13 Steps to the CVA Credential

Guest post by Liza J. Dyer, CVA

“I’d like to somehow make a difference in people’s lives.”

Aside from being a line from my all-time favorite movie, Reality Bites, this quote also sums up my career aspirations from a young age. Like a lot of folks, I didn’t know how I would reach my goal or what my journey would look like. But I always knew I wanted to have a job that made a positive difference in someone else’s life.

Through a series of different twists and turns in my early working life, I found myself on the volunteer engagement path. And, although I didn’t realize it at first, this wonderful and sometimes zany field became my way to make a difference.

success-1024x768Source: AtBreak.com

In 2012 I was looking for a way to solidify my knowledge of volunteer management. I knew best practices, had attended some local trainings, and a handful of VolunteerMatch webinars, but I wanted something more. Something tangible. I shared this with my supervisor and she recommended the Certification in Volunteer Administration – or CVA for short – and shared her experience getting the credential.

Later that year I registered for the CVA and began studying. And now that I’ve been through the process and have my CVA, I want to share the experience with you.

Step 1: Think About It

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The CVA credential isn’t something you do just for fun. It will take time to read the textbook, study for the exam, and write your portfolio. Really think about if this is something you want to spend your time and money on. Personally, it was absolutely worth it.

Check with your employer or local volunteer administration association to see if there are any professional development funds or scholarships available.

Step 2: Register

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Now that you’ve decided to pursue your CVA, it’s time to get all your registration materials in order. My favorite part was getting recommendation letters from coworkers and colleagues; it was reaffirming to hear such positive reviews of my work from peers.

The Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration (CCVA) will process your application and, as long as you meet all the qualifications, they’ll let you know you’re in. Celebrate!

Step 3: Time to Study

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Set aside some time to read the textbook. My favorite study place was at a coffee shop. It was less distracting than home, and it was a treat to have a latte while studying.

Step 4: Get a Study Group (optional, but recommended)

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My local DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Agencies) – Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association – coordinates a CVA study group each year. I joined the group because I wanted to study with others and have a sense of accountability. My study group created a meeting schedule and took turns writing study guides and facilitating conversations on the textbook. As a bonus, I still turn to my study buddies when I have an ethical dilemma or want to bounce some ideas off of someone.

If you don’t know anyone else in your area who is studying for the CVA, consider reaching out to others online; Twitter and the CCVA’s Facebook page are great places to start. The CCVA also offers an online support group or you can search for a local DOVIA.

Step 5: Take the Exam

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The CVA exam mainly tests your knowledge of volunteer management best practices. It’s online and you’ll need to get a proctor to monitor the test. If you have an in-person study group you can find a computer lab and have one proctor for multiple people, which is what my group did.

After you finish the exam, you’ll need to wait a while to receive your results. Take a moment to celebrate finishing a part of the process!

Step 6: Write Your Portfolio

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Now that the exam is over, you’ll want to get started on the portfolio portion of the process. The portfolio is your chance to share your personal professional experience and has three parts – Philosophy Statement, Ethics Case Study, and the Management Narrative. Personally, I enjoyed the reflective aspect of the portfolio.

Step 7: Have a Colleague Review Your Portfolio

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If you have a study group, keep in touch with them after the exam. You can trade portfolio drafts and review each other’s work. If you don’t have a study group, you can always ask another colleague to review it for you. Trust me; you’ll want someone besides yourself to look it over before you submit it.

Step 8: Turn It In

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If you’re like me, you might be tempted to wait until the last minute to submit your portfolio. (If you’re exactly like me, you’ll wait until the December 31st deadline to submit it.) Don’t wait too long! The sooner you turn it in, the sooner you’ll hear back about your results.

Step 9: Celebrate!

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I’m a fan of celebrating the little things in life. Congratulations on submitting your portfolio!

Step 10: Wait

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Now that you’ve completed the exam and turned in your portfolio, you’ll need to wait to hear back from the CCVA. Actual, real live people are reviewing your portfolio. No robots here.

