May 2007  

Marketing Distress Centre Training 

Annmarie Nicholson is hard at work. As Manager of Educational Services for Distress Centre Ottawa and Region (DCOR), she leads the agency’s training, a rigorous educational process every volunteer must go through before they pick up the phone to answer distress calls. Today she is teaching about communication, dealing with difficult people, boundaries, and crisis situations. The people she is training are eager learners, enjoying the interactive nature of the seminar. It’s obvious to Annmarie that they can’t wait to apply these skills to their lives and in their work.


Volunteers at DCOR receive an impressive 59 hours of training, including the internationally recognized LivingWorks ASIST suicide intervention workshop. Many people come to volunteer just for that training and for the skills they will gain through front line work – expertise that is difficult to put a market value on.


But today, Annmarie isn’t training Distress Centre volunteers. These are government employees, attending a workplace training day. And their employer has hired DCOR to provide the training.


Last year DCOR supplied training to about twenty external agencies, ranging from social agencies like Big Brother to government clients like Foreign Affairs and the Privacy Commissioner. Why are these groups turning to a Distress Centre to help train their employees and volunteers?


“We have a niche in training,” says Annmarie. “We offer interactive seminars, with practical information that touches everyone’s lives.” From their unique perspective of providing front-line distress intervention, Distress Centres can teach not just from academic knowledge but from a proven track record of helping hurting people. And students are eating it up. The feedback from training has been overwhelmingly positive. “Many people come back and say it was the best training they ever had,” comments Annmarie.


Annmarie adapts volunteer training to meet the needs of the clients, but has discovered there are many similarities among the people she trains. “Front line skills are front line skills, whether the person is answering the phone at the Distress Centre or a government office.” She points out that people who call government offices are often in distress, unsure how to handle their crisis. And with the help of this Distress Centre, government staffers are gaining skills to better help Canadians.


Distress Centre expertise does not come cheap. “Twenty years ago, when we were just starting to offer external training, we barely charged for it.” Part of that was modesty, with the view that they were a grassroots, volunteer run agency. Could a non-profit agency really charge for its services?


But their perspective has shifted over time. Sharing their training with other agencies helped them recognize how highly skilled their phone volunteers were: not just unpaid workers, but highly-trained paraprofessionals. Not only did more calls come in to the distress line, and financial support increased, but they also noticed a greater respect for their agency within the community. They realized they didn’t need to be shy of sharing their successes.


Today, they charge market rates for their training. How did Annmarie find out how much to charge? She discovered workplaces were willing to pay up to $2000 a day for training. “Then I just raised the price for training each year until I hit the ceiling.” Right now, they charge between $1200 and $1500 a day, with a sliding scale to accommodate those who can’t afford those rates. And they haven’t dropped their free community workshops.


This past year, they also offered for-fee workshops for people who don’t have the privilege of working for agencies that hire Distress Centre trainers. The turn-out was great, with a wide range of people attending, like students, government workers, community workers like VON workers, and staffers from politicians’ offices.


Revenues from external training last year reached $30 000, money that goes right back into improving services and supporting phone volunteers.


Marketing their training to other groups is something any Distress Centre can do, Annmarie stresses. “All Distress Centres have this expertise. They just need to figure out how to package it and sell it.”


For DCOR, it was a slow process to build up external training revenues. Although they advertise their training through their website and pamphlets, most of their advertising is through word of mouth. Many clients, like the University of Ottawa, come back every year to get training for their peer support counselors.


“At Distress Centres, we have an expertise that is hard to find,” says Annmarie. “It is a real service to market our training outside our agency.”

By Jeanette Duncan


A shift in values seems to be occurring in the workplace. Authors John Izzo and Pam Withers, Values Shift: The New Work Ethic & What it Means for Business, detail an emerging new ethic regarding work and its place in our lives. Some believe these new values will reshape how businesses operate and what companies must do to attract and keep good people. "How we view work and what we want from it is shifting radically. Smart companies will pay attention to these changes," advises Izzo.

