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Canadians love to volunteer. According to Statistics Canada, 47 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and over did volunteer work in 2010 (compared to 26 per cent in the United States). These 13.3 million Canadians devoted over 2 billion hours to their volunteer activities, which is equivalent to about 1.1 million full-time jobs.
According to Vancouver Community College (VCC) instructor and Volunteer Management Institute founder and Executive Director Milena Santoro, however, the actual business of working with volunteers has been historically overlooked. “It’s a misconception that volunteers are just volunteers—that they’re free,” she says. “There is a cost attached to managing volunteers. You need to recruit, screen, train, recognize, support, and manage them no differently than paid staff.”
To address this non-profit skills gap, VCC has partnered with Santoro and the Volunteer Management Institute to offer a new Volunteer Management program designed to teach established and effective methods related to the volunteer cycle. Topics in this program apply to any kind of volunteer work, from large fundraising events, sports tournaments or arts festivals to community gardens or even groups who visit the elderly or run children’s programs.
Most non-profits operate with limited resources, but an important thing to still recognize, says Santoro, is the need for structure. When a volunteer is put to work without official screening, orientation, and training, he or she often walks away with a negative experience. A clear and organized volunteer experience, however, can bring great rewards. “If a volunteer is really engaged, they will give so much more,” says Santoro.
Even non-profits that have been operating for decades can benefit from re-assessing their volunteer programming. According to Santoro, many organizations still work inefficiently and volunteer coordinators often feel under pressure or burn out quickly. With the right systems and processes in place, however, it doesn’t have to be that way.
In today’s growing culture of corporate social responsibility, volunteer opportunities are also enjoying a higher profile than ever. Many corporations are now partnering with non-profit organizations and asking their employees to volunteer. They also choose these partnerships carefully. “Companies want to work with well-organized and like-minded groups,” says Santoro. “They want to be aligned with the cause and the work they do in the communities.”
VCC’s new Volunteer Management program provides students with the latest in knowledge and tools including up-to-date workbooks, forms, and checklists. Tuition has been kept in an accessible range for non-profit organizations.