Volunteering is Vital

Volunteer shortage across the non profit sector

Volunteers are an integral part of the fabric of our community; it’s difficult to imagine what our city or province would look like without them. There are more than 7,000 not-for-profit organizations in Manitoba that rely on volunteers to operate programming, from essential services to cultural events. Since the pandemic, finding and retaining volunteers has proved to be a challenge.

“Organizations are struggling to meet the volunteer numbers they had in place prior to COVID,” says Ashley Seymour, Executive Director of Volunteer Manitoba. “There’s absolutely a volunteer shortage in our city, in our province, and across the country.”

The need for services offered by non-profit organizations has risen sharply, while volunteer capacity has dropped. Trying to meet new demands can lead to volunteer managers and other staff taking on extra work, which can result in burnout. This perfect storm “has really put a strain on people’s capacity, and unfortunately some of these organizations may have to reduce their programs and services as a result,” says Seymour.

A decrease in volunteerism across the charitable sector may not seem like a cause for alarm, but when considering the crucial role non-profits play in the demanding areas of poverty, addiction, hunger, and homelessness, disruptions can create real challenges.

Two children look out at a blue lake with red kayaks on it.

New strategies and reimagining volunteer roles

Volunteer Manitoba has been working with organizations in its network to reimagine what their volunteer roles might look like. Short-term opportunities, for example, have become more popular in recent years to accommodate busy schedules and the higher premium placed on personal time.

There is also a focus on connecting both newcomers and people of all ages with volunteer opportunities. Seymour explains that volunteering in community provides a wealth of benefits; youth and people who are new to the province in particular stand to gain valuable skills and develop new connections by offering up their time and talent to a non-profit.

Creative solutions

Fort Whyte Alive is an outlier when it comes to the volunteer shortage, in part because the organization appeals directly to youth. The wildlife preserve, recreation area, and educational centre, located on the southwest border of the city, was a place residents flocked to during a time when indoor gatherings were discouraged. Engagement has not only held steady but seen improvements.

In the last year alone, volunteerism at Fort Whyte Alive has increased by 40 per cent, with 140 of their active volunteers being youth, thanks in part to the new Youth Ambassador program sup-ported by The Winnipeg Foundation. The program allows youth who have already taken part in a summer camp through Fort Whyte Alive to apply to become an ambassador. Applicants are evaluated based on their time at camp, then interviewed to determine what their interests are before being selected and placed in a volunteer position at the organization.

Depending on their interests, youth ambassadors may be placed in roles anywhere from the interpretive centre, where volunteers interact regularly with visitors, to learning from a more experienced volunteer about how to guide a hike, to assisting with Fort Whyte’s annual sunset goose flights. Volunteers take part in regular social gatherings and have the opportunity to develop their knowledge through professional development sessions.

A young child sits in the middle of a red canoe between an adult and another child, looking back toward the camera.

Why it works

“We’re trying to offer more of an inclusive, diverse volunteer program, and having youth here with our adult volunteers creates a really great community,” says Nicole Griffo, Volunteer Manager with Fort Whyte Alive. “The skills you learn when you’re in camp and through this program are very transferrable to other areas of life, whether that’s at school or during employment.”

Griffo says it has been exciting to see youth who have transitioned from summer camp to the ambassador program excel as they take on more leadership in their placements. Fostering a positive volunteer experience along with professional development has several youth ambassadors coming back season after season.

“We do have a lot of volunteers that come back every summer,” says Griffo. “Once they volunteer at Fort Whyte, they’re in our database and they can volunteer for our winter break camp or our spring break camp, and they get an invite to volunteer for the summer, so they don’t have to re-apply.”

At Fort Whyte Alive and across the city and province, opportunities to volunteer abound, and help make our communities stronger.

“It’s an opportunity to connect with new people and build community,” says Seymour. “These organizations offer vital services and supports to community, and without volunteers, many of those would not be available.”

To learn more about Fort Whyte Alive’s youth ambassador program, visit www.fortwhyte.org.

To learn more about Volunteer Manitoba or to find a volunteer opportunity, visit www.volunteermanitoba.ca.

How would you like to start?

Give Now Start Your Own Fund Contact Us