How volunteering can lift your spirits.
From bagging lunches for school kids, to fundraising for a community group, to running errands for seniors, the spirit of generosity is alive and well in Canada. Every year, the superhero actions of everyday folks help support others in so many ways. And even if you think your volunteer contribution is no big deal, the data suggests otherwise.
According to statistics collected by the federal government in 2018, nearly 13 million Canadians spent 1.7 billion hours of their time volunteering in a formal capacity for non-profits, charities and community groups. That’s the equivalent of more than 863,000 full-time jobs. But the data is even more amazing when it comes to informal volunteering. This volunteering factors in other good deeds that are close to home, such as shovelling snow for an elderly neighbour, helping a new Canadian practise their English (or French) or driving someone to a medical appointment. In 2018, nearly 23 million Canadians aged 15 and older dedicated 3.4 billion hours to informal volunteering – the equivalent of 1.8 million full-time jobs.
Have you always wanted to volunteer your time and skills, but aren’t sure how to get started? A quick online search for volunteer opportunities in your community can help you find plenty of options. Organizations such as food banks, homeless shelters, animal rescues and new Canadian community resources are great places to start. Networking with your neighbours can also help you identify where volunteer help might be needed and appreciated – it could be helping with family food hampers, writing cards of appreciation to seniors who enjoy receiving a bit of special mail or supporting the fire department’s annual toy drive. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover an abundance of opportunities that match the time you’re able to commit.
Before getting started with your volunteer opportunity search, however, there are a few things to consider:
Make a list of the activities you enjoy and are capable of doing. There’s no point applying to volunteer at an animal shelter if you have terrible dog allergies.
Be clear about the amount of time you have available. It’s not a great situation if your volunteer opportunity becomes exhausting and stressful because of over commitment.
Think about the skills you’d like to build. Taking the reins and filling a leadership position to organize the next community Canada Day parade might give you the hands-on experience needed to boost your resumé.
While the pandemic has forced many organizations to hit the pause button on in-person events such as fundraising walkathons, festivals and door-to-door campaigns, this unique situation is helping to increase awareness of the virtual volunteer opportunities that exist. Here are some ideas that might help you meet some needs in your community:
Back-office support: Even though a lot of public-facing events are on hold, behind-the-scenes activities continue. Reach out to your local organizations and see how they could benefit from your skill set. Writing, public relations, legal services, bookkeeping, website design and email marketing are just some of the specialties that keep many volunteer organizations running smoothly.
Phone support: Sometimes you just need someone to talk to, and a number of organizations provide important services over the phone, especially during the pandemic lockdowns that have many feeling isolated and alone. Virtual volunteers offer reassurance that someone is listening and cares. This is a great at-home volunteer opportunity for good communicators with a depth of life experience to support others who need a compassionate shoulder to lean on. Empathy, listening skills and availability to commit to a certain number of phone shifts are key. Here are links to a few of these services:
Devoting some time and energy to giving back to your community can be an incredibly rewarding experience. There are dozens of important organizations that rely on volunteers to help make our communities a better place. In return, volunteers have the opportunity to enhance their own skills, make new friends and simply feel good knowing they are helping to make a difference.
For more information about how you can get involved, check out Volunteer Canada for opportunities in your area.
 Statistics Canada, “Study: Volunteering in Canada: Challenges and opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic,” The Daily, last updated December 11, 2020, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200626/dq200626c-eng.htm