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Little Bites: Solutions you can snack on - Episode #1 ft. Lisa Robinson on volunteer barriers

Posted By Sammy Feilchenfeld, December 15, 2017

Estimated reading time - 2 minutes. Episode runtime: 14:38 minutes. 


Sammy here—your Training Specialist from Volunteer Toronto. I'm so excited to announce the launch of Little Bites, our new podcast for volunteer managers with solutions you can snack on!

At Volunteer Toronto, we know volunteer managers, like you, are busy. If you’re looking to save time, on challenges from small to big, we’ll give you tips during every episode of Little Bites.  Each month I'll welcome a different guest to talk volunteer management, favourite snacks and great ideas we think you should know about. You can check back here monthly for new episodes on our blog!

On our first episode, we welcomed guest Lisa Robinson to “The Pantry” to talk about barriers faced by volunteers. Lisa is Volunteer Toronto's Program Developer, Placement Support, and is working to identify a variety of barriers then researching ways to help potential volunteers and organizations overcome them. This November, we talked about the barriers that definitely exist in the sector—you may already recognize them as a volunteer manager!

Lisa also shared what she's learned from her research across Toronto, including amazing solutions non-profits have already come up with. And we talked about how barriers can exist in your organizations that aren’t your fault, from funding to staff time – and what you can do about them. Plus, hear about what surprised Lisa most in her research (hint: these barriers aren’t limited just to volunteering), and discover just how much I know about…apparently everything! Tune in now to hear all about it:



If you want to connect with Lisa and share your experiences, challenges and successes in supporting people facing barriers in volunteering, you can reach out at or 416-961-6888 x237. 

OR do you have a pressing question you want answered on air? E-mail me at or tweet @VolunteerTO with #VTlittlebites.

Thanks for listening, and keep snacking!


As Volunteer Toronto's Training Specialist, 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:  Leadership  non-profit  Non-profit staff  Non-profit strategy  Volunteer Management  volunteer recognition 

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10 tips to help non-profits improve their SEO

Posted By Volunteer Toronto, December 15, 2017
 Ask Kelly Banner

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes | Written by Mary Walton, volunteer blogger 

As a non-profit, you've got to be easily found in order for people to access your services, support your cause or even to volunteer with you. When you're operating on shoestring budget or if you don't have the manpower for complicated marketing or outreach campaigns, improving your search engine optimization, or SEO, can help you immensely. Here are ten tips that will get you front and centre online.


1. Determine your target market

First of all, you need to know who you want to reach. Who are the people who would benefit from your work, and who would be willing to contribute their time or money to the cause? Now's the time to do your research and understand what your audience wants. Defining your audience and their needs is your first step, write this down so you can reflect this in all of your marketing and communications efforts.

2. Research keywords

Keywords are a vital part of your SEO strategy, and should be considered when you’re writing content for your website. When selecting keywords to use, think about what searches you want your organization to be found under. Be specific, include keywords as they would be searched and use them often to serve your website up in search results. For example, maybe you want to write about 'fundraising ideas'. You should use keywords like 'school fundraising ideas', or 'charity fundraising ideas' in your content.

3. Organize your content with headings

"Headings are useful in any piece of content you write," says SEO expert Daniel Peterson from UKWritings. Search engines will scan webpages looking for headings, and titles of pages or blogs are even more valuable when looking to improve SEO. Include keywords in your headings and don’t be afraid to have subheadings. Peterson also adds, "They help break up your work, and give scanners the ability to find what they want, quickly."

4. Don't forget about your local reach

It’s important that the community where your non-profit operates knows about your services and impact. A good way you can ensure they find you online is through creating a Google+ listing and claiming your organization’s profile. Google will then be able to easily provide your address and other important contact information to those searching locally.

5. Use anchor text

Anchor text is the content that's hyperlinked to another site or resource that you want to show your reader. If you use this well, you'll get more traffic as you'll show up in more search results. You can also use hyperlinks to direct people through resources on your own website, perhaps to the next blog that might be of interest. Use anchor text that's short, descriptive and accurate, clearly detailing what the reader is clicking into. For example, if you’re looking to find volunteer opportunities in Toronto, try searching the 600+ opportunities on our website.

6. Describe your images

Ensure that you're writing accurate captions for images on your website. These will show up in image searches, so if they're described correctly you'll be sure to have more traffic coming in.

7. Add a call-to-action (CTA)

A CTA is a direct action that you're asking your readers to take. For example, you may want to write 'Donate now' at the end of your content, or 'Click here to volunteer.' The commands should be short and to the point, asking the reader to take the next step.

8. Find out if you're eligible for a Google Adwords grant

Many non-profits qualify for a grant from Google Adwords, making it easier for you to advertise in Google searches and improve your visibility. Look into getting a grant as it can make a big difference, adding up to $120,000 of advertising value to your organization.

9. Optimize your site's speed

Websites will be ranked higher if readers stay on the page, as they'll have found something useful to them. If they keep leaving though, it may be that they're leaving before the page has loaded. Test to see how long it takes important pages on your site to load and make changes, like using smaller images, to improve the loading speed.

10. Secure your site with HTTPS

You'll want to look as professional as possible, and keep your visitors secure when they visit your website. Now's the time to secure your site with HTTPS, and look into other security measures. This is essential if you take donations online.

