In a busy world it might be the last thing on a person’s mind, but volunteering is a vital part of any community.
“In Victoria we have almost 3,000 volunteer-based societies,” says Volunteer Victoria executive director Lisa Mont-Putland. Those groups focus on sports, the environment, faith, arts, business and everything in between, a market that allows Volunteer Victoria to connect 16,000 people per year with volunteer opportunities.
But times are changing for volunteers; according to a 2013 survey by Statistics Canada, 44 per cent of Canadians spend some time volunteering – a three-per-cent drop from 2010.
Mont-Putland said the largest contributor to this decrease is demographics, citing seniors as the people who put in the most hours, but who are starting to age, and parents who are starting families later in life.
She says this shift in populations is changing the way people are volunteering.
“People aren’t making long-term commitments like they did 30 years ago,” she says. “But they are volunteering in spaces that make sense to them because they’re so busy.”
This means volunteers are looking for leadership roles within their own life, such as on parent advisory boards, strata councils, or work within their schools.
Volunteer Victoria helps nearly 4,000 people per year face-to-face, but the majority of their volunteer connections happen online, a phenomenon that’s also changing the way people volunteer, Mont-Putland says.
“People can find things more easily and there is low barrier to engagement,” she adds, noting that with online opportunities there’s not pressure from interviews or commitments.
She gives as an example people signing up online for a beach clean up, then not feeling discouraged if they are later unable to go.
Regardless of how it happens, volunteering still holds its value.
“Time and time again volunteers talk about what it’s like to be involved in something meaningful, where they know that they’re making a difference,” Mont-Putland says.
After asking more than 140 senior volunteers what they liked most about their experiences, they loved the emotional exchange for their work, the social aspect of volunteering and the ability to learn something new and be creative.
Mont-Putland says volunteering also presents people with a unique opportunity to really be recognized for what they do.
“No one ever at my house says, ‘wow, you did the laundry, thank you!” she says with a laugh.
National Volunteer Week may be wrapping up, but she reminds everyone that volunteering happens year round.
“Some people volunteer, some are served by volunteers and some work alongside them. It’s a pillar in everyone’s life, so we’re just celebrating everything this week. It’s joyous, joyous work.”