Charity Highlight | Snow Angels Program

Welcome to our weekly charity and non-profit highlight. Each week we will be shining the spotlight on a different charity or non-profit, who, in our humble opinion, deserves some extra recognition for the work that they do.

This week we will be focusing on the Snow Angels Program run by the Volunteer Centre of Guelph/Wellington.

Snow AngelsIn partnership with the City of Guelph, the Snow Angels are a group of volunteers who offer a snow removal service for senior citizens and/or individuals with physical disabilities.

The Snow Angels call it “the neighbourly thing to do,” and we completely agree.

According to Guelph.ca, there are an estimated 20,000 individuals living in the Guelph/Wellington area with disabilities. This means there are a huge number of individuals who could benefit from the Snow Angels program.

Canadian winters can be tough for anyone, but if you’re physically limited due to age or disability, having a helping hand to ensure your driveway stays clear can be life altering.

Although the city works diligently to remove snow from sidewalks and roads, this process often leaves a windrow – a row of accumulated snow – at the end of driveways that is often heavy and made largely of ice.

The Snow Angels snow removal service seeks to make sure this does not become a physical barrier for senior citizens and individuals living with disabilities.

On top of just offering to remove snow, they have set a standard of having the snow removed within a 24-hour period. That is impressive by a paid contractor’s standard, let alone a volunteer organization.

It will (hopefully) be several months before the Snow Angels services are required, but in the meantime, you can sign up right here to give the gift of mobility through the simple, fun, and healthy act of shoveling some snow.

Do you have an organization you think deserves some extra recognition? Let us know!

Charity Highlight | MIAG Centre for Diverse Women & Families

Welcome to our weekly charity and non-profit highlight. Each week we will be shining the spotlight on a different charity or non-profit, who, in our humble opinion, deserves some extra recognition for the work that they do.

This week we will be focusing on the MIAG Centre for Diverse Women & Families.

MIAG 1MIAG is an organization that evolved from a Social Planning Council task force in 1982. Since then, the work they’ve done identifying gaps in service delivery in society is extraordinary. With a focus on supporting women, youth, seniors, and persons with disabilities, the MIAG Centre for Diverse Women & Families offers resources for employment, skills training, and counselling services.

Their vision:

“Working towards an inclusive and resilient community.”

They certainly set a high standard in volunteerism. In April of 2014, two of their board members, Dr. Salha Jeizan, Chair of MIAG’s Board, and Pamela Blair, Board Treasurer, were awarded the 2014 Ontario Volunteer Service Award for their outstanding and remarkable contribution over the previous 8 years.

One of their programs that really stands out to us is their Ethno-Cultural Well-Being Project: Train the Trainers. The program, established in early 2013, seeks to raise awareness of mental health in diverse communities throughout Peel Region.

From April 2013 to March 2014, they trained over 60 trainers from Arab, Latin American, and South Asian communities that have gone on to give presentations to over 1,300 community members on mental health and stigma associated with mental illness. Talk about impact.

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They continue working towards their vision of building a resilient community by providing free counselling services. The sessions, which are delivered in partnership with the Catholic Family Services Peel-Dufferin, Tangerine Walk-in Counselling, and the Interim Place, offer assessment, evaluation, brief intervention, and ongoing support to individuals and families.

The MIAG’s other services are varied and impactful, from Aerobics and Zumba in their Women’s Health and Well-bring Hub, to Parent’s/Caregiver’s Involvement Workshops delivered in conjunction with Harmony Movement.

If you are an individual or family seeking practical skills training, health improvement workshops, or community involvement, there are plenty of opportunities within the MIAG Centre for Diverse Women & Families.

For more about MIAG, check out their newsletter here, or visit their website here.

Most importantly, sign up as a volunteer right here!

Do you have an organization you think deserves a little extra recognition? Let us know!

Volunteer Coordinators: The Unsung Heroes of the Non-Profit World

If you were asked to name 5 charities and non-profits off the top of your head, could you? Most people probably could. If you were to pick one charity and then name 5 positions crucial to its success, could you? Maybe. You’ll probably get a few: Executive Director, Communications Manager, Volunteers… Uhm… Yeah, it’s tough for most people – and that might be a bigger problem than you realize.

Why? Because despite existing to serve, charities and non-profits still require the same things a for-profit business does – marketing plans, advertisements, staff (or in this case, volunteer) management software, scheduling software, etc. – but most people aren’t aware of that fact.

So how do charities and non-profits ensure these goals are accomplished?

The answer is by hiring the one person you’re least likely to hear about (yet charities and non-profits are completely lost without): the Volunteer Coordinator / Manager. Their job sounds exactly like it is; they’re in charge of organizing volunteers, matching them to positions, scheduling dozens (or hundreds) of positions, ensuring volunteers are qualified, tracking hours and activities, and communicating with their volunteers and volunteer supervisors. Unfortunately, often they’re doing this from a basic spreadsheet or an inadequate piece of software.