If you’re not currently running a HTTP connection for your website, you’ll need to purchase an SSL certificate for this level of protection. You should be able to order one from your hosting provider. Once installed, this will add the HTTPS setting to your URL which means that your content and payment transactions are protected from users with malicious intent.

Google recognizes that HTTPS is important and therefore, if your website has it, you’ll also have a much higher SEO ranking because you are proactively protecting your users and their personal and financial information.


These ten tips will help you optimize your SEO and bring traffic to your website. Give them a try and you may just see your hits soar!


Mary Walton is a writer at Australian Assignment Help service and helps with content management at OXEssays. Mary consults people on how to improve writing style and give successful presentations. She also proofreads content at Revieweal, an educational website.

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Tags:  non-profits 

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5 tips and 5 totally free tools to elevate your digital presence

Posted By Jess Gillis, November 17, 2017
 Grassroots Groups in Toronto

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes | Written by Jess Gillis, Volunteer Toronto's Communications & Administrative Assistant


Grassroots groups and non-profits are often strapped for resources, and it's not uncommon for volunteers, members and staff to wear many hats. Is your Kitchen Assistant managing your website? Are you tweeting two weeks' worth of content at 2 a.m. on Friday because that's the only time you have to do it?

Some say, "Never judge a book by its cover," but many of us still do. The same can be said for your online presence. Not everyone is going to care if your Facebook cover photo is badly cropped and pixelated, but ignoring comments, having impossible-to-find contact information, or being invisible on Google may cost you clients, followers and/or legitimacy. If this sounds familiar, these tips and tools are here help.


Five tips

Get branded

Getting branded is less painful than it sounds. Your organization's brand is essentially colours, fonts, shapes, messaging, language and–ideally–a logo that represents your mission, vision, values and voice. Even selecting colours and fonts to use consistently can improve your digital image and reputation. If you'd like to dive deeper into, check out this resource.

Have a website

Your website doesn't have to be fancy, or complicated, but it should exist. Think of it as your central hub that holds your contact information, links to your social media, information about your organization, and even a "donate" button. When you're out connecting with folks, you can simply direct them to your site. While it's not free, consider registering a custom domain for your site (they cost around $15 per year).

Get on social media

Social media can be intimidating, even for us pros. Though it can ask a lot in terms of time and energy, it also gives back, like a platform for conversation, and unique insights into your crowd. Social media platforms are super accessible to anyone with a device and wifi, and entire social movements are being built there.

Maximize your socials

Social media works best when you have a large–or a smaller, but highly engaged–network. The most effective way to achieve that (without a huge budget) are to provide the following:

  • Good quality content — Relevant to your audience's interests and the channel (e.g. GIFs on twitter, photos on Instagram)
  • Strong engagement — Responding to comments and messages, directing your audience with calls-to-action (e.g. "tag a friend who would cuddle this cute dog!"), and most important: listening to your audience so you know what they like and what they don’t!
  • Consistency — If you're radio silent for 3 weeks then post 10 things in 10 minutes on Facebook, your content will get lost and your audience will get confused. (Also, Facebook's algorithms like around 1 post per day).


Lastly, make a calendar like this one and plan when you’ll post certain content for your website or socials. Use your spare time to bank content (articles, links, event postings, etc.) for the week, or even the month ahead, and use an app or website (listed below) to schedule it on social media. Then, hop online during your commute or when you have a spare minute and share, retweet and respond to inquiries. Use free tools like Google docs and Trello to stay organized and communicate with your team.


Five tools


Canva is an accessible tool with pre-made templates for all of the common social channels, in addition to free images, clip art and fonts. They also have a wide selection of templates for printed assets, like brochures, envelopes and posters. Canva has a free option for non-profits that allows you access to the upgraded premium option for free (it's well worth it to upload your brand colours and fonts, and use the "magic resize" function).

Check out these tutorials:


Need a website? Wix is a great free option. With intuitive drag and drop functionality and hundreds of free templates and apps to choose from, its HTML-based sites are also optimized for mobile. It's also super easy to preview what your site will look like live. Click here for a quick intro lesson.


This amazing tool allows you to schedule and share content to a variety of different social media channels. It also allows you to set up custom lists and channels–so you can monitor, say, all tweets about penguins–AND gives you access to data so you can benchmark your communications efforts.

Stock images

You should almost never be posting content without an accompanying image. Images draw people in and give you an additional way to tell stories and express your message. Below are five recommended sites to find stock photos:

Free Fonts

Like images, fonts also speak to your audience. Square, solid fonts may convey a message of strength and power, whereas a flowy brush script font may evoke a more free-spirited, creative vibe. These are a few tested and true sites for free font downloads:


Remember! You don't have to jump into every social media channel, app, or website builder right away. Some of these tips and tools may work for you, some may not. Maybe the conversation you want to have is on Twitter, or maybe you have a visual presence that would do better on Instagram or Pinterest. Start small, and build your presence as your knowledge and capacity grows.


Jess is the lovely voice that greets those who phone us and the smiling face that welcomes the public to our office. She also assists our Marketing and Communications Manager with the management and evaluation of our social media channels. 

Check out her website.

