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A blog for the people who manage, coordinate, and supervise volunteers. Chocked full of useful information to help you create amazing volunteer programs.

 

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Should Grassroots Leaders Be Considered Volunteers?

Posted By Jenn Jozwiak, Education Coordinator, July 21, 2016
Updated: July 19, 2016
Blog Post: Should Grassroots Leaders Be Considered Volunteers?

 

What makes a volunteer?

This seems like a straightforward question: a volunteer is someone who opts to donate time to tasks without monetary compensation. Volunteers do meaningful work, but they aren’t part of the paid workforce.

But the boundary between volunteerism and work blurs for some members of the volunteer community. In particular, members of grassroots organizations – organizations that operate solely through the efforts of what we generally think of as volunteers – trouble the seemingly clear definition of “voluntary.”

Members of grassroots groups are driven by passion. Groups often form to address a community need, fill a gap in neighbourhood services, or try and make the world a better place. But to many members of grassroots groups, the work isn’t optional in a traditional sense of the term. It’s work that is necessary in order to push society forward. In this way, grassroots involvement is obligatory, and those who engage in it are simply responding to an inner call to action.

At the same time, grassroots organizations are not paid for their work. The reward for the time and energy that members contribute often comes in the form of opportunities for new projects, an expanded repertoire of community services, and an increase in awareness of the work they do. Funding, if it’s acquired at all, is funneled back into the organization.

Although grassroots work is often considered volunteering, there may be other labels that feel like a better fit for those involved: organizer, community member, activist, enthusiast or advocate.  

So we asked leaders of grassroots groups if they consider themselves volunteers. Watch their answers here.

 


 

At the end of the day, no matter what grassroots work is called, what counts is that there’s someone out there who cares enough to do it. Though we think “heart project” is a pretty good way of describing it.

Read our Grassroots Growth report!

  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:  Community Leadership  Grassroots Leaders  How to start a Grassroots Group  Volunteer  What is a volunteer? 

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4 Key Questions to Kickstart Your Mentorship Program

Posted By Kasandra James, Subscriptions Coordinator, April 7, 2016
Updated: April 6, 2016
 

Infographic: 4 Key Questions to Kickstart Your Mentorship Program 

 


As Volunteer Toronto’s Subscriptions Coordinator, Kasandra James is the first point of contact for non-profits looking for support. She facilitates monthly Subscriber Circles - discussion groups for managers and coordinators of volunteers, contributes to our Sector Space newsletter and social media communications, and makes sure our subscriptions package continues to help non-profit organizations build capacity through volunteer involvement. 

 

Tags:  mentorship programs  start a mentorship program  volunteer  volunteering 

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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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Why Requiring “Fluency in English” is a Barrier To Finding Great Volunteers

Posted By Melina Condren, Director of Engaging Organizations, February 23, 2016
Updated: February 23, 2016
 Image of dictionary meaning for

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

At Volunteer Toronto, we provide a lot of training and support for volunteer managers who are trying to recruit volunteers. One of the things that we always recommend is they recruit using detailed position descriptions, with specific requirements for each role. This basic strategy works wonders for people trying to find the right fit for the position, but sometimes requirements that are too narrow can do more harm than good.

One of the most common requirements that we see in the volunteer positions listed on our website is “fluency in English.” This requirement automatically shuts the door for a huge pool of applicants; applicants who may have very valuable skills, perspectives and ideas to contribute, and applicants who certainly deserve the same opportunities to be engaged in their communities as everyone else.

I won’t try to deny that being able to communicate effectively in various ways is an important part of many volunteer roles. But being “fluent” in a language is not an easy concept to quantify, and the requirement may deter people who don’t have a perfect mastery of the language, or who are volunteering specifically as a way to improve their English. Although some positions may actually require complete fluency, many others can be accomplished with varying levels of language skills. A great way to start making your volunteer program more open and accessible is to re-examine your positions to figure out exactly what language skills are required to be able to fulfill the role successfully, and then get a lot more specific in your position descriptions.