Could you imagine managing a database of 250+ employees with a spreadsheet? Staffing positions, matching appropriate skill sets to appropriate opportunities, engaging your staff to make sure they’re productive and happy, all from a spreadsheet document?

What if, on top of all that you had to create and track each individual’s profile, achievements, qualifications, and then communicate with all of them and maintain notes on their status and progress? You might be thinking that it can’t be done, yet this is the reality so many hard working Volunteer Coordinators face every day.

“But isn’t there some kind of software for volunteer management?”

Yes, there is. The problem isn’t that solutions don’t exist, it’s that there are a variety of obstacles preventing Volunteer Coordinators from using appropriate software to enable them to be more efficient in their duties.

For starters, several organizations have purchased Donor Management Software – which is useful for managing donors, of course. The problem comes when Volunteer Coordinators have to ‘make due’ with just that program. Donor Management software, or, in some cases, HR and Customer Relationship Management software, is designed to engage and manage donors through tracking who donates what, how much, and how often, or which employees log their hours on which days respectively. Although most of these programs attach another module for ‘volunteer management,’ it is typically nothing more than a glorified replica of donor management – so we’re back at square one.

Would an Executive Director manage all of this with a substandard software or a spreadsheet doc? Not. Too. Likely.

Furthermore, Donor Management software is designed to manage campaigns based around raising funds and finding donors. This is so, so important, don’t get us wrong, but it is not the right tool for volunteer engagement and management.

There are lots of warnings that volunteer engagement is facing a decline and needs to be reimagined in order to fix the emerging issues that could start snowballing into a significant problem for the non-profit sector.

It’s no secret that without volunteers many of the charities and non-profits we donate our time and money to would cease to exist in the same capacity they do currently. As volunteers are so incredibly vital, ensuring they’re properly matched, engaged, and utilized to an organization’s maximum potential is crucial to charitable programs being successful.

It’s important then to realize that donor management software, necessary as it is, is not the appropriate tool to circumventing a volunteer engagement problem. Volunteer Coordinators work hard, as hard as anyone, so shouldn’t they be using the right tools to perform their jobs at the highest level possible?

But do Volunteer Coordinators really feel that they need better software? Well, let’s look at some results from a survey we conducted of over 60 Volunteer Coordinators and what they had to say.

Volunteer Survey 1 Volunteer Survey 2

This paints a pretty clear problem. Volunteer Coordinators, even when using software, are seriously lacking the appropriate technology required to fix their main concerns: communicating, reporting on activities, scheduling, and tracking volunteer progress and activities.

Since Donor Management, HR, and CRM software aren’t meeting these needs, it’s time to empower our Volunteer Coordinators with the technology that will support them in their daily endeavours. It’s clear that their position is one requiring an intelligent individual deserving of respect and admiration, so we think it’s time they are given all the right tools to keep being their awesome selves.

Charity Highlight | Volunteer Action Centre

VAC highlight 1 Welcome to our weekly charity and non-profit highlight. Each week we will be shining the spotlight on a different charity or non-profit, who, in our humble opinion, deserves some extra recognition for the work that they do.

This week we will be focusing on the Volunteer Action Centre of Kitchener-Waterloo and Area.

You’ve probably heard of organizations like Autism Ontario, Epilepsy Ontario, or the Canadian Cancer Society. They’re all doing great work with the help of volunteers, but where do they get their volunteers? How do local chapters of larger organizations share opportunities?

Well, that’s what makes the Volunteer Action Centre so special. They provide resources for volunteer opportunities and strengthen communities by building relationships that support charities and their initiatives.

Their vision statement on their website speaks volumes about their organization:

Vision: A community where everyone is inspired and equipped to make a difference.

Vac highlight 2Just how much does the Volunteer Action Centre help? According to their 2014-15 annual report, 53,709 potential volunteers had direct contact with opportunities through recruitment services, while 40 awareness raising presentations reached over 1,948 students and new Canadians.

On top of that, 1,104 high school youth shared over 5,900 hours volunteering during the Change the World Youth Challenge.

Their members, which include outstanding organizations like KidsAbility, Rare Charitable Research Reserve, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, benefit by being able to match with willing volunteers through the Volunteer Action Centre’s website.

The thing we really like about the VAC K/W is how easy their website is to use regarding searching based on interests, organizations, special events, or even a featured section. Given recent data showing that a huge number of volunteers are 15-24 years old, having a digital resource for this demographic is smart and useful.

For more information, visit their Contact page here,

Do you have a fantastic organization that you’d like to see featured? Let us know!