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Arts and culture non-profits band together to recognize repeat volunteers

Posted By Cara Eaton, October 13, 2017

Estimated reading time - 2 minutes. Written by Justin Ingraldi 


In 2015, six Toronto-based arts and cultural organizations joined forces to create a shared volunteer recognition programme called VAACT, the Volunteer Award for Arts and Culture Toronto. The main goal of the programme is to recognize volunteers who contribute their time to multiple arts and culture events and festivals throughout the year in the City of Toronto. The programme ends each year with an awards ceremony for VAACT participants. 

The idea for VAACT came from a session that took place during the 2015 edition of the VECTor conference that focused on the benefits of different organizations working together to share resources and to collaborate on various projects and initiatives.

I knew from speaking with my counterparts from other organizations that we shared a lot of the same volunteer talent. Many of our volunteers would jump from festival or event throughout the year, not only contributing to our own organization but to many others, making a substantial contribution to the arts and culture community in Toronto. We thought that this could be an opportunity for us to work together to create a shared recognition programme that recognizes and celebrates these truly committed volunteers. We launched VAACT in January of 2016 and the response from the volunteers exceeded our expectations. Over 200 volunteers participated, many of which had volunteered for all six VAACT organizations. We have since grown VAACT in 2017 to include four new organizations.

We’re excited to participate in the 2017 VECTor conference to share more about the VAACT programme, how it came it be and how it has evolved, what we’ve learned and of course, to share some successes and challenges experienced along the way.

If you're with the media and would like to learn more or attend the conference, please contact Cara Eaton.  




Passionate for film and volunteerism, Justin Ingraldi’s career has led him to the Edinburgh Film Festival in Scotland in 2008 and a long-standing relationship with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), first as a volunteer, then an intern, then as staff. In his most recent role as Senior Manager of the Volunteer and Intern Resources department at TIFF, he was integral in creating and developing the TIFF Bell Lightbox year-round volunteer programme in time for the institution's launch of the facility and expansion since 2010.


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Do politics affect why people volunteer?

Posted By Erin Spink, September 28, 2017

Estimated reading time - 2 minutes. Written by Erin Spink. 


We're living in a time of significant upheaval, not least of which is being reflected in our political leadership, democratic institutions and civic engagement. Many of us have seen the groundswell of support online, in the streets and through financial donations to specific causes and charities in recent months. But do these shifts extend to volunteer behaviour? We know anecdotally that in North America some volunteer-promotion sites like VolunteerMatch in the U.S. have seen significantly increased traffic to their site, specifically on President Trump’s inauguration day. 

As leaders of volunteers, we have unique insights into shifts in our organization’s key stakeholders, yet we rarely document or share those trends with sector leaders or amongst each other. We’re often the first point of contact for members of the community to our organizations. There is a power and responsibility that comes with that- much like the canary in the coalmine, to announce the changing barometer of stakeholder opinions, priorities and motivations.

Not much gets written about the interconnections between politics and volunteerism, yet the entire political system in this country would collapse without volunteers. Beyond that, at a higher level, whether we work for a charity that is in the cross-hairs of a political figure or party or not, we may feel the shockwaves as people express their political views more tangibly through social activism, advocacy, donating and changing their volunteer behaviour.

I asked questions of both individuals and non-profits to document whether there is a shift going on in volunteer behaviour across North America, and whether any of it is connected to the political landscape. The survey closes Tuesday, October 3rd.

Initial results will be presented at Volunteer Toronto’s VECtor conference. If you're with the media and would like to learn more or attend the conference, please contact Cara Eaton.  




Erin Spink is the founder of spinktank, an innovative think tank on the profession of volunteer engagement. In 2008, Spink produced the first-ever academic work to quantify the concept of “volunteer engagement,” and has since been published in both Canadian and international journals. She has served on the Board of Directors for PAVRO (Professional Administrators of Volunteer Resources – Ontario) for five years, including two years as president, and has been an Instructor in Conestoga College's Volunteer Program Management faculty for eight years.


Tags:  activist groups  leaders of volunteers  Non-profit strategy  Toronto  VECTor Conference  VECTor Presenter  volunteer  volunteer engagement  volunteer management  volunteer programs  volunteering in Toronto  volunteerism  volunteers 

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9 things charities want companies to know about asking to volunteer

Posted By Volunteer Toronto, May 12, 2017
Updated: May 12, 2017
Estimated reading time: 1 minute


You’ve probably experienced it: a corporate team says they want to volunteer—all 50+ of them, this month and at the same time and place. Sounds like a great idea, but is it manageable for your organization? The truth is, probably not. So how can you marry their goodwill with a meaningful and realistic volunteer experience? 


This spring, Volunteer Toronto hosted a Subscriber Circle, bringing together volunteer managers from across the city to talk about best practices in volunteering in the corporate sector. Dozens and dozens of requests come in to non-profits every month asking for large groups to volunteer, often with very specific ideas on their perfect team-building opportunity.


For the discussion, the group was joined by special guest Elizabeth Dove from Volunteer Canada. And as they set out to tackle the corporate challenge together, what came to light were nine pieces of advice—or things companies should consider—before embarking on employee volunteer initiatives, coming right from volunteer managers, like you, who respond directly to the requests.  


Read Volunteer Canada’s blog on 9 things charities want companies to know about asking to volunteer to see the group’s insights from the session.

