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Bringing the Grassroots Together: Maximizing Capacity for Mentorship and Collaboration

Posted By Claire McWatt, Project Coordinator, Grassroots Growth , March 18, 2016
 

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

In grassroots groups, passion runs high, as dedicated volunteers commit their spare time to running an entire organization with very limited resources.

Limited access to resources is a problem shared not only by grassroots groups, but also by the entire non-profit sector (am I right?). It can be a major challenge to accomplish goals when stretched so thin. But for grassroots groups who have limited access to sector support and difficulty applying best practices to a grassroots context, this can be particularly challenging. Although grassroots groups find impressive ways to get crafty in a pinch, these tips are not readily available to all groups that could potentially benefit. By engaging in peer mentorship, grassroots groups can learn from each other, and share tips and tricks to facing the unique challenges of managing volunteer-run organizations.

Due to the entrepreneurial spirit of grassroots groups, often there are many initiatives operating at the same time, with similar goals and mandates. In light of this, it makes sense to explore how to foster more collaboration between groups, and build capacity for the development of partnerships and coalitions.

Collaboration can benefit groups in a number of ways, increasing efficiency, resources, support, reach, and legitimacy. However, for this to work, these partnerships need to be mutually beneficial, and that requires thoughtful preparation to ensure a smooth ride, and a strong outcome.

For more information on collaboration, check out this helpful article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, that outlines different types of partnerships and the various pros and cons.

As with a lot of sector resources, many are focused on larger nonprofits. Luckily, in the coming weeks Grassroots Growth will begin developing our Peer Mentorship strategy, specifically designed to bring grassroots groups together in our Community of Practice. This will allow for the sharing of tips, as well as tailoring of helpful approaches to collaboration to better suit the specific needs of volunteer-run groups. To learn more about how to get involved in shaping this process, contact Claire McWatt.

 

Claire leads the development of the Grassroots Growth project’s online community of practice, including the Peer Mentorship Forum and Wiki Resource Directory. She also manages relationships with Grassroots Growth partners, handles project administration, and collaborates with the Education Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator in research, training and outreach.


Tags:  activist groups  Challenges for Grassroots Organizations  collaboration  collaboration for Grassroots  grassroots groups  Grassroots organizations  improving your community group  Toronto 

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4 Things to Think About When Increasing Diversity and Inclusion in Your Organization

Posted By Rui Miguel Martins, Volunteer Guest Blogger, February 29, 2016
Updated: February 26, 2016
 

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Toronto’s rapidly changing demographics present new opportunities and challenges for small organizations. Increasing diversity could help with networking and building relationships in your community, however, attracting people of diverse backgrounds is often difficult.

Jim Milligan is a certified LifeSkills coach and former volunteer manager. He spoke to a group of grassroots leaders about strategies for recruiting and retaining people of different backgrounds. It was the latest event in Volunteer Toronto’s Trailblazer Series, a set of leadership talks geared towards people who lead volunteer-run non-profits.

 

Here are the four things that organizations should consider when thinking about diversity and inclusion.

 

1. Frame of Reference

Are you open to thinking about your organization in new ways? What biases do you have? Everything we have experienced until this point in our lives has shaped our opinions and perceptions. Perspective is everything. Recognizing your frames of reference is critical when thinking about the recruitment and retention of volunteers.


2. Dimensions of Diversity

It is always important for an organization to have clearly-defined goals and a recruitment strategy in place. Begin by deciding what type of diversity you want to focus on. Diversity consists of many different dimensions including gender, sexual orientation, education, age, etc. Think about why your organization might be attractive to people of diverse audiences. How will your organization benefit? And how will the volunteer benefit from their involvement? Next, you need to decide how you are going to reach out to these groups. “Diversity is about how we are different and how those differences could enhance our relationships,” Milligan says. Diversity is a strength, not a barrier.


3. Cultural Competence

Non-profit leaders should be able to understand how our own cultural differences manifest themselves through beliefs, values, practices and through our biases. Having the professional skills to connect with each person and understand their world view is always important.


4. Deliberative Dialogue

Use dialogue that is intentional and collaborative. Listen to find meaning and understanding. This could mean admitting you are wrong or weighing the alternatives. The purpose should always be to find common ground. Your organization is about solving a problem and not about winning and losing. Oppositional or divisive language will just drive people away. “Good diversity always begins with you,” Milligan says. 

 

 

Rui Miguel Martins is a communications specialist and social media strategist based in Toronto. He currently volunteers his time at Make A Change Canada, Yonge Street Mission, as well as at Volunteer Toronto.

