Volunteering is alive and well in Canada and there are more ways to give back than ever before.
In the most recent report on volunteering in Canada, 12 million Canadians said they volunteered in 2004, or roughly 45 per cent of the population at that time. That number is substantially higher than in 2000, when only 27 per cent of Canadians said they volunteered.
Volunteers across Canada gave two billion work-hours of their time in 2004, the equivalent of one million full-time jobs, with an average contribution of 168 hours each, compared to 1.05 billion work-hours volunteered at an average of 162 hours each in 2000.
Shirley Weir, communications director for Volunteer Vancouver, says the stats show that volunteers abound in Canada.
“Many stories we read give us the impression that there aren’t enough volunteers, but there are plenty of people who are passionate about causes and want to give back their career skills and expertise to their community,” Weir said.
She says the volunteering world is on the verge of a major paradigm shift that is seeing less focus on using volunteers for menial tasks in an organization and more acceptance of “knowledge philanthropy” — where skilled people donate not only their presence, but their advanced talents as well. While traditional volunteer roles are still needed — stuffing envelopes, canvassing door-to-door, helping with inventory handling — “new volunteers” might be more inclined to create a website for the cause, do an organization’s taxes, provide advanced productivity consulting or help craft a budget.
Karen Franco, communications director for Volunteer Calgary, says 71 per cent of Calgarians surveyed in 2005 said they volunteer and an increasing number are offering their knowledge skills to help make a difference.
“There’s a trend towards rethinking what volunteering is. If you’re an IT or communications expert or a human resources specialist, there is definitely a role for you,” Franco said.
Deborah Gardner, executive director of Volunteer Toronto, says at least 500,000 Torontonians volunteered their time last year and the need for knowledge philanthropy was a large part of that number.
“In Toronto we have a deep and rich diversity of skills and, consequently, a great need for them,” Gardner said.
Across Canada, volunteers are discovering the satisfaction that comes with making a positive impact in their communities.
“Volunteering comes down to the individual feeling of being connected and giving back to your community. It gives you a strong sense of making a contribution,” Gardner said.
Think deep. The most common reason people give for volunteering is believing in a cause; find something you care about.
Aim for change. If you want to make the world a better place, decide on what needs to change.
Use your brain. Make a list of what skills you have to offer, such as your talent for organization. That way, you’ll know how to make the biggest impact.
Walk both ways. Think about what skills you’d like to practise and develop yourself. Volunteering can be a great opportunity to do something you wouldn’t have a chance to do otherwise, like writing.
Ask first. Talk to your chosen organization about their philosophy, goals and, most importantly, what roles they have available for you.