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  • Writer's pictureJessica

Early Career Volunteer Engagement Professionals #AskMeAnything: Gabriela Rubio Bocangel


Gabi is smiling in a green top in front of a window. She has warm eyes with beautiful shoulder-length hair and side-swept bangs.
Gabi is smiling in a green top in front of a window. She has warm eyes with beautiful shoulder-length hair and side-swept bangs.

Welcome to the second post in this series where I sit down with early career volunteer engagement professionals and encourage them to #AskMeAnything! Gabriela Rubio Bocangel (who goes by Gabi) works as the Volunteer Co-Ordinator at the KGH Foundation, the leading fundraising organization for Kelowna General Hospital and its associated care facilities, JoeAnna’s House and the Central Okanagan Hospice House. 


I met Gabi through Colleen Cowman, a fund development expert who moved from Ontario to work for the KGH Foundation. Colleen connected Gabi and me in the summer of 2023, just as Gabi was rounding out her first year as a volunteer engagement professional. We had an amazing conversation then, where I learned about the KGH Foundation’s very exciting social enterprises that raised $2.8 million in 2022/2023 through volunteer power. From that conversation, I introduced Gabi to my go-to volunteer engagement thought leaders in BC: Lindsay Baker and Karen Knight


When I started this #AskMeAnything series, I knew it was the perfect time to reconnect with Gabi. I’m thrilled that she agreed to chat and hope that you enjoy our conversation!


JPP: How have you been since we last chatted?


GRB: I’ve been great! My job title recently changed to better reflect the work I do around managing volunteer workers who operate the hospital bistro, cafe, and gift shop. My prior job title (Business Venues Supervisor) didn’t make this as clear, but now, there’s no question that I’m here to shape a fulfilling volunteer program that supports the KGH Foundation’s purpose. 


JPP: Congrats! I could tell when we last spoke that you were dedicated to growing your skills in volunteer engagement and I love how your new job title aligns with all you’re learning and doing. 


GRB: Thanks, Jessica. I’ve had some great learning opportunities since our last meeting. A couple of months ago, I took Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead™ course. It really resonated with me and is something that I’ve brought into my day-to-day practice. 


JPP: Tell me more about that, was it an online program? 


GRB: It was in-person here in Kelowna and about 20 of us were there over a couple of days. A few colleagues of mine were there, too, which was helpful in bringing what we learned back to the KGH Foundation.


What I loved most about the course was hearing from other professionals and getting their perspectives on leadership. These connections and ideas were fantastic. I learned and unlearned a lot. 


JPP: Did you find that the course was applicable to leading volunteers? Was your perspective a little bit different from most other folks because of your experience and your role?


GRB: Yes, my perspective was a bit different, but what helped was that the course started with a grounding in figuring out our core values. What I learned is these are the values that we show up with every single day and where we lead from. I found that the people in similar fields to ours came with a mindset of servitude and their core value was service. We are all about putting other people first and being givers. 


JPP: That’s beautiful. I agree that service is key to success in volunteer engagement. Working for a fundraising organization, you probably see how great service to donors is paramount when building trust with them. The same goes for donors of time: volunteers. 


GRB: Yes! Another thing that I’ve done since our last conversation was join VMPC. I’m going to their conference in Vancouver in May and saw that you’ll be speaking there!


JPP: I’m so excited that we’ll get to meet in person! I’ll be facilitating a session on self-advocacy for leaders of volunteers. You’ll really enjoy the opportunity to connect with others who love working with volunteers. 


You should give yourself a pat on the back because you’re making the time to take action for your professional growth. I found that earlier in my career, I would sometimes get so absorbed in the job and the day-to-day problem solving. I should have taken more moments to step back and think about where I needed guidance and where I needed new ideas. 


GRB: For me, it’s finding that careful balance of performing well in my role while being conscientious that I have the knowledge I need. It’s important because I’m working with people and I don’t want to be doing them more harm than good in the long term. 


I need to make sure that my professional practice and the systems I enforce are high-quality. I don’t want to get into a mindset where I’m following a guideline that has been followed forever just because.


I’m also being encouraged by my manager to invest working time in professional development. And, the KGH Foundation has provided financial sponsorship for me to pursue these opportunities. 


JPP: That’s a great approach to take. It’s so important to continuously question what we are doing and why we are doing it. 


GRB: So how do I ask the right questions? Whenever I think about professional development, I think: what else can I do?


The CVA has come up a few times and I see a lot of people, including you, have that certification. I also see that there are leaders of volunteers who don’t have the CVA. What do you think?


JPP: To be honest, I didn’t get my CVA until 2023 and one the main reasons I went for it was because PAVRO was offering a discount. At that point, I had been working in the sector for over a decade and I felt like it was now or never. I didn’t feel like not having my CVA would prevent me from finding a job in the field, but I knew that having it would help with employment opportunities. 


What I love most about being a CVA is it gives me access to a worldwide network. Once you become a CVA, you can access private social media groups. Whenever advice is shared in those groups, I know that it’s coming from someone who has had to meet a rigorous set of standards and pass a pretty challenging exam. Being a CVA also means renewing the credential every five years and proving that you stay engaged with industry trends and dedicate time to continuous learning. So, when I hear from another CVA, there’s an inherent sense of trust. 


GRB: Do you feel like I should do the CVA? Is it necessary? Thankfully, my work is going to sponsor me with the fees and they already got me the textbook! 


JPP: That’s amazing to have such a supportive workplace. How do you like the book so far?


