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Skills-based volunteering
The Increasing Relevancy of Skills-based Volunteering

As the numbers of vaccinated residents in Canada’s provinces grow, many community service organizations now realize that emergence from the COVID-19 Pandemic is only a matter of time. Borrowing from the Ontario’s government’s top doctor, once targets in terms of people vaccinated and significantly lower cases and hospital admissions are reached, lockdown will give way to what promises to be a ‘new normal’.

It’s an understatement to offer that three ‘waves of infection’ have been a ‘long haul’. We’re all feeling a might frayed round the edges, and in the volunteering sector, some stakeholders have fared better than others. The national view is that the not-for-profit sector has been severely affected by COVID-19, and stronger language has been used in the media to describe the genuinely punishing effects of ‘physical and social isolation’.

That having been noted, it’s a testament to volunteer sector stakeholders in Peel region that so many have battened down and weathered the storm, surviving when service opportunities and volunteering roles have been suspended, Plus, working tirelessly below the radar to adapt programs to ‘virtual’, remote delivery and platforms. This is demonstrative of healthy vision and strategic planning, even if these bold steps have not been called that.

Volunteer MBC’s weekly e-forums that address community response to COVID-19 and other related issues of late have become less frequent, because we now have a comprehensive array of resources in place, including volunteer role ‘templates’ that are freely available. Add to that, community service organizations are on the cusp of committing to what’s next, now that a timeline for recovery has become clearer.

Some may recall that prior to March, 2020, Volunteer MBC had endeavored to address the need by organizations in the sector for an improved level of ‘skilled volunteer’, as certain skills found their way increasingly into ‘position descriptions’. Volunteer engagement models were, and are, influencing this, as well. Volunteers increasingly are asking for ‘project’ opportunities, with flexible time commitment, and there is efficacy in this, because an organization can set the project parameters and objectives, then delegate with less ongoing supervision and overhead.

It perhaps is happy irony that COVID-19 has caused greater focus on the exercise of identifiable skills remotely. Reference here is made to more than language and computer literacy (both of which are a great foundation for anyone prepared to undertake an extended volunteering experience). The most obvious example, selected from the templates, is the ‘Communications Support’ which is a timely response to the need for skills in webpage development, social media management, brand messaging, community connectivity (including volunteers), general marketing/promotion, and ‘virtual’ communication overall.

The need for this role in an organization was dramatically amplified as the result of the Pandemic, and its relevancy will continue in the ‘new normal’. A glance over the ‘template’ will tell you that a variety of skills is both key and is being aggressively solicited. Yet, this really is only the beginning of wholesale recruitment of volunteers that focuses upon consideration of skills resources and matrices.

Seeking knowledgeable volunteers with specific skills and experience is not new, however. Since every not-for-profit needs a board of directors, annually organizations invite qualified candidates for board (or committee) membership, who bring with them recognized skills and experience, such as finance, legal, increasingly important ‘IT’ (including facility in online communications, marketing), and comparatively recently, human resources, the latter mandated to answer the need to import policies and develop a corporate culture that embrace gender equality, diversity and inclusiveness.

At Volunteer MBC, skills focus in recruitment is a direction that we already are taking, and early aspects under active consideration address what skills matter for Peel community service organizations (and our members can help here!), and then how we can successfully enquire of aspiring volunteers as to what each has to offer (general surveys/questionnaires and specific screening in an eform that is the basis for a ‘volunteer profile’). An obvious mutual benefit is that a community service organization will have access to expertise, and the volunteer will enjoy a more purposeful, fulfilling engagement. As we often happily note, there’s nothing like a ‘WIN/WIN’!

We therefore encourage stakeholders in the volunteer sector to make room in the collective mindset and your planning for identifiable and identified skills recruitment. The outcome? Organizations get what you need; volunteers get what they want (in some instances, the chance for newcomers to demonstrate skills that they have brought with them). Both enjoy a mutually beneficial learning experience.

Volunteer MBC will be soliciting feedback in the coming months, so don’t be shy about contributing. We’re about to make it through a pandemic, so why not join Volunteer MBC in taking volunteering to another level?

Robert MacFarlane
Robert is the Consultant, Referral Services, for Volunteer MBC.