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INFOGRAPHIC: Making the Case for Newcomer Volunteer Engagement

Posted By Kasandra James, Subscriptions Coordinator, May 5, 2016
Updated: May 5, 2016

Infographic: Volunteer Recognition 


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:  Canadian work experience  immigration  managing newcomer volunteers  newcomers  volunteer engagement 

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In Good Company: Is your workplace ready for an employer-supported volunteering program?

Posted By Volunteer Canada, April 28, 2016
Updated: April 27, 2016


Employer-supported volunteering (ESV) is increasingly prevalent as businesses recognize the positive effects it has on companies, employees and quality of life in their communities.


ESV is any activity undertaken by an employer to encourage and support the volunteering of their employees in the community[1]. In 2013, 37% of Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers, or 4.7 million, received some type of formal support from their employer[2]. Forms of employer support include: changing hours or reducing workload; allowing use of facilities or equipment to carry out volunteer activities; providing recognition or a letter of thanks; or offering paid time off.


ESV benefits everyone involved, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It is important to consider what will work for your employees. For example, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) may face different challenges than a larger corporation. Understanding the values and motivations of employees at each stage of their working lives is key to effectively engage today’s multi-generational workforces. When ESV programs are aligned with a company’s business objectives, the benefits can transfer to their bottom line by way of improved employee retention, recruitment and performance.


To make your ESV program sustainable, it is important to evaluate its impact, and report that impact back to the employee volunteers.


Interested in learning more? Consult Volunteer Canada’s Canadian Code for Employer-Supported Volunteering. You can also attend Volunteer Canada’s upcoming forum, In Good Company that will feature speakers and in-depth discussions on current issues and trends in ESV.


In Good Company: A Community Building Forum for Businesses and Non-Profits will take place June 8-9 at the Eaton Chelsea Hotel in Toronto, Ontario.


Volunteer Toronto members are invited to register at the Volunteer Canada member price.


Click here to register.







Volunteer Canada is the national voice for volunteerism in Canada. Since 1977, we have been committed to increasing and supporting volunteerism and civic participation. We collaborate closely with volunteer centres, local organizations and national corporations to promote and broaden volunteering. Our programs, research, training, tools, resources and national initiatives provide leadership on issues and trends in Canada’s volunteer landscape.



Tags:  Ontario Employment Standards Act  Volunteer canada  volunteer engagement  volunteer management 

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Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Using Passion and Community Connections as Recruitment Tools

Posted By Jenn Jozwiak, Education Coordinator - Grassroots Growth, April 28, 2016
Updated: April 14, 2016


“One of our best members was brought on by another team member.”


“We had a friend of a volunteer who came last weekend to a workshop we were doing…and then, by the end, she was ready to sign up.”


These are the kinds of stories about recruitment that I heard this past January, when I conducted a series of video interviews as part of my position as Education Coordinator for the Grassroots Growth Project at Volunteer Toronto.

They were different from the typical tales of recruitment I’m accustomed to hearing from volunteer managers: while there were still discussions on finding skilled volunteers for particular tasks and using social media to get the good word out, there was an emphasis on local networking that made these responses distinct.

That’s because grassroots groups – defined as non-profit organizations operated entirely by volunteers – rely on connections to exist. Often, there isn’t a dedicated volunteer manager to take on the task of recruiting new team members. Instead, the responsibility of bringing on new volunteers tends to fall to the group as a whole, and everyone gets involved.

There are two elements that came out of my discussions with grassroots leaders this winter that I’d like to highlight here. Born from the need to solicit additional support while working with limited time and resources, grassroots organizations invite friends and family to join their ranks, and solidify their recruitment pitch by not really pitching at all, and instead simply speaking from the heart about projects they care deeply about.


Grassroots Groups Bring Friends into the Fold

Leadership and initial recruits tends to be comprised of the founder’s friends and family members, and so the circle remains small at the beginning. However, grassroots groups often expand organically: a member will bring a friend to an event, and the friend then joins the group. The next time a position opens up, that new member contacts their network about the opportunity, increasing the organization’s reach for potential volunteers. In this way, new connections are created. These expanded networks bring new ideas to the original group, and grassroots organizations not only gain more volunteers – they also gain access to new ways of understanding issues and solving problems.


Grassroots Groups are Built on Passion

Members of grassroots organizations are intimately linked to the ideas that drive them. Often, groups form to address a community need, and volunteers involved with the organization are directly impacted by their work. When grassroots members speak about their involvement with their organization in their communities, their personal experience is a powerful motivator that inspires others to join the team.