Volunteer program administrators and association leaders might also be smart to take note of these new values as a way to craft recruitment messages and campaigns designed to attract today’s volunteer. "These shifts transcend generations - the Net Generation has much more in common with baby boomers than you might think," says Izzo.

If you are a nonprofit organization seeking volunteers or if you are a membership organization who’s lifeblood is volunteers, you might look carefully at the following six major expectation about work, as identified by Izzo and Withers, and consider how you incorporate, promote and foster these values through volunteer service.

Today’s workers want to feel there is real meaning in the work they do. They are less interested in the bottom line and more interested in purpose and value. DaimlerChrysler AF of Stuttgard, Germany, has joined with Mattel Inc. to help teach parents how to properly install child safety seats.

Fostering volunteer service through the workplace continues to be a strategy for connecting employees with the larger community and issues of importance. Volunteer service that can be connected to work increases the importance (value) of the workplace itself. In an increasingly "hi-tech" world there is a need for "hi-touch" experiences that add meaning to life. Volunteering offers great opportunities to say: "What you do is noble," and "You do make difference."

Because we will continue to experience a tight labor market (not enough workers to replace all the retiring baby boomers), employers will offer personal growth and development opportunities as incentives to keep employees. Numerous authors in recent years have identified personal learning and growth as key attractors for today’s younger workers. Kinko’s Inc. has implemented a training program to give workers a training path and a sense of career. "Turnover tumbled from 78 to 50 percent," reports Izzo.

Volunteerism can offer tremendous options for personal growth and development. Whether sharpening current skills or seeking to develop new skills volunteerism offers a safe environment in which to learn, practice and grow. Volunteer recruiters might want to promote "Come grow with us!" and "Come see what’s in this for you!"

Volunteer experts have long advocated for the development of "career paths" within volunteer service. These paths encourage longevity and capitalize on the investment of time and resources to train volunteers. Increasing retention is a goal in volunteerism as well as the workplace.

Izzo and Withers identify five traits of partnerships: communication from above rank, open book, performance-based pay, partnering leaders, vigilance and attention to symbolism.

Volunteers appreciate knowing that others in the organization notice what they are doing and appreciate their efforts. They like to be kept in the communication loop. They want to know and understand the organization they volunteer for. Volunteers expect sincere recognition based on performance. They want to feel like partners with all levels of paid staff. Volunteers, like employees, value leaders who are "in it with them." Volunteers expect organizations to be vigilant in protecting their rights as well as those served, through confidentiality, background checks, and professional volunteer management systems. Finally, volunteers like not just the pins, plaques, and letters, but the symbolism behind them. A Red Cross pin, a Race for the Cure t-shirt, an association coffee mug, and an organizational plaque are outward symbols of the cause and the "noble work."

Collaborations and partnerships have become buzzwords in recent years. Yet rarely do recruiters talk about forming partnerships when recruiting volunteers. When seeking leadership volunteers for committees and boards there is a tendency to share responsibilities and expectations, rather than the excitement and opportunity to be a partner in the future of the organization. Perhaps organizations and associations should promote their ability to offer the five traits of a good working partnership.

Employees don’t want to be a number in the assembly line. They form softball leagues and bowling leagues, and seek numerous ways to build friendships and connections. Today’s employees are interested in mentoring, building connections and having fun. Capital One Services, a Tampa, Florida-based financial service firm refers to its leisure facility as a "community center."

Community happens when people volunteer. They feel a connectedness, to one another, to the paid staff, to clients and the organization. Volunteering extends one’s circle into the broader community. It’s a great way to meet new people, to share common values and concerns, to learn together, share together and laugh together. As people continue to seek the "hi-touch" of connectedness, the challenge is to find ways to bring volunteers together in community (live and virtual) while respecting time pressures.

Today’s younger workers have witnessed the growing break between employers and employees, seeing parents go through downsizing, broad banding, and reengineering, only to join the ranks of the unemployed. The concept of company loyalty has been seriously eroded. Corporations today are looking for ways to reestablish employee confidence and trust. Ciba Specialty Chemicals briefs its employees around the globe via satellite every quarter about the company’s financial figures.

