Have you ever thought of giving back to the community – volunteering somehow – but aren’t sure of where to start?
Fredericton, New Brunswick has just launched a new handy tool for residents and non-profits to address this problem. Think of it as an eHarmony, but for volunteers!
Residents (aspiring volunteers) can easily search by their own interests or by need in the community, find upcoming events, explore agencies looking for help, or build a profile and receive specific notifications. For those experiencing isolation and loneliness – especially seniors transitioning into or thinking about retirement – finding meaningful ways to get involved and contribute can re-value the unique skills they have to offer the community as well as forming social connections with other volunteers, staff and community members.
Non-profits will find this new social network particularly effective for drawing on a larger pool of diverse helpers and for gathering details on personal interests and experience to find the right fit amongst volunteers who can help deliver services.
As both the Chair of Volunteer Fredericton and Coordinator of the Fredericton Community Inclusion Network, Susanne White says that by fostering more volunteerism, they’re aiming to build community capacity as well as increase inclusion and reduce isolation – 1 of 28 priorities in New Brunswick’s poverty reduction plan.
“Volunteers contribute greatly to actions designed for economic and social inclusion and poverty reduction. More than 48% of New Brunswickers currently volunteer their time to a group or organization each year. The effectiveness of efforts to reduce poverty relies heavily on the commitment of these citizens who volunteer their time and skills to create vibrant communities. It is essential to recognize the value of volunteering and to strengthen support for these efforts.
Participants recognized that there is a need to ingrain the spirit of volunteerism in our families and communities, and to encourage volunteerism in schools, post-secondary institutions and the workplace.
Strengthening support for volunteer efforts that connect people from all areas of society and that coordinate volunteer activity was identified as an opportunity for increasing the volunteer capacity of a community.” – Overcoming Poverty Together: New Brunswick’s Economic and Social Inclusion Plan 2014-2019, page 13.
So, what kind of planning and infrastructure does it take to launch an initiative such as Connectfredericton.ca? Susanne White tells us about the systems development process they led in the community to make this one-stop service a reality:
- Identifying gaps: Charged with promoting volunteerism in our region, Volunteer Fredericton board members identified the need for one-stop service for online volunteer matching. If this was going to be successful as one-stop, it meant bringing together all of the agencies currently offering information on volunteer opportunities and getting their endorsement for a single service solution.
- Agreeing to a shared vision for change: What proved opportune was the fact that key agencies were already having a similar conversation around their board tables. Bringing people together was easy and the merits of a collaborative solution were readily apparent. We knew that pooling resources would enable us to develop the best solution for the community.
- Identifying a core group, aligning mutually reinforcing activities, and establishing roles: It was a natural fit for Volunteer Fredericton to take on the role of the backbone agency driving the plan. Signing on as key supporting partners were the United Way of Central NB, a collective of 40 non-profit agencies serving the francophone community known as le centre communautaire Sainte-Anne, and the Age Friendly Advisory Committee of the City of Fredericton. We all shared a common purpose and a shared vision for the new service.
- Activating the technology: As the backbone agency, Volunteer Fredericton administered project grants and provided direction to a contractor hired to recommend options for a service solution that met our collective needs. Once the stakeholder group agreed on Galaxy Digital as our service provider, we took the lead in managing the contract, providing training on how to use the website, and finally activating the URL.
- Building content and capacity: In order to build the content for the site, we went through a phase of promoting the new service and its features to local non-profits, and trained them on using the new data management tools so that it is a tool that is actually used.
- Crafting key messaging: When launching this site, it was equally as important to communicate that this new service was the result of a collaborative effort between a group of invested stakeholder organizations, as it was to inform people that the service was available. We appreciated that we had an opportunity to model behavior that other groups could use when dealing with community service challenges.
- Coordinating a campaign push: Each partner agency is utilizing their existing communication channels to promote the one common service. During National Volunteer Week, we plan to turn up the volume with social media promotions and announcements on radio and television.
- Building in sustainability: Going forward, it’s reassuring to know that there are multiple partners invested in the success of this new service. We share the operating expenses; we jointly promote the service through our individual networks; and we enjoy knowing that our community is much better served as a result of our combined efforts.
Susanne’s key takeaway: Engaging with partners to develop this new service entailed much more time and effort than originally anticipated. But in the long run, building a base of support across a network of partners will ensure the long term sustainability of the service in the years to come. And as a result, it is now easier for individuals to get connected so as to contribute to the community and for the agencies that rely on volunteers to find the talent they need to deliver much needed services.
Take a look - visit the website and explore the options: http://www.connectfredericton.ca. It is visually vibrant, the user experience is simplistic, and most importantly it’s an example of how we can harness technology to build social capital and bring us closer to incredible people living in our communities.
Authored by: Susanne White, Greater Fredericton Social Innovation; with Natasha Pei, Vibrant Communities Canada