Episode #055: How to Get Your CVA Credential with Faiza Venzant 

Hey, welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity cause, membership or movement, I made this podcast just for you.

Well, hello my friends, and welcome to another episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast.

I am here to talk to my good friend, and I’m not even just saying that she is Faiza Venzant to talk about how to get your CVA credential. Now gang, I am a fan of the CVA. 10 years ago, I received my Certified in Volunteer Administration or CVA credential. And back then things were a little bit different.

You had to do your personal philosophy statement, you had to submit a case study, you had to pass an exam. There was quite a bit to it. Actually, at the time, I wasn’t even managing volunteers. I had already left my job as a director of a program and had started my consulting practice a few years before. And I realized that really for me to walk my talk and really have the type of, I don’t know, I felt like I needed to walk the talk to really feel like I was putting my money where my mouth was in terms of making suggestions and helping other organizations improve their volunteer experience, volunteer results.

I really wanted to make sure I didn’t have any blind spots. And you’d be surprised how much you think you know. And now I know a fair amount about volunteer engagement. I think I do, anyway. Going through the CVA credential process did for me, it really helped me identify a few of my blind spots.

None of us know it all right? But the CVA credential is the place where all of the best practices of our field are sort of concentrated. And I know this because a few years after that, I was invited to chair the committee that put together the body of knowledge. Now the body of knowledge for the CVA credential is renewed every so often, every few years as a credentialing body.

They need to do that. And so I was able to work with a committee of volunteers. We all did this on a volunteer basis. We’re able to review and work with a person who’s called a psychometrician, who helped us think through what in that, during that time was what we wanted to call the official body of knowledge and what the Council for Certification and Volunteer Administration, which administers the CVA credential uses as its core for how it develops its exam, et cetera.

So needless to say, I’m a fan. I’m about to get my go up for my re-up this year, my renewal of my credential. And so I thought, what better way to wrap up National or Global Volunteer Month than talk about supporting our profession and how do we level up and get that respect we’re all looking for. Because I have to say, you don’t go to college and get a degree in volunteer engagement.

That doesn’t happen. So we have to do our work as a field to continually evolve and show that this is indeed a profession. And I think one of the ways we do that is through credentialing. So I want to introduce Faiza. I’m going to talk about a little bit about her bio, but then Faiza I’m going to have you introduce yourself. So, welcome.

Faiza: Thanks Tobi. And if you know Tobi, Tobi is famous for like, hey girl. So Tobi, hey girl. Hey, from Temecula, California. I’m so happy to be here with you today.

Tobi: We’ve known each other for a heck of a long time, so we’re going to be a little sassy, I’m sure.

Faiza: I’m going to be sassy whether we’ve known each other or not. We need that.

Tobi: We do. We do.

Faiza: We’re trying to change the world.

Tobi: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. So Faiza Venzant, CVA is the Executive Director of the Council for Certification and Volunteer Administration. With over 20 years of leadership experience and volunteer engagement, she continues this work with a goal of centering community amongst the profession, improving equity and access to volunteerism and increasing diversity amongst professional leaders of volunteers.

In 2018, Faiza published her first children’s book. She’s a multifaceted girl. My mama wants to eat me up. And as a mother of two young boys, she has not actually eaten any of her children.

Faiza: yet

Tobi: So, Faiza, that’s just a little bit. Tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, and how did you get into work in the nonprofit sector to begin with?

Faiza: All right, well, my name is Faiza Venzant. I’ll tell you first a little bit about me. I am a Canadian born, I’ve been living in the US for about 18 months now. My whole life in Canada. Then I fell in love and that does crazy things too. So I’m now living in the US with my husband and my two boys. Things that you should know about me, because in this field, in this profession, I don’t think we talk enough about lived experience.

And my lived experience is exactly why I’m here. So things you should know about me, I grew up in a Muslim tradition. I identify as female cisgendered. I use the pronouns she and her, my parents were immigrants to Canada in the seventies. They were expelled from Uganda. So I grew up with parents that were going through PTSD as immigrants.

And so some of the opportunities that I had and some of the experiences that I had were shaped by who I was in relation to my parents. I also grew up in a Muslim tradition and in a faith practice as an Ismaili Muslim, where volunteerism was a huge part of our upbringing. It’s a word that I learned very easy or very early.

So I had an interaction and understanding of volunteerism from a really young age. And I got into this field because through my faith community, I started volunteering as a volunteer manager and I ran a corporate volunteer program for an international development walk, a charity event.

when I was doing that work, I was looking for resources. Another thing to know about me is I’m curious and I’m always wanting to learn. And I was doing that volunteer role and I was looking for resources in Toronto, Canada at that time. And it came across TAVA, the Toronto Association for Volunteer Administration.

And I realized there’s a whole profession out there. And that’s how I got started. It was as a volunteer and then I was in school for social work at the time. And I realized I did not want to help community in that way. And I saw volunteerism and volunteer engagement work as a way that I could use my social work background.

All of my lived experience having been on the receiving end of, of great volunteer. Well actually, I’m not going to say great volunteer experiences because some of them were harmful and we’ll talk about that. But it was a way to put together all the things that I liked and to be able to still help and support community.

So that’s how I got started in all of this. And that was, I think my first paid volunteer gig was in 2020. Here we are 23 years later.

Tobi: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. So 2020?

Faiza: Sorry. 2000. I’m also not good at math. Okay. Not good at Math

Tobi: No problem. No problem. It was like 20 years. No, that’s three years. No. Okay, cool.

Faiza: That’s why I have a CVA and not a CA, Tobi.

Tobi: There you go. There you go. Well, your 20 years is really telling and showing, you’re such a great advocate, I think, for equity and diversity in the sector. We’ve had tons of conversations, you and I about that, and maybe we can talk about that a little bit more today.

