Better Together: Introduction

Photo by ray sangga kusuma on Unsplash

Have you ever attended an event where the speaker asked for volunteers? Or been asked by your child’s dance class or hockey club to give of your time for their fundraiser? What motivates people to volunteer? While those examples might highlight a sense of obligation, often volunteering on a regular basis fulfills a desire for significance; to be part of something bigger than them.

Francis S. Collins, a scientist and author of the New York Times Bestseller about his experience mapping the DNA code, “The Language of God”, says that moral values and altruistic behavior are things which set humans apart from the rest of the organisms on our planet. While science has not found evolutionary benefit to our desire to help others, it makes humans unique. Winston Churchill, considered one of the 20th century’s most significant figures, once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Benefits

Not only does volunteering make the world a better place, but volunteers often have higher life satisfaction, less psychological distress and longer lives! Seniors may find that satisfaction in leaving a legacy. A high-school student, on the other hand, may volunteer to learn new skills and to gain experience for their resume or to earn a high school credit.

Since volunteering is a relationship-based activity, it promotes respectful interaction between different groups in the community. It also promotes a sense of belonging and shared identity.

People are most likely to invest passionately in people close to them. They understand the needs of their own community best. Because of this alignment of motivation and local knowledge, local volunteer work can provide great benefits.

Volunteers extend the reach and effectiveness of organizations. Siloam Mission in Winnipeg, which provides services to alleviate homelessness and poverty, says that volunteers are a vital staffing resource.  They are the connecting point, offering their smiles and energy for meaningful relationships with clients. Organizations frequently record an estimate of volunteer hours in their financial statement notes, emphasizing the real value that volunteers contribute.

Fair market value

It can be difficult to determine the fair market value of a volunteer. However, Statistics Canada data shows that in 2018, over 12.7 million people volunteered more than 1.6 billion hours across our nation for charities, non-profits and community organizations. Donorbox.org, a company which provides online fundraising software, claims that the average value of an hour volunteered is $25.43. That is a total annual value of $40.7 billion across Canada.

Therefore, volunteer human resources are not “low-skilled” or “free labor.” That sort of thinking sets the stage for an organization to expect and tolerate volunteers performing at a mediocre level. Recognize that volunteers are an investment that requires both time and money. Empowering volunteers by organizing and training them well and keeping them accountable will pay huge dividends in long-term success! In interviews, conducted by Plains Edge with volunteer coordinators of local charities, the need to manage volunteers well was highlighted again and again.

Non-profits require that their corporate directors, who are usually volunteers, be skilled professionals and be respected and recognized because of the responsibility they carry. The organization should invest much and expect much from all volunteers.

Current challenges

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has created some unique challenges for non-profits who rely heavily on volunteers. Many organizations have had to shut down, adjust operations or use current technology and infrastructure to pivot services to online offerings. Donations may have declined, or technology may be outdated. Many are struggling to find a new way to communicate strategically with volunteers and patrons. While the situation is disconcerting, the crisis also brings opportunities to think intentionally about how the organization operates.  Good management of volunteers is now more important than ever!

The next three articles will focus on designing, implementing, and sustaining an effective volunteer program.