Round Table on Professional Practices in Volunteerism
Ottawa, Monday, April 16, 2012
Thank you, Ruth, for your generous introduction. Much more importantly, thank you for the leadership you and your wonderful team at Volunteer Canada have shown in putting this morning’s gathering together, and for all the work you’ve been doing to help make sure Volunteer Week 2012, is full of passion, activity and impact.
This roundtable on professional practices in volunteer engagement is one of my first events of many during Volunteer Week 2012. It’s also the initial roundtable of several on volunteerism and philanthropy that will be held throughout the country, throughout the year. Combined, the roundtables will enable Canadians to work together to uncover, share and implement new ideas in philanthropy and volunteerism.
I can’t think of a better way to kick the week off than to be here, and to be with so many men and women who know firsthand the indispensable role volunteers play in creating healthy communities. I don’t need to tell you how important volunteers are. You see it, feel it, experience up close every day of the year just what volunteers are doing to make Canada a smart, caring nation.
I use the words ‘smart and caring’ deliberately. On the day of my installation as Governor General a year and a half ago, I made clear that I consider my time in office a call to service; and that I intend to answer that call in one clear way. I will serve as a bridge to bring Canadians of all backgrounds and ages together to create a country that supports families and children, reinforces learning and innovation, and encourages philanthropy and volunteerism.
Volunteers are doing their part to make Canada the smart and caring nation we all want it to be. The latest figures tell the tale. According to the results of the survey of giving, volunteering and participating released last month, 13.3 million Canadians over the age of 15 volunteered—an increase of more than 800,000 people since 2007. Those 13.3 million volunteers represent 47 percent of Canadians over the age of 15. And they combine to put in 2.1 billion hours of volunteer time a year—a staggering number that represents more than one million full-time jobs. Truly incredible.
Yet the most profound figure in the survey results is this one: 58 percent of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 volunteer. That percentage is higher than the participation rate of any other age group. That’s great news. This emerging generation of leaders truly understands the value of volunteerism in creating a smart and caring nation for us all, and is showing real courage and intelligence in creating the kind of country they want.
But there’s a flipside to this exciting news. It’s this: despite the fact that young men and women have the highest rates of volunteerism, are more open-minded about volunteering than other generations, and are much more likely than others to use their social-technology skills in ingenious ways as volunteers, these young Canadians are often left out of the strategic decision-making in organizations and are thwarted from making full use of their talents.
That situation is really so regrettable. Here we are encouraging young people to volunteer—in some cases, they must volunteer if they want to earn specific credits they need to graduate from high school. At the same time, these kids are keen to use their time, toil and talents to support others and improve life in their communities. Why then do we so often shut them out of having any meaningful say in an organization’s decisions, choosing rather to assign them tasks that either don’t interest them or don’t use their talents effectively?
This head-scratcher troubles me for two reasons. First, it means we’re not taking full advantage of the unique capabilities of Canada’s young people. Young Canadians are especially goal-oriented, mobile and tech-savvy. They are also comfortable working independently. Those traits are apparent when these young people volunteer. Many of them are keen to go online and use advanced communications technologies to carry out virtual volunteering, micro-volunteering and on-demand volunteering. We shouldn’t be stifling that enthusiasm and creativity; we should be letting it flourish.
Second, sidelining these young volunteers today threatens to turn them off from being volunteers throughout their lives. I don’t want any young person to forego a lifetime of volunteering because their input wasn’t valued or they were asked to carry out tasks of limited interest to them. What needless waste. What opportunity lost.
And what about the 53 percent of Canadians over the age of 15 who don’t volunteer? What are we going to do as a country to make sure all Canadians always have the on-off switch of volunteerism turned full on?
Those challenges are staring us right in the face. It’s the immediacy and gravity of those new, current challenges that make this year’s Volunteer Week the most pivotal one we’ve ever had in Canada. We need to use the events and activities of this week to admit to those obstacles and show Canadians that we’re going to overcome them.
I recognize many of the faces and know many of the people in this room. You’re well known for your dogged ingenuity in tackling the most daunting tasks.
Today’s roundtable on professional practices in volunteerism is a perfect example of your forceful and focused approach to problem solving. I’m thrilled to see that the two discussion questions this morning will enable you to grapple with the challenges that I’ve raised. In particular, the questions deal with professional practices and how their wise use can make volunteering a meaningful, rewarding experience for all Canadians.
Don’t let the term ‘professional practices’ turn anyone off. There is no wish, need or benefit to wrapping the operations of volunteer groups in red tape. Yet by incorporating professional practices into their organizations, volunteer leaders can do a much better job of making sure an individual volunteer’s time and talents are put to best use.
Think about it. Our country’s best businesses use proven professional practices to make their operations more efficient and to tap into the very best their workers have to give. Reliable best practices, often known in business as standard operating procedures, cut down on decision-making time and improve overall performance, leaving time for the individual treatment of new issues as they arise. A common maxim in business is that we should “systematize the everyday so we can personalize the extraordinary.” That’s efficiency and humanity side by side.
Why shouldn’t volunteer organizations take advantage of the professional practices that make most sense to them? Why shouldn’t these organizations establish performance metrics that help them measure their progress toward goals? Or policy frameworks that support the work of volunteers? Or human resources tools that ensure volunteers are treated with respect? Or mission statements that reflect the integral role of volunteers? Or risk-management procedures that protect volunteers and reliable screening processes that safeguard the people they serve?
I’m brightened to see that Volunteer Canada is giving volunteer organizations the guidance they’re looking for to incorporate professional practices into their operations. Volunteer Canada’s new Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement outlines five values, two principles and 14 organizational standards for volunteer involvement. These values, principles and standards are flexible enough to address the needs of a broad range of organizations that have different levels of resources; that operate in rural and urban settings; that cover a range of mandates; and that are led by paid staff or by volunteers. They can also be adapted to apply to a diverse set of people, cultures, communities, opportunities and approaches.
The Volunteer Canada website provides links to tools and resources to help leaders adopt the code in their organizations. Almost 200 organizations across the country have done so, and I expect dozens more will do the same in the year to come.
Yet just because the new code is ready and working doesn’t mean our work is finished. Now come the next steps. I want you—the men and women on the frontlines of volunteering in Canada—to examine how organizations put those practices in place and determine what impact they’re having. I want you to stay in close and constant contact with volunteer organizations to identify and disseminate successful approaches. And I want you to share those successful approaches with me so that I can share them with volunteer leaders across the country. That’s my challenge to all of you today and in the weeks and months to come.
You’re not the only ones I’ve been challenging. I’ve been asking all Canadians to find out what they’re going to do to help celebrate our country’s 150th birthday. Specifically, I’ve been encouraging them to think of what they’re going to do between now and 2017 to strengthen their commitment to volunteering, reinforce volunteering as a fundamental Canadian value and celebrate volunteering as a cornerstone in developing smart and caring communities in an ever-smarter, evermore caring country.
The work that you’re doing here today and at the other roundtables throughout the year is going to make it easier for Canadians to make their gifts. By helping volunteer organizations in our country incorporate proven professional practices, you empower them to engage volunteers in meaningful ways, maximize the impact each volunteer has on the organization and the people it serves, and ensure volunteers enjoy rewarding experiences. Those three goals are what all volunteer organizations in our country should strive for.
I thank you all here today for your generous commitment of time and effort in helping Canada’s volunteer groups reach those goals. I can assure you that I’ll be listening to your discussions this morning and I’ll be following the outcomes of future roundtables. I’ll be working closely with you as we carry on the work of this pivotal week throughout the year, as we continue to build what we all want —a smart, caring Canada.