@broadmeadcare.com) or call Kelly at 250-658-0311.

The Gift of a Volunteer

The following guest blog post was written by Kyra Henry, Administrative Assistant at Threshold Housing Society, in praise of one of their volunteers.  Thank you Kyra, for sharing how impactful Fran’s presence has been on your organization!

I would like to tell you about Ms. Fran McArthur, our quilter extraordinaire and office support volunteer.  Let me explain.

We have two homes for youth-at-risk in Victoria.  When a resident is ready to leave, they are given a quilt to take with them.  They are told that each stitch represents love and hope for their future.  They do not know the women that have worked on these quilts, but they are made with love and these women want the youth to know that the community cares about them.

Fran donates her time and her own materials to make these quilts for our youth.   She has donated two quilts for our fundraising events with never a hesitation on her part.  Fran belongs to a quilters group and she has been driving force in getting her friends and group involved with making “Quilts for Kids” who live at Threshold.   Fran, herself, has made a number of these quilts.

Her concern for our youth to have a meaningful gift when they leave Threshold has bought many tears to both the girls and the boys who have received them.  For many it brings back a better time in their lives.  (Often a youth had a handmade quilt when younger, made by a grandparent.)

When I first started work at Threshold Housing Society, Fran also volunteered in the office, helping me get organized.  She has also helped with cleaning the houses.  She’s just the person you know you can count on as she’s always ready to pitch in and help with any task.  She is gentle, kind and caring. 

I’d like to recognize Fran McArthur for her dedication, her enthusiasm in everything she does and for sharing her creativity with all of us at Threshold.

To learn about volunteer opportunities with Threshold Housing Society, click here.

Your Case for Support – a critical first step

The following is a guest blog post written by Kari Frazer, facilitator of our recent “Planning for Fundraising Success” workshop.  Kari holds the international Certified Fund Raising Executive designation and has been practicing fundraising, marketing and media relations for 24 years.

In my recent Planning for Fundraising Success workshop for Volunteer Victoria I think the pivotal subject was creating the The Case for Support. Many of the 30 people in the room had an ‘aha’ moment when we went to some of their websites and looked for evidence of their priority needs. Many websites had a Canada Helps button that asked for a donation, but very few described a priority need and engaged us in a human story.

The first step we can all make is to describe our priority needs on our websites. Your website is your most important tool for identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship of your donors. The creation of all collateral, presentations, grant writing, direct mail and face to face asks can be duplicated from your website information. By sharing the stories and needs so accessibly and with such clarity, all volunteers and staff in the organization naturally become spokespeople and support your fundraising efforts.

Take a look at your website’s home page. Where is your story of an urgent need? Do you have ‘one click’ to a human story about a problem, the solution, the urgency and how the reader could be involved?

One exceptional site to model after is The Girl Effect. The website information and the series of videos cultivate us as well as encourage us to take action. The options to be involved include donating one-time, donating monthly, choosing what specifically to donate for, sharing the video/website with friends, volunteering, advocating, and finding out more information. This one site takes us through the entire The Fundraising Cycle from identifying ourselves and our friends to being cultivated, then solicited and thanked before being identified for another gift.

Our goal is for each priority need to have a human story that appeals to the reader’s heart, head and wallet. When your story describes the current problem or situation, what emotion does it stir? Pride? Fear? Inspiration? Hope? Grief?

You speak to the reader’s ‘head’ when you present a solution to the problem and a logic to why your organization has the history and resources to address the problem.

The reader is now ready to donate and knows that their contribution will make a difference because you have spoken to their ‘wallet’ by describing how each contribution – no matter if it is $25 or $2,500 – will make a difference. The reader is important to solving the problem. Through your organization and this particular project the reader can be a part of something bigger than themselves.

The reader has decided that this is an important need to donate to but what is the urgency? Why should we donate to your project when there are 1,100 charities in Greater Victoria inviting us to support them? Why you and why now? What is your call to action?

Evaluate your own website use the CharityChannels.ca evaluation form or  contact CharityChannels@gmail.com / www.CharityChannels.ca to show you the way.

