Voluntary Action is a hallmark of civic society, rooted in citizenship and social responsibility and shaped by our concern for and obligation to one another.
Voluntary action or volunteering refers to actions taken by people of their own free will in shaping their communities. It is "active citizenship"; it is people accepting responsibility for, and participating in, civic affairs; and, it is people helping others, both formally and informally.
(Sustaining a Civic Society: Voluntary Action in Ontario, Advisory Board on the Voluntary Sector, March 1997)
Although these values will continue to exist, the face of voluntary action is changing rapidly. Unless a fundamental transformation occurs in how the voluntary sector interacts with the rest of society and how we build and manage the system, voluntary action will not flourish.
The Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation reported in April 1997 that:
Volunteers in Canada:
and that in Ontario:
nearly 2 million volunteers contributed about 350 million hours annually; that is 180 hours a year per volunteer, the top five types of organizations (in terms of volunteer hours donated) are: religious, sport/recreation, youth education and development, social services and health.
The Halton Social Planning Council and Volunteer Centre reported that the Volunteer Centre alone in 1996/97:
submitted 185 volunteer classified columns to community newspapers, featuring 347 agencies, referred 936 volunteers to agencies, generated 112,320 volunteer hours in Halton - an equivalence of $1,779,149 worth of volunteer work.
Clearly, volunteers are the backbone of our communities. Without the energy, commitment, skills and dedication of volunteers the quality of our lives would not be as rich and varied.
The contribution of volunteers are needed more than ever with human service agencies facing a growing demand for their services but with reduced resources to respond. Yet myths which undermine volunteerism are present in public discourse. Some of the common myths include:
A common belief about volunteerism is that it is free. It is important to realize that just as there is a cost associated with hiring and training new staff in the public and private sector, equally so, there are significant costs attached to recruiting and training new volunteers. It is an area that demands effective management if volunteerism is to be nurtured as a valuable tradition in our communities.
Volunteers do not appear by magic. They must be supported in their important work by organizations and the community. They must be recruited, trained and supervised. We must ensure that the work they do is safe, meaningful and recognized.
People do not volunteer just anywhere, anytime, to do anything. As individuals they have skills, interests and considerations that require a mechanism such as a volunteer program to match them with the right position and support their efforts.
This myth suggests that since volunteers are not paid, anything labelled "volunteer" should be free. So, although volunteers are crucial to service delivery, volunteer programs are not getting the funding required to recruit, place, orient, train, supervise, manage, support and recognize their volunteers.
The nature of volunteering has shifted dramatically in the last few decades, reflecting significant changes in the social and economic organization of daily life. New trends in volunteerism include:
Substantiating these trends, one Ontario Volunteer Centre reported the number of unemployed people volunteering increased from 18-20% in 1984 to 35% in 1996 and the number of volunteers under the age of 24 increased from 10-15% in 1994 to 25% in 1996 (Volunteer Ontario, Nov. 1996).
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