Tell me what volunteerism means to you and why does it matter in today’s world in particular?

Faiza: I mean, to me volunteerism is the way that I express my love and my care and my responsibility to my community. So when I think about myself as a volunteer, if I’m invested in my community being healthy and in my community being better off than it was before I got there.

And if anyone in the camping world, you know that you always learn in the camping world that you have to leave a place better than when you got there, right? Pack it out. My mom, actually, Tobi was one of the very first female, what do we call it in Canada? I’m getting mixed up between my Canadian and my US. In the US we have Girl Scouts, and in Canada we have girl guides.

So my mom was one of the very first female volunteer leaders for the Boy Scouts in Canada. And so my parents were very involved that way. My brothers were very involved that way. They still are. And you learn that, right. You always leave a place better than when you got there. And, and that’s what volunteering means to me.

Whatever the issues are or the needs are in the community that you’re in. And I say that because the community that you’re in is going to be different than the one that I’m in and the needs are going to be different. It’s your way of expressing your responsibility to make it better than it is today.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. Could not agree more. Before we kick off a discussion about getting your CVA credential, tell folks a little bit about the Council for Certification and Volunteer Administration has a little bit of a history that I think would be interesting for people to know about.

What’s the mission? Why was it formed? You also have some really interesting projects in the works. So let’s just kind of dive into that a little bit before we get into the nuts and bolts about the credential itself. I think people should know about this body and how it formed.

Faiza: So in the late 19th century, Tobi. This is so funny to me because I was born in the late 19th century, but my kids will grow up thinking about, learning about things in like the seventies, eighties, and nineties. And they will refer to it as the late 19th century. But in the late 19th century,

Tobi: We’re going back in a machine y’all.

Faiza: But in the 1980s, the Association for Volunteer Administration, AVA, they developed the CVA, the certified and Volunteer Administration Credential that you and I both have. And at the time it was basically professional, for individuals like you and I, leaders of volunteers, anybody who worked with volunteers or partnered with volunteers in any form, whether it was in healthcare, whether it was in the arts, whether it had to do with food security whatever it was. It was intended at that time to make sure that it would be applicable to all types of settings, all types of organizations, that it would be competency based, um, and that it would be international in scope.

And the CVA today is the same thing. In 2006, the AVA was forced to dissolve. And so in 2006, the AVA board transferred the ownership of the CVA program, as well as the Professional Ethics and Volunteer Administration to a newly formed body, which is what we know of today as the CCVA , the Council for Certification for Volunteers Association.

In Volunteer Administration, Katie Campbell, who was the founding executive director, I call her that for CCVA, basically then took on the credential and all of the work that had been done with the ethics and built CCVA and built that foundation for what we have now as the CCVA. And little things that people might be interested in knowing is that the CCVA is an international organization.

However, we are officially registered as a charity in Virginia and our board and all of our volunteers and staff are all remote. So we don’t have headquarters or an office anywhere. We all work remotely and we are all over the world. It’s a global organization. So the CCVA runs the credential, updates the body of knowledge.

Also is the keeper of the global, ethical principles and standards in volunteer engagement, which I refer to these all the time.

Faiza: Me too, yeah.

Tobi: And you’re doing a little bit of research right now that I find fascinating and I’m very excited about. Talk to us a little bit about the research that CCVA is involved in and why it’s important.

Faiza: So at the moment, I mean, we have been really lucky. CVAs around the world have been doing some incredible work to raise the profile of what it is that we do and why we matter. And that has grabbed the attention of some scholars. And so we constantly have people connecting with us saying, we want to survey CVAs when it comes to understanding volunteer engagement.

And currently, we’re working with Mark Hager through Arizona State University on a survey called ADEVI, which stands for assessing diversity and equity and volunteer involvement. There’s a couple parts to this survey that’s going on right now. One is trying to get a better understanding of CVAs and the diversity amongst us in our group, who we are.

And I’ll say this Tobi, I’m a person that has a ton of compassion. I’m not good at Math as we have already established, but I also have really high expectations for anyone who is a leader of volunteers, anyone that has or is a steward of resources the way that we are. And, and by resources, I mean people’s time.

I’ve got very high expectations, if that’s what you’re doing. And to be asked as those stewards of that time about who we are is really important. It’s really important that who we are reflects who we partner with and who we serve. And so that’s the first part of the survey is trying to get a better understanding of that.

I think there are some assumptions about what the community of leaders, of volunteers looks like. And in North America, and particularly, I think this survey is going to help us understand that a little bit better. The second part of this survey really gets at what is happening in the different organizations where CVAs are working when it comes to equity, right?

So are there policies that are written? How are volunteers considered or wrapped into those policies? Is there training that’s happening? What is the thought and what is the effort that’s going on right now in organizations where CVAs are leading volunteers when it comes to equity? And then what can we understand about that going forward?

So we have had over 50% of our survey of CVAs that have been asked have responded. So just that 560 responses as of this morning. After the survey is done, we’ll be doing some focus groups to connect with CVAs, just to sort of ask them what’s happening in your organizations when it comes to equity?

Are there gaps? What’s getting in the way? What influence do you even have when it comes to that? I think for a lot of professionals, whether you’re a leader of volunteers, whether you’re a program director, equity is in the forefront for a lot of us. But it’s not necessarily the place where we get to make a lot of decisions. And as CVAs, as stewards of so much community resource, and as oftentimes the people in our organizations that are closest to community, we want to understand, what’s playing out there when it comes to equity work.

