Each month, Volunteer Calgary chats with a manager of volunteers with one of our non-profit member organizations to share their personal success stories and best practices in the field of Volunteer Management.
Inn from the Cold
Ending homelessness in Calgary is a cause that Devon Laughlin is very passionate about. She has volunteered for organizations such as the Drop In Centre and the Mustard Seed, which serve the homeless population.
When an opportunity came to shift career gears, she decided to seek out employment in a place where she knew she would be making a difference.
Inn from the Cold (IFTC) was established 15 years ago to help homeless families in Calgary get through rough nights. It began with 3 churches in the downtown core and a small group of volunteers.
Now, it has 52 paid staff members and over 2700 volunteers who run 65 Community Inns and serve dinner 365 days a year!
Laughlin has worked in the Volunteer Resources Department since 2010 and is currently its manager. She draws on her own volunteer experiences to ensure that volunteers have a meaningful experience.
“During my time as a volunteer, I often felt that I was making a difference in the lives of the people that I was helping,” says Laughlin. “It was that feeling that I wanted to share with others which is why I greatly enjoy working in the Volunteer Resources Department.”
Managing a volunteer base so vast and diverse sounds challenging, but Laughlin is well-equipped for the task and shares what has helped her in her role.
“Volunteer Calgary is extremely helpful, “she says with a smile. Being relatively new to managing volunteers, Laughlin realized that she had a lot of learning to do. She sought out training and experts in the field to learn from them and consulted with people who had been with the organization for a longer time in order to get an idea of what had been successful in the past.
She underlines the importance of communication – connecting and keeping in touch with all the volunteers, especially dealing with such an enormous number to maintain a high level of engagement.
“While we do have 2900 volunteers at IFTC, we manage to cultivate email distribution lists that update all of them on upcoming opportunities and news at theInn,” she says.
“We also make a point of following up with new volunteers to ensure that they have a great experience with us.”
Listening to the volunteers and finding out what they are looking in a volunteer role is another way that she keeps them motivated. Recently, the organization developed a new frontline volunteer position that was a direct response to volunteers’ interest to work with families.
“As a result we are getting some renewed interest from volunteers we haven’t seen in a while,” says Laughlin.
Within the organization, Laughlin initiates conversations with other departments to find out exactly what services they need in order to match them with the right volunteers.
“A Volunteer Department should be effective at seeking out the talents and skills of their volunteers and matching those effectively with the needs of the agency,” says Laughlin.
Volunteer appreciation is another thing that Laughlin strongly recommends no matter what shape or form they may be.
“We thank our volunteers on a regular basis with thank you cards that we send out,” she says.
On a grander scale, they hold an annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon where they cater a meal for our volunteers and offer door prizes. Laughlin also takes advantage of other recognition opportunities in the city.
“I make sure to nominate volunteers each year for the Volunteer Calgary Leadership Awards, as well as the for the Stars of Alberta awards, “says Laughlin.
Managing a robust volunteer pool sometimes can be very challenging , but Laughlin is too ecstatic to be concerned.
“Everyday that I go to work I am able to assist people in using their talents and skills to help those in need. I find that extremely fulfilling and rewarding. There is nothing else that I would rather do, “she says.
Check out the Volunteer Calgary Website to find out how you can volunteer with Inn from the Cold.