Step 11: Check Your Mail Every Day, Obsessively

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Okay, you don’t have to check it obsessively, but one day you’ll get something from the CCVA and it will be really, really exciting.

Step 12: Celebrate… Again!

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If all goes well, and you have successfully passed the exam and portfolio, you’ll have your CVA! Congratulations!

Step 13: Tell Everyone

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This is a huge accomplishment and you should tell the world! Announce it to your colleagues, share it in your organization’s newsletter, post a #CVAselfie on social media, add “CVA” after your name on your email signature and on LinkedIn, and tell friends and family.

My #CVAselfie on the day I got my acceptance letter in 2013. Source: Liza J Dyer, CVA

My #CVAselfie on the day I got my acceptance letter in 2013. Source: Liza J Dyer, CVA

I wear my CVA pin on my ID lanyard at work and when I go to workshops or trainings. When people ask what it means, I proudly explain that it’s a professional credential that shows my dedication to the field of Volunteer Management.

If you want to step up your volunteer management game, I highly recommend pursuing the CVA credential.

Interested in learning more? Sign up for the webinar on January 14th with CCVA Executive Director Katie Campbell and Jennifer Bennett of VolunteerMatch. If you decide to pursue your CVA, and if you have a VolunteerMatch account you can receive a discount on your registration fees.

For more information, see the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration, Why the CVA Certification is Worth Your Time, or My Journey to the CVA Credential.

Liza J Dyer, CVA is a Volunteer Program Coordinator at Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon. She is also the Social Media Specialist for the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration, Marketing & Communications chair of Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association, and Twitter Coordinator for Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Portland. Liza enjoys blogging at Volunteer Management Snark, a blog that embraces the snarky side of Volunteer Management. Connect with Liza on Twitter.

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How can Google Grants help your increase your online engagement? Join the free VolunteerMatch webinar.Question: What difference would it make for your organization if you could get $120,000 per year in free advertising?

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On Wednesday, December 3, 2014, Eric will walk you through how to take advantage of this free “perk,” as well as strategies for getting started with your account. We’ll also cover more advanced techniques including supporter growth, volunteer recruitment, and how this program could help supercharge your online engagement.

Register for this free Nonprofit Insights webinar now.

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head shots of professional people and their faces.In today’s connected world, new ways of involving volunteers in your organization’s work are popping up all the time.

Have you thought about how volunteers with specific skills could help your nonprofit?

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Adaptability, Volunteer Engagement, Chickens and Eggs: Which Come First?

Guest post by Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group

To learn more about leveraging volunteer talent, join guest blogger Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group President, for a free webinar at November 19. Click here to register!

Adaptability, Volunteer Engagement, Chickens and Eggs: Which Come First?Scan the shelves of the business section of a book store or scroll through the popular TED talks these days, and you’ll be sure to find a lot of information about innovation and flexibility, nimbleness, and entrepreneurship. So much so that your eyes may glaze over and you may get a bit overwhelmed by the jargon.

Nonetheless, there’s a reason that so many are talking, writing, and thinking about nimbleness and entrepreneurship and it is not limited to business. These concepts are equally important to volunteer engagement. In fact, there is a growing pool of data that demonstrates how strategic volunteer engagement is related to organizational innovation and adaptability. Paying attention to these topics is worth the time – and investing effort in implementing some of these strategies has a significant return on investment.

One place to start is the research upon which the Service Enterprise model is based. Originally conducted by Reimagining Service, TCC Group, and Deloitte, this research has informed the development of the Service Enterprise model, with a Service Enterprise being defined as an organization that fundamentally leverages volunteers and their skills to successfully deliver its mission.

According to the research using the Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT), only 17% of nonprofits studied self-identified as having strong volunteer engagement practices, leaving the vast majority of nonprofits with at best satisfactory ratings or, in nearly 20% of the cases, weak practices.

