Canadians Are Too Busy to Volunteer...

People Processes: Clarity & Consistency
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Jun 18, 2015 | Blog

We think not! 

I was invited to speak on CBC’s BC Almanac today in response to the state of volunteering in Canada. I thought I would share some of the concepts that we gathered in preparing for the interview. Tell me what you think!

Statistics Canada releases new study on volunteerism

The headline some will take away from the study is that 66% of Canadians cite lack of time as a reason for not volunteering. But this statistic misses the bigger picture. Looking at the numbers another way, there’s a different story: The proportion of Canadians who volunteer has held steady at 44%. So, accounting for population growth, Canada has 1,000,000 more volunteers today than in 2004. 

There’s no denying that time is a factor for volunteers. But, in many cases, what’s really at play is a mismatch of the type of volunteering opportunity available and how people prefer to contribute. Are people as interested in ongoing, hands-based commitment to organizations? No. The old paradigm where volunteering was about giving your time to an organization is dying. Now, we see people are far more interested in contributing skills towards a specific cause. If organizations can make that connection, people will find the time.

Just look at Timeraiser. Over the last few years, it’s blossomed into a Canada-wide movement where volunteers use an auction model to pledge their volunteer time towards a specific organization. In return, they receive a unique piece of art from local artists. It’s just one of many ways how volunteers interact with organizations is changing. The organization itself leverages technology to coordinate their provincial events. Volunteers are engaged remotely and on a schedule that works for them.

A shift towards Knowledge Philanthropy

Another related trend highlighted in the study confirms our experience at Vantage Point: people are less interested in transactional volunteering than in the past. 

Here at Vantage Point, we’ve seen a change in volunteer engagement over the last eight years and we are very passionate about working with volunteers differently. In 2008, we shifted our whole model towards what we now call knowledge philanthropy – it’s based on a spirit of abundance. The idea that people are the not-for-profit sector’s most valuable resource and they want to contribute in impactful ways. Our knowledge philanthropists are volunteers dedicated to giving specific skills and knowledge in a finite amount of time, to meaningful, change-making projects. 

So, without question, Vantage Point is excited by the good news in this report. 

But there’s opportunity to change the data we collect to better tell the story of how volunteering is evolving. Statistics we would love to see in the next Statistics Canada report would focus on: 

  • Tracking the linkage between volunteers and their impact on organizations’ ability to deliver on their missions and benefit their communities. At Vantage Point, we started asking ourselves how much more mission are able to deliver because of volunteer involvement? Last year, we delivered 215% more programming thanks to our awesome volunteers.  
  • Individual engagements rather than hours. For example, we have facilitators that volunteer for 3 hours at a time but might do that 4 times per year. They’re impact is exponential – they’re in front of dozens of leaders from multiple organizations who take their learning experience back to their organizations and communities. But this study doesn’t capture that cascading impact. 
  • Information about other ways people engage with causes. Young people are more engaged than ever, both in their volunteering and their professional lives. Canadians under 40 are perhaps the most socially conscious generation we’ve seen since the 1960’s. Volunteering rates are highest here. 

Why do people volunteer?

Two main reasons. The first is the community benefit: Volunteers see an opportunity to improve their communities and have a positive impact in their immediate world. That’s incredibly powerful. The second are a set of personal benefits – here, I mean the opportunity to develop skills, have a sense of connection to the cause, the sense of giving back (similar to philanthropy), connect to community and to others/sense of belonging. For all these reasons, it’s no wonder that volunteering is correlated to better social and physical health outcomes.  

If you’re interested, contact your local volunteer centre. Govolunteer.ca is an excellent resource for find skilled volunteer roles. We checked this morning and there are 1300 opportunities ranging from board members to graphic designers to tai chi instructors

Vantage Point Arrow


Carol Neuman

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