 
Ask yourself:


  • What, exactly will this volunteer be doing? What are the specific tasks associated with this role?
  • Is communication a big part of this role? If so, will it be in person, over the phone or in writing?
  • Will most of the communication in this role be spontaneous (walk-in clients with questions) or prepared in advance (written content or presentations that have been practiced)? Will it be formal or casual?
  • Is there any jargon or technical language that this volunteer will need to know? If so, will they receive training to help them prepare?

 

Once you’ve given those questions some thought, update your position descriptions. Delete “Must be fluent in English” and replace it with the skills you actually need:


  • If your front desk volunteer will be greeting clients and making them feel welcome, say “Must have good conversation skills and a friendly approach with clients.”
  • If your communications assistant volunteer will be writing blog posts, say “Must be able to write and proofread clear, concise and engaging content.”
  • If your outreach volunteer will be doing group presentations, say “Must be comfortable with public speaking and be able to clearly explain our services to a group.”

 

You may even find that some of your positions don’t have specific language requirements after all!

Not only is being specific and direct about the real requirements of the position a fairer and more inclusive way to recruit, but it will also broaden your applicant pool and help you find the best volunteer for the role. It’s a win-win situation that I can’t recommend enough.

 

Photo of Melina CondrenMelina Condren oversees all of Volunteer Toronto's services for organizations, including our training program, volunteer management conference, subscriptions program, and new Grassroots Growth project. Her priority is to ensure our services are effectively helping non-profits build capacity through volunteer involvement and continue to meet the ever-evolving needs of the voluntary sector.

Tags:  ESL volunteers  How to volunteer as a newcomer  Learning english through volunteering  newcomer volunteers  volunteer  Volunteer position description  volunteering in Toronto  writing good position descriptions 

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From The Bottom Up: Grassroots Leadership Models

Posted By Louroz Mercader, Community Outreach Coordinator, Grassroots Growth, February 16, 2016
Updated: February 16, 2016
 

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Across our city and province today, reliance on grassroots leadership is growing. We expect ordinary citizens to take on our biggest challenges and help forge workable solutions. The Grassroots Growth project has taken the time to learn about who they are, what motivates them and what challenges they face, and now we want to help  support their efforts, .

Grassroots groups without a hierarchy usually devolve into anarchy.  While this may seem counterintuitive for a grassroots organization, the group will need a leadership and governance structure with defined responsibilities if it is going to succeed at a high level.

While there are the traditional forms of governance structures for volunteer-driven groups, such as having a formal Board of Directors, there are other less formal models that can be just as good, depending on the needs of the group.

Many groups use a “Leadership Team” or collective model, where power and decision-making is distributed evenly among a core group of volunteers. They often share responsibilities, they may rotate positions, and some operate by consensus, which can be challenging. While some groups function with a “Strong Leader Model”, where one person—usually the founder, who has a dynamic personality—drives the organization forward.

The leadership team and strong leader models are recommended as temporary measures that groups should employ.  We recommend that groups should use the model that works best for their group right now, and when ready, transition towards selecting a more traditional form of governance in order to increase their legitimacy and access resources that are only available to groups with particular governance structures.

If you are looking to start or grow your small grassroots organization, establishing the right governance and leadership structure will help you and your volunteers to successfully achieve your mission.

 

The Grassroots Growth Project is hosting two FREE pilot workshops on Grassroots Governance: Building A Structure That Fits:

 

Tuesday, February 23 from 6-9pm at Volunteer Toronto

Saturday, February 27 from 1:30 – 4:30pm at Fairview Public Library, North York.

 

To register and learn more visit the Grassroots Growth webpage.

 
As Community Outreach Coordinator for the Grassroots Growth project, Louroz reaches out to volunteer-run groups in Toronto and across Ontario to help spread the word about the project and get our services out to those who need them most.

Tags:  Governance  grassroots groups  Grassroots organizations  leadership  Non-profit strategy  non-profits  volunteer  volunteer engagement  volunteer-run organizations 

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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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