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Volunteering – A Canadian Way Of Life

Volunteering is a big part of Canadian life. Many Canadians are generous when it comes to helping others. Every year, 12.5 million volunteers give their time, energy and skills to make our communities better.

According to Volunteer Canada, much of what Canadians take for granted is delivered to us by volunteers. The work of volunteers is essential to our communities and to our social fabric.

Canada’s Volunteer Crunch

Over twelve million volunteers in Canada is a lot, but a small percentage of Canadians are carrying most of the load, and most of them are already in their seventies. As they step down and become fewer in number, a whole new generation of volunteers needs to fill their places -in new and varied ways.

First Time Volunteer? What To Expect

The best part about volunteering is that you will have a chance to contribute to something you care deeply about. You will have an opportunity to use your skills in a meaningful way and meet new people who share your interests.

You have rights and responsibilities

Know the Code
The Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement is a good place to learn about your role and the standards that non-profit organizations strive to uphold.

As a volunteer, you have the right to expect orientation and training, to give and to receive feedback, and to receive assignments that reflect the mission or purpose of the organization.

All I want to do is help, why do I have to be screened?
All organizations that provide programs to vulnerable people – like children, seniors or people with disabilities – whether run by staff or volunteers, have a responsibility to appropriately screen their volunteers.

Five Tips To Get You Started

  1. At Volunteer Canada, you will find a wealth of information, including links to the national network of Volunteer Centres. These Volunteer Centres can help you find opportunities close to home or far away.
  2. Start with a cause that matters to you
  3. Search online for websites and information related to your cause or issue.
    For social causes, you can also try online directories. For example, the 211 system offers both a phone and online directory of community services. 211 service is available in many parts of Canada, and the list is growing. United Way organizations fund local community services in many parts of Canada. Most of these organizations are looking for volunteers and you can really make a difference.
  4. Attend a benefit, festival or event that links to your passion.
    You’ll meet other people who share interests and passions and this may lead to even more opportunities.
  5. Search for specific opportunities online
    There are many online resources available that link to real-time volunteer openings. Two examples are the Charity Village online search or the Workopolis Readiness Quiz which help you to match your interests with volunteer opportunities right across Canada.
  6. Spread the word!
    Use your own networks to find out about volunteer activities. Tell friends and family what you are looking for and mention your skills and interests.

Recruiting Baby Boomers As Volunteers

Baby boomers are busy people. There is lots of competition for their attention and their time, so you’ll need strategic and targeted recruitment efforts.

The four C’s of recruitment

  1. Connect to boomers
    Reach and connect to baby boomers through key influencers, like their peers. If you have baby boomer volunteers already involved in your organization, they are your very best recruitment ambassadors. Research shows that word of mouth promotion is one of the best ways to recruit volunteers. Encourage your current baby boomer volunteers to spread the word and encourage others to get involved.Baby boomers are highly influenced by expert opinion. Use evidence-based research findings or testimonials from experts or high profile members of the community.

    Many of Canada’s baby boomers are in the workforce – either full-time or part-time – so workplaces are important places to connect with them. Target workplaces that match the volunteer needs of your organization. Explain how employees’ particular qualifications would help further your cause. If there are baby boomers nearing retirement connect with them and give a personal invitation to find out more about volunteering with your organization. One way to do this is to get on the agenda of retirement planning seminars or “lunch and learn” events offered through HR departments.

    You can also connect with baby boomer volunteers out in the community. Consider organizing activities and services that families can do together and offer opportunities for intergenerational volunteering. For example, many families are looking for opportunities to give of their time during the holiday season. Look for opportunities to speak about your organization at places where baby boomers gather – like running clubs, yoga studios, lectures, arts or sports events. Have your best and brightest ambassadors there to talk to about volunteering. And don’t forget your own clients! Users of your services will very often come back to volunteer. You just need to ask.

    Finally, connect with potential baby boomer volunteers online. More and more baby boomers are looking for information of every kind online. An easy way to promote your volunteer opportunities is to make sure that they can “Google” you to find the information they need. There are also several options for posting your recruitment message online through your local volunteer centre’s website, or Workopolis. When they click the link and go to your website, make sure that your website is current and welcoming. Since many baby boomers are also using social networking sites, consider connecting with them there. To find out more about new media tools like blogs, wikis, social networks and podcasts, click here.

  2. Create key messages
    When you have a sense of where to connect with potential baby boomer volunteers, you’ll need to create key messages that build on what we know about baby boomers and what motivates them.