Tags:  advice  best practises in volunteer engagement  corporate volunteering  supervising volunteers  volunteer coordination  volunteer management  volunteer managers  volunteer program  volunteer programs 

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Annex Cat Rescue: Twenty "Pawsome" Years of Grassroots Work

Posted By Jessica Pang-Parks, Education Coordinator - Grassroots Growth, February 23, 2017
Updated: February 23, 2017


Photo from the Annex Cat Rescue Facebook page

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

One of my favourite things about working on the Grassroots Growth team is the opportunity to connect with volunteer non-profit leaders across Ontario. There are so many amazing projects and people that we’ve worked with! Thank you to all the grassroots leaders who’ve come out to our workshops, interacted with us online, and participated in our initial research. Your ideas and enthusiasm never cease to amaze me.


One of the groups that participated in our initial research was Annex Cat Rescue (ACR); we profiled them as a case study in our From the Bottom Up report. This year, Annex Cat Rescue is celebrating its 20th anniversary. A lot changes over twenty years, but the organization is still 100% volunteer run. 

I recently sat down with Sky Lamothe, the Chair of the Board of Directors, and Raven Sun, one of the group’s longest-serving volunteers, to chat about ACR’s growth and tips for grassroots leadership and governance:

JPP: Congrats on your 20th anniversary! Since the inception of ACR, what has been the biggest shift in the scope of your work?

SL: When we first started, we didn’t realize how big the homeless cat situation was in Toronto. Initially ACR focussed on finding homes for kittens of feral cats, TNRing (Trapping-Neutering-Returning), and caring for several colonies of feral cats within a small area. Our group’s mission has not changed but our area of coverage has expanded to the entire city of Toronto.

Also, as resources are limited, the board is constantly discussing how to focus on cats that are not being cared for by other organizations and how best to fill in the gaps in service.


JPP: Can you tell me a bit about the Annex Cat Rescue’s history? I can see that you received charitable status in 1999, only two years after the group’s establishment!

RS: ACR had already applied for charitable status with Revenue Canada (as the CRA was known back then) before I joined as a volunteer (we received status within a few months). Applying for charitable status made a lot of sense for us. Potential supporters are far more likely to contribute when a charity is seen as a "legitimate" entity (not just a fly-by-night group). Also, donors are able to receive some financial incentive through their contributions by way of a charitable tax receipt.


There are also quite a few programs available to registered charities, from both the private and public sectors (e.g. corporate donation/grant programs and GST/HST rebate respectively). This allows the organization to do more with its limited financial resources and tap into programs for other kinds of assistance.


Volunteer Colony Feeder, Robin  


JPP: Maintaining charitable status means a lot of paperwork, and time! Is it worth the trouble?

RS: Absolutely! There are many advantages that we would miss out on if we didn't have charitable status. As for paperwork and documentation, it is not much different than running a small business; you need to keep track of your income and expenses. However, you do need to remain organized and keep track of all paperwork and transactions for audit purposes.


In our case, we have one volunteer (me!) who is dedicated to ensuring that we retain adequate paperwork. As the Volunteer Bookkeeper, I lay out the financial policies and procedures that our organization must follow. The Treasurer on our Board of Directors is jointly responsible for ensuring that our organization operates under charitable organization rules required by the CRA.


JPP: For groups who want to legitimize, but aren’t ready for incorporation or charitable status, we recommend putting policies and procedures and volunteer training documents in place. As your group continues to grow, have you had to re-evaluate these documents?

SL: Yes, we have had to re-evaluate. For example, our foster program has expanded over the years from about 20 homes to approximately 200 homes. 

It grew to the point where we needed a whole team of volunteers to coordinate it. So, we created a manual to ensure that everyone was consistent in understanding expectations and responsibilities. We also took larger roles that were found to be overwhelming for two people, and separated out specific tasks to reorganize into five different volunteer roles. 

Over the last two years, we’ve been inundated with requests for help as other local rescues claim their “niches”. Some have backed away from feral cats and now are focussing on other aspects of cat rescue. As a result, the board had to re-examine and tighten our intake policy to ensure we and independent rescuers understood which cats we might be able to take in and which ones should be given priority.

We’ve also had to put more formal volunteer position descriptions in place for various roles. This helps to ensure that people interested in those specific volunteer roles understand the level of commitment and skills required. Rescue can be a lot of work but it is also a lot of fun!

We developed a crisis communication plan a few years ago too and now our Board is looking into a social media policy as part of the content strategy. As social media has evolved, many of our volunteers want to share their involvement with ACR. One of our biggest challenges is to be pro-active, rather than re-active. But like many volunteer-run organizations, time is limited. It continues to be challenging!

Volunteer Trapper, Sasha with "Cookie" the kitten 


JPP: I bet! But having a group of dedicated and passionate volunteers must help to mitigate those challenges.

In our previous interview with your team, we learned that ACR doesn’t have an office. Where do you hold meetings? What are some tips for finding free or cheap community space that you can share?

SL: We hold board meetings at each other’s homes and I understand that various groups of volunteers (like a group that looks after a particular colony) might meet up at a volunteer’s home as well. It works well for us because we are a tight knit team.

For our Annual General Meeting, we rent a room at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre as it is in our founding neighbourhood. The Toronto Feral Cat Coalition meets at City Hall in one of the community rooms. Public libraries and community centres, such as the Scadding Court Community Centre, also have cheaper space rentals for non-profits.


TIP: If you’re looking for more information on meeting spaces for grassroots meetings, please visit and view the newly released online training module: “The Logistics of Getting Together”.