It’s Random Acts of Kindness Week

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today seems a very appropriate day to kick off Random Acts of Kindness Week.  We invite everyone (individuals, companies, schools, service clubs, etc.) to join us and take part.

Share your story and/or your ideas here on our blog. This is your chance to help make someone else’s day (and to brighten up your own as well!).

We will tweet out a daily RAK suggestion (#volvicbcRAK) and look forward to hearing yours! Let’s show everyone what an amazing city Victoria is!

Today’s #volvicbcRAK suggestion is to share this “challenge” with others in your network and tell us what you have done on our blog!

Looking forward to hearing your stories/comments/ideas!

I want to tell you a story…

We are pleased to share with you the following guest blog post written by the Executive Director of one of our member agencies, The Glenshiel.  Laurie Mueller recently attended our “Story Skills and Telling Tales” workshop facilitated by experienced storyteller Norma Cameron. 

I want to tell you a story about a Volunteer Victoria workshop I attended that was one of the highlights of my year.  Do you have time to read 600 words to learn about something wonderful? If so, please read on.

My mother was a great teller of tales.  I remember as a child listening to her make an ordinary situation turn into an exciting event as she retold it to friends and family.  I have always been fascinated by how well some people can capture our interest while others make me just want to nod off and go to sleep.   So it was with excitement that I signed up for the “Story Skills and Telling Tales” workshop.  A chance to learn how I can tell the stories of people that I work with in an exciting way just like my mom used to tell! It turns out that the group of about 30 had similar reasons for being there.

Our facilitator, Norma Cameron from The Narrative Company, skillfully taught us how to create a story that we could tell over and over again.  She started by teaching how to create the bare bones of our story.

A story needs a beginning, middle and an end.  Added to that we learned that there are components that make up the bones of the story and even if you tell the story many times but stick with the bones it doesn’t matter if some of the other details are added, forgotten or changed.  The story bones are created by following the story building guideline:

1. When and Where does your story start
2. Who
3. What happens
4. The So-What  (the climax)
5. The Now What

Before I went to the day-long workshop I did my homework.  I talked to some of the residents at The Glenshiel where I work.  I wanted to be able to tell their stories.  I asked them the questions to collect the data I would use to tell their stories.  Then I chose one that I would use.  Phew! Glad I did.  One of our first exercises of the day was to tell our tablemates in three minutes the bare bones of our stories. 

Norma took us through the theory, gave us some resources to pick up. I want to be sure to read “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink and I want to go back onto the TED website and listen to the talk that Ken Robinson gives about The Demise of Education.  I also want to download some of the  Ira Glass podcasts from iTunes. 

After lunch we visualized our story.  We closed our eyes and let Norma lead us into a space in which we could view our story.  I’m not a visual person (or so I thought) but I was seeing my story right from the beginning.  It really helped to embed the story into my mind and allowed me to relax later when I was retelling it.  That was a great exercise for those of us who are right brained.  And then into the left brain we marched.  We drew a chart!  Three columns if you please, labeled Where, Who, What Happens.  We took three parts of our story and mapped it out in our chart.  The next step is to draw pictures and story board the sequence. 

We did voice exercises. Singers do voice exercises so why shouldn’t story tellers do the same?  I just can’t imagine what my staff will think when they hear me singing “do, re, mi, re, do” and  “Meow, Meow, Meow” in my office just before I give a potential resident a tour and tell them our stories! 

And then it was the end of the day and we were telling our stories.  Wow! What a day!

Laurie Mueller, M.Ed is the Executive Director of The Glenshiel, a seniors heritage residence in downtown Victoria. She also has written ebooks and blogs. Another place that Laurie tells stories is on The Glenshiel Facebook page and she invites you to visit it.

Telling Your Organization’s Story

We recently held a very successful  “Story Skills and Telling Tales” day-long workshop, facilitated by Victoria-based storyteller Norma Cameron.  In this post, Norma herself gives readers some resources to turn to while learning how to tell your organization’s stories.