Of course, many grassroots groups employ traditional recruitment methods as well. However, these approaches to recruitment bolster conventional strategies by directly addressing two of the main incentives volunteers cite for donating their time to organizations: spending time with people and a shared belief in the cause. This, combined with the fact that recruitment is by default often a team effort, creates a group that is both unified and welcoming – exactly the kind of atmosphere that encourages people to volunteer in the first place.

  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 organizations  how grassroots groups recruit volunteers  how to recruit volunteers  recruiting friends  Volunteer Toronto Find volunteers  volunteering in Toronto 

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Seasonal Volunteer Planning - Template Thursday

Posted By Sammy Feilchenfeld, Training Coordinator, April 14, 2016
Updated: April 12, 2016
 Template Thursday

Will you be recruiting volunteers for summer roles this year? If so, it’s time to start planning now. Summer camps, sports groups, festivals and events will all be recruiting volunteers for summer programming over the next couple of months—to make sure you’re on track, use our free planning resource for seasonal recruitment! Feel free to download, print or photocopy this resource, taken from our Short-Term Volunteers workbook, and check out our other great resources here. Keep an eye out for more free templates in the weeks to come.




As Volunteer Toronto's Training Coordinator, Sammy Feilchenfeld develops and delivers in-person, online and on-demand training in order to support managers and coordinators of volunteers in Toronto’s non-profit and charitable organizations.

Tags:  Free resources  planning for volunteers  volunteer management  volunteer management professional development  volunteer manager resources 

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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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Get To Know Some Of Our Amazing Volunteers

Posted By Ainsley Kendrick, Marketing and Communications Manager, March 31, 2016
Updated: March 30, 2016
 Volunteer Toronto Volunteers/Staff

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Every year, for one special week in April, non-profits across the country are encouraged to recognize their volunteers for their amazing contributions. National Volunteer Week is going into its 13th consecutive year celebrating and thanking those who give passionately to support their cause. Big or small, the efforts and time volunteers give is vitally important to the work non-profits do to support the community.

At Volunteer Toronto, our work focuses on supporting people on their volunteer journeys, guiding them to great organizations that need their help.  We are in the community giving presentations, offering free information sessions, organizing volunteer fairs, small and large-scale events, training sessions and conferences. We do a lot! However, our small but mighty staff couldn’t do what we do without the support of our over 60 volunteers. Yes, 60 volunteers!

From outreach presenters to newsletter editors, referral counselors to subscriptions assistants, our volunteers are working out in the community and behind the scenes making our services more accessible to all.  In preparation for National Volunteer Week, we would love to introduce you to a few of these incredible people.


Joan Janzen

Joan Janzen has been volunteering with us since 2008. She joined the team after connecting with our Outreach Coordinator at a community fair. At the time, she was between jobs and was looking for a good way to spend her free time so she decided to volunteer doing outreach presentations to the public. A project manager and communications person by trade, Joan easily fit into the role. Since then, she has moved on to table at community fairs and works with us weekly in the office performing follow-up calls to subscribers and conducting research for case studies. Joan’s bright personality and equally bright red hair are a welcome addition to our family. Without volunteers like Joan, we wouldn’t be out in the community building important relationships and connecting with future volunteers.

Nathan Liu

Nathan Liu is a grade 11 student from Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School. He joined the Youth Volunteerism Ambassadors after finding out about the opportunity through his school. He loves how this opportunity allows him to meet other youth who share his same love for volunteering. He works to spread the word about Volunteer Toronto and inspire his peers to find great ways to give back. Without volunteers like Nathan, youth would have no idea about the variety of ways they could earn their volunteer hours.  

Karima Dia

Karima Dia is a superstar volunteer. With a background in Public Relations, her talents have been put to good use helping us coordinate our Grassroots Growth launch event and Seniors Volunteer Fair. She joined the team last November as a way to practice her PR skills and also gain more experience in event planning. She was surprised to have been given the opportunity to also try her hand at volunteer management, a role she picked up quickly and performed flawlessly. Without volunteers like Karima, these special events couldn’t happen. 



Vivian Thompson

Vivian Thompson started volunteering as a Referral Counsellor back in December of 2015. She had always volunteered in some capacity, in her kids’ school or helping with their sports teams, but had yet to try more formal ways of giving back.  Her Referral Counseling role allows her to interact face-to-face with a variety of people as she helps guide them through our website to find a suitable volunteer opportunity. What surprises her most about the role is how much more she has learned about the city and the opportunities that exist to make a difference.  Without volunteers like Vivian, technological barriers would reduce our ability to support many of the potential volunteers in the city.