JPP: What advice would you give to volunteer-run groups that are growing very quickly and need to reorganize how they operate to accommodate this growth?

SL: I would suggest a few things:

First, listen to and value your volunteers. They are your greatest asset and have a wealth of knowledge. Our board works very hard to support our volunteers, easing barriers that might prevent them from participating.

Communication and clear policies and procedures are very important. Volunteers may have ideas that you have not yet considered. Also, volunteers are the ones who have to follow these policies and procedures, so wherever possible, engage them in the process.

Secondly, get access to grants that will fund a database management program. We recently applied for free licenses through the Salesforce Power of Us program for non-profits. We’re currently inputting the information we’ve compiled in Excel spreadsheets over the years for each area (Donors, Volunteers, Foster Cats, and Colony Cats).

Once everything is migrated to Salesforce, we will have all our information in one place and can use it more effectively. Unfortunately, the Salesforce Power of Us program was not available when we first started out. I recommend that newer groups integrate something like this sooner rather than later; it would be much easier to do!

Thirdly, network with other organizations  to see where your missions overlap and align.  There may be an opportunity to share resources.

We’re very pleased with our affiliation with the Toronto Feral Cat Coalition and encourage other groups to make connections where it makes sense. Because we’ve formed these relationships, cats and rescue organizations benefit from several low-cost spay-neuter programs in the city (both municipal- and charity-funded).  As well, rescue groups and city animal services regularly come together to discuss agreements and exchange resources.

The lovely Winston, who now has a forever home 

JPP: If you could go back to 1997 and meet with the founders of ACR, what advice would you share with them?

SL: Sometimes it’s hard to see positive change when dealing with a huge problem like homeless cat overpopulation in Toronto. However, when I look back at our 2002 Annual Highlights, I see how far we’ve come! I would tell them that everything they do makes a difference and to keep going!

RS: Yes, I agree. I would tell them to keep pursing their hard work. Grassroots work is tough sometimes, but don't get discouraged by challenges, try to learn from them instead.

JPP: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. Congrats again on your 20th year and keep us posted about your success!


Grassroots Growth Website


As the Education Coordinator, Jessica is responsible for developing and delivering workshops and online content to help build the capacity of grassroots organizations across Ontario. Contact Jessica

Tags:  animals  Annex Cat Rescue  cat rescue  cat shelter  grassroots groups  Grassroots Growth  grassroots organizations  volunteer with animals 

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So, You Want An Intern, Eh?

Posted By Melina Condren, Director of Services for Non-Profits, February 16, 2017
Updated: October 6, 2015

Estimated reading time - 3 minutes 

Over the past few years, unpaid internships have become quite a hot topic— whether people think that unpaid internships provide good work experience or they worry that organizations are just taking advantage of free labour, everyone seems eager to discuss this growing trend. If you’re considering engaging an unpaid intern, ask yourself a few simple questions to help kick start the decision-making process:


Would the internship benefit the intern more than the organization?

We’ve written before about the difference between an unpaid intern and a volunteer. A volunteer offers their time with the understanding that the primary benefit is for the organization. An intern, on the other hand, should receive significant training and experience in exchange for their work. In fact, according to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, the organization should receive “little, if any, benefit from the activity of the intern.”

Are you equipped to provide a solid educational experience?

If you’re planning to engage an unpaid intern, you need to make sure that you can contribute a significant amount of time and effort to provide an educational experience that will help the intern advance their career. This means having dedicated and knowledgeable staff who will be able to teach and mentor the intern, and having projects on the go that the intern can contribute to in a meaningful way. If you think it would be nice to have someone around to do the paperwork and fetch the coffee, an internship is not the right choice to meet your needs—or the needs of the intern.

Would the intern be replacing a paid position?

According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, having an intern replace a paid position is simply not an option. The intern’s training should not take away paid work from someone else, so setting up an internship should never be used as a money-saving strategy.


Here at Volunteer Toronto, we think that unpaid work in the form of volunteerism can be hugely beneficial to individuals, organizations, and communities. For individuals, volunteering can help build their social network, develop new skills, improve their health and wellbeing, and allow them to contribute to meaningful causes. For organizations, volunteers build capacity, strengthen ties with the community, and help to achieve the organization’s mission. For communities, volunteering encourages civic engagement and allows people to work together toward common goals. But unpaid interns are NOT volunteers, and it’s important to remember the distinction.

If you want someone to donate their time to your organization in a way that will be meaningful to them, add value to your programs, and help you achieve your mission, engage a volunteer. If you want to provide stellar work training and the opportunity for career advancement, consider starting an internship program or partnering with a school to provide student placements. But if you’re looking for someone to work full-time doing menial tasks for free, you may need to come up with a different plan.


  Melina 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:  Career  Interns  Mentorship  Unpaid Internships  Work  Work Experience  Working for Free 

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How To Help Your Volunteers Succeed Through Peer Mentorship - Template Thursday

Posted By Sammy Feilchefeld, Training Coordinator, February 9, 2017
Updated: February 8, 2017
 Template Thursday


For this Template Thursday, we’re taking a look at volunteer mentorship. Volunteer mentors can provide support to new and developing volunteers by using their experience, knowledge and expertise. In this template, consider the ways you’d want mentors to help volunteers succeed, and possibilities for mentors to keep volunteers from failing. Learn more about mentorship in our newest resource guide & workbook “Volunteer Communities Mentorship,” available free to all Volunteer Toronto Subscribers.



