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Growing volunteer gap impedes ‘smart and caring nation’ Add to ...

Canadians like to volunteer – in fact, the country has the second largest volunteer sector in the world after the Netherlands.

But there’s a small problem. Many volunteers don’t like what they’re doing when they’re donating their time, according to a new study.

Organizations, companies and other groups that use volunteers need to know this otherwise Canadians will just quit volunteering, warns Volunteer Canada president Ruth MacKenzie, whose organization released the study Wednesday.

“The trends that we have been seeing for a long time are more pronounced and we have evidence in this research about that widening gap between what volunteers are looking for in volunteer opportunities and the volunteer opportunities are able to provide,” Ms. MacKenzie said in an interview.

Half of all Canadians volunteer in one form or another. But what’s concerning is “volunteers saying that they aren’t getting the experience that they want out of volunteering and ultimately that could lead to them being disengaged,” she said.

The study, she added, is “solid evidence that there is a reciprocal nature to volunteering, that people come to volunteering and organizations because they care deeply ... but they also want to get something back.”

Ms. MacKenzie added that “volunteers want to learn something new, to do something that fits into their lifestyle and build new relationships. And organizations need to make sure that the opportunities that they are providing are meeting those needs that volunteers bring.”

The study was released in conjunction with a panel discussion that included Governor-General David Johnston on Wednesday called the “Changing Landscape of Volunteering in Canada.”

Mr. Johnston cited volunteerism in his swearing-in ceremony in October. It was one of three pillars he described as essential to achieving a “smart and caring nation.” He noted this again in his remarks to the forum.

“The changing demographics of Canada present us with new opportunities for mobilization,” the Governor-General said. “Energetic and talented retirees are valuable sources of professional insight and experience. Their contributions are essential to the nation we aim to build.”

Some highlights from the study

» 62 per cent of Canadians who volunteer on a regular basis indicated they had at least one ‘negative experience’ either due to organizational politics, the belief that their skills were not being put to best use, feeling like they were not making a difference, or frustration with lack of support.

» Many Canadians are not necessarily following in the footsteps of ‘uber volunteers’ who are getting older. These uber volunteers represent about seven per cent of Canadians who contribute approximately 78 per cent of the volunteer time in Canada.

» Boomers – The average number of hours volunteered is highest among seniors and many are retiring from their ‘careers’. The addition of retired boomers could have a dramatic impact on the number of volunteers.

» Immigrants – There are an increasing numbers of recent immigrants of boomer age. This group could play a pivotal volunteer role in helping to integrate and support new immigrants into Canadian society, thanks to their unique cultural and linguistic skills, the study says.

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