October 12, 2023
By Gary Dyck
In their August 28th podcast, CharityVillage revealed startling information from Statistics Canada about volunteerism. This past year 30% of non-profits have had to reduce or close programs, even close the organization because of a lack of volunteers. The pandemic, and the rising costs on goods and services have harmed the work of non-profits. Combine this issue with rising community needs and you have a perfect storm.
The last two years at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) were some of our busiest years ever. Thankfully volunteers were up to the task as there is no way MHV staff could host hundreds and thousands of people without dozens and dozens of volunteers! Volunteers are a major reason MHV is a world-class museum today.
How has MHV been able to retain such great volunteers? A part of the story is our valuable social purpose of preserving and telling the Mennonite experience to the world. However, there are some other things I believe MHV does right to attract and retain volunteers.
Create a strong support structure. For decades MHV has had a manager overseeing the core volunteer group as well as coordinating with other volunteer clubs such as the tractor club and MHV auxiliary. Each group knows their role at MHV, while still having some autonomy to chart its course. For some, like the Steinbach and Area Garden Club, we provide them a regular meeting space and in exchange they manage our gardens and floral areas. We endeavour to keep communicating and learning together. To be as flexible as we can without compromising MHV’s overarching mission.
Collaborate. MHV has a questionnaire for new volunteers, so we know where to plug them in so they can make an impact at MHV. Volunteers and MHV want tasks and roles that are in their wheelhouse. There is a growing volunteer democracy, where volunteers want more input into the direction their service moves an organization. Are non-profits listening? When volunteers come to us with an idea or a project that they would like to be a part of, we take it to heart. We also know that more and more businesses are looking for opportunities to volunteer as a staff team. Companies want to contribute to the social good of their communities and have that positive identity. We have several of these partnerships, such as businesses that help us make waffles at Summer in the City. It is a bonding experience, and they get to transform their brand from a logo to a friendly face and a personal relationship in the community.
Provide food and good tools. Ideally, great volunteer programs will have a budget for them to work well. This shows that the non-profit believes in them and their contribution potential. While MHV can’t always fully fund every project, we do provide a 50% discount for meals at our restaurant, water, and coffee when they need it, a free orientation, an appreciation banquet, and good tools to get the job done right. When it was time to replace our yard tractor, we decided it was worth the investment in a heated tractor. We knew that no volunteer would want to do snow removal around the village and our parking lot without a warm cabin and radio. That extra upfront cost has saved us again and again compared to contracting commercial snow removal every winter. There are many more examples of volunteer groups that contribute invaluable service to MHV, and we are grateful. If there is a skill you would love to contribute or learn, or if you would like to get your business staff bonding over a volunteer experience, contact MHV today (email@example.com or 204-326-9661)!
The village buildings and Livery Barn Restaurant are now closed for the season. However, you are still welcome to enjoy the grounds and check out all the waterfowl activity around the pond. MHV also has two galleries including the award-winning Russländer exhibit, which is about the Mennonites who immigrated from Russia to Canada in the 1920s.
Christmas Market, November 11, 1-6pm. Our Christmas Market will feature local vendors, children’s crafts, and hot lunch! Admission is a Tin for the Bin, new toys, or a cash donation to Southeast Helping Hands.
Local Authors Night, November 15, 7pm. Join us for a night of local authors, celebrating the books written in and about Southeast Manitoba. Includes live music and refreshments.