April 10 to April 16, 2016 is National Volunteer Week (NVW), a time to recognize and show appreciation for Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers.
Written by Kim Fuller
Yes. Over twelve million people donate their time to causes across the country!
I was recently invited to speak to a group of students at HEC Université de Montréal alongside Procure’s director, Laurent Proulx. The theme of the evening’s discussion was volunteer engagement. We reflected on our personal and professional experiences, each unique, each fulfilling in different ways. The event gave me an opportunity to think about how much volunteerism has affected my career choices and ultimately, the direction my business took.
My earliest memory of volunteering was when I was a child. My mother took me door-to-door each spring, canvassing for the Canadian Cancer Society. One year, I had hurt my leg and was on crutches. I thought I would be off the hook and could go back to playing Atari. Just the opposite, she said “Are you kidding? Of course you’re coming with me! With you on crutches people are more likely to feel bad and donate more!”
My parents ingrained in me a sense of duty, a love of helping others and developed my instinct for giving to those less fortunate.
“Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.” ~Erma Bombeck
In university, I studied Fine Arts (graphic design) and I knew exactly what I wanted to do for a living: be an art director. I also knew that to get a job after graduation, it takes experience. A friend of the family was on the board of the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation – back then, the Montreal Breast Cancer Foundation. She asked me to help – that’s right around the time I learned the meaning of the term pro bono. This was back in the day when we actually had to teach the public that October was breast cancer awareness month. I made my first awareness poster, expecting the poster to go up in local cafes or small businesses. To my surprise, I was on my way to Concordia one morning and my little poster had turned into a bus shelter advertisement across town!
This is where I felt the impact my work could have.
Over the years, that poster – that volunteer work – opened many doors. The Foundation became my largest, most visible client for ten years. A volunteer and client experience that allowed me to learn so much about charity work, about my job, and helped me find my niche in philanthropy. Beyond that, it also introduced me to colleagues – and even friends – for life.
Twenty years later, I still do volunteer work, and I continue to expand my network. Volunteering is my hobby. It’s what I love to do in my downtime, even if all I do for my day job is work with charities! It’s simply that rewarding.
Beyond the community engagement and satisfaction of helping others, my volunteer work can also be strategic.
For example, in my job, I often have to appear before the board of directors to explain why an investment should be made in communication tools or fundraising strategies. In order to better communicate with them, I wanted to learn how a board worked, so I became a board member!
I’m now president of two boards in two different sectors (one in education and one in arts and culture). I help out with other committee work for women’s causes and give my time mentoring social entrepreneurs. I learn new things from my colleagues every week and have grown both personally and professionally through these volunteer experiences.
Volunteering is not only our duty as a member of our society, it is also a great way to build a network and learn.
For non-profits it’s an important support system and valuable contribution, including:
- offering talent they do not have in-house
- bringing new energy, new ideas
- providing greater flexibility than an employee
Of course volunteers save organizations money, but It takes coordination. There is nothing worse than a volunteer who is bored! Charities now have to manage their volunteer talent with a growing number of millennials and retired baby boomers who are willing to get involved.
Organizations must put a volunteer plan in place and develop :
- an application Process
- evaluation criteria
- monitoring and mentoring programs
Are you ready to take the leap and begin your volunteer experience but you don’t know where to start? Here are a few ideas:
- Ask your college or university
- Look up your local volunteer bureau
- Reach out to your church or community center in your neighborhood
- Ask people who volunteer, ask them questions about their experiences to better understand the different aspects, different opportunities.
- Use your networks and services offered by non-profit associations to find something you like and that is helpful.
Try. Explore. Give with all your heart. What you give comes back to you tenfold, if not more!
“If you want to touch the past, touch a rock. If you want to touch the present, touch a flower. If you want to touch the future, touch a life.” – Author Unknown