 

Tags:  board of directors  cultural competency  diversity in your non-profit  how to attract diverse people  increase diversity  Toronto  volunteer  Volunteer Toronto  volunteering  volunteers 

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3 Things Your Non-Profit Can Learn From Grassroots Groups

Posted By Jenn Jozwiak, VECTor 2015 Conference Presenter, January 28, 2016
Updated: January 27, 2016
 

Jenn Jozwiak presents “From Passion to Action: What Grassroots Groups Do Differently” at the 2016 VECTor Conference on March 9, 2016. Register now to choose her workshop, and check out some great tips below!


 

Ontario has a thriving community of volunteers: from film festivals in Toronto, animal rescue centres in Burlington, food banks across the province and all sorts of organizations in between, there are a variety of non-profits supported by volunteer efforts. Often, when we think about volunteerism, large agencies such as the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation may come to mind. But there are thousands of non-profit organizations operating across Ontario – and over half of them (53%) aren’t just assisted by volunteers, they’re completely run by them.

These organizations are what we’ve termed grassroots groups. In March 2015, Volunteer Toronto launched the Grassroots Growth Project to help these groups effectively manage their volunteers. After five months of research the Grassroots Growth team completed an in-depth report that outlines the unique challenges that volunteer-run non-profits face and the creative ways groups meet these challenges.

The report also identified 10 characteristics that distinguish grassroots groups from other non-profit organizations (aside from the fact that they have no paid staff!). Three of these characteristics showcase ways of doing things that might be productively applied to traditional volunteer management.


   

Grassroots groups create a supportive community for their members.

All organizations that engage volunteers work hard to support and sustain their members. However, grassroots groups completely rely on these relationships for their success, since everyone involved is a volunteer. Grassroots organizations frequently mentor each other, work together to build skills, and help one another to access other services. These supportive relationships encourage friendships within the organization and inspire long-term volunteerism.

   
   

Grassroots groups are built on community relationships.

Of course, all non-profit organizations are invested in building strong relationships within their communities. Grassroots groups, however, tend to blur the boundaries between professional and personal relationships in a highly productive way, forming working relationships out of personal community connections and developing friendships through a commitment to shared passions. Relationships are rooted in the desire to work collaboratively towards common goals, whether by partnering on particular projects or simply sharing supports and resources.

   
   

A shared mission and vision consistently motivates grassroots groups.

Non-profit organizations start with an idea of how to make things better. This is what inspires staff to join organizations, and mobilizes volunteers to lend a hand to groups they believe in. Sometimes, though, we forget the reason we wanted to do the work in the first place. Grassroots groups, on the other hand – because they remain “grassroots”  – tend to stay close to the passion that drove them from the start. Often, the people who came up with the original vision are still intimately involved in the group’s activities. Volunteers who assist the organization have an opportunity to connect with its founders. The result is that a shared mission and vision consistently links all members of the grassroots group.

 

Wondering how you might apply these characteristics to your own work with volunteers? Curious about how these approaches might benefit you? Then join me on March 9 at
VECTor, where I’ll cover strategies to incorporate a grassroots framework into more traditional volunteer coordination, and discuss in more depth the benefits to taking a grassroots approach volunteer management – at least some of the time.

  Jenn Jozwiak is currently the Education Coordinator with the Grassroots Growth project at Volunteer Toronto, where she is developing training workshops, a series of handbooks, and online content for volunteer-run non-profits. She has worked with volunteers at Hot Docs and TIFF, and established and managed her own grassroots film festival in Winnipeg. Jenn spends her days off drinking tea, watching movies, and reading about writing.

 

Tags:  grassroots groups  Grassroots organizations  Networking  Non-profits  Ontario  Professional Development  Toronto  VECTor 2016  VECTor Conference  VECTor Presenter 

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How Non-Profits Can Recruit and Manage Skilled Volunteers

Posted By Leila MacDonald, VECTor16 Presenter, January 14, 2016
Updated: January 13, 2016
 Senior woman smiling
 


Lelia MacDonald presents “How to Recruit & Manage Professional Volunteers” at the 2016
VECTor Conference on March 9, 2016. 
Register now to choose her workshop, and check out some great tips below!


              

A skilled volunteer is a professional who offers specific expertise, for example in HR, strategy or marketing.  Unlike volunteers who help with operations, skilled volunteers help management. 

 

Why do you need a skilled volunteer?

