My New Favourite Youth Action Ideas

12 Nov
As a professional working with youth volunteers in a number of arenas I recently found myself highly interested in a fresh perspective of innovative youth engagement. Thanks to the Twitterverse I’ve stumbled upon some incredible and unique ways youth are becoming engaged as activists, public educators, and fundraisers. These are just a few examples of activities that have harnessed incredible momentum motivating youth into action.
1) Engagement Through Social Media
This video shared with me by as part of their Digital U series champions social media as the tool of choice for youth to find innovative ways to do something about a cause they wish to support. Despite some concerns that social media is a more disconnected and less meaningful way for youth to get involved, the support harnessed through participation via social media is irrefutable. Unique stories of involvement with social media are highlighted. 
2) Empowering Youth Through the Arts
This GTA partnership among youth-for-youth action groups produced an innovative toolkit with creative ways youth have raised awareness about HIV/AIDS. A noteable favourite is Fashioning Change: A Youth Inspired Fashion Show (starting on pg 14).
3) Making Youth Famous for Doing Good
An explosive example of youth participation in the United States is Think MTV, connecting youth with unique volunteer projects supported by celebrities with a diverse host of the most well known, and some lesser known organizations. Recognizing that most youth have a desire to do something meaningful for the world yet so few are able to put their iseas into action, the pillars of this project are motivation – through multiple forms of meaninful and powerful support, recognition – by acknowledging youth who act as “rock stars,” and accessibility – by providing youth with the tools to act online. Whether connected to a major media hub like MTV or not, many organizations are successfully using social media tools today to recognize their youth volunteers as the rock stars that they are.   
4) Youth Doing Good for the Famous
Many celebrities have been positive role models for youth by encouraging them to support their own foundation or another organization supporting an issue that they are most passionate about. I give kudos to Ian Somerhalder (LOST, The Vampire Diaries) for engaging his fan base and fellow environment-minded Twitter community in the upcoming launch of the IS Foundation by placing a call out to bloggers for support. As assumed from his thank you message to those following him in the Twitterverse, the response rate from those willing to help was a huge success!
5) Celebrating Youth
In the spirit of recognizing youth engagement, the United Nations dedicated August 2010-2011 the UN International Year of Youth. The framework and examples of participation can be found on the website. Celebrating youth is one way to show commitment to young volunteers that is carried out by many organizations.

Indirect Service Volunteering – Pursuing Strategies for Understanding Outcomes

5 Nov

After a long vacation away from my blog I return in awe of all I have learned about indirect service or “macro-volunteering” in my academic and work environments. One remarkable finding is that reflection exercises, guided by the appropriate probing questions can help volunteers become more clear about the outcomes of their indirect service work. Guided reflection can help volunteers visualize how their service outputs travel through the channels of all of their target stakeholders to reach their intended clients.

Volunteers engaging in reflection exercises to become more clear about their work is one goal of Community Service Learning at Wilfrid Laurier University. While I am impressed by the demonstrated success of the Community Service Learning model, I find myself hungry for more examples of the tools and strategies that organizations working with indirect service volunteers use to make the outcomes of macro-level service volunteering  more clear. I encourage readers of this post to share those strategies.

The Top 5 Reasons Volunteers Should Journal

3 May

As someone who values reflection as a process for bringing clarity to any professional situation, I am happy to share the top 5 reasons why I have found journaling to be beneficial to volunteers:

1)     Journaling is the most authentic (and most meaningful) self-evaluation tool a volunteer can use.

2)     It is an avenue for volunteers to document some of those “aha” moments that are unique to every volunteer challenge. These moments can be easily recalled later when brainstorming how to respond to a service need.

3)     Journaling is another way to keep a record of experiences for the purpose of career development. These experiences can be more readily referred to in a resume or interview when they have been documented.

4)     Journaling offers volunteers a personalized narrative history of their lives as volunteers. A volunteer’s journal is a keepsake of some of their most touching moments with clients, staff, fellow volunteers, and the community at large.

5)     There are many well known mental health benefits associated with journaling, including reduced stress and improved capacity to retain long-term memory.

