Toronto needs a volunteer strategy
According to a 2007 report prepared by Statistics Canada, 12.5 million Canadian volunteers give more than two million hours of their time per year.
Despite this impressive statistic, the rate of volunteering is declining in Ontario (from 50 per cent in 2004 to 47 per cent in 2007). There are fewer willing to give of their time, energy, ideas, influence and/or money to good causes. This is concerning, given that volunteers are the lifeblood of many charitable organizations and deliver many vital social services.
Although it is recognized by the City that volunteers play an instrumental role within various Toronto communities, there isn’t a city-wide volunteer strategy in place to promote volunteerism, connect potential volunteers to suitable opportunities, nor celebrate and recognize their contributions (Toronto’s last set of Community Service Volunteer Awards were handed out in 2006).
Vancouver has extensive online resources for its citizens to learn how and where to volunteer, and Montrealers are offered a comprehensive guide to volunteer opportunities, as well as volunteer bureaus to consult throughout that city.
Why volunteer? Apart from the feel-good aspect of contributing to the community, there are real skills to be learned and networks to be built.
And there is interest in engaging. For example, in a recent survey, Business for the Arts found that young professionals expressed interest in learning about, and spending time, volunteering in the arts and culture sector. What’s missing is a guide to what volunteer opportunities are available.
For someone early in their career, volunteer opportunities offer the opportunity for skill development and learning. Often skills learned while volunteering can be applied to professional endeavours (I’ve found that to be particularly true).
For newcomers to Toronto, volunteer opportunities potentially offer social connection and the ability to build networks, thereby supporting professional aspirations, or fulfilling other needs of the volunteer.
In short, volunteering can offer citizens invaluable building blocks for future success. And our city is built for the better in the process. Toronto needs a volunteer strategy to harness our diverse talent and put it to (pro bono) work.