The nonprofit world has maintained a high degree of trust with the public. Nonprofits are looked to as a source of reliable, accurate information. Corporations are looking for ways to partner with nonprofits to improve their corporate image as good citizens rather than greedy corporate machines. Volunteering is being a good citizen.

With the great proliferation of information available through the Internet it becomes increasing important for nonprofits to strive for continued accountability and the highest quality of openness and information. Boards, executive directors, and paid staff should continually engage in interactive communication with volunteers. Volunteers become advocates and lobbyists, and bring great credibility to the work they do. In the nonprofit world governing bodies are called "Boards of Trustees" because they hold the public trust.

Major corporations have begun to look for ways to create workplaces that respect workers’ personal lives. Today’s workers do not want to be workaholics. They want a balance in their lives that includes quality time with family and friends.

There has been an increase in family volunteering, group projects and volunteering events such as Make a Difference Day. These are often attractive options for performing volunteer service while being with family, friends and coworkers (work community).

Volunteering is a wonderful venue for putting balance in life. It can be a respite for the weary soul and an outlet for restless energy. Volunteering can take a person out of their comfort zone or put them back into it. Volunteering can stretch a stagnant individual or allow a weary person an opportunity to regroup and recharge.

Steven Covey listed synergy as one the 7 habits of highly successful people. He defines it as the energy that happens between people who come together to accomplish things. Volunteering events, board work, committee work, and group projects foster the synergy that sparks collaborative action and creates enthusiasm and energy.

Volunteers (and employees) can and do burn out in today’s fast paced world. Intel offers an eight-week sabbatical after seven years on the job. Perhaps there should also be volunteer sabbaticals, or at least options to do something new/different/less demanding.

Volunteer are constantly looking for ways to balance work, personal life and volunteerism. Professional volunteer administrators and association managers are challenged to find new ways of doing work that respects the increasing pressures on volunteer’s time. Perhaps the "hi-tech" options of email lists, bulletin boards, chat rooms, virtual communities, virtual meetings, and web based orientation and training are respectful ways for increasing the time available for "hi-touch" volunteerism.

Noble work, personal growth and development, partnerships, community, trust, balance and synergy are all wonderful words to use in recruitment campaigns. The real challenge is to turn these words into real, everyday values within our volunteer programs. Your best recruitment strategy is to live your values. People are drawn to people and organizations that are authentic. So, walk the talk and then talk the talk.

Carter, Jaine & Jim. The New Work Ethic, The Columbus Dispatch, June 17, 2001. Columbus Ohio: Dispatch Printing Company.

Reprinted from: © 1996-2006

DCO Sponsored ASIST Training

May 26/27 - Sarnia:  For Distress Centre members in Sarnia, London, and Windsor.

June 23/24 - Mississauga:  For Distress Centre members in Oakville, North Halton, Brampton, and Mississauga.

Further sessions to be determined.

If you wish to host or participate in an ASIST Training session please contact Liz or Clare at (416) 486-2242 or email us at

Remember to send this newsletter to your partner agencies and all your board members and volunteers.

You can Forward this message to a friend or e-mail their address to

We will get them on the distribution list.

Do you have a story, issue or idea you would like to share with your member centres?

We can help you get the article to print even if you don't have time to write the article yourself. 

Just give us a call at (416) 486-2242 and we will supply you with the resources you need to share your story.

Having problems viewing or printing this document?

Please e-mail us and let us know:

Otherwise, you can try changing your margin settings in your browser or your printer's settings.

If you no longer wish to receive these emails, please reply to this message with "Unsubscribe" in the subject line or simply click on the following link: Unsubscribe

Distress Centres Ontario
700 Lawrence Ave W.
Suite 475 A
Toronto, Ontario M6A 3B4
Phone: (416) 486-2242
Fax: (416) 486-8405

Read the VerticalResponse marketing policy.