In 2005, after years of being a storyteller and a fundraising/communications consultant, I decided to marry these two pursuits and build more effective communication strategies and tools.  After all, a well-told story is the shortest distance between two people and telling your organization’s story is really no different than the stories we share with each other every day. 

However, it does require a wee bit of work.   First of all, you need to gather your organization’s history, mission and most of all – the positive impact it has on those it serves (proof of its “mission in action”).  Then, focus on choosing, gathering and telling the most convincing and compelling stories to your audience (could be future or current volunteers, staff or donors).  The goal of an impact story is to take others to the front lines of where your organization and its cause meet.  Choose the most emotionally-engaging way possible to tell these stories (using the most appropriate medium) to make your audience feel as though they are right there.  

Once you’ve covered the history and impact, your next task is to explain your future vision; paint a picture of what the community will look and feel like if your organization realized its mission (or current goal).  Don’t forget to include the journey and resources required to get there (highlights of your plan and your budget).  Next up, you need to articulate how your audience can help to achieve this future state…your “call to action” (in easy to follow steps).  In other words, place them in this story of success. 

In collecting this information, think about answering the following questions…Why is your organization the best at what it does? Why does it deserve support?  Is it a good steward of funds?  Develop your own set of questions – but in following the mantra of “show versus tell” distill and incorporate the answers into a handful of powerfully convincing and compelling tales…rather than simply listing these as facts. 

Over my 20+ years as a storyteller, I’ve learned that without a doubt, simplicity and authenticity wins out every time.   By mastering how to recognize, understand and tell authentic stories about your organization and its work (in plain language) – you’ll have the vital building blocks to create a powerful communication strategy.

As you may have noticed, there is a revival of interest in storytelling and as a result there are wonderful resources on this topic.  You can find lots of books, websites, blogs, etc. on many aspects of storytelling.  While there isn’t a book specifically on applying storytelling to non profit organizations (but I’m working on it), I’ve listed some of my favourite resources below.

And, don’t forget to seek out storytelling gatherings in your neck of the woods (check on the national website: http://www.sc-cc.com/) .  For example for those close to Victoria, why not drop into the next storytelling evening hosted by the Victoria Storytellers Guild, check out their website for dates/location: http://www.victoriastorytellers.org/

Learning the art of storytelling:
The Way of the Storyteller – Ruth Sawyer
Improving Your Storytelling – Doug Lipman
Suddenly They Heard Footsteps – Dan Yashinsky
Couple of website links on ingredients for good stories:
NPR’s Scott Simon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiX_WNdJu6w&feature=related
NPR’s Ira Glass (first part of four): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loxJ3FtCJJA

Storytelling for corporations:
The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling (or) The Springboard – Stephen Denning
The Story Factor (or) Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins – Annette Simmons
Your Client’s Story (specifically for financial advisors) – Scott West & Mitch Anthony

Gathering personal or family stories:
Telling Stories of Life through Guided Autobiography Groups:  James Birren & Kathryn N. Cochran
Writing About Your Life – William Zinsser
Storycatcher – Christina Baldwin

Focus on stories about/for women:
Women Who Run With the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Inviting the Wolf In – Loren Niemi & Elizabeth Ellis
Composing a Life – Mary Catherine Bateson

Blending creativity (and the need to) in your work:
A Whole New Mind – Daniel H. Pink
And a great Ted Talks on this topic by Sir Ken Robinson: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
The Leader’s Edge – Charles J. Palus & David M. Horth

Best book ever – on using plain language in all you write/tell:
Death Sentences – Don Watson

Through her business, The Narrative Company, Norma Cameron works with clients across Canada as a fundraising and communications consultant, teacher and facilitator. She believes passionately in the need for clarity in vision, mission and goals, plain language in all communications and tapping into the unparalleled power of story to motivate teams and attract support.

Norma is part of the CAGP Teaching Faculty and as a speaker and seasoned storyteller; she has performed at conferences, concerts and festivals in Canada, the USA and the UK.  You can reach her at


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