Challenges and Opportunities

The nature of volunteerism in Canada is changing. Understanding how issues within literacy agencies are both similar and dissimilar to the national trends can help volunteer managers do their jobs more effectively. Recognizing how we are different can help fine tune our strategies for attracting volunteers and assist in reviewing the role of volunteers within our agencies.

Research by CLO over the past decade has demonstrated that many of the changes being experienced by volunteer organizations nationally are reflected back in the Ontario literacy community. Changes experienced by many community literacy agencies in this province include:

  • Increased volunteer burn-out and time pressure
  • More difficulty in attracting volunteers
  • Different reasons for volunteering than previously (i.e. work experience, skill development, placements for school or program, etc.)
  • Increased liability and risk management issues
  • More volunteers who are only able to commit to specific, short-term tasks in the organization (episodic volunteers)
  • Increased competition for volunteers among various community agencies
  • Increased use of technology

Literacy organizations are not alone in finding it increasingly difficult to find and keep volunteers. The Canadian Centre for Philanthropy has been tracking Canadians’ Volunteering behaviors through their National Surveys on Giving, Volunteering and Participating (NSGVP). These surveys, conducted in 1997, 2000, 2004, and 2007 create a profile of Canadian volunteers. Some conclusions and trends identified by these surveys are highly relevant to literacy groups.

Fewer people are volunteering more hours:
A summary of the 2000 NSGVP shows that the number of people volunteering in Canada declined from 31% in 1997 to 27% in 2000. The 2000 NSGVP also showed that volunteers contributed an average of 162 hours each during the year, up from 149 hours in 1997.

Much Comes from the Few
The NSGVP has also consistently demonstrated that approximately 25% of active volunteers account for nearly 75% of all volunteer hours. This means that somewhere between 7-10% of the Canadian population give almost three quarters of all hours volunteered across the country.  

Youth are Active Volunteers
The 2004 NSGVP shows that 55% of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are active volunteers in their communities.

Group Volunteering
Many Canadians are motivated to volunteer their time as part of a group. In 2004, twenty-five percent of volunteers were involved in a group project with their families, while 43% volunteered as part of a group with friends, neighbours or colleagues. These figures remain virtually unchanged in the 2007 survey.

The Role of the Internet
While many volunteers used the internet as part of their volunteer efforts, of note is that in 2004, eight percent report using the Internet to seek out their volunteer opportunities.