Is Forcing People To Volunteer A Good Idea?

forced volunteering 2

Since 1999, mandatory volunteer service has been a requirement for Ontario high school students to graduate. The concept has received a lot of attention (and backlash) in the US, and while there has been some discussion and controversy in Canada, it hasn’t been felt at quite the same level.

Still, whether forced volunteering is a good idea or not is definitely worth further exploration. Luckily, there is a lot of information on the subject ranging from credible sources like StatsCan, to not quite as credible sources like CapitalismMagazine.com (que the segue).

“Forced to volunteer. That is the Orwellian notion to which contemporary liberalism has sunk.” writes Thomas Howell for Capitalismmagazine.com.

Ok, so maybe that is a little (a lot) far-fetched and suspiciously argumentative, but it is one of the first Google search results if you search “Is forced volunteering good?.” But then again, if you Google “Mr. Howell” he appears alongside other similar shock-comment pundits such as Ann Coulter.

On some level he may be on to something, though. After all, there is intelligent debate surrounding the area of forced volunteering.

“To call mandatory community service ‘volunteering’ is a problem because then we begin to confuse the distinction between an activity that is freely chosen and something that is obligatory and perhaps not always rewarding. Volunteering should be something you choose to do because you want to do it, not because somebody made you do it.” says Linda Graff, President of Linda Graff & Associates Inc., an international consulting firm based in Dundas, Ontario.

Forced Volunteering 1

Another influencer in the volunteer sector shares similar thoughts, as Maclean’s writes:

‘“The mandated nature means this is not really volunteering,” says Ruth MacKenzie, former president and CEO of Volunteer Canada. She lumps high school hours in with community service orders and other court-mandated sentencing requirements. The fear among those in the charity business is that forcing kids to volunteer in high school might turn them off the concept for the rest of their lives.”

But what about the positives?

Research at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., reveals no negative impacts from forcing students to provide a week of free work for worthy causes. “Making it mandatory doesn’t undermine any of the positive aspects of the program,” says politics professor Steven Brown. “It doesn’t poison the well.”

There is also significant research that proves the younger an individual becomes involved in volunteering the more likely they are to become lifelong volunteers.

forced volunteering 4

After all, the idea of showing youth a part of society they may not discover on their own doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Do you remember what you were like as a teenager? I do.

I was self-absorbed more than I’d like to admit and it wasn’t until I had to fulfill my volunteer hours that I realized there was a whole world that existed outside the expanse of my own ego.

I started volunteering for Elmira’s Robin in the Hood festival by helping children with special needs experience the medieval festival in all its knightly glory. This experience directly led to my spending 8 years as a Developmental Service Worker and is the reason I still continue to volunteer with individuals with cognitive and developmental delays.

Isn’t this type of push-towards-action a good thing, then?

“Without community service, we would not have a strong quality of life. It’s important to the person who serves as well as the recipient. It’s the way in which we ourselves grow and develop,” , says Dr. Dorothy Height, president and CEO of the National Council of Negro Women.

Is forcing students to volunteer different than forcing them to learn proper language or science skills? These are skills which help define attitudes that they will carry with them through the rest of their lives.

forced volunteering 5

But high school doesn’t just prepare students for further education; it equips them for social interaction, problem solving in all aspects of life, and helps to direct students down a lifelong path – career or otherwise.

One theory suggests a correlation between service learning and higher academic gain. The idea here is that the transferable skills learned in a practical setting during a volunteer opportunity can be taken back to the classroom and applied in new, previously not thought of ways.

We’ve mentioned in other articles the documented health benefits associated with volunteerism. Isn’t there an expanding obesity epidemic amongst our youth? Wouldn’t we want to encourage different and varied ways for our youth to be active and healthy, then?

One area that many sources fail to recognize is the direct benefit to an individual’s employability if they list volunteer experience on their resume.

For example, volunteering gives students access to training and implementation of work-related skills as well as interaction with people from other walks of life. We all know that gaining employment in today’s Canadian job market is tough and often relies heavily on transferable skills that are not necessarily related to the position’s requirements.

You want to be a graphic designer? Good for you – that’s admirable – but guess what? Thousands of other people know the same software tools you do. What sets you apart? Is it your personality or experiences? The answer is likely yes; but how do you show an employer all your experience or the depth of your awesome personality on a resume they’ve barely read, or in a 30 minute interview? It’s certainly tough, if not completely impossible.

One sure-fire way is to share your volunteer experiences. Employers know that the more someone volunteers the less of a slug they will be. Volunteers are also typically associated with buzzwords like ‘self-starter’ or ‘motivated’ – you know, the things all employers want their employees to be.

Another highly unrecognized benefit of high school students volunteering is that many scholarships and bursaries have volunteer hour requirements, or, at the very least, seek students who are active participants in their own community. If you want access to certain scholarships, you need to meet these requirements.

Post-secondary isn’t cheap and many are going to attend without financial support from family, so why not seek ways to help yourself out?

