Crafting Great Blog Posts

We don’t often discuss here on our blog about how we actually manage our blog, so we thought we’d – of course! – write a blog post about it to help other organizations that would like to start or enhancing their blogging practices.

At Volunteer Victoria we have five staff members that regularly write posts for this blog. On top of the posts that Lisa, Lori, Leanna, Lornna and I create (I’m lucky they let me help since my name doesn’t begin with ‘L’!), we also bring in volunteers from our programs as much as we can to help out and present a different voice and perspective. For example, I often ask at our professional development workshops if a participant wants to write a blog post on the workshop’s topic, and someone invariably takes me up on this offer. Leanna’s youth volunteers contribute posts from time to time based on their volunteering experiences and Lori’s communications volunteers do as well, doing things like going out and interviewing agencies about their great work and then writing about it. Overall, it takes a small village to keep up a good blog presence, and many hands do indeed make light work.

However, sometimes many hands makes work a bit complicated. We recently realized that with so many people contributing to the blog now that it made sense to create a document that could guide both staff and volunteers in how to craft great blog posts. We knew we couldn’t rely on people to “just get it”, especially people who have never blogged before and perhaps might not understand how this medium is different from say, academic essay writing or crafting PR documents.

I ended up creating a fun, visual representation of the best, most simple advice we could muster between ourselves about what great “Blogging at Volunteer Victoria” should look like. It’s included here at the top of this post – click on it and you’ll get a larger-sized version.

We’ll consider this the first draft of an image that is sure to change as fast as technology and blogging practices do!

We’d love to hear what you think about our guidelines based on your own experiences. Have we missed anything crucial? What have you found works for your organizations in managing blogs with multiple authors?

We Appreciate You

Have you said “Thank-you” to anyone recently? If you did say it, did your thank-you message help inspire your volunteer, champion, or donor to support your organization for another year? Have you ever considered that a luke-warm or underwhelming thank-you can help turn an important relationship cold?

Now, you may think that Volunteer Victoria has lost the plot and that we are making a ‘thank-you’ mountain out of a ‘volunteers and donors already know that they are appreciated’ mole hill. But, ‘thank-you’ practices have changed over the years and with new technology, personality type and demographic groups respond differently to themes, delivery methods, and content, and your ‘thank-you’ may be compared from year to year or to those received from other groups and organizations.   

Thanks to those who know, we have some thank-you advice to share: A warm, timely, and personal ‘thank-you’ (delivered by e-mail, letter, in-person, or via a phone call) helps contributors feel seen and valued. A memorable message that leaves a positive impression connects the recipient emotionally and reduces the chance that they feel like just one of many who won’t be missed if they stop making a contribution of time or resources.

Always thank before you bank. A pre-printed bulk thank you note leaves a similar impression to bulk e-mail – and it isn’t necessarily the good impression you need to make. And finally, consider the recipient’s needs and preferences and ask them how they want to be thanked.Volunteer Appreciation Week is just around the corner, (April 15 to 21, 2012) so if you need additional inspiration and ideas please visit 

Thank-you for taking the time to thank others whereever, however, and as often as it has meaning! It means a lot.

Holiday Greetings!

If you are still looking for holiday volunteer opportunities, check out last week’s post: the spirit of giving. Volunteer Victoria will be closed the week of December 26th, and reopening January 3rd.

Dr. Seuss wrote: And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. 

Volunteer Victoria would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for the many gifts you have given our community this year. The gifts of caring, respect, tolerance, inspiration, and knowledge are infinitely powerful and abundant. Your individual and collective work has made a positive difference for individuals and families, not just in this holiday season, but for the months and years to come.

Best wishes for a holiday season and new year filled with good health, much happiness, and a little bit more of everything you need to bring joy and peace to those around you.

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.

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!

Putting Your Best Face Forward

Well, the temperature has shot up and summer is finally here in Victoria.  And, as we all know, the summer months in Victoria are full of festivals.

For nonprofit agencies, summer festivals can be opportunities to showcase the missions, activities and needs of their organizations.  Whether an agency is running a festival itself or simply attending one alongside other agencies (e.g. participating in a small fair), it’s best to know how to put a professional face forward to the general public. 

In this vein, and because we run volunteer recruitment fairs of our own each year in various locations, Volunteer Victoria developed a Volunteer Fair Preparation Guide.  It’s full of tips for any nonprofit agency that is contemplating how best to staff a booth at a festival, fair or any other public event this summer or fall – and get the most out of the experience.  It talks about how to plan your attendance at a fair (identify goals and define measurements of success), gives tips on what to do during it (network with other agencies), and even recommends what to do afterwards (follow up soon after with potential volunteers).

In particular, we highlight in the document how crucial it is to train individuals – whether they be volunteers or paid staff – well to staff the booth and interact with the public.  Whomever represents an organization at a festival or fair is the face of the organization to booth visitors.  

Here are some tips for agencies on choosing and training potential booth staff, in order to put their best face forward:

  1. Choose individuals to staff the booth who have pleasant and engaging personalities,  excellent levels of customer service and solid knowledge about the agency and what it does.
  2. Train booth staff in what excellent customer service means to your organization (e.g. friendly, courteous, timely, helpful service).  Give booth staff concrete scenarios to learn from, or ask your staff to provide examples of great customer service they have received.
  3. Develop guidelines for maintaining a presence at the booth.  Volunteer Victoria recommends having two people staff the booth to ensure that it is never left empty if one person has to step away.  (Or, bring a “back in five minutes” sign to use if there is no choice but for one person to staff the booth alone.)  Additionally, booth staff should be given guidelines around eating and using cell phones at the booth.
  4. Advise booth staff to stand as much as possible and use open body language to encourage visitors.  They should also be advised to halt conversation amongst themselves when visitors approach the booth.

For our member agencies reading this, don’t forget to implement these tips when training your booth staff this fall.  Our volunteer recruitment fairs start up again in September at the University of Victoria, and registration is now open!

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