Developing Customized Toolkits for Your Volunteer Facilitators

3 May

Here are a few tips to consider when developing customized toolkits for your volunteer facilitators:

1)      Make sure the tools selected fit the program that the facilitation project is part of. Try to increase your facilitator tool search to include existing facilitator activities that are customized to the specific type of service that the facilitation is needed for.

2)      Make sure the mission, vision, and values of your organization are reflected in the toolkit. Your organization’s mission, vision, and values should be included at the beginning of the toolkit and should be followed closely by the team developing the toolkit. The toolkit developers should prioritize facilitation tools that best reflect all three. When done correctly, the volunteer facilitators will have a greater understanding of how their role as facilitators helps your organization realize its mission, vision, and values.

3)       Make sure that the facilitation tools selected recognize and enhance the skills that each volunteer facilitator brings to the table. Instead of selecting tools that limit facilitators to structured facilitation questions, provide them with tools that help them customize questions through their own inquiry that are best suited for each facilitation process they lead. For an example, see The Art of Powerful Questions.

This resource includes a host of questions for your volunteers to ask themselves before facilitating so they can master the art of asking good questions. It also includes malleable, open-ended questions they can customize to fit the project.

I would like to leave you with an important recommendation when developing customized facilitator toolkits for your volunteers. Include them in the process! No volunteer facilitator toolkit is more customized to the project than one created by volunteer facilitators for volunteer facilitators. They will feel all the more connected to the facilitation content and will feel proud of the final product they all played a role in constructing. As a volunteer contributing to my current assignment, I do feel a sense of pride in the toolkit I am developing and feel closely connected to the content.

Reviving the Debate: The Economic Value of Volunteering

19 Feb

While I recall models I have worked with in the past quantifying volunteer service outputs I want to revive the debate about the pursuit of models that measure the economic value of volunteering. Several months ago Volunteer Canada released a discussion paper about this topic because there is growing interest in the public to “know the quantifiable economic value of the work volunteers do” The discussion paper lead to a presentation of the pros and cons of this pursuit because:

The “ability to demonstrate the full social and economic value of volunteer contributions – to the individuals who are directly served, to the organizations they work with, to the community at large, and to the volunteers themselves – is fraught with many practical and conceptual challenges.”

While communities, organizations, and volunteers themselves would benefit from evidence of volunteer work expressed as expenses from the organization, articulated social capital, and tangible service outputs, there is a real fear that standardized models capturing the economic value of volunteer contributions would “devalue the generosity of volunteers” and omit the value that each volunteer individually assigns to the volunteer experience themselves. The same can be said for the value that organizations and community members served assign to each and every volunteer experience.

So, considering the arguments above, my question is this. Can a model be developed capturing the economic value of volunteering without omitting the “values” that are unique to every volunteer experience?  

The discussion paper from Volunteer Canada can be found here.

Micro-Volunteering: Is There Hope Yet for People to REALLY Do Some Good?

14 Dec

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about a form of volunteering that’s been creating a lot of buzz over the last few weeks. Many online groups have been slamming micro-volunteering, a form of volunteering that allows “people who do not do anything for anyone” to “absolve themselves of that shame by clicking buttons on their smart phones.” I highly agree with Full Contact Philanthropy here  because seeking this form of volunteering does in no way foster any real sense of community engagement with service users. While this form of volunteering may link volunteers with common interests to a common cause, it does not adequately link all stakeholders of the cause together. See The Extraordinaries for an example.

I am reminded of the term “armchair activism” when I reflect on the many reasons why this form of volunteering is so popular. As expressed by Full Contact Philanthropy, this form of volunteering is a “placebo” for its users to feel like they’ve really made a contribution towards a particular effort.

“The only thing The Extraordinaries have been able to get their users to do is tag photos for online archives maintained by museums like the Smithsonian. This is all fine and good, but hardly worth much praise, or investment, and clearly not a game changer, like was claimed by the Huffington Post. What has me so in a tizzy about this company is their claim that they are a “Social Enterprise” focused on both providing social value and earning profits. Frankly, I see them achieving neither….”