We love our volunteers and absolutely couldn’t succeed without them. Volunteers are the heart of every organization, so this National Volunteer Week, we encourage you to take the time to let them know how much you appreciate them and the work they do. 


Ainsley Kendrick is the creative voice behind Volunteer Toronto's external communications. She manages their website and social media channels as well as works with all departments to develop key collateral and messaging. Her mission is to reach the furthest corners of the city to let people know about Volunteer Toronto's programs and services. 

She can be reached at

Tags:  Celebrate volunteers  Legacy Awards  National Volunteer Week 2016  Toronto volunteers  volunteer recognition  Volunteer Week 

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VECTor 2016 Storify Recap!

Posted By Sammy Feilchenfeld, Training Coordinator, March 22, 2016

Tags:  Storify  Twitter  VECTor 2016 recap  Volunteer Management  Volunteer Management Conference  What Happened at VECTor2016 

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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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Measure Twice, Cut Once - Evaluating The Effectiveness of Your Volunteer Program

Posted By Sammy Feilchenfeld, Training Coordinator, March 16, 2016
Updated: March 14, 2016

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

A program evaluation is a process of reviewing all or part of a program to determine how efficiently and effectively it meets its goals. While you might be evaluating your volunteers regularly, you may not be evaluating the volunteer program itself! Through an assessment of key evaluation questions and determining proposed outcomes, you can collect data to analyze the success and impact of your volunteer program.

So why bother going through all of this effort? Here are a few great ways that a program evaluation can help you improve your volunteer program:


Measure efficiency

Do you sometimes struggle with finding work for volunteers to do? Do you have too many volunteers working on the same task? Your program’s efficiency can be improved by determining the work that needs to be done and the best way to do it (how many volunteers & volunteer hours, for example).


Measure effectiveness

Do you have a long-standing program that doesn’t meet changing needs? Are your volunteers resistant to changes that can improve program delivery? Your program’s effectiveness speaks to the success of volunteers – and their work – striving towards your organization’s mission. You can improve your volunteer program’s efficacy by understanding and eliminating the barriers to success.


Measure Impact

Are you going beyond efficiency and effectiveness and making lasting changes in the lives of clients? Do you know how to measure the direct impact of volunteers on clients? Even if you know your program’s impact is already felt or understood by the people who benefit from it, you can improve and advocate for your program by properly measuring and showcasing its impact. It will motivate your volunteers by showing them their impact, help you assess an overall direction for your volunteer program, and give you proof that your program is working that you can share with funders and decision makers.


How do you conduct an evaluation of your volunteer program in the middle of everything else you’ve got going on? Let us help you get started with “From Start to Finish: Building the Tools You Need to Evaluate your Volunteer Program” on April 21. You’ll leave this full day workshop with your evaluation questions written, logic model complete, achievable and well-planned goals established, data collection methods ready to go and a step-by-step plan to interpret your data. We’ll coach you through the process and you’ll be ready to take on your program evaluation with all the tools ready to go! Interested in learning more and signing up – click here and register today!


As Volunteer Toronto's Training Coordinator, Sammy Feilchenfeld develops and delivers in-person, online and on-demand training in order to support managers and coordinators of volunteers in Toronto’s non-profit and charitable organizations.

Tags:  evaluation  how to be more efficient in your volunteer program  Program evaluation  volunteer management  volunteer managers  volunteer programs  volunteers  ways to improve your volunteer program 

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An Age Old Tale… Striving to Engage Senior Volunteers

Posted By Kelly Devries, Outreach Coordinator, March 3, 2016
Updated: March 2, 2016
 Senior woman smiling

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In Toronto, there are many seniors who want to volunteer and many non-profits wanting to engage them. So how can we make this happen? In the summer of 2015 Volunteer Toronto conducted several focus groups to learn more about what seniors are looking for in a volunteer opportunity and some of the barriers they experience. 


From that research I’ve found 7 key things for non-profits to remember when striving to engage senior volunteers:

1) Seniors have a lot of expertise to offer

Many seniors have worked for 35+ years and have a lot of professional and personal expertise to offer. Make sure to have roles that recognize the wealth of experience seniors can bring to your organization.