GRB: It’s brand new. I haven’t cracked it open yet. 


JPP: Well… it’s not a beach read. It’s more like a university textbook. There’s a lot of good content but I recommend finding focused time to study. 


In terms of whether the CVA is necessary or not… I would say that when I started in this profession, I didn’t see many job postings asking for the credentials. Now, I see more and more. 


Aside from the network you’ll have access to, one of the beneficial things about the CVA is that you will need to study for the exam! 


Hear me out… as you study, you’ll learn about models and best practices that are immediately applicable to your day-to-day work. You’ll find things in the textbook that you’ll want to share with your colleagues and your manager. You’ll speak to others who are studying for the exam around the world, and you might meet folks who are facing similar challenges who you can collaborate with. 


The textbook is a great study tool but you should also check out workshops on the Professional Ethics in Volunteer Administration. They are usually free and posted on the CCVA’s LinkedIn page. Volunteer Toronto also runs a CVA Study Group that has a lot of additional resources and weekly live discussions. I found both the ethics workshop and the study group very helpful in my preparation to write the exam. 


GRB: What’s your take on LinkedIn? I’ve been thinking about creating an account and I can't believe I've gotten away with not creating one for this long!


In university, all my classmates in the political science program used LinkedIn. I was determined to stay away from it as long as I could. But, maybe I need to do it now?


JPP: If there's one social media platform I wouldn't delete, it would be LinkedIn. People's emails change; they go to different organizations and it might be hard to Google them. If you're on LinkedIn, you're connected and you can message them. 


Once you get your CVA, you can add “CVA” beside your name on LinkedIn and the credential to your profile. Every time you go to a workshop or a conference, you’ll make new connections that you can stay in touch with on LinkedIn. 


There's a lot of good learning opportunities that come out of just being on LinkedIn. This includes free workshops that you can sign up for, but I also love just opening my phone and scrolling LinkedIn instead of Instagram or TikTok. I get to see what folks are up to and learn about their ideas in bite-sized ways. 


GRB: Okay, I see the value. It’s all about connection. My dad is going to be so happy. He’s been at me forever to create a LinkedIn profile. 


JPP: I can’t wait for you to join and to connect with you on there! Make sure you join before you go to the VMPC conference in Vancouver. 


GRB: I’m going to start making my profile this evening! 


JPP: And there’s no need to complicate or overthink your profile. Sometimes the hardest part about doing something new is just getting started. Because we have this idea in our heads about what our LinkedIn profiles are supposed to look like. Because we see other people's beautiful LinkedIn profiles.


What you need to know is those people have been working on their profiles for decades. 


GRB: They’ve curated it over time. 


JPP: Yes- so don’t put the same pressure on yourself to do the same thing in a day. Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.


Think about what your profile is for. You’re not looking for a new job right now- your employer sounds pretty awesome.


GRB: Yes- I’m really happy where I’m at. 


JPP: Your focus is growing your network, learning new things, and preparing for the CVA exam. So, all your profile needs is your name, where you went to school, and your current job. If you have a professional photo you love, put that up too! 


GRB: I’m ready to build those online connections because I find that a lot of volunteer engagement thought leadership is coming out of Toronto. It can be hard being in Kelowna, working with social enterprise volunteers, when most of the other volunteer engagement professionals here have more traditional roles where they work with caregivers, or tutors, or at the food bank. 


JPP: Beyond Toronto, there’s a lot of amazing volunteer engagement innovation from the US, the UK, and Australia, especially around community centric work, breaking down barriers to engagement, and unlearning power and privilege. 


The Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement (MAVA) does some amazing work on racial justice. Breauna Dorelus from Atlanta has a company called Connecting the Cause. She teaches about serving communities and leading with respect and dignity instead of pity and power. She really looks at how our society has framed volunteerism through the white savior lens, which perpetuates and causes harm.  


Australia just launched their new National Strategy for Volunteering, which was co-designed with communities and stakeholders across the country. NCVO (The National Council for Volunteer Organisations) is based in England and has some fantastic research on the volunteer experience that I refer to regularly.  


GRB: I’ll look into those resources. Thanks for sharing! 


If you were going back to the start of your career, do you think you would prioritize doing a certificate or course in nonprofit management?


JPP: I think I would have. But… There's this thing in our sector called scarcity mindset. I experienced a lot of that when I was early in my career. I didn't know how to advocate for myself or if I tried to, and I failed so badly. 


Because I was in a scarcity mindset, I was scared to spend my own money on professional development and I was scared to ask my employer to help me. Doing a nonprofit management program may have saved me years of learning by watching and supporting my colleagues in fundraising, marketing, and program management, but I also appreciate how I learned the lessons I learned. 


A nonprofit management certificate or post-grad diploma will expand your knowledge beyond social enterprises and volunteer engagement. You’ll get a taste of finance, governance, strategy, partnerships, advocacy, and evaluation. 


When we spoke last summer, you mentioned that before you started at KGH Foundation, you considered going to graduate school. Carleton University has a Master of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership program which Kelly Harbour, someone I really respect, completed a few years ago. 


You can do it part-time while working and online, except for the first two weeks of the first term, where you’ll have to be in Ottawa with the rest of your cohort. I think it’s something for you to consider a few years down the road and to prepare for, so check out the program and start looking at admission requirements.


GRB: It’s nice to have something to work towards and I will definitely keep this on my radar. 


JPP: I can’t wait to see where you will go! And to meet you in person this May! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. 


GRB: Thanks, Jessica. See you soon!


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