There are 662,446 students set to graduate high schools in Ontario this year. If even one third of those students grasp the importance of giving back through volunteerism, then that means there will be 220,815 students going into the volunteer ‘workforce’ post-graduation. If each of those graduates goes on to give even a measly 10 hours per year, that’s over 2 million volunteer hours from one cohort year of graduating students.

Imagine how high they will lift their communities with that amount of effort?forced volunteer 3

#FirstWorldProblems

First world problems  

As a social enterprise with a team who regularly volunteers, examining our impact on the communities we work and volunteer in is a common occurrence. Around the office we talk about the pros and cons of volunteerism both domestic and abroad, and how we can lead our lives in a way that has the highest positive impact on those around us.

Recently, one of our staff stumbled across a viral video, titled First World Problems Anthem. The video, which features individuals from Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, standing in front of worn down buildings and old streams while reading tweets from the popular #FirstWorldProblems hashtag, has racked up over 6.5 million views since its release.

Anyone who has ever used, or viewed and found humour in, the hashtag itself, is sure to have a moment of remorse or guilt for complaining about problems that ‘aren’t really problems,’ as the video points out during its conclusion.

It’s a lesson in perspective and relativism, and it’s certainly deserving of the amount of views it has. It does a fine job of making viewers stop and think, or, more importantly, stop and remember that things could be considerably worse.

first world problems 2

Like any good viral campaign, a conversation about the video, and its far-reaching implications, has sprung up across the internet. In true internet fashion, the debate has managed to turn what appears to be a black-and-white “don’t whine about meaningless issues” conversation into more of a grey area “but why don’t my problems matter?” dialogue.

For starters, using the ‘plight of poor 3rd world citizens’ stereotype to make a point doesn’t sit well with some critics of the video. The aforementioned article makes a compelling point that simply saying, “Your problems don’t count because there are those that have it worse,” is not always the most appropriate way of putting things into context.

Yes, maybe your toilet breaking isn’t a world-ending issue deserving of the inevitable post you shared on social media, but at the same time, just because there are people living in areas where plumbing is but a far-fetched fantasy, does not necessarily mean that your toilet problems are invalid.

The author from DailyBeast.com continues to drive home his point, arguing that sometimes attempting to render North American’s problems obsolete by things like comparing them to the latest tragedy of a far away land, is inappropriate:

“Take the bomb-throwing atheist Richard Dawkins, who rolled his eyes at allegations that female atheists are routinely forced to endure the awkward advances of male atheists. Dawkins commented acidly, ‘Yes, yes, … don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.’

The anti-Dawkins chorus responded—led not by theists, but by progressives who hate Islamophobia more than they hate religion—pointing out, quite rightly, that just because many women in the Muslim world are victims of sexism, institutional discrimination, and daily indignities doesn’t mean that inappropriate comments in the West are therefore rendered appropriate.”

A good point, but in the same moral grey area style this author writes in, let’s keep in mind that it doesn’t mean the video doesn’t have substantial validity.

For every detractor, it seems there are at least twice as many supporters of the video. The video, by the way, was created by WATERisLIFE, an organization that is doing incredible work worldwide. Their website is full of information that lends credibility to the importance of the video and the urgency of the cause, such as the fact that 1 in 5 children under the age of 5-years-old will die from waterborne disease every day this year.

first world problems 3

It seems fair then that using a guilt trip campaign will have the desired impact of making people think twice about what they share on social media and how they can help those less fortunate.

CNN’s coverage features some of the YouTube comments from the video, for reference:

“I used to think that first world problems were hilarious, but now I just feel bad.” 

Another person laments: “Okay (it’s) true I am a self centered stubborn brat. I have no idea how good I have it.”

The executive director of WATERisLIFE, Kristine Bender, weighed in at the end of the CNN article:

“People are becoming desensitized to suffering and we needed to enter the social space with a provocative approach to get those who are lucky enough to have simple things such as water, food, and shelter to reflect on their 140 characters and support causes like WATERisLIFE.”

Great point. How do you get people who are being bombarded by information 24/7/365 to not just pay attention to the information you’re sharing, but to actually care enough to absorb it and then take action?

Most organizations will never have an Ice Bucket Challenge level of success with their campaigns, and unfortunately, the reality is that even charities and non-profits are in a competitive market chasing support much the same way for-profit businesses are. So maybe the anti-FirstWorldProblems Anthem crowd could remember that WATERisLIFE deserves a little bit of leeway regarding their approach.

After all, they have created a conversation that was long overdue in Western culture.

We watched the video as a team and felt deeply moved to remember to check our privilege at the door before we indulge in sharing our own petty complaints.

It’s great that people are thinking more deeply about what they’re sharing on social media and how their words impact others. After all, whether you view this as an important moral issue or not, couldn’t we all spend a little more time reflecting on what we say online?