Tobi: Yeah. I mean, with our volunteer management progress report, we’ve asked about not as deep, you’re doing a really deep dive into the diversity of the sector, at least the, the group of CVAs. And we asked some very basic questions about race, ethnicity, and gender. And we have asked a few times, more than a few, and found it to be very homogenous.

We also asked a few years ago about whether or not folks had a plan for equity, diversity, equity and inclusion specific to volunteers or if it was only more in their agency level and how they assessed the diversity of their volunteer core. So we’ve been trying to explore this a little bit as well, just in our very limited way, and at least to call it out a little. And last time we asked was last year and we found that leaders of volunteers are less diverse than nonprofit workers in general, at least in the US and who are less diverse than workers in general, which was surprising to me in some respects, having worked with lots of diverse people in the nonprofits that I worked in throughout my career.

So I’m excited about this because I think the results will help us advocate and educate both within organizations, but also for me it’s sort of like, how does this help us maybe attract new people to the field?

Faiza: Yeah. And I also needs to answer the question, and I know in my career this 23 years, there have been a lot of women of color who I’ve seen as leaders of volunteers who are not here anymore.

It’s just, it’s not a place where, for some of them, it’s not a place where they intended to be, which is one thing. But it’s also not a place where they saw anyone that looked like them doing anything that they wanted to do and so they didn’t feel a sense of belonging and, and they moved on.

And I, myself have felt that as well in the past. And I think if you’re a leader of volunteers, and we’ll see what the data tells us, but if you’re a leader of volunteers and you don’t have proximity, you don’t need to look like or represent the community that you come from. But if you don’t have proximity, understanding or an empathy for that community, and that’s going to affect how you recruit volunteers, that’s going to affect how the community sees you, the trust that you’re able to build.

And so, at the very least, I’m hoping that this opens some curiosity and some level of responsibility that we have. Like I think, I think some people, myself included, when I first started in this field, I used to tell people, Tobi, and I’m so embarrassed to say this out loud, but I used to tell people.

I have the best job in the world. I meet, I talk to nice people all day long. That’s my job. And that’s what I thought. To be a volunteer, you need to be nice and this is me coming out with a Bachelor of Social Work. I understood systems, I understood, how white supremacy culture shows up.

And I still went into this profession just really naive and very innocent thinking, I get to work with nice people all the time. And what I realized is like, I don’t work with nice people all the time. I work with people who sometimes feel better about helping people who are not as well off as them or who suffer.

And, and that was problematic for me. And that was something that made me really uncomfortable. I’m really, really privileged in this role as the Executive Director with CCVA to be able to influence a little bit how CVAs get asked and, and what research proposals I get excited about.

We had an amazing experience with Mark with Arizona State University and the University of Chicago Survey Lab back in 2020 on what was called the TEVA Survey, which was Technology Evolution and Volunteer Administration. And Mark was like, Faiza, what do you want to do next?

And, and I said to him like, I want to talk about equity in our profession. We’ve,  got to move the needle, we’ve got to open some eyes and get some people curious about what we can do differently. So that’s where we’re at and ADEVI survey will end this year. You’ll be able to find the results of this survey, the results of the focus groups as well on our website.

I think the link will be in the show notes, but it’s cvacert.org/adevi.

Tobi: I will absolutely make sure. I know I already have listed the CVA main website, but I’ll add that as well. And hats off to you for continuing and expanding this work. I know when we ask sometimes in the comments of our survey, the general comments at the end when we say, is there anything else you’d like to add?

People will ask like why are you asking this question? And I’m like, hello, because I have a strong, I don’t know. I have a strong feeling that volunteerism should be available and open to anybody who wants to get involved. And I also know, and formal, I’m saying formal volunteerism.

Because informal volunteerism is happening in every community around the world. And informal volunteerism is not blocked by the kinds of barriers that formal volunteerism might have. And even if you just think about from your own perspective, your own upbringing where in your community you feel comfortable going and talking to people.

And having done outreach in diverse communities in past jobs of mine, you have to get up out of your comfort zone and build relationships, and those relationships take. And they take time and they don’t happen overnight, and they need to be maintained. And I’ve also heard from volunteer managers, look, I’ve been told that I need to diversify our volunteer core.

And I’ll say, okay, what’s your organization doing as a whole around diversity, equity, and inclusion? And they’ll say, well, nothing. And I’ll say, well, then how come it’s just your job all of a sudden without being equipped, without being supported, without being trained. So I think it’s a multi-layered issue and I think if we can just start with getting a really good baseline, we can move from there.

And, and I’m really excited. We’ll probably have you back on to talk about the results. I do want to add, it’s such an interesting question when people say, oh, I want to learn how to diversify my volunteer core. The first question I’ll ask them is what stats are you currently collecting? And they’ll say, none.

Exactly. So I’ll say, well, what are you trying to diversify from? What are you trying to diversify from? There are so many assumptions that we have around who we think our supporters are. So find that information out first. I do want to say it in 2020 when George Floyd was murdered, there were so many organizations that were putting out these statements about equity and diversity and inclusion and CCVA intentionally and deliberately did not.

Tobi: We didn’t either.

Faiza: We did not. We weren’t ready. And it didn’t feel authentic. It didn’t felt very performative. We will be doing that now. Now it’s 2023, it’s years later, but it has taken us that much time to really think about what can we commit to, right? And what can we, can we do not, what can we say?

Because we can say what we believe all we want, but what actions can we actually put behind what we want to say? And we will be talking a little bit more about equity and diversity at CCVA a little bit later this year as well.

Tobi” Awesome. Awesome. I love it. I love it.

So let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about the Certified and Volunteer Administration or the CVA credential. Let’s start with what is it exactly? Because I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding and mythology about what it is. How is it different than a certification?

