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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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3 Things Your Non-Profit Can Learn From Grassroots Groups

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

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


 

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

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

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


   

Grassroots groups create a supportive community for their members.

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

   
   

Grassroots groups are built on community relationships.

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

   
   

A shared mission and vision consistently motivates grassroots groups.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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What I’ve Learned From Our High School Volunteers

Posted By Leigh Paulseth, VECTor 2015 Presenter, January 21, 2016
Updated: January 20, 2016
 
 

Leigh Paulseth presents “Recruiting our Next Leaders: Creating a High School Volunteer Program” at the 2016 VECTor Conference on March 9, 2016.  

Register now to choose her workshop, and check out some great tips below!


 

Working for an environmental non-profit organization, it is easy to feel down sometimes about the state of the world. The issues are so big and we are constantly looking for the resources to cope. How can a volunteer, let alone a teenager, possibly provide the solution? It’s simple - they provide hope.

Since the launch of our high school volunteer program two years ago, Friends of the Rouge Watershed have trained 21 youth in leadership and environmental action. They have volunteered at countless events, organized youth conferences and even gone on to run their own successful events incorporating our brand and mission. Two years ago I thought that was impossible; now I think that anything is possible. Here are a few of the lesson I’ve learned in watching these great youth volunteers develop:


You can’t do everything yourself.

Giving youth the opportunity to lead opens doors that your organization never knew could be opened.


You don’t have all the answers.

Training youth is more about sharing experiences than imparting knowledge to a younger generation. You will learn as much from them as they will from you.


We’re going to be OK.

The next generation is motivated and enthusiastic; given the opportunity, support and resources, they will make the world a better place.


Creating a high school volunteer program requires clear goals to be set by youth and the organization. Often it takes some time to set these up properly, but it is possible and the outcome is more than worthwhile. I look forward to sharing our own program’s challenges and successes at the VECTor Conference this March.


 


Leigh Paulseth is FRW’s Environmental Projects and Volunteer Coordinator. Her studies in Conservation Biology (B.Sc.) and Environmental Management (MREM) led her to pursue work in active environmental stewardship. She uses her past experience protecting private lands with land trusts to protect and restore public land in the Rouge. Leigh enjoys working with local communities to address local environmental issues both inside and outside of work. She loves to travel, canoe and is a beginner knitter.

Follow them on Twitter: @frwatershed

Tags:  advice for working with youth  attracting youth volunteers  Friends of The Rouge Watershed  high school volunteers  how to get youth volunteers  VECTor 2016  VECTor Presenter  Working with youth volunteers  Youth volunteers 

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