Live Well, Do Good

Why Not Volunteer an Hour of Your Time?

Brandon Sun, January 7, 2007 - David McConkey

Volunteering is important to the vitality and sustainability of many community efforts: from hospitals and other large institutions to the smallest programs.

Overall, in Canada, some 160,000 non-profit organizations need volunteers. More than one-half of them are totally staffed by volunteers. Furthermore, the need is growing: 1,500 new organizations are formed every year.

Volunteering is even important economically. For example, think of the positive business impact of the Special Olympics in Brandon last year. In fact, the non-profit sector is an $80 billion chunk of the Canadian economy, and it is growing more quickly than other sectors.

Almost one-half (45%) of the Canadian population aged 15 and older does some volunteer work. That figure is from a major study conducted recently by Statistics Canada. Time volunteered adds up to almost two billion hours, which is equivalent to one million full-time jobs.

The four top areas for volunteering are: sports / recreation, social services, education / research, and religion.

Volunteering rates are highest among youth aged 15 to 19 (65%), and lowest among seniors over 65 (32%). The average number of hours volunteered, however, generally rises with age: from 139 hours per year for youth to 245 hours for seniors.

The likelihood of volunteering rises as income goes up, but the number of hours decreases. Another statistic: the rate of volunteering and the number of hours volunteered goes up with the level of education.

 There are interesting variations across Canada. On average, 45% of Canadians volunteer. The range is from a high of 54% in Saskatchewan to a low of 34% in Quebec. (Manitoba? 50%.)

Volunteers in Canada contribute an average of 168 hours yearly, ranging from a high of 199 hours in British Columbia to a low of 146 in Quebec. (Manitoba? 155 hours.)

What do volunteers do? Everything from canvassing to fire fighting. These were the most common areas: organizing activities / events, fundraising, serving on a committee / board, teaching / mentoring, counselling / giving advice, collecting / serving food or other goods, and doing office-type work.

Why do they volunteer? The most common reason (cited by almost everyone) was to make a contribution to the community. The other most frequently given reasons were: use one’s skills and experiences, personally affected by the cause of the organization, explore one’s strengths, network / meet others, and because friends also volunteered.

I can personally testify to the importance of “networking / meeting others” while doing volunteer work. I met my future wife while volunteering as a teenager almost 40 years ago. I’ve even heard of one organization that really capitalizes on this interest: it accepts only volunteers who are single!

Improving job opportunities is given as a reason to volunteer by relatively few volunteers in general (22%). This reason, however, is given by 65% of teenage volunteers.

Organizations not only want a greater quantity of volunteers, but also to enhance the quality of the volunteer experience.

Nationally, Volunteer Canada has developed a Code for Volunteer Involvement that sets standards for organizations and volunteers.

Locally, the Westman Association of Volunteer Administrators (WAVA) provides a support and learning network for those working in the voluntary field.

The Internet is also changing volunteerism. Statistics Canada found that 8% of volunteers use the Internet to find volunteer opportunities. Furthermore, 20% use the Internet in some way during their volunteer activities.

As people spend more time on the Internet, more of their volunteer time also will be spent online. In fact whole new models of volunteering are developing.

Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia, is a case in point. It has well over one million entries in English  – 20 times as many as Encyclopedia Britannica. As well, it has millions of other entries in 250 other languages.

Wikipedia is created entirely by volunteers: thousands of them all over the world.

* * * 

See also:

New Book Inspires Readers to Compassion, Social Justice 

A Year of Living Generously

Donating is a Great Way to Feel Connected to Your Community

Charitable Donations:  Top Ten Canadian Tax Tips

Citizen Active

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