Sure, micro-volunteering has the potential to exponentially expand service outputs of a particular cause, such as the number of volunteers attached to the cause and the volume of activity they produce, which, however tangible it may be, is not meaningful. What I question is the number of volunteers engaged in the cause and the outcomes of their activity.

One champion of micro-volunteering is Karen Quinn Fung of Countability Infinite.  After following a model from Urbantastic, a group championing micro-volunteering as an opportunity to link different organizations, Karen had the following comment to make:

“Their model sees them hooking organizations up with “micro-volunteering” – a term referring to skilled labour that professionals can donate to an organization in lieu of direct service or money, fueled by a well-articulated ask.”

I have highlighted key terms in this definition of micro-volunteering which seem to be missing from other definitions of the concept that have appeared in recent articles and blogs. This definition boasts that micro-volunteering can be successful as long as the effort attracts skilled labour and is well articulated. In order for a micro-volunteering project to be of this high caliber, the links between the activity and the proposed outcomes have to be clear, and have to be possible. I am keeping my eyes peeled for micro-volunteering projects that fit this description, and truly hope they can be models that make micro-volunteering a promising option for volunteer engagement that benefits all stakeholders of such activities. My recommendation for now is for volunteers attracted to micro-volunteering to find links between their micro-volunteering efforts and work in their communities, not to treat micro-volunteering as an alternative to community work. Captures the Power of Volunteers

8 Dec

An intriguing volunteer trend has made me reflect recently on the value of tracking both qualitative and quantitative data about volunteers. recently launched a movement in partnership with the Corporate Council on Volunteering called Power of the Hour, whereby both workplaces and individuals are being challenged to pledge as many volunteer hours as possible in order to reach a goal of engaging Canadians in 2,000,000 volunteer hours in 2010. Hours pledged by workplaces and individuals are being tracked at here and there are currently over 1,000,000 hours pledged. The live list of pledges is updated very frequently and is an exciting and motivating tool for anyone who is interested in volunteerism or who is looking to volunteer.

I also reflected on the challenge of attributing value to an hour when it is sometimes difficult to understand the impact that 1 hour from 20 volunteers or 20 hours from 1 volunteer has on an individual, or the greater community. This reminds me of a blog that was posted a few months ago from Volunteer Vancouver  where the following comment was made about tracking volunteer hours:

“Measuring hours is like comparing how quickly I can fix a computer to how quickly someone who actually knows how to fix computers does it. It tells us absolutely NOTHING about what work was done…So instead of measuring how many hours your volunteers work with you, why don’t you measure what impact they had on your organization, your clients and your mission?”

In a reply to this post, one reader commented:
“…the value of that person’s volunteer work may lie in that person’s increase self worth or sense of self efficacy. It may lie in connectedness that that person now has with a greater community. But attaching a value to either of those is difficult.
So how do we measure successful volunteer engagement? Ask. Ask the program managers supervising the volunteers what value has been created by working with volunteers. Ask the volunteers how they have been impacted.”

Clearly it is important for all stakeholders in the volunteer experience to understand the value of an hour, and most importantly to ensure that each hour volunteered is in fact valuable for all. is working to ensure that this is the case by encouraging all who pledge their hours online to “create an action list and log their hours with descriptions and photos.” With action lists that will hopefully capture over 2,000,000 hours volunteered by Canadians one can only imagine the innovative and powerful volunteer activities that Canadians will share with each other. I consider this a promising example of tracking volunteer engagement that represents an alternative to the recommendations suggested by the two bloggers I quoted earlier from the Volunteer Vancouver blog.

It is also important, as I stated at the beginning of this post, to consider the value of quantitative data tracked about volunteers. While the number of volunteers engaged and hours tracked may not tell us much about the work that was involved with any particular volunteer activity, people do hold stock in the power of an hour. With so many Canadians engaged in this quickly evolving challenge many more will be motivated to jump on board to ensure the target is reached. With this in mind, I do also hope that those same volunteers will engage in as much sharing of their volunteer activities as possible with project descriptions, photos, and narratives of memorable moments.