 Volunteer mentors - support for new volunteers in your organization


In-house Training 

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:  supervising volunteers  volunteer management  volunteer mentorship  volunteer program  volunteer recruitment  volunteer retention  volunteer training 

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Infographic: Understanding and Accommodating Post-Secondary Volunteers

Posted By Kasandra James, Subscriptions Coordinator, February 2, 2017
Updated: January 31, 2017

Infographic: Understanding and Accommodating Post-Secondary Student Volunteers 


Kasandra JamesAs 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 engage university students  University volunteers  volunteer in university 

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3 Common Screening Practices That Might Be Barriers To Finding Great Volunteers

Posted By Melina Condren, Director of Engaging Organizations, January 26, 2017
Updated: January 26, 2017
 Image of dictionary meaning for

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In my last blog post, I shared my thoughts on a common requirement that we see in position descriptions that acts as a barrier to lots of potential volunteers: fluency in English. I’d like to continue the discussion about reducing barriers to volunteering by outlining some common screening steps and why they might not always be the best option for finding the right volunteer for the right position.

First, I want to acknowledge that having a defined screening process and following all the necessary steps for every applicant is important. I’m not suggesting that you should skip screening steps or modify them based on the applicant’s needs, just that you should consider whether all the screening steps you’re using are actually necessary for the role. If not, you may be excluding a lot of potential volunteers.


Police Reference Checks:

Police checks are a very common screening step for volunteer positions, but they should only be used when necessary. In fact, it’s a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code to base selection decisions on a criminal record unless it’s a bona fide requirement of the position; to learn more about Police Checks and the OHRC, check out our online course on the subject.

Police checks can be a barrier to many people for many reasons. People who are new to Toronto won’t be able to provide a police check from the area. People may not want to disclose information necessary for a police check, such as a name change, that is completely irrelevant to the position. And really, people just may not be willing to go through an unnecessary invasive process. Police checks are important for certain positions, but if they’re not necessary for the one you’re recruiting for, skip them.


Professional References:

Professional references can be a good way to learn about an applicant’s work style, and their strengths and weaknesses in a work context. But for applicants who are underemployed, new to the city, new to the workforce, or retired, providing relevant professional references can be a challenge. Think about whether you can get the information you’re looking for another way. Can you ask for a sample of relevant work to judge the quality for yourself? Can you find out about their reliability through a personal reference? If there’s a valid alternative to asking for professional references, consider making some changes to your screening process to make it more accessible to people who aren’t in the workforce.


Phone Interviews:

Sometimes a phone interview is used as a quick, convenient way to screen applicants. Although this definitely has its benefits, it can be difficult for some people to understand what’s being said and communicate clearly over the phone. Rather than removing phone and video interviews completely, you can be more accommodating to people’s needs by offering alternatives, such as an email or instant message interview, or a quick in-person interview.


Screening applicants is an incredibly important process for making sure you have the right volunteers in the right positions. By making sure that you remove as many barriers as possible from your screening process, you’ll be opening the doors of your volunteer program to a whole new pool of applicants.


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:  barriers to volunteering  finding volunteers  how to find great volunteers  leaders of volunteers  volunteer management  volunteer managers  volunteer screening  volunteer screening best practices 

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Is It A Performance or Conduct Issue? Free Tool To Help You With Problem Volunteers

Posted By Jessica Pang-Parks, Education Coordinator - Grassroots Growth, January 19, 2017
Updated: January 18, 2017

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

At the start of each year, we often reflect on the past year’s achievements, and think about how we can grow and improve. For grassroots groups, this means reviewing things like governance and outreach but what about the performance of your volunteers? Maybe some of them are not doing their best work and you have to consider letting them go.

If you are experiencing issues with volunteers in your organization, dismissal should be the last resort. Work with the volunteer to find a resolution and make every effort to keep them on board. Remember, volunteers are people and people are complex; problems will come up in every organization. How you handle them will indicate the organization’s level of legitimacy to volunteers and other supporters.

Providing feedback to volunteers should start with identifying whether the issue is one of performance or of conduct. An issue of performance is relatively easy to deal with, whereas an issue of conduct often presents more challenges.

Let’s use an example to demonstrate these two issue types:
Imagine your organization is doing a book drive, and volunteers are tasked with calling potential donors from a shared list. Each call is to be logged on the list so the same donors aren’t called repeatedly. 


One of the volunteers isn’t updating the list after each call, and donors are getting annoyed with the duplicate requests. This is an issue of performance; for some reason, the volunteer isn’t following instructions. You should clear up any misunderstandings with the volunteer and do follow-up training if necessary.



In the same example, another volunteer is making the calls and updating the list correctly, but donors have been complaining about this volunteer’s “bad attitude” and “rude language”. This is an issue of conduct; providing more information on the task or doing follow-up training will not resolve the problem. In this case, you will need to meet with the volunteer and have a conversation to review expectations. 


What do you say? How do you even bring up the subject?

Thankfully, the Grassroots Growth project has developed a volunteer evaluation template to help you step-by-step through the process!




For more information on grassroots volunteer management, register for our FREE Volunteer Management Basics workshop on Thursday, January 26th

We are also releasing two highly-requested interactive training modules through our website: Volunteer Communications and Feedback, and Managing Volunteer Issues. Join our online community now to access those resources and to connect with other volunteer-run organizations across Ontario for advice and peer mentorship. 


