--November 23, 2016.
How to encourage and retain volunteers for community organizations is a major question facing all kinds of locally based groups. Changing demographics and the great cultural shift brought about by electronic media and digitalization can prove to be challenges for traditional organizations in the spheres of heritage, education, the arts and social services.
Through our eminently successful FOREVER Project (Fostering Organizational Renewal through Enriching Volunteer Experience and Recognition) QAHN held a total of seven regionally located workshops, called Volunteering Matters: workshops and resources for non-profits. These were located, starting in February, in Montreal (Chateau Ramezay), in March in Quebec City (Morrin Centre), April in Stanstead, May in Wakefield, June in Gaspe Town, September in Knowlton and November in Morin Heights.
These were full day affairs with various speakers leading the sessions and encouraging participation from the attendees. We heard from some very qualified people who have wide experience working with volunteers, a few examples were Alison Stevens of the Volunteer Bureau of Montreal, Juniper Belshaw and Kira Page from the Centre for Community Organizations (COCo) and David Carey from the Achieve Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance. QAHN tried to bring in many different speaker/leaders for each venue, but of course there were some overlaps.
The most interesting aspect of these workshops was the participant input. Similar concerns appeared among all seven widely different Quebec localities such as how to attract younger (under 55 appeared to be the average definition of “younger” !) how to maintain memberships and rather bleakly, how to rid the organizations of volunteers and especially board members, who are not a good fit or who have proven troublesome.
I attended three of these Volunteering Matters workshops – Montreal, Quebec City and Morin Heights. We should add here that Morin Heights, in the Laurentians, was an “add on” in November, mainly because of a very strongly expressed interest from the area. My first workshop, at Chateau Ramezay, was a wonderful start for the series. QAHN’s researchers for this project, Dwane Wilkin and Heather Darch, launched the events and also provided an excellent series of eight small booklets that cover everything from finding and persuading supporters to the good idea of micro-volunteering. QAHN has also produced a magazine-sized publication on this topic, “Volunteering Matters: the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network’s Guide to Volunteer Recruitment.” These publications are available from QAHN. The Montreal workshop attracted a full house and could have been held at least for another session.
The second workshop, at the Morrin Centre in Quebec City, was very interesting as it was geared to the particular setting of Quebec with its rather small but active, English speaking community. However, poor weather – a late snowstorm- and we did feel not quite enough publicity - rendered attendance a bit less than in Montreal, or compared to the later workshops held in the better weather in the spring and fall. Everything is a learning experience and somewhat of a different approach may be needed for future events like this in Quebec City.
Morin Heights was interesting as it was a kind of last minute scramble to organize. However, several very connected local people with large email networks (a local theatre group, an Anglican churches network, plus others) managed to attract about forty participants. This is a vast geographic region and we were pleased to see representatives from far afield, like Arundel and Val David as well as locally.
My conclusions about these workshops are, most importantly, first, good publicity needs to be done well in advance and not just through QAHN’s web site and Quebec Heritage News, but in local regional newspapers (still widely read and important in rural areas in particular) and any other media outlets. Secondly, QAHN directors and local heritage groups need to continue to appear and participate, especially in their own districts or those that are familiar to them. We want to see the community organizations attract and maintain active volunteers so we need to continue doing this ourselves.
QAHN will be hosting another series of community workshop for our latest project, DREAM (Diversifying Resources to Ensure the Advancement of Mission). This upcoming project of the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network will focus on how non-profit groups can access resources to thrive into the future. For information about DREAM, contact QAHN.