“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.
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
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
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
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)
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.
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
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
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
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!
I’m a fan of celebrating the little things in life. Congratulations on submitting your portfolio!
Step 10: Wait
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
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!
If all goes well, and you have successfully passed the exam and portfolio, you’ll have your CVA! Congratulations!
Step 13: Tell Everyone
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.
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.
Shari led Online Marketing and Communications at VolunteerMatch from 2010-2015. After working with nonprofits for 9 years, she moved over to the corporate sector and is now leading Inbound Marketing for a tech company in San Francisco.