Because I know we talked about before we jumped on, we were talking about the, the mistakes people make around that. What are the biggest misunderstandings. And people don’t realize it’s global.

Faiza: It’s global. Yeah. So first and foremost, I mean, if you are not looking at your CVA as an investment in yourself and in your career as a professional, we might not be the place for you.

So if you are someone who wants to invest in yourself and who is thinking about a career in community development, a career in leading volunteers, then check us out. CVA credential is for individuals who have at a minimum of three years experience leading volunteers. We are not a how-to, we are not a course.

We aren’t going to teach you how to lead volunteers. We assume that if you’ve got three years of experience leading volunteers, you already know a little bit about what you need to do. So that’s one of the things that you need to have in order to apply for your CVA.

So it’s your knowledge and use. It’s the actual practical experience that you bring with you. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re not going to teach you how to do it. You should be doing it already and know how to do it. Okay? So that’s how we’re different. We’re not a certificate program. We are not affiliated with any academic bodies. We are for those people who see the value in this work and the value that a leader of volunteers has when it comes to community strengthening and community development.

As a CVA candidate, you also need to have 30% of your role needs to be directly working with volunteers. So we know that there are a lot of people who can work with volunteers a hundred percent of the time and kudos to those organizations that invest in employees in that way. But there’s many CVAs who wear many hats, right?

So there are fundraisers, there are event planners, they’re running programs, they’re doing a lot of other things as well. But if you’ve got 30% of your role as leading volunteers, then we are the place for you. You also need to demonstrate that you have some experience in what we call our body of knowledge and competencies.

So the entire CVA exam, so in order to get your CVA, you apply to write an exam. And Tobi mentioned at the top of this podcast that years ago, so for me, when I had to get my CVA, I also had to do my personal philosophy on volunteerism, and I had to write two papers and take the exam as well. Some of those things are subjective.

Some of those things are objective, and where we are today is that you take an exam, if you pass this exam, you have your credential for five years. So you’ve got to have the three years experience, the 30% of it being your role, and then some demonstrated examples that you provide of how you understand the body of knowledge and competencies.

The exam is multiple choice. It’s a hundred questions. You have two hours to take this exam. If you need more time, talk to me. We will work with you. And every single exam question is based on that body of knowledge and competencies. One thing that I say to people is when you take the exam, you got to think about the fact that there are hundreds of other people that are taking the exam at the same time that you’re taking the exam.

And they are from all around the world. And so this is not an exam about how well you do your job. This is an exam about how you measure up to how does that coordinator of volunteers that works in the performing arts center in Tennessee also measure up to that volunteer coordinator that works in a food pantry in Texas, right?

And also that volunteer director that works in a hospital in New Jersey. That body of knowledge and competencies is globally applicable. And so when you’re taking the exam, you’re taking the exam about a profession, right? And it is about being a leader of volunteers, not Faiza who works in this one organization.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. And the body of knowledge is really about established practices. And I always give people the advice because sometimes people come to me and they’re like, I didn’t pass the exam. And I go, well, number one, did you read the textbook? Number two, did you answer it according to the body of knowledge, which is represented in the textbook.

So it’s not your opinion on how things should go. And it’s also not cutting edge practices, it’s not innovative tested, things that are being tested. It’s the body of knowledge has already been proven. And it’s the standardized practices that across all kinds of organizations, all kinds of countries, wherever we are in the world that are what we can all say, we can settle on and say these are them.

And when it’s an innovative practice, it hasn’t made its way yet into that standard body of practice. It’s not your opinion on like, well, I do it differently because I believe it’s different,

Faiza: And the body of knowledge, it’s validated by leaders of volunteers. That I think is what people sometimes think that when they take the exam and they’re not successful, like something happened to them externally. Like the body of knowledge and competencies comes from our community. It comes from our profession. It’s validated from our profession.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. You talked about this is a place for you to come if you are interested in investing in yourself. There is something that when we as CVAs who kind of run the gauntlet in a way so to speak. When I see a CVA be behind someone else’s name, I feel like they have something, a little special sauce.

They’re, they’re part of this growing network of of people who are interested in really like honing, refining, and sort of leveling up the profession. In your mind, why is it important for people to consider once they have their three years in to consider getting their CVA credential consider studying.?

It takes a fair amount of time to study. I mean, I had like little flashcards that were like color coded. And I was going through 10 years ago before I took my exam. And in my exam when I took the exam, it took me the full two hours.

Faiza: I mean, like I said before, if you are someone who is a steward of resources for the community, like that is something to take seriously, right?

We don’t expect, I mean, we don’t go and have surgery from someone who is not qualified and doesn’t have credentials, right? When we go to the grocery store and we get meat cut from a butcher, we expect them to be credentialed and to have certifications around safe food handling and so like many other professions that are out there, we also are a profession that has this body of knowledge that has the professional ethics and we should expect our community and we should expect the community that we partner with and for to be stewarding, galvanizing, and recruiting volunteers to work with and for the community at the highest standards that are available.

I mean, it boggles my mind that we expect to solve things like hunger and poverty and curing the world of illnesses and disease, but we don’t want to as humans, that we don’t put a value on what is the human aspect of making that happen.

Whether it’s happening in a formal way, or whether it’s happening in an informal way, there’s a reason why we have volunteers that take on specific tasks and why we have staff who take on specific tasks. Volunteers have a different motivation and a different skin in the game in terms of wanting to see their communities improve, and so the individuals and the professionals who are tasked with getting all of that talent through the door and then back towards our community, it’s not something to take lightly.

I know a lot of people say, I hate that phrase a seat at the table. I don’t have a seat at the table and no one takes me seriously. But I also think that within our profession, many of us have not internalized how important our role is.