Grassroots Growth Website


As the Education Coordinator, Jessica is responsible for developing and delivering workshops and online content to help build the capacity of grassroots organizations across Ontario. Contact Jessica

Tags:  free resources  free templates  issues of conduct  issues of performance  Volunteer performance review 

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New Research on Community Service Order Volunteers - Template Thursday

Posted By Sammy Feilchefeld, Training Coordinator, January 12, 2017
Updated: January 11, 2017
 Template Thursday


For this Template Thursday, we’re highlighting volunteers with Community Service Orders (CSOs) with our research summary and “frequently asked questions” from the VECTor Report. The most recent VECTor Conference for Volunteer Managers took place in November 2016. Looking at innovations in volunteer management and research on “mandatory volunteering,” the Conference brought volunteer managers together to discuss new directions for the sector. The VECTor Report collects the highlights, research findings and discussion summaries from the Conference.


Read on to learn more about CSOs and check out the VECTor Report anytime to learn more!



 Court Ordered Community Service Research


In-house Training 

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:  Community Service  Community Service Order Volunteers  VECTor Conference  VECTor Report 

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Five Tips For Nominating A Volunteer For A Legacy Award

Posted By Volunteer Toronto, January 5, 2017
Updated: November 19, 2019
 Five Tips For Nominating A Volunteer For A Legacy Award

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Each year, Volunteer Toronto presents exceptional volunteers with a Legacy Award to recognize the amazing volunteering they have done for their community.

Nominations are now open for the 2020 Legacy Awards—to be presented Monday, April 20. Learn more here and nominate a volunteer in your life

The application form will ask you three questions about the individual’s volunteering and you only have 200 words to answer each:

  1. How has the nominee contributed to the community?
  2. What difference or impact has their contribution made?
  3. What is unique or extraordinary about what they have done for their community?

If you’re thinking of nominating one of your volunteers, read these tips to ensure you know how best to describe why your volunteer should be one of the few chosen to receive an award!


1.   Be clear about why your volunteer stands out above the crowd

There are fewer awards than the number of people who deserve them and each year with over 100 nominations to choose from, it’s incredibly challenging for our judging panel to decide which nominees should receive an award.

With so many giving people in the city doing great things, you’ll need to be as clear and explicit as possible about what makes your nominee exceptional. In the past people have been chosen for all kinds of reasons—for the much needed role they play in the community, the commitment they’ve shown, their admirable leadership skills, their courage to overcome personal challenges, or any other reasons that stand out to the judging panel.

So don’t be shy! This is the time to express what makes your nominee exceptional and how they've gone above and beyond.

Youdon Tsamotshang

Youdon Tsamotshang
2019 Recipient

Youdon’s volunteer journey began at the age of 14, only two years after immigrating from Dharamsala, India—where she was born a stateless Tibetan refugee. Inspired by her father’s active role in their community, his selflessness and tenacity, she began to volunteer alongside him. Before long she noticed how volunteering was helping her to lay down roots of her own, to find her own voice, and to reconnect with her identity.

Thirteen years later Youdon is the vice-president of Tibetan Children’s Project Canada and an essential part of Students for a Free Tibet Canada where she takes part in outreach and training for concerts, festivals, and rallies.

Pushing back against the chaos and despair she sees in the world, Youdon is known for creating supporting, affirming spaces and helping those around her discover their passion. “To volunteer is to see a problem”, she says, “and to become part of the solution.”


2.   Consider nominating someone who has not been recognized before

With so many great volunteers to choose from, if your nominee has won numerous awards for their volunteer work, it’s likely they will already feel appreciated and have been publicly recognized for their contributions. We encourage you to look to volunteers who haven’t had the experience of receiving an award for their efforts and who would truly appreciate being celebrated for the first time in their life. 

Tom McFeat

Tom McFeat
2019 Recipient

“I’d wish it on everyone”, says Tom, describing how he feels seeing the gratitude and relief his volunteering brings to others.

Working as a finance journalist Tom was inspired to channel his passion for boiling down difficult concepts when he learned how a coworker volunteered as a literacy tutor. Searching with Volunteer Toronto he quickly found Woodgreen Community Services and started volunteering as a debt management counsellor. After retiring he joined their tax clinic and loved it so much that he’s stayed on year-round.

He finds himself awed by the courage and dignity of his clients, many facing incredible challenges, and relishes the opportunity to tell them they’re owed hundreds or even thousands of dollars— offering them both encouragement and hope.


3.   Tell a story

Setting the scene and providing some background on the volunteer is a great way of helping the judging panel better understand the nominee and their volunteering. For example, mentioning that Sarah is a newcomer from Dublin and has only been in Toronto for a year but has made a lot of impact in a short amount of time, or that Bryan became involved in volunteering for an animal shelter after rescuing a stray cat one winter, or that Danielle works 50 hours a week as a nurse at a local hospital but still manages to find the time to volunteer weekly, will help the panel create a picture of the volunteer in their mind and understand the story of their volunteering. 

Jessica McDougall

Jessica McDougall
2019 Recipient

Jessica has a rare quality that sets others at ease and has made her 33 years of volunteering a story of countless connections.

She met her husband while in her first volunteer role, at a therapeutic horseback riding program for children with disabilities. Later, volunteering locally and at her children’s school she found new friends, created a sense of community, and broadened her family’s horizons.

