A reflection from Colin

National Volunteer Week (April 14-20) is an important time to celebrate the contributions of volunteers in our province and reflect on their near immeasurable value.

This year’s theme, Every Moment Matters, is a simple and profound acknowledgement of the impact volunteers make in our communities. Every moment spent volunteering benefits our society, and those moments add up.

Measuring those Moments

According to the 2018 Statistics Canada Giving, Volunteering and Participating Survey, our province has a 46% rate of volunteerism. This translates to an estimated 210,455 volunteers who freely give their time for our fire departments, boards of directors, food banks, youth camps, environmental groups, and the list goes on.

We rely heavily on volunteers to sustain our community organizations. Our volunteers contribute an average of 161 hours per year – the highest in the country. Across our province, volunteers give a collective 33 million hours towards social and economic well-being.

What would happen if all our volunteers disappeared? Simply, we would need to hire over 16,000 people full-time just to cover the current need. Even at minimum wage, this translates to an unpaid workforce providing over $510 million of value.

While we wait for the results of the 2023 survey, we already know the moments we sometimes take for granted are in jeopardy in a post-pandemic world.

State of Post-Pandemic Volunteerism

Speaking with hundreds through the CSCNL Community Conversations, we are hearing it is becoming more difficult to attract and retain volunteers despite being one of the most giving provinces.

In a 2022 Statistics Canada report of non-profits, 67% of organizations nationally report post-pandemic shortages of volunteers and those same organizations are reporting a 32% increase in demand for their services. Volunteers are needed to fill critical roles and increasing demands.

National trends suggest we may see a decrease in volunteerism in our province. Canada Helps, in their 2023 Giving Report, note 55% of charities have fewer volunteers than before the pandemic and 42% are highly concerned about attracting volunteers and volunteer burnout. Between recruitment challenges, increased demand and burnout, we need to tackle these challenges head-on.

Rejuvenating the Voluntary Workforce

With complex, competing social and economic pressures, there is no singular solution. Instead, reversing these trends will require adopting or changing our volunteer strategies.

Attracting Youth

We know youth aged 15-24 are a captive audience who have the highest rate (63%) of volunteering and a requirement for 30 hours of community service in high school. We also know youth volunteer engagement needs to look different. Youth will gravitate to more flexible, time-limited volunteer engagements which work around their schedules. This includes changing volunteer roles to be less time-intensive and potentially virtual where possible.

Growing Employees

Volunteering is a privilege. It means you have the time, energy and means to contribute to something beyond your current obligations, such as work. If you are an employer, consider community service opportunities for staff as a way to support your local organizations while also benefiting from the inherent team and culture building.

Intergenerational Volunteering

Seniors age 55-74 contribute some of the highest average hours among all ages. For your dedicated, long-term volunteers, consider introducing a mentorship model where they are matched with a young or new volunteer to support, train and grow while benefiting from additional help.

Speak to Passion

Studies show volunteers are more likely to be retained if they are passionate about the cause. When recruiting, consider talking about why do this work first before what the role will entail. Focus on attracting passionate people and then understand what skills they bring to the table.

Diversify Recruitment

With over 5,000 immigrants arriving in the province in 2023 alone, consider what (if any) barriers may exist for fostering diversity among your volunteer base. Immigrants bring unique cultures, new perspectives and, in some respects, have already made the decision to choose this province.

Celebrate Them

Finally, the highest impact and lowest cost thing we can all do is simply say “Thank you.” Volunteers are generally altruistic by nature and acknowledgement of their contributions is the easiest way to let them know these moments matter – because they matter.

A Simple Call to Action

As we continue to navigate the new normal for volunteerism, I ask for you to consider the immense contributions volunteers make to society and pick just one volunteer. Thank that volunteer. Your one moment of thanks will acknowledge the many moments that volunteer has and, hopefully, will continue to contribute to our province. If you are reading this as a volunteer: thank you.

Colin Corcoran is a life-long volunteer, social innovator and CEO of Community Sector Council NL.

Our Partners