And many of us don’t realize the incredible responsibility and privilege that we have when it comes to the resources that we have, that the community needs. And many of us are not aware of the reality that many communities are in need of our services, not through their own choices, right?

They’re positioned that way because they’ve been under prioritized. And so our role is not just to the nuts and the bolts. It’s not just about putting out a flyer or recruiting somebody interviewing them. It’s also making sure that that individual and that volunteer or that community member understands the needs of that community.

It’s also making sure that we humanize the community that we work with. It’s about making sure that our volunteers are reflective of not us, but the community that we partner with as well. That’s a huge responsibility. That to me, all of that means it should be professionals who are doing this work. And we shouldn’t be waiting for somebody else to tell us that they value us.

We shouldn’t be waiting for someone else to pay for our exam fee, and that’s something I hear a lot. I don’t know if you hear that Tobi. My employer doesn’t pay for it. I’m not going to do it. We shouldn’t be waiting for someone else to tell us that the work that we do is something that we shouldn’t invest in and we shouldn’t wait for someone else to invest in us.

If this is the career that you’re choosing, then you invest in you, right? You don’t need somebody else to invest in your career. You invest in it first. It doesn’t stop there, right? You get your CVA and then it doesn’t stop there. You get your CVA. You always remain curious. I think that’s a mark of a real professional as well, is that you’re constantly curious.

You’re constantly wanting to learn, but that you also are constantly looking at ways that you can teach and mentor others as well.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. People, in reality, no one gives you your value. You give yourself your value. I mean, you can allow people to influence your thinking about yourself, but you have power over that.

And there’s an incredible amount of pride, I think, in completing the exam, having your certification, putting that credential, those letters behind your name. I’m always coaching people, like whenever you’re signing up and registering for something where they have the last name field, just put , CVA, if you have your CVA.

Put it there. And then wherever your name badge is, it’ll show up on your name badge when you’re at a conference, when you’re registering for a conference or a training or whatever, and you’re going to get a name badge, it’s going to show there. Plus the CVA pin, I still have that little CVA pin that I wear around.

So yes, I also think along your lines, your points about being a steward of community resources. I believe that every nonprofit, it’s an ethical mandate that they involve the community in their work. And if they’re not, then they’re not getting grounded properly.

Faiza: No. They don’t exist without the community.

Tobi: I mean, it’s great to have a board of directors. Great. They often don’t represent the folk in your community. But getting people in your neighborhood involved, people who are impacted by your work, people who have a stake in your work, the volunteer manager is bringing that perspective in.

Because volunteers in a way keep us a little bit honest. Because they can point out when something’s not working well. And so you’re also upholding as a leader of volunteers if you’re doing this well and you’re reminding people because you are an internal consultant as well, because most people don’t know how to do volunteerism.

They don’t even realize what it entails. And it is rocket science. It’s difficult to influence people, a variety of people in a variety of ways to get them to come and contribute. And you have some guidelines you’ve got to follow, et cetera. But you also need to be flexible enough to be able to pivot when needed to address true concerns on a community’s behalf.

But you are that person, you’re that middle manager. And you’re that advocate internally and externally and you’re the person who’s realizing that the power and potential of engaging the community and you’re enacting and making sure that your organization follows through on what I think is a mandate to engage the community in its work. So it’s powerful stuff.

Faiza: Katie Campbell, she put it perfectly. When you think about the seven competencies that make up the body of knowledge and what our CVA exam is based on. She phrased it really perfectly in that there’s a role and there’s a competency. So if you think of yourself as a leader of volunteers, one of the roles is that you’re a strategic architect.

That’s what she calls it. And that relates to that competency of planning for strategic volunteer engagement. You are an articulate ambassador, right? You are an advocate for volunteer involvement. You’re a relationship builder, right? You attract and you onboard a volunteer workforce. You’re a talent cultivator.

You prepare people to do the work, um, to partner with communities. You’re a data manager, right? There’s some people who are only that. You’re that is one of the seven things that you do, right? You document all of that involvement. You protect your organization, all of that, that stuff that has to happen in formal volunteering.

You are a champion of quality, right? You manage volunteer performance and impact, and you report on that as well. There are some people who only do that as a whole career, right? And you’re passionate in that role and you are a passionate leader. You don’t need anybody else to give you that title of leader.

That is what you are when you take on this role of leading volunteers. As a passionate leader, you acknowledge and you celebrate and you sustain volunteer involvement. Those are the competencies of leader of volunteers. I took my CVA exam after I had been in this role for 16 years.

And I kicked myself. I was like, why did I not do this earlier? Because even for me, I didn’t see, and I didn’t internalize the great responsibility that this role is until I saw all those competencies written out. There’s a self-assessment that we have on our website that you can take to assess your proficiency in all of these competencies.

And when I did that, as was the first step of studying for the exam, I just felt this great responsibility and this great privilege that I had. And I am so thankful that I am a CVA because now I can articulate that. So when you say it is rocket science, it is. And when somebody asks you to articulate what is everything that you do, you can say, I am a strategic architect, I’m an articulate ambassador, I’m a relationship builder, I’m a talent cultivator, a data manager, champion of quality, and a passionate leader.

I’m all of those things and these are all of the things it takes to do what I do. And you have the language. You have this whole body and this whole community that is with you in that work that you do.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. So let’s take a quick break and after the break, let’s get into the nuts and bolt of some of the challenges people come up against, but also just how to best prepare because this is nothing to take lightly. So we’ll be right back after the break with more insights and tips on how to get your CVA credential with Faiza Venzant. Don’t go anywhere.

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Tobi: Okay, we’re back with our discussion with Faiza Venzant about how to get your CVA credential, and I’m going to ask Faiza for her best recommendations.