2) Seniors aren’t a homogenous group

Seniors can range in age from 55 to 105 years old and can encompass vast cultural backgrounds, experiences, abilities and knowledge. Ensure that you are acknowledging the diversity of seniors in your recruitment and that you aren’t acting on misperceptions.    

3) Seniors may want flexibility in their role

Non-profits have a notion that senior volunteers will be the most consistent for scheduling and commitments. Remember to recognize that seniors want flexibility to accommodate things like travel, babysitting grandkids, health concerns and more. Offering flexibility in your volunteer positions will allow seniors to actively engage in their volunteer position and their personal life.

4) Seniors may require special accommodation

Some seniors may need physical accommodation in their volunteer position including being able to sit instead of stand, not being expected to carry heavy supplies, a quiet work-space to be able to hear well, additional training and more. If you want to engage more senior volunteers you should ensure that you are able to provide proper accommodation as needed.

5) Seniors may have trouble with the bureaucracy of the application process (especially if everything is done online)

 Over the past 20 years, the volunteer recruitment & screening process has mostly moved online and for some folks this has made the process more challenging. Provide alternative methods for seniors to find out about and apply to volunteer opportunities, such as mailed newsletters and in-person application forms.

6) Seniors may not have a recent resume or cover letter

Asking for a cover letter and resume may discourage a senior who has been out of the workforce for 15 years from applying for your position. Consider asking for a self-assessment of skills, or highlights of experience.

7) Seniors want to be respected for their age

One of the largest takeaways from the focus groups was that seniors want to be respected for their age and experience. Recognize that seniors have a lot to offer and respect all that they do, while accommodating any particular needs they have from the point of life they are in.

I’ll be discussing this topic in greater detail with volunteer managers and coordinators from across the city at the March 9 VECTor Conference. Learn more about my Discussion Circle here and register for VECTor here!


Kelly DeVries is Volunteer Toronto's Community Engagement Coordinator. She coordinates a team of hardworking volunteers who represent Volunteer Toronto at community events. She is the voice of our Volunteer Times newsletter and assists the many events and programs we organize to inspire people in Toronto to volunteer.

Tags:  active seniors  how to engage senior volunteers  misconceptions about seniors  retired volunteers  seniors  working with senior volunteers 

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INFOGRAPHIC: How Do You Thank Your Volunteers?

Posted By Kasandra James, Subscriptions Coordinator, March 2, 2016

Infographic: Volunteer Recognition 


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:  How to thank your volunteer  Inforgraphic  Volunteer awards  volunteer recognition  ways to thank your volunteers  what kind of recognition do volunteers want? 

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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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Starting The Conversation With Leadership About Volunteer Impact

Posted By Sammy Feilchenfeld, Training Coordinator, February 25, 2016
Updated: February 25, 2016

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The impact of volunteering can easily be overlooked by executives and senior managers who aren’t directly involved in the organization’s volunteer program. However, volunteer involvement is crucial in the functioning of non-profits in at least two ways: governance and strategy.

First of all, it’s important to remember that the governance of your organization relies exclusively on volunteer engagement: your Board of Directors is made up of volunteers! This team of high-skilled, high-level volunteers have a huge influence on your organization’s functioning, from its image to its strategic direction to its finances. The type of work they do for your organization, their motivations for volunteering, and the way they’re supervised may be very different from those of your other volunteers, but it’s still important to consider best practices in volunteer management when working with your Board volunteers.

Take volunteer recognition, for example. You may think that your Board members aren’t interested in the volunteer socials you hold for your program volunteers and the thank you gifts you give them each year (and you may be right). But that doesn’t mean you should forego recognition. Volunteer management best practice tells us that recognition should be meaningful to the volunteer, and that the most common way volunteers want to be recognized is by knowing the impact of their work. So if you can, take some time to get to know the motivations of your Board members and to find a type of recognition that would match those motivations, including letting them know their impact. Becoming familiar with volunteer management best practices, from recruitment to retention, can help you find ways to engage your Board more effectively.

Second, program volunteers may be responsible for a larger proportion of your organization’s direct impact on clients than you’re aware of. How many of your services would be unsustainable without volunteer involvement? What is the value added that volunteers bring to your programs? If you aren’t sure about some of these questions, it may be time to evaluate your volunteer program to get a better sense of its outcomes and impact. Through this program evaluation, you can showcase to your senior managers and executives the direct impact your volunteer program has on the community you serve, and more importantly how volunteers help you achieve your mission. This can have a huge influence on strategic planning and decisions being made about program growth or service changes.