·      Expertise that fills a gap

·      Short term (you don’t need to nurture them over time like an employee)

·      Unbiased third party (they are not tied to the ways things used to be and they don’t have pet projects)

·      Outside perspective (they are not caught up in the daily crises, so it’s easier for them to see the big picture)


 

6 Steps For Recruiting and Managing Skilled Volunteers

 

1. Recruit

Write a job description and post on:

·      Online posting boards (such as Volunteer Toronto)

·      Your own website, LinkedIn, Facebook, and through connections of your Board of Directors

·      Local companies with a large head office

·      In Toronto, MAS is a pro bono consulting charity

 

2. Understand what is in it for them

You can pay a skilled volunteer in ways other than money.  Perhaps they want to build their resume or learn a new industry.  Perhaps they want to give back using the skills they learned in their career.  Perhaps they want to see the difference they can make.  Being open about their needs will help you trust them to stay motivated and give their project the attention it deserves.

 

3. Select

Interview them like you would a prospective employee.  Check for good listening skills, easy-to-understand language, and a spirit of collaboration.

 

4. Manage

Mutually structure the relationship like a consultant.  Draw up a proposal that defines the frequency of meetings and the topics to be investigated. 

 

5. Orient your volunteer

Even if your volunteer is only around for one project, make sure they understand the mission and structure of your organization, and that they know how their work fits into the bigger picture of what you do.

 

6. Make it worthwhile

At the end, finish with a close form.  This is how you “pay” your skilled volunteer.  It gives them a sense of accomplishment and closure.  It formalizes what they can put on their resume and what you will say as a reference.



 
Lelia MacDonald is a Volunteer Consultant with MAS, a charity that gives pro bono advice to Toronto nonprofits since 1993. MAS’s 50 Volunteer Consultants in governance, strategy, marketing, HR and fundraising are professionals who give back using the skills they learned in their careers.

Tags:  how to get volunteers for your event  Ontario  Toronto  VECTor 2016  VECTor Conference  volunteer management  volunteer recruitment  volunteering 

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What Makes A Great Volunteer?

Posted By Volunteer Toronto, January 12, 2016
 
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes  

 

Volunteers all come with great qualities and skills, but occasionally you come across someone who is the perfect fit for the role you have and who continues to wow you time and time again. Someone you acknowledge and appreciate as being a fantastic volunteer. So what qualities are universal to great volunteers?

 

Enthusiasm

A volunteer who is enthusiastic and positive about their tasks and responsibility is often a pleasure to work with. We all know most roles have an unglamorous side to them, whether it’s lugging boxes at an event or cleaning up after five-year olds at an after-school program. A great volunteer will have the same enthusiasm whether they’re doing their favourite part of the role, or a task that is a little mundane.

 

Initiative

A great volunteer will make an effort to know their role and responsibilities well, and won’t hesitate to go a step beyond what the role entails while respecting boundaries, protocol and the expectations of the organization. They’ll proactively seek ways to improve their work, apply their strengths to the tasks and work on their weaknesses. They may even go a step further and make innovative suggestions for changes that will improve how your organization works.

 

Professionalism

Volunteers are often representatives of your organization and to external stakeholders like service users, they may assume a volunteer is a member of staff when they see them in a position of authority. That’s why it’s always great to find a volunteer who really understands professionalism; everything from suitable dress code to appropriate demeanour.

 

Reliability

An exceptional volunteer will recognize the importance of trust and reliability, and will make an effort to turn up when they should and be on time. Of course, life happens, and they may occasionally have to cancel, but if they do, they’ll let you know with as much notice as possible. In short, you’ll never question their commitment to the role!

 

At Volunteer Toronto, every day we hear tidbits about volunteers across the city with all of these traits, making Toronto a city we’re proud to live in. Our annual Legacy Awards began in 2011 and shine a light on 25 special volunteers who are great volunteers and have made an exceptional contribution to their community. We are accepting nominations for the 2016 Legacy Awards until 5pm on Thursday February 4th. If you know someone who deserves an award, click here to nominate them!

Camara Chambers manages Volunteer Toronto's public engagement strategy and team. This includes working with community partners, leading large-scale events and overseeing various programs that aim to encourage Torontonians to volunteer. In 2014, the community engagement team helped connect 550,000 people to volunteer positions in Toronto!

Tags:  best volunteers  find a volunteer  finding a great volunteer  good volunteers  happy volunteers  how to be a great volunteer  Ontario  Toronto  volunteer  Volunteer positions  volunteer recognition  volunteers 

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