If you are thinking now, I hope by now, if you are an experienced volunteer manager, no matter your job title, and you’re thinking, I need to go for it. I’m going to go for it. I think it looks good when you’re looking for jobs too, just by the way.

Faiza: It helped me.

Tobi: Did it helped you?

Faiza: Hundred percent. I’ve seen requests for proposals for my consulting, whereas CVA is necessary. I’ve seen physician descriptions, whereas CVA is necessary. Absolutely.

Tobi: Yeah. Great. So that’s another reason to invest. So you’ve talked before the break about how to get your CVA credentials.

So we’re going through these really quickly. So prerequisites are three years in the field, at least 30% of your job working with engaging volunteers. You need to apply. And then your, when your application is accepted, then you’re invited to take the exam and sit for the exam? Is that correct?

Faiza: Exactly. We need to apply. And you need to pay a registration fee as well, like an application fee, not a registration fee, an application fee. And happens twice a year. The application deadline is always a month before the exam period. So March 1st for the April 1st to 14th exam, and September 1st for the October 1st to 14th exam.

Tobi: And just by the way, I’m just going to plug this, if you are a VolunteerPro Member, you get $50 off the exam. And when you’re applying, you just say so in the application. There’s a point if what partner are you is referring you and you just say, VolunteerPro. And Faiza shoots me an email and says, hey, is this person a member, an active member with you?

And I say, yes, they are. So it’s not a bad thing to get a little bit of a bonus and get a little bit of money off. When people are sitting for the exam back in the day, I had to go to somebody’s office. I had to find a colleague to proctor me. That’s right. And I remember it was a friend of mine who is shout out to Mary Sue at Knoxville Symphony.

She’s the development director over there. And I was going to Association for Fundraising Professional meetings. I was a member for a while. And she offered to have me proctor. So I went down to their offices and I sat in her office and did my exam on the computer. Nowadays, people don’t need to do that. They can do the exam from the comfort of their own home. Yes?

Faiza: Yeah. So we use an online proctoring system and just before, when you’re accepted as a candidate to take the exam, we do a lot to prepare you for the exam. So there is a trial test that you do in the weeks leading up to the exam where you get to test your software to make sure that when we say online proctoring, it means that your computer records a video of you while you take your exam so that A. We know it’s used taking the exam.

And B. This is one of the funnier parts of my job is that I have to watch all the footage of people taking the exam. But we get to make sure that there’s no question about the integrity of your exam. So no one’s feeding you answers, you’re not right looking them up in a book or anything like that.

So it’s great. It’s accessible. As long as you have a strong internet connection and a computer that has a camera in it, you can take the exam, you can do the online proctoring in that way.

Tobi: Awesome. So how long after you finished the exam? Do you know right away that you’ve passed or failed, or how long does it take to get to know?

Faiza: It has changed. So when I took my CVA, I didn’t know for months. I had to wait to get a letter in the mail. The last me too, the last couple of years we had been using the system that you would know right away whether you passed or you failed. Now the exam period is April, right now we’re in the April 1st to 14th exam period.

So if you take your exam April 1st, you will not have to wait more than a week after the exam period ends, for example. So if the exam period ends April 14th, you will know by April 21st whether you’ve passed or failed the exam.

Tobi: Okay. And what happens if you don’t pass?

Faiza: I mean, if you don’t pass, you try again. Like anything, you try again. And so you can take the exam again in the following exam period. So if you’re not successful in October of this year of 2023, you’re taking your exam, you sign up and take it again in April. It’s not uncommon for people not to pass the first time around.

And it’s not an easy exam. So if you haven’t prepared for it, if you haven’t done the work to prepare and to set yourself up for success, you’re not going to pass. And sometimes it’s just that you have test anxiety and so  how to manage it the next time around. Sometimes it’s just that we don’t do multiple choice exams all the time, and so that could throw you off.

And so you try again. We have a lot of people who passed the second time around. And sometimes it’s just that you didn’t prepare. You thought it was going to be easy because you’ve been in the role for many years and so you didn’t prepare and you didn’t, you didn’t think about all the things that you could have done to prepare for the exam.

And I can give you some of those tips and things to prepare as well. And so you have to take it a second time as well. So you just do, just take it a second time. Some people, Tobi, take it three, four. I have somebody taking it right now for the seventh time. They’re just not going to give up.

Tobi: Good for them.

Faiza: Exactly. And this is not unique to our profession. There are people who fail the bar, right? There are people who fail credentialing exams all the time, and you don’t invest only to just give up. You don’t invest in that to just take it the one time. If you don’t pass, take it again. There’s, there’s no shame in that.

Tobi: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Let’s talk about tips for prep preparation, but before we do that, let’s just quickly cover renewal because I know there are some folks who are CVAs existing right now. Yeah. I myself am renewing this year. And I’m trying to figure out if I can get in by the early bird or not, but I will figure it out. But what’s involved? You renew every five years.

Faiza: You renew every five years. And in those five years, you basically have to demonstrate you continued professional development, which I think is the marker of any profession, right? You’re constantly curious, you’re always learning.

You’re looking for opportunities to share and to teach and mentor as well. And so you earn what are called professional development units. Other professions call them continuing education credits or continuing education units. Basically, you undergo either education or mentorship or teaching, maybe authoring, publishing.

There’s so many different ways in which you can earn those units. You have a minimum amount that you have to earn over a five-year period, and then you renew every five years. The current renewal process is that you need to have 35 PDUs and you can gain your PDUs by volunteering. You can gain your PDUs by sitting on a board.

can gain your PDUs through teaching, consulting, attending workshops or conferences, going through online modules. The number of people who have VolunteerPro webinars on their renewal is amazing. You’d be so proud.