    Motivations for baby boomers General recruitment messages
    Commitment to a cause-and making a difference Volunteering builds your community.Link the volunteer position directly to the mission of the organization
    Personal development (mental and spiritual) Find new purpose.
    Concern for health and well being Boost your health and reduce your stress.
    Meet other people who share interests and passions Volunteering is social networking–and fun.
  3. Customize for different baby boomer audiences
    Baby boomers are a huge group with wide ranging ages, interests and backgrounds so you will need to segment your audience and recruit accordingly. For example, baby boomers who were born in South Asia may not relate to boomer pop references from North America. Similarly, baby boomers who were born in the 1960s have different priorities than older boomers.
  4. Communicate widely with high quality materials
    Baby boomers respond to professional high quality packaging so keep that in mind when you create and assemble your recruitment materials (like annual reports, mission statements, position descriptions, goals and program descriptions, etc.) Make sure that your online and print communication materials have the same high quality standards. Use your local media to publicize your cause or your service at every opportunity and appeal to experienced seasoned members of the community directly. Research shows that of the top volunteers in Canada 20% responded to information in the media.

Why Volunteer?

Benefits to the Community – and You

  • Volunteering builds your community
    Volunteering encourages interaction between people living in a community and strengthens community connections.

When you volunteer, you are actually improving the life of your own community, and creating social capital at the same time. Social capital is a kind of currency for healthy living and grows when people in the community are involved in civic activities and earn the trust and cooperation of others. The more social capital there is, the healthier and more vibrant your community.

  • Boost your own health
    Feeling connected to community can also play a key role in how healthy you feel. According to researchers from Harvard University, volunteering is a reflection of social connectedness, which is strongly associated with the health of the people in that community.

Results from the Canadian Community Health Survey, which takes a close look at how connected Canadians feel from coast to coast, show that two-thirds (64%) have a strong sense of community belonging. Of this group, two-thirds also feel that their health is excellent or very good.

  • Reduce your stress
    According to Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson, known for his work on the relaxation response (the body’s ability to shift into a deep state of rest), the health benefits of doing good things for others are similar to those experienced by anyone who practices yoga, spirituality and meditation, namely a slowing down of heart rate and a decrease in blood pressure.The key may lie in the sense of calmness that comes from helping others, also known as the helper’s high. These altruistic feelings reinforce the sense that one’s life has a purpose. In turn, this enhances self-esteem, which then provides the motivation for a person to make better lifestyle choices.
  • Find new purpose
    As we grow older, volunteering appears to give new meaning to life, reducing anxiety and depression and increasing life satisfaction.Indeed, a University of Michigan Study of 423 older couples found that people who make a contribution to the lives of others may help to extend their own lives.

Benefits beyond your health

  • In 2000, the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating found that people were able to describe the benefits they gained from volunteering:
    • 79% of volunteers said that their volunteer activities helped them with their interpersonal skills, such as understanding people better, motivating others and dealing with difficult situations;
    • 68% of volunteers said that volunteering helped them develop better communication skills;
    • 63% reported increased knowledge about issues related to their volunteering.

Adapt Your Volunteer Program

There are nearly 12.5 million volunteers in Canada. While that number may seem quite high, a small percentage of Canadians are carrying most of the load…and many of them are already in their seventies. As they step down and retire from their volunteer careers an enormous gap in volunteer contribution will occur, and a whole new generation of volunteers will be needed to fill their places – in new and varied ways.

Enter the baby boomers. There are 11 million Canadians in their forties, fifties or sixties and at a point in their lives where many seek new ways to connect to others and contribute to their communities.

You may be a baby boomer yourself. If so, you bring that valuable perspective to your work. Or, you may be younger and need to learn more about this large and influential demographic so that the work you do with baby boomer volunteers will be a good experience for them and will be effective for your organization.

Your organization’s ability to meet its mission might just depend on whether or not you can attract – and keep – baby boomers as volunteers. Voluntary organizations will need to be open to rethinking and restructuring the way they do business. Strategic volunteer management in the competitive new millennium means making changes in all aspects of your organization and requires the participation of everyone – from front line staff to the CEO – and even buy-in from your Board of Directors.

This introductory workbook is for the people who manage and work with volunteers in Canada’s 161,000 non-profit community organizations, charities, service clubs, foundations and aid agencies. You’ll find strategies and information about restructuring and rethinking your approach to volunteers in order to successfully recruit and retain this potential group of key volunteers. In addition, you’ll find a selection of exercises to help you reflect on how your organization can tap into the energy and expertise of baby boomer volunteers.

Consider the facts:

  • Voluntary organizations are more or less dependent on volunteers to get their work done.
  • Canadian volunteers contributed over two billion volunteer hours to organizations in 2007 – the equivalent of one million full-time jobs.
  • Every year, over 12.5 million volunteers give their time, energy and skills to make our communities better.
  • There is a soft decline of 1-2% per year in volunteering in Canada. A small percentage of Canadians are carrying most of the load, and many of them are already in their seventies.
  • As older volunteers step down and become fewer in number, a whole new generation of volunteers needs to fill their places – in new and varied ways.
  • In 2008, a baby boomer turned 50 every seven seconds.
  • Three out of ten baby boomers who volunteer do not return for a second year. 20% of these lost volunteers are never replaced.