When the researchers looked at the top performers in terms of volunteer engagement, they found that those organizations were also strong in other core capacities – namely leadership, management, technical, and adaptability. Adaptive capacity is the ability to monitor, assess, respond to, and create internal and external changes. According to TCC, leadership and adaptive capacities are the most critical, as stated by TCC Group, they are “the two capacities that separate effective organizations from those that are less so.”

Similar observations were made in the new book, The Abundant Not-for-Profit: How talent (not money) will transform your organization, by Lynda Gerty and Colleen Kelly. In this book, the authors paint a vision of what’s possible when organizations embrace strategic engagement as a core business value and practice. They refer to these organizations as “abundant not-for-profits.” Based on their work helping nonprofit organizations throughout British Columbia, Canada, to embrace skilled volunteer engagement, Gerty and Kelly share what they have observed to be the traits that characterize successful abundant not-for-profits. They are:

  • Exceptional Leadership with a highly collaborative work ethic
  • Strong Management with an individual with initiative to develop and champion projects
  • Communication that keeps staff and volunteers engaged and informed
  • Adaptive Capacity marked by a passionate, entrepreneurial spirit with capacity to take risks and manage change

Once again, we see “adaptability” as a key element relating to success. Yet, being adaptable means being open to change, effectively making the case for change, and being able to manage change effectively not only personally but among colleagues (both staff and volunteers) and other stakeholders.

For an organization to embrace volunteer engagement as a key strategy to the extent that would deem them a “service enterprise” or an “abundant not-for-profit,” it needs to engage volunteers at all levels of the organization, for their skills, and in leadership positions – as leaders of teams, as leaders of projects, and as leaders of initiatives. For most organizations, this means adjusting policy, adapting current practices, and changing the way they do business.

As we all know, change is challenging for staff and the volunteers who are already connected to the organization. We can all think of examples of groups of volunteers who are reluctant to change the way they engage with an organization, and we can think of staff who are equally resistant to change. Yet, there are also many who are excited by the chance to be part of change. There are many entrepreneurial volunteers today whose skills can help your organization be more adaptable. In other words, there are volunteers who can help you and your organization learn to be more nimble, more entrepreneurial, and more flexible.

The research on organizations and volunteer engagement show a strong correlation between adaptability and robust volunteer engagement – but the research does not reveal causality. Does one cause the other? Do we know which comes first? No. They are intertwined. I believe that they are intertwined because those organizations that embrace volunteers at every level of the organization benefit from the entrepreneurial skills and spirit of those volunteers. Entrepreneurialism of the volunteers both feeds off of and fuels the entrepreneurial culture of the organization. The two benefit and strengthen each other.

While there is no clear answer to, “Which comes first – the entrepreneurial volunteers or the adaptive capacity of the organization?” there are some proven paths to getting started on both. That involves being open to change and engaging volunteers with you as partners in developing and implementing innovations at your organization. What better place to start than with volunteer engagement?

For tips and ideas on how to engage entrepreneurial volunteers with you in piloting a new volunteer engagement practice, join me on November 19 for the webinar Leveraging Volunteer Talent for Organizational Change.

Beth Steinhorn is a nationally recognized leader, writer, and innovator in volunteer engagement and nonprofit management. As President of JFFixler Group, she leads consultations, facilitates workshops, directs research, presents keynote addresses, and publishes blogs and articles. Throughout her 25+ year career with nonprofit organizations, Beth has worked to help organizations and their leadership to achieve their missions through strategic and innovative engagement.

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Follow along with the conversation on Twitter: @VolunteerMatch and #vmlearn.

If you want to increase your organization’s fundraising, brand awareness, volunteer involvement and build highly-effective partnerships with for-profit organizations, join VolunteerMatch for a webinar with Bruce Burtch, a leading expert in the field of cross-sector partnerships and cause marketing. Bruce will walk us through the sea change occurring in the nonprofit/for-profit relationship, and share strategies for attracting and securing partnerships with companies that can create long-term benefits beyond simple funding.

No matter what your experience working with companies, join us to gain an updated perspective on how nonprofits can build strong, lasting relationships with companies.

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