Now, most of Jessica’s volunteering happens at Emily House, Toronto’s only child hospice, where her comfort and openness are essential qualities of her care. Thinking back, the first family she helped there stands out in her mind—throwing a 1 month birthday party and feeling the privilege of taking part in a lasting family memory. Over 10 years later, reconnecting with them at memorial and fundraising events is still a profound experience.


4.  Crunch the numbers

When reading about what a volunteer has done and why they are so unique, often it’s helpful to have a statistic to help ground the story. For example, if you have a volunteer who has delivered meals to seniors for the past 15 years, you could mention approximately how many meals they have delivered or how many hours they've volunteered over the years. Or if you have a youth volunteer who’s raised money for your organization, you could mention how much they've contributed. These figures help to create a picture of the impact the volunteer has had and how hard they have worked.


Jagger Gordon

Jagger Gordon
2019 Recipient

Working as a chef and caterer, Jagger was faced with the reality of food waste—that 40% of Canadian food ends up in landfill while 1 in 7 families live with food insecurity.

Unwilling to stand idly, he founded Feed it Forward, a completely volunteer run non-profit that has rescued thousands of pounds of food and provides meals and groceries that have fed nearly 80 thousand people on a pay-what-you-can basis.

12 hours a day, 7 days a week, Jagger isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. While continuing with Feed it Forward he’s started to lobby for Canada to follow in the footsteps of France and Italy by making it illegal to throw away edible food.


5.   Explain the ripple effect of the volunteer’s work

You’ll be asked about the impact of the volunteer’s contribution, so be sure to not only mention the immediate effects but also the wider impact. What were things like before the volunteer joined? How has your organization or the community improved since the volunteer’s involvement? What positive things happened to the clients since your volunteer helped them? It’s one thing to say that Ali’s role as a fantastic Support Group Facilitator led to more people attending the group, but it’s quite another to say that one of the attendees went on to secure her first job in five years because of the self confidence he instilled in her and that another was able to rebuild his troubled relationships with his family because of Ali’s support. 

David Lockett

David Lockett
2019 Recipient 

First inspired by Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope, David began volunteering in 1983 and shortly afterwards joined the Rotary Club—taking their motto, “Service over Self” deeply to heart.

He has since sought out innovative ways to make lasting improvements to Toronto’s support systems. Cutting the ribbon of the Redwood Shelter as co-founder in 1993, he increased Toronto’s number of shelter beds for victims of domestic violence by 10%. Also co-founder and volunteer president of the PACT Urban Peace Program, David has continues to look forward, seeking out and developing new programs to address Toronto’s needs.

Reflecting on a lifetime of volunteering, David recalls the words of Margaret Mead, that “that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


We hope you found these tips useful! To learn more about nominating an exceptional volunteer in your life, click here

Tags:  Legacy award Nominations  Legacy Awards  National Volunteer Week 2017  Volunteer Recognition  Volunteer Service Awards 

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Grassroots Leadership: How To Supervise Your Mom

Posted By Jessica Pang-Parks, Education Coordinator - Grassroots Growth, December 16, 2016

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

In the midst of this festive season, we are readily reminded of the support we get from friends and family. As grassroots leaders, we often lean on our friends and family to bake muffins for a fundraiser, proofread our grants, and babysit our kids during a meeting; the list can go on and on!

When many grassroots groups start out, the core volunteer team is made of the founder’s friends and family. There are lots of benefits to this!

First of all, you already know your volunteers and they already know you. You’re familiar with each other’s communication styles, strengths, skills, and weaknesses. Secondly, you don’t need to formally recruit, which will save you some time and effort. Most importantly, your existing relationships with these volunteers mean that they trust you and know that you are legitimate. Building legitimacy is hard work, and having volunteers who come in with confidence in you and your organization makes things a lot easier.

Having friends and family on your volunteer team is amazing, but beware of challenges that may arise. For example: in my family, my mom is the boss; what she says goes. But as the founder of my grassroots group, it’s my role to lead the volunteers.

If my mom joins my volunteer team, I know that I’ll have her support and her amazing communications skills, but our entire power dynamic will change! Also, how am I supposed to give constructive criticism to my mom? And what if my mom wants to come to meetings late, but I expect all volunteers to be on time? Finally, my mom is already doing fantastic volunteer work for her local theatre organization, and frankly just isn’t as excited about my gardening group. How do I make sure my group can be successful without her long-term commitment?

Thankfully, the Grassroots Growth project is here to help. The chart below outlines what you can do to mitigate common challenges to volunteering with friends and family.

How to supervise your friends and family

For more free resources on work-life balance, please visit Today we are releasing two brand-new interactive training modules through this website: Preventing and Managing Burnout, Volunteering with Friends and Family. Our vibrant online community supports volunteer-run organizations across Ontario with informative handbooks, downloadable templates, and opportunities to share ideas with other grassroots leaders.

You can also register for one of our free workshops on a variety of subjects pertinent to grassroots leaders at 


Grassroots Growth Website


As the Education Coordinator, Jessica is responsible for developing and delivering workshops and online content to help build the capacity of grassroots organizations across Ontario. Contact Jessica

Tags:  grassroots groups  Grassroots organizations  volunteerism  volunteer-run organizations  volunteers  volunteers supporting your cause 

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