Volunteering is backbone of every healthy community

Kathleen Raines

Volunteer – it’s good for you. We tend to think of volunteering as a way to help, to give back to our community, and certainly that remains a significant motivation for many people to get involved in community organizations.

It’s important to understand that the benefits that come back to us personally are equally significant, equally valid.

At CiRS, home of Volunteer Red Deer, we work with over 700 non-profit agencies that reflect the full spectrum of community engagement, from sports and recreation to education to environment to health and social services.

We work with agencies to recruit volunteers for an amazing variety of tasks from planning and delivering special events such as CentreFest and Westerner Days, to ongoing administration and governance activities including board and committee membership.

As we head into fall we’re noting a high need for office volunteers. These task specific volunteer jobs offer an excellent opportunity for those who want to refresh their skills, develop workplace connections and enhance their employability.

In fact the most significant trend we’ve noticed in 2010 relates to the strengthening link between volunteering and career development – 54.2% of our clients (between January and June) identify “to improve career/employment prospects” as the main reason they want to volunteer. Certainly the tightening of the job market over the last year has influenced this shift in focus, but the fact is that volunteering is a solid, proven way to build your career portfolio no matter what the economic climate.

Young people who are investigating career options look to volunteering as a way to test whether a particular occupation or workplace might be a good fit for them. Many of us see volunteer work as an outlet for our creative energy, an opportunity to develop new skills, or as a means of influencing community decisions.

My own volunteer “portfolio” is a common one. When my children were younger I was involved with the school Parent Council, helped in the classroom whenever I could and worked bingos, casinos and raffles for many sport organizations.

In fact sports and recreation is the largest component of Alberta’s nonprofit sector, involving 13% of Albertans aged 15 and older who contributed 43.5 million hours (Canada Survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating – CSGVP, Statistics Canada, 2007).

The CSGVP provides impressive statistics and valuable insight into the voluntary sector. Albertans lead the way in Canada, with 52% of us volunteering an average of 172 hours per year. That breaks down to roughly 15 hours per month, over three hours each week.

Those aged 35 – 44 years are most likely to volunteer (probably parents following their children, as I did), while citizens aged 65 years and older contribute the most number of hours.

Globalization, technology and demographics are increasingly impacting where and how we volunteer.

Just as many jobs now offer the option of telecommuting, much volunteer work can be done online.

Short term, project-based volunteer positions appeal to busy Gen Xs and semi-retired baby boomers alike.

Organizations that can design flexible volunteer opportunities that accommodate individual needs will continue to thrive, while those who are unable (often because of very real risk management and liability concerns) or unwilling to change will face increasing challenges recruiting volunteers to fill new and existing positions.

Our Volunteer Red Deer database lists hundreds of volunteer opportunities across Central Alberta, and several are sure to fit your schedule, skills and interests.

This fall do something good, for you, for our community – volunteer!

Kathleen Raines is the program manager at Volunteer Red Deer, a division of CiRS. She can be reached at kathleen@cirsonline.ca

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