It may be National Volunteer Week across Canada this week, but in reality, volunteers make this community and many others function 365 days a year. While we celebrate and thank them annually in April, most volunteers are rewarded all year in many ways. It’s reflected in the quality of life of the people they work with directly. It shows in the skills they develop and transfer to other areas of life. It builds a community of peers who have an understanding of selfless giving.
More than just a place to go to kill time or to fulfill a requirement for a job or a diploma, volunteerism has a major impact socially and economically. In 2013, TD Bank economists conservatively pegged the impact of volunteerism at $50 billion in Canada alone — three per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. That’s the equivalent of 1.1 million full-time jobs, conducted by some 12.7 million Canadians.
When one thinks of the health care offered, the memories created through arts or sport, and the countless dollars raised for philanthropy, one wonders how society could ever recover for a decline in this type of giving. That said, some disturbing trends are emerging about the future of volunteerism.
That same year, in 2013, Statistics Canada reported the number of people across the country indicating they volunteer declined by four per cent from three years prior. Some of the biggest losses statistically came from among the age range of 20-44. One just has to look at the membership of service clubs in recent years to see a familiar pattern. Whether it’s the around-the-clock nature of employment since new technology came to pass, the need to work more in a troubling economy to make ends meet, or the increasingly global and digital environment for philanthropy and interaction, they trends bring into question whether future generations will give in the same way. That’s even taking into account that some in this generation were raised in an environment of mandatory volunteering participation in their high school years.
Given the value of the varied contributions volunteers make, it would be behoove governments at all levels to find ways to promote volunteerism and reach as broad a base of people as possible. Both celebration and recruitment are important. Maybe there’s a way to look at innovative tax credits for people who give a certain amount of hours to a recognizable charitable cause or a way to reward businesses who are proactive in allowing their people time to contribute in these capacities. That might seem like it is cheapening the value well-meaning volunteers know they’re providing and getting now, but it’s also true that a smaller amount of volunteers are giving more and burnout likely will be a factor.
Red tape has also had a chilling impact on volunteerism in this litigious age and every effort should be made to make it as simple as possible for people to contribute.
It’s a certainty that without the help, many dollars would have to be spent to continue offering programs and services citizens expect. One could also surmise that more resources could be spent on physical and mental health if a hole is left in the social fabric of communities. Support is vital.
Here’s to those volunteers who press on in a difficult age! May society do everything it can to support you and encourage others to follow in your footsteps for everyone’s benefit.