Very much like the global environmental situation we are facing, we [in the voluntary sector] need drastic, immediate change to survive. The trends are ominous, with fewer people doing more work—at a time when we require all hands on deck. But, like the environment, there is hope and there are solutions. We need individual awareness, personal action, along with political and corporate support and commitment.
We know that more people than ever are engaged in their community, whether it be helping a neighbour or creating an online petition. People are involved. However, the traditional volunteer structures that rely on incredibly involved volunteers are struggling. Whether it is a lack of people willing to serve on boards or a shortage of people willing to make sandwiches for a soup kitchen every week, we have a problem.
Not-for-profit organizations are, in my view, struggling to create enough meaningful positions that truly challenge and address the needs of today’s volunteers. They are having a hard time going to where the volunteer is.
One of the main barriers to volunteering is the organizations themselves and their ability to manage volunteers. This must be addressed at the senior volunteer and staff level of an organization. Top-level buy-in is critical to ensuring that the value volunteers bring to the mission is recognized. Volunteer engagement and satisfaction must be a key metric alongside funds raised and services delivered.
We must recognize volunteering for what it is—something that is critical to our communities and vital to our health and well-being. To ensure that this happens, we must also seek funding to develop and deliver campaigns that build awareness and raise the profile of volunteerism. We have to be able to identify volunteering with what it means to be an active citizen and, through that, be inspired to become engaged.
Notwithstanding the importance of people engagement practices, increasing vigilance is required to ensure that we do not destroy the magic of volunteering by creating unnecessary systems and bureaucracy that can end up stifling the process of engaging people in the motion of an organization. The term volunteering must be recognized and safeguarded. And, its meaning must evolve in order to resonate with today’s passionate citizens.
So what can you do to make an impact?
- Ensure your organization has an over-arching mandate to create and maintain a fully integrated human resources program that provides meaningful, mission based opportunities.
- Encourage your constituents to tell their political leaders that volunteering is vital and must be resourced and supported by all levels of government.
- Encourage corporations you deal with to do more than paint a nursery once a year.
- Tell your story as to why you volunteer.
- Thank your fellow volunteers when you meet them halfway through the marathon, at church, the airport, or when they turn in their research project.
- Look at yourself and your own volunteer activity and ensure you don’t burn out—we need you now, and into the future.
About Barney Ellis-Perry
Barney Ellis-Perry contributes his expertise to Volunteer Vancouver as a strategic advisor. He served as Board Chair from 2000 to 2003, and he is also past Chair of Volunteer Canada. A certified fundraising executive with over 15 years of development experience, Barney is the Director of Professional Affairs, UBC (Univeristy of British Columbia) Alumni Association.