iVolunteer to Non-profits: “Look Back at Your Own Journey”

On our way to Sikat Performance & Event’s place, where Charmaine “Chum” Espinas, iVolunteer Philippines’ Associate Director for Community Relations (CommRel), will host our annual Volunteer Engagement Training, she posed an out-of-left-field, coffee in hand, question about the journey of a volunteer. How does it conclude?

Chum lights up as much as anyone whenever she’s asking questions (even at 7 a.m.) which made it seem all the more like she’s the lone warm body in a car full of ‘zombies.’ Thankfully, things did start to pick up when we arrived, just in time to assist the CommRel staff in prepping the venue.

The Volunteer Engagement Training is a program in which we introduce new strategies for volunteer engagement, along with other proven concepts to our Non-profit Organization (NPO) partners. It’s an annual event where we welcome all interested organizations to learn more about the volunteer sector, it’s changing needs, and how they can find new ways to engage and support volunteers.

Looking at the bigger picture

Volunteers are important assets for non-profits. iVolunteer, for one, relies 100% on people who have all kinds of day-jobs to sustain our operations. Every single one of our staff is a volunteer.

Our wealth of experience and access to the volunteer sector and NPO groups allow to us to have a unique insight on both sides. But instead of just focusing on simply ‘getting’ volunteers to join them, our Executive Director, JB Tan and Director for Technology, Bel Padlan opened the day by introducing our guests to government programs that are intended to support and inspire volunteerism in the country like, the RA 9148, The National Economic and Development Authority’s (NEDA) “Ambisyon Natin 2040” initiative, the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA), and more.

The first few hours we spent together, however, wasn’t about the success or lack of success by other institutions in promoting volunteerism. It’s about getting the NPOs on the same page and emphasizing that same goal that we’ve always shared with them, which is a “Better Philippines.” And what we can do together to work towards that dream with what we have.

Using their own journey to inspire others

At one point during the training, non-profits were able to share the types of volunteers that they were looking for, which was one of the best parts of the program since the NPOs and even our staff got to learn more about our peers.

One of our guests lamented on their need for a long-term volunteer based off of the sheer amount of resources that they’re forced to use on every single one. Others agreed on the need for volunteers who would commit to at least a month or a couple of weeks.

According to them, the longer commitment would make the entire experience worthwhile for both sides. In addition to this, others expressed their cautiousness in having ‘one-day volunteers’ because of the possible negative effect by the lack of relationship between those volunteers and the people they’re looking after on that day.

Bel, on the other hand, with his throat sore and voice fading out, took time to acknowledge the points that everyone raised. Along with that, however, he gamely encouraged the representatives of each organization to look back at their own journey that got them started. He shared how some people may not be ready to commit long-term right away, but are nonetheless willing to make an impact.

“Don’t deprive them of that chance,” he adds, as he elaborates on how non-profits should at least consider programs that would invite new volunteers to experience their community for a day. After all, that initial connection could become that all-important factor that would make the volunteer come back or even stay.

Improving the volunteering experience

To be fair, Bel wasn’t feeling all that well. JB was driving. Abi’s just being Abi. And I had yet to sleep. It’s also just 7 a.m. But all the banter aside, Chum raised a timely question about how volunteers take and close their journey. It was at this time that we got to look back at something that all volunteers share, their intent to help. And that regardless of how their journey reach its conclusion or whether they stick to supporting a particular advocacy or not, volunteers can and will try their best to make a positive impact.

Interestingly, this was raised again, but in a different way during Chum’s time with our partners. In one of the slides, the NPO representatives had conflicting opinions on what constitutes a volunteer act. Is it a yes for activism? How about donations?

In the end, much like the chat we had earlier, everyone in the room got to agree that we should try to focus more on the intent of the individual. Instead of just looking on the surface, it’s on the NPOs to learn more about the volunteers so that they can direct their energy and time to the right cause.

NPOs were also encouraged by the team to introduce new ways to engage volunteers in the form of new activities, volunteer opportunities, improved organizational structure, and more.

Building trust between the NPO and volunteers

Among the other speakers were me and Judith, Associate Directors for Volunteer Engagement and Branding (VEB); Jas, Director for Sustainability, and Abigail Reyes, also an Associate Director for CommRel. Throughout the latter part of the training, we talked about other ways to attract and make volunteers stay, and how to promote projects and use technology to reach prospective volunteers.

Jas touched on how to advertise volunteer opportunities more effectively as well as the impact of a sound volunteer program. Judith, meanwhile, put emphasis on how volunteer education and communication can make or break the volunteer experience. She willed the NPOs to be more thorough on their orientation and task assignments. Together, they challenged the volunteer leaders to revisit their internal process and look for opportunities where they can improve and grow.

Abi, finally, got to discuss how volunteer activities and events can be closed out better. She gave the guests a chance to share their best practices and common challenges, so they could learn from each other, while later adding that recognition and getting feedback can go a long way in improving the volunteer experience and engagement.

Following Abi, I tried to give a quick summary of the event since we’re pressed for time. But everyone was just so eager to share their key takeaways and add insight to the discussion that we barely had time for a photo op afterwards.

We can’t say we weren’t happy, though. If anything, we’d like to extend our gratitude to all the organizations and their representatives who took part in the event:

Also present in the Volunteer Engagement Training are CommRel’s Jed and Zhan who were out early to prep the venue, as well as Nora and Joie who were in charge of the food and facilitated that cheeky ice breaker we had after lunch.

iVolunteer Philippines is a non-profit organization that’s made for volunteers, by volunteers. Check us out on https://www.ivolunteer.com.ph/ where you can also browse through volunteer opportunities that our partners are planning for the rest of the year.

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