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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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