Tobi: They should. In our membership, we have certificates of completion for each of our live events. And when we do our freebie webinars, we often will put up a certificate of completion for our freebie events as well. But that’s how our members can totally crack out so many, and they can watch things, they can do on demand as well as live. It doesn’t surprise me, but I’m glad. I’m glad we can help support folks in that way.

Faiza: Yeah. I mean, when you go to do your renewal, you’re basically saying, I commit, I’m investing in my profession. I invested, I got my CVA, and I’m going to continue to invest by upholding and maintaining it by investing back into my learning or into service to my profession as well.

Tobi: Yeah. One of my favorites is volunteering, actually. Because I feel like, if I’m going to teach about volunteerism, I better be volunteering because I learn so much from my volunteer experience, having those two hats on. It’s really interesting to see in ways that I struggle as a volunteer.

Not so much now because I have such a fantastic team that I volunteer with. But it also just keeps me honest and grounded in what it’s all about, which is people helping people. So let’s talk about tips. What are your favorite tips for folks when they’re thinking about taking the exam, because again, it’s not easy gang. It does take study.

Faiza: Yeah. So first thing I would say is come to one of our information sessions. The link to our website and our information sessions are in the show notes. They’re free, and I find the most confident, the most prepared candidates have come to an information session. The second thing that I would say that you should do is we have a self-assessment tool on our website in the resources section, which basically lists the seven competencies and all of the skills and the tasks that relate to each of those competencies, of which there are, I think it’s 66 or 67.

There are a hundred questions on the exam. There are 67 things listed on that self-assessment. Every single exam question is based on one of those. So you should be able to read an exam question and know this exam question is testing me on this specifically. So take that self-assessment A. Because it’s got all that language that the exam is based on, and B. It helps you to determine where you’re weaker in some areas where you’re stronger in some areas. So where you might want to spend more or less time preparing for the exam.

The other thing that I would make sure that you do is spend a lot of time talking to other leaders of volunteers. Understand how a volunteer engagement looks different from where you currently are a leader of volunteers.

I was really lucky when I took my exam, I had volunteered in a cancer charity. I had volunteered in an employment agency, and I had volunteered in a hospital, sorry, I had lead volunteers in all of those places. And so I had really varied experience in all of those different things. But we have people that’ll say, I’ve worked in a hospital for 20 years and I didn’t pass the exam.

The reason is this is not an exam about how well you manage volunteers in a hospital. This is about how well you manage volunteers in a global context. So to develop that global mindset, talk to leaders of volunteers who manage volunteers in an organization that’s wildly different from you in an organization where they wear many hats, right?

And that in a completely different industry, in a completely different context. Talk to them about their process, right? And then think about, I onboard volunteers this way. They onboard volunteers that way. He onboards volunteers a different way. She onboards them a completely different way.

What’s the best practice here? And that’ll really help you. I know for me, Katie gave me that advice when I was studying for my exam, I was freaking out because I paid for my exam. And like a week later I found out I was pregnant and I was like, called Katie and I was like, I don’t know if I can do this right now.

I’m not feeling great, whatever. She was like, you can do it. And she said to me like, the one thing I think you should do is connect with people in an organization that’s not like yours. And when I was taking the exam, a question came up and I remembered like very distinctly thinking, oh, so and so does it like this. I do it like that. What does the body of knowledge and competency say is the best? And neither of us were best practice at that point, but it really did help me in the exam and it really got me out of taking the exam as though I was taking it about my job, which is not what the exam is about.

There are also some great books that you can read. So we have a textbook, you’ll hear people referring to the textbook. It’s called Volunteer Administration Professional Practice. The current edition is the fourth edition. It’s an incredible read in terms of helping you have that global mindset, right?

And helping you think about best practices when it comes to volunteer engagement. And it’s an amazing resource just to have going forward from there.

Tobi: I would say the body of knowledge, the self-assessment, when I read the textbook, I had my three by five cards and I had them color coded by the different competency, the seven competency areas.

And as I read through the book, I highlighted and I took notes. And then I would go through my cards and I would read through them. Because a lot of it’s language too. In your organization, you may use different vocabulary, but you have to go with what the test says in body of knowledge says and so I would go through those and I would say, am I comfortable?

How comfortable I am with this? And then I would set that one aside, and then I I’d continue to skinny down and if I still was uncomfortable, I’d keep that card. And then I’d put away the ones that I’m comfortable and I’d keep that card. Keep that card. And I’d keep reviewing, keep reviewing. The interesting thing is both this body of knowledge as well as some other standards and practices around the world that I’ve reviewed. At VolunteerPro, we have a Success Path. Our Success Path is envision, build, grow, sustain, scale.

And so it’s a process-based Success Path. And we have things we’re teaching and what we call milestones at each success path step. And we teach sort of three different levels within each. And we are encouraging in our fundamentals course, we’re encouraging people to finish, get the milestones done in the first level, beginning level.

And then with our members, we’re trying to help people work through the higher levels. And we’ve been refining this year after year, but when I first started working on it, I took the body of knowledge from CVA. I took other standards and practices from around the world and I pulled them together and I said, okay, based on my own experience and based on what everybody else is saying, how am I going to operationalize this?

In a way that it’s not about with a credential, it’s about understanding and knowing. When you’re doing training programs like we do, it’s about actually enacting and operationalizing. So what’s the end result? What’s the milestone? What’s the deliverable?

So it is that powerful. We’ve based a lot of our curriculum on pulling together these pieces and that’s what makes it a really strong curriculum.