Rethink And Restructure How You Work

Job design is the key to success

When baby boomers volunteer, they want mission-linked, productive, satisfying work that allows them to use their skills and experience. They want short-term work, flexible schedules at convenient locations, including opportunities to volunteer online. To effectively engage baby boomers as volunteers, your organization must think about volunteer roles and responsibilities differently and adapt to meet their needs while meeting the needs of your organization.

Job design, a theory used widely in the for-profit sector, is also an effective approach for non-profit organizations. It involves all the creative human resource strategies including job-sharing, flex time, telecommuting, job rotation and part-time work – all options that will appeal to baby boomers.

A resource by Volunteer Canada, called A Matter of Design–Job Design Theory and Application to the Voluntary Sector, explains that job design refers to the way tasks are combined to form complete jobs.

When you apply this kind of approach, you design jobs and positions that are meaningful to your organization and challenging to your baby boomer volunteers while making good use of their skills. The Community Action Programs of Halifax has developed an online tool to help organizations focus on job design including strategic questions to help you through the process.

Integrate volunteer roles into your total human resource strategy

Job design is part of an integrated human resource strategy – a planned approach to identifying the work functions (both paid and unpaid) that your organization needs to achieve its mission. Volunteer Calgary piloted a project to recruit and involve high-skilled or professionally skilled individuals in voluntary organizations with the goal to provide meaning to the volunteers and capacity for the organizations. The project identified five important lessons learned:

  1. Essential Strategic Leadership – The Executive Director must champion a culture and structure that supports the full integration of high skills volunteers.
  2. Role and Place of the Manager of Volunteers – Organizations need a staff Manager of Volunteers who is a member of the management team.
  3. Professionally Managed Volunteer Programs require an alignment of systems, policies and processes for paid and unpaid staff.
  4. Valuing Volunteers – Volunteers and staff need to understand the “value” that volunteers contribute to the organization to overcome the outdated perceptions of “I am/you are just a volunteer.”
  5. Readiness for an integrated human resource strategy approach – To succeed, this approach needs to be integrated with the organization’s strategic plan.

Design A Schedule That Works

Short term (episodic) or a regular commitment?
Volunteering doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Between work, children, aging parents, homes, hobbies, friends, appointments, and other commitments, you may not think you have much time left over. But your involvement can be as much-or as little time as you have.

You can volunteer sporadically, to help out at a special event, or on an on-going basis, for one day a week or a few days a year.

If you go away on holidays, your volunteer work can be put on hold or shared with another volunteer.

Front line help or behind-the-scenes support?
You can join your local community clean-up or lead the development the funding proposal.

Volunteering from home or out in the community?
Virtual volunteering can be done from home through Internet sites that link volunteers with recipients. You could connect to kids who need homework help or people who need a life coach.

Whatever you choose, be realistic about your commitment
Organizations can accommodate your interests and your time frame, no matter how little or how much you can do– but they do need you to show up when you say you will. The people they serve count on you.

Why Do Baby Boomers Volunteer?

Research indicates four main reasons why baby boomers volunteer. They want to:

  1. Support a cause that they believe in.
  2. Make a contribution to society.
  3. Share their skills.
  4. Do something meaningful with their friends and colleagues.

More importantly, baby boomers want to volunteer on their own terms. Consider some of the challenges that baby boomers face:

They don’t have enough time.

  • Theirs is known as a sandwich generation – caring for children and aging parents simultaneously leaves less free time.

They don’t have time during traditional work hours.

  • Many baby boomers work full-time and many work past the traditional retirement age of 65. Unless their employers have a corporate volunteering program, these volunteers can’t always be available when you need them.

They don’t identify with traditional images of volunteers.

  • The clichéd image of a kindly white-haired volunteer clashes with the way baby boomers see themselves – more youthful and dynamic than their parents.

They don’t want to do routine or menial volunteer tasks.

  • With less free time, many of today’s volunteers expect challenging and meaningful work that reflects their skills and experience.

Who Are Canada’s Baby Boomers?

Canada’s baby boomers are members of a diverse group born between 1946 and 1964. Some still cope with teenagers at home, others pay university tuition fees, some care for aging parents while still others enjoy their grandchildren. Some baby boomers work full-time, some part-time, while others contemplate retirement or are already retired. Their interests and aspirations are as diverse as they are. They are always looking for new experiences, challenges and how to make a difference. Baby boomers want to stay active in mind and body, make connections and continue to learn.

Because of their sheer numbers, baby boomers influence and redefine every stage of their lives. Volunteering will be no different.