While convincing leadership to appreciate the values and impact of the volunteer program can be a challenge, there are a few ways to start the conversation:

  • Introduce – and even adopt – the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement, a guiding document on the value, principles and standards of engaging volunteers adopted by hundreds of organizations
  • Re-evaluate what you report to your executives and Board on volunteer involvement; how you report it can also have an impact, as volunteer stories can go a long way
  • Encourage senior managers to meet and learn more about your volunteers, from Board members to occasional volunteers

At the VECTor Conference on March 9, we’re inviting Executive Directors, senior managers and Board members to explore the impact of volunteer programs on their communities in the Leadership Stream. This specialized program stream will explore governance and strategy in a collaborative way to improve organization-wide (and top-down) support of volunteer programs. While your executives and senior managers may not have a chance to attend, you can always remind them of the great work, value and impact of your volunteer program that informs how successful your organization is at striving toward your mission.


As Volunteer Toronto's Training Coordinator, Sammy Feilchenfeld develops and delivers in-person, online and on-demand training in order to support managers and coordinators of volunteers in Toronto’s non-profit and charitable organizations.

Tags:  Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement  Executive Directors  governance strategy  Leadership stream  Non-profit board of directors  Non-profit leadership  volunteer recognition 

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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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How To Network Your Way To A Better Volunteer Program

Posted By Kasandra James & Sammy Feilchenfeld, February 18, 2016

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In the non-profit sector, “networking” just sounds like any other buzzword, but this business term is about more than meeting people in your own profession. As managers of volunteers, networking can help you improve your program, and the way you do your work, in great new ways.

So why should volunteer managers network with each other?

  • To learn about challenges faced by others in the same role at different kinds of organizations – and more importantly, how they overcame these challenges.
  • To inquire about successes that others have seen in their own volunteer programs. These best and promising practices can help your program succeed as well!
  • To meet others with varying levels of experience in the role, you can create meaningful partnerships to maximize your efficiency – such as sharing software, recruitment techniques, or even volunteer pools.
  • To avoid “reinventing the wheel” for your volunteer management practice, and especially get a grasp of what kind of technology, support systems, consulting, venue rental opportunities and more are available to you in your role.
  • To receive valuable feedback and insight on your own volunteer program from volunteer managers who do similar work – get an outside opinion of what’s working and what isn’t.
  • To learn about new trends in the sector, how they affect volunteer management and the changes you can anticipate and begin planning for the future.


You might be getting excited about the opportunities networking can provide – but you also need to know how you can meet these other volunteer managers! Here are a few great places to start:

The professional social network can help you stay connected through topical groups, and organizational pages. Check out Volunteer Toronto's Linkedin Page.

Associations of Volunteer Administrators

Toronto & Scarborough both have their very own AVA’s to bring people together and start a dialogue through monthly meetings and beyond. Visit TAVA and SAVA's websites.

Community organizations & communities of practice

Look for the organizations serving your community and connecting non-profits for a local or common cause, such as TRIEC.

Subscriber Circles

Monthly discussion series hosted by Volunteer Toronto for Full Subscriber organizations on a variety of volunteer management trends and topics. See what circle is coming up this month!


VECTor ConferenceVolunteer Toronto - March 9th
TAVA ConferenceTAVA - February 25th
LIVE Conference: PAVRO - May 26th-27th


The VECTor Conference will include a variety of structured networking opportunities that will give attendees the opportunity to connect with colleagues in the non-profit sector and build networks of your own. The Marketplace is a chance to meet with vendors and community partners providing the tech and tools that can support your programs, and give you great new ideas.

Networking doesn’t have to be difficult – seek out your peers and start a conversation today! Your volunteer program will be better for it.


Kasandra James & Samuel FeilchenfeldKasandra James is the first point of contact for non-profits looking for support. She facilitates monthly Subscriber Circles, contributes to Volunteer Toronto's Sector Space newsletter, blogs & social media as well as ensures our program continues to help non-profit's build capacity through volunteer involvement.

Sammy Feilchenfeld develops and delivers Volunteer Toronto's in-person, online and on-demand training in order to support managers and coordinators of volunteers in Toronto’s non-profit and charitable organizations.

Tags:  Community  How To Build A Support Network  Network building  Networking for Volunteer Managers  Volunteer Administrators  Volunteer Management Conferences 

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Volunteer Toronto Office

344 Bloor Street West, Suite 404
Toronto, ON
M5S 3A7

T. 416-961-6888
F. 416.961.6859

Open To The Public



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