Faiza: And it’s actually one of the places that we know when people come to us and they think, like, I’m looking for a how-to, VolPro is one of the places we’re sending people. If you want to figure out how to do this and how to do it well, and you want tools that are thoughtful and tools that are proven to work like, this is a place to go to get that information and to get that training Absolutely

Tobi: So let me ask you one key. You mentioned it earlier and I want to dig into it just a little bit. And then we’re getting close to time, so we’ll wrap up. But one of the biggest objections, and I hear it myself and I’m sure you hear it is, I don’t have the money. It’s one of those scarcity mindsets. We hear it in VolunteerPro too. I don’t have the money for this course. I don’t have the money for it, and I’m like, well, you can have that mindset that there’s a scarcity in the world. Or you can have an abundance mindset that says, if I don’t have the money now, I’m going to figure out a way to get it.

So what are tips you have for folks to think about the exam fee? One of the things you said was, look, you’re investing in yourself. You really shouldn’t expect other people to pay for it. But there is some advocacy you could do maybe a little.

Faiza: I mean, hey, if your organization has a professional development budget and they’re willing to support you in taking your CVA exam, 100% take that, take them up on that offer. Absolutely. 100%. The reality is the credential doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to you.

And so when you want to go and look for another role, and you want to increase your family’s wealth and your ability to make money, that credential is helpful. And this is why I say to people, once you have the credential, it doesn’t stop there.

You then need to be able to talk about it at a job interview. You then need to be able to tell people why having the credential and having a person who has the credential is going to be a good hire for them as well. You have to and it’s just true, Tobi, you have to spend money to make money, and so why not spend it on yourself?

We’re asking you to spend, I think it comes down to like a dollar and 10 cents a day investment in yourself, which is more than you spend on a coffee a day. I actually had this conversation with one of our volunteers the other day. Somebody just said to me like, they can’t afford it.

They wanted to see if we had a scholarship, but then I saw them post on social media that they just bought this $300 pair of shoes and this $200 bag. And I was like, you don’t have the money. It’s not that you don’t have the money. Do you think you’re worth it? If you don’t think you’re worth it, why would your employer think you’re worth it?

Tobi: I mean, and it’s great to negotiate a higher salary, you could negotiate it as part of a hiring package. We get that with the membership and courses as well. And I let people know, do you know how to communicate what your organization’s going to gain from your knowledge?

Faiza: Absolutely. And do some research about your organization. Does your organization cover credentialing expenses, renewal expenses for other professionals in the organization? If so, then let them know that you have one too and that you want to pursue that. If they don’t, then absolutely there’s a chance for you to advocate for what you do.

As we’ve said, so valuable in terms of the impact and outcomes for the community that you’re with. If you want a seat at the table, you can’t expect someone to bring you the chair as well. Bring the chair with, pull up.

Tobi: Shirley Chisholm used to say, nobody gives you a seat at the table. Pull up a folding chair.

Faiza: Yes. But don’t say, I want a seat at the table and I want you to give me the chair too. Bring it. Bring that credential with you.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Faiza this has been fantastic, a great conversation on such a variety of topics, not only the CVA credential.

I can’t wait to see the results of the ADEVI study. We’ll have you back and we can talk about that once the results come out. And gang, I think there’s implications, there’s going to be a tipping point, it’s sort of like the CFRE when people, fundraising professionals, it’s the norm to have that CFRE.

There’s going to be a point where there’s a tipping point where it’s going to be the norm to have your CVA. And nonprofits will start to understand that that is the hallmark of excellence. I know it’s not a how to, but I can tell you that when I took the CVA, I uncovered some really interesting blind spots where I was like, oh that’s good. I’m going to start using that.

I love when you talk about being curious as a professional. If you’re not interested in growing as a professional, I don’t know if you’re in the right spot, really.

Faiza: You must be, if you made it to this part of the podcast, let me say, you must be.

Tobi: That’s for sure. So there are implications throughout, especially the quality of experience that our volunteers get. We can’t forget that. But it’s been great. It’s been fantastic to catch up with you and hear a little bit more and share our passion for the CVA credential.

Let me ask you one more question before we wrap up. What are you most excited about in the year ahead?

Faiza: In the year ahead, I’m most excited about, I got to say it’s the younger CVAs. It’s the younger CVAs who have grown up in a world that is more global. I don’t want to say tolerant, I don’t think that’s the right word.

More accepting in a world where the possibilities are endless and they’ve seen that. And they are, they’re approaching things. Sometimes I think the older you get, you answer that question, what would I do if I knew I wouldn’t fail? You’ve got a million answers to that.

And then there’s some of us who can’t even dream that because we’ve failed too many times already. There’s this energy that a lot of younger CVAs are bringing to our community that’s really exciting for me. At the same time, there’s a lot of people that are retiring and that is a bit of a loss for our community.

I’m also really energized by a lot of those people who are very intentionally mentoring and thinking about leaving our community better than when they found it. Those two things coming together at the same time, it’s what’s exciting for me. We’ve got amazing people in our profession and I have a ton of confidence in what I think they’re going to be able to do.

Tobi: Fantastic. Fantastic. All right. How can people learn more about the research, the work we’ve talked about it a little bit. We’ll put stuff in the show notes. Is there a place people should go? Where should people go to learn more about the CVA,  to ask questions, to get in touch with you?

Faiza: Go to our website. All things CVA are on our website, cvacert.org. And my LinkedIn profile is also in the show notes and I’m always looking to meet you people. As I said, I’m curious, bad at math, but curious. So hit me up on LinkedIn.

Tobi: Faiza, it’s been great to have you. I can’t wait sometime soon, we’re going to see each other in person. I can just feel it. So I’m looking forward to that.

Faiza: Thanks Tobi.

Tobi: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation Podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, rate and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause. For more tips and notes from the show, check us out Tobijohnson.com.

We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.