I have been a proud volunteer since my teenage years as a high school student at St. Joseph’s Morrow Park in Toronto. Our teachers instilled in us the need to give back and the value of love and service. Ever since, that is how I have looked at volunteerism.
Outside of work, I have taken on a range of volunteer roles from food preparation, distribution and serving on committees and the board of my church to marshalling at BLM marches to coordinating volunteers for the Kensington Market Jazz Festival. But it is in my work life at the YWCA that I have really had the most hands-on experience with volunteers. Through this work, I have witnessed a level of love, service, and dedication that inspires me constantly.
Volunteers play an instrumental part in the impact non-profit organizations have within YWCA communities. The pandemic had a dramatic effect on volunteer roles. Some were transformed, others were paused in efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. Today, YWCAs are rebuilding connections with existing volunteers and seeking new members of the community to help push initiatives forward.
Inspired by National Volunteer Week, I wanted to reflect and share gratitude for all the volunteers who give their time, talent, patience, and courage.
Time and talent of course but patience and courage… absolutely.
So many volunteers have waited to join community programs again or have found different ways to contribute during these difficult times. Ready, willing, and able to help, they stepped up to be food delivery and shopping angels, shared kindness, and created online language conversation circles. Others remained dedicated to leading organizations during this crisis. Many of our core volunteers and board members continued to meet, plan, pivot, and respond to the ongoing needs of their community and effectively govern.
I checked in with colleagues across the country recently about their volunteer programs and to hear their thoughts on how the landscape has changed and what Canada needs to do to strengthen the volunteering infrastructure.
For me, strengthening the culture of the volunteering infrastructure includes greater promotion of volunteer work as care work. Funding for the sector would translate into better support and training for volunteers committed to making a difference. With this investment, the sector could provide a higher standard of training for non-profit board members and promote and develop volunteer engagement programs that offer anti-oppression and anti-racism training to help understand the barriers people from equity seeking groups face. A better infrastructure includes empathy and trauma-informed responses.
Here are the thoughts of my colleagues Lindsay Rice, Executive Director of YWCA St. Thomas Elgin and Aniska Ali, Director of Philanthropy and Strategic Initiatives at YWCA Canada.
As non-profits continue to rebuild, education is a core part of the conversation. Lindsay states, “Additional marketing to educate people on volunteer opportunities and the rewards of doing so would strengthen the advocacy of volunteering. Providing tax breaks for those willing to donate their time could also be enticing to participants.”
Aniska shared, “Volunteerism is central to the ongoing health and vitality of the social change sector. The future looks like the further embedding of specialized skill volunteers and micro-volunteerism that allows community members to find tangible ways to use their skills and expertise to drive projects and services forward in ways that not only match their values and passions but also fit their schedules and deliver just-in-time support to communities. To continue to innovate and ensure community members have meaningful opportunities to contribute to the causes they care most about, charitable organizations need more predictability and access to funding. While this may seem counter-intuitive, properly funded organizations make the best use of volunteers because they are afforded the time to plan, communicate and support volunteers in ways that allow for deep and sustained contributions.”
YWCA appreciates the resilience and empathetic hearts of all volunteers across the country as they continue to build collaborative, empowered, and compassionate communities.
Volunteer Canada is building a roadmap to empathy in action across Canada. Add your voice at empathyinaction.ca.