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  • Writer's pictureLisa Gilchrist

Shifting Volunteer Trends

Volunteering centres on a human belief in the value of helping and supporting one another. In terms of trends for volunteerism, there have been shifts over the last few years. The Conference Board of Canada’s report for Volunteer Canada “The Value of Volunteering in Canada” (2018, retrieved August 12, 2020 from discusses the economic impacts of volunteering but, equally importantly, discusses benefits that volunteers themselves gain.

In my experience, volunteers have many reasons for volunteers: some want to reciprocate for services they or their family have received, others want to do good, and others are hoping to leverage the volunteer work to network or gain employment-related skills. All reasons are valued. However, the trend is that volunteers are increasingly expecting supported, well-managed experiences. Volunteers give freely of their time and quickly become disenchanted if the volunteer expectation is not clearly explained, roles shift unexpectedly, or the time commitment changes without consultation.

When it comes to volunteering, there is not a one-size fits all approach. Newcomers to the community or country often volunteer to increase their skills within the workforce and build a portfolio of local contacts and work experiences. Businesses support volunteer efforts of their employees to foster social change and showcase their business as committed to the community.

From a learning perspective, volunteers who engage in training opportunities expect these opportunities to be effective and relevant to their volunteer opportunity and, often, also relevant to their regular lives. As a facilitator that means developing clear learning objectives, skills focused activities, and highlighting transferability of learning. Volunteers participate with high expectations for quality volunteer experiences and effective training to support their volunteer efforts. Learning needs vary from volunteer to volunteer and facilitators must spend time understanding the desired outcome for each individual. Organizational leaders also play a role in determining outcomes; volunteer training is often used to indoctrinate volunteers into an organizational culture. In a competitive climate for volunteers and funding dollars, ensuring that team members - from the Executive Director to receptionist to volunteer - follow consistent messaging and advocate for the organization influences the likelihood of sustainability.

The task is large and complex for voluntary organizations. However, by focusing on a people-first approach, taking time to understand volunteer needs, and engaging with openness and curiousity, leaders will be successful.

Keep shining!


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Aug 31, 2020

Hi Lisa. Well-written... I am currently working as a volunteer in a non-profit organization and your exposition on the trend resonates with me. The need for a totally well-managed experience for every volunteer cannot be over-emphasized.


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