National Volunteerism Initiative Summary Report of Consultations
Overview of consultations
PDF (425 KB)
Purpose and background
The purpose of the consultations was to obtain comments from
members of voluntary organizations throughout Canada on proposals
for the National Volunteerism Initiative (NVI). The key reason
for seeking the comments was to tap into the experience, expertise
and insights of voluntary organizations to help design the NVI.
The goals of the NVI, designed to be a lasting legacy to the
International Year of Volunteers, are to:
- encourage Canadians to participate in voluntary organizations;
- improve the capacity of organizations to benefit from the
contribution of volunteers and to enhance the experience of
The proposals for the NVI were developed over the last year
on the basis of discussions with selected organizations and experts,
meetings of the NVI Joint Table, discussions with other Voluntary
Sector Initiative (VSI) Joint Tables and the results of the 2000
of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (NSGVP).
The draft proposals were outlined in a document entitled, Sharing
Your Views on Proposals for the National Volunteerism Initiative
that was used as the basis for presentations and discussions at
Process and participation
The consultation document, Sharing Your Views on Proposals for
the National Volunteerism Initiative was distributed to participants
before the consultations and also at the sessions themselves.
The document outlined the major challenges, solutions, mechanisms
and principles that had been identified as relevant to designing
At the sessions, participants were asked whether the right types
of challenges to meeting the goals of the NVI had been identified,
and whether the proposals for solutions, mechanisms, and principles
offered an adequate basis from which to develop and implement
the NVI in response to the challenges. Participants were also
asked whether the overall approach to the NVI seemed sensible
and appropriate, and whether other questions and concerns needed
to be addressed.
People from more than 350 diverse organizations participated,
including administrators of volunteer resources, managers, executives,
members of boards of directors, front-line volunteers, trainers
and support specialists. The NVI Joint Table co-chairs or their
representatives participated in all sessions. Comments from each
session were recorded by a member of the NVI Secretariat and generally
by a local voluntary sector representative as well.
In all, 26 consultation sessions averaging 15 participants each
were held in 11 cities from St. John's, Newfoundland to Vancouver,
British Columbia, between August 28 and October 16. The consultation
schedule and the names of participants who gave written permission
to be identified are listed at the end of this report.
In most cities, half a day was devoted to taking note of the
comments of representatives of a cross-section of voluntary organizations
from the city and surrounding region, and half a day to voluntary
organizations representing specific interests or groups (e.g.,
sport and recreation, faith communities, Aboriginal peoples, visible
minorities, health, seniors, youth) from the same areas.
In addition to the consultation sessions, stakeholders had the
opportunity to provide input via the consultation workbook posted
on the VSI web site.
Overall results and perspectives
Evaluation forms from all sessions indicate virtually unanimous
agreement that the consultation allowed for a productive exchange
of views and that participants' ideas and comments were heard.
There was broad agreement, and hence a strong national consensus,
that the proposals (relating to challenges, solutions, mechanisms,
and principles) were appropriate and would provide a useful foundation
for developing and implementing the NVI. Participants from each
session also shared many new ideas and insights to help further
refine and define the proposals.
Many participants expressed the view that by significantly improving
the capacity of voluntary organizations to engage and support
volunteers, these organizations will be better equipped to fulfill
their missions. Participants agreed that one of the underlying,
and oft unrecognized, roles of voluntary organizations is to provide
a solid foundation for volunteerism. Volunteerism, in turn, makes
a vital contribution to maintaining the civic participation, compassion,
and respect for diversity that characterize Canada's democracy
and that are particularly important in a post-September 11 world.
Participants also expressed interest in remaining involved and
keeping apprised of follow-up activity in the development of the
Summary of comments by participants
The summary below paraphrases the key comments made most often
by participants under the main sections of the presentation, Sharing
Your Views on Proposals for the National Volunteerism Initiative.
Participants sometimes put forward opposing views, and these are
reflected in this report. The comments listed below also include
issues not covered in the presentation but put forward by participants.
Since the sections in the presentation on 'challenges', 'solutions'
and 'principles' raise some of the same issues (e.g., importance
of supporting inclusiveness), in the interests of brevity, this
summary report tries to avoid unnecessary repetition of comments
on issues that arise under more than one section.
Comments on challenges
New challenges identified
- The NSGVP results do not necessarily indicate a major problem
with volunteering; there may be many reasons (e.g., lower unemployment
in 2000 than 1997 and various methodological errors) to explain
the decline in numbers of volunteers, etc.
We can't continue operating and meeting new challenges
without some new resources from somewhere.
There's a lot of stuff on the Net about volunteering,
but I need to be able to talk to a real live person
who understands my community and how to help my organization;
and that's the way it should be across Canada.
- On the other hand, even if the NSGVP overstated the decline
in volunteering by as much as 20% - an unheard of error in serious
surveys - we would still have 800,000 fewer volunteers than
in than 1997, and the numbers would not point so consistently
downward across virtually all categories (e.g., age, gender,
education, income bracket, province).
- Since the time crunch facing most Canadians is unlikely to
disappear any time soon, dealing with it will remain a challenge.
- Finding volunteers, matching their expectations with organizational
needs, training and retaining them certainly are major challenges
- more in some sectors such as health care and social services
where demands are typically year round and even 24/7, than say,
sport and recreation.
- Volunteer burn-out is a growing problem even though volunteering
is about giving your time and energy freely to activities that
are meaningful to you.
- Voluntary organizations are facing new and increasing costs
(e.g., liability and other types of insurance, higher salaries
for administrators of volunteer resources, re-imbursement of
- Recognizing volunteers appropriately is always a challenge,
particularly when the value of volunteerism is not well appreciated
in the broader society.
- Volunteering costs money (e.g., bus fare, lunches, childcare)
- Many organizations lack the capacity (including money) to
be able to engage and support more volunteers.
- Public, governments and the private sector don't really understand
what volunteering is all about and how important it is.
- Collaboration and dialogue are important but they consume
a lot of energy and time and travel costs that few organizations
Comments on solutions
- Providing a consistent level of information, tools and other
support services to voluntary organizations - particularly on
a face to face basis at the community level and surrounding
region - throughout Canada is a major challenge.
- Ensuring that the information, tools and support services
meet the diverse needs of the many different organizations serving
Canadians of all ages, cultural and social backgrounds, including
immigrants, whether they live in large cities or rural and remote
communities adds an important dimension to the challenge.
I started volunteering when I was 5 years old when my
parents took me door to door selling apples for the Beavers.
My parents go to church, and volunteer there, and
I just got into the habit of volunteering as a kid.
- Similar challenges exist serving Aboriginal peoples who wish
to integrate into non-Aboriginal communities.
- Promoting understanding of what volunteerism is all about
and why it is vital to our democracy and quality of life will
be an on-going challenge.
- Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of voluntary organizations
without losing the initiative, passion and altruism that are
among the hallmarks of volunteerism is a difficult balancing
- Engaging the 'next generation' of volunteers - particularly
children and youth - is proving to be an increasing challenge.
Comments on mechanisms
- Design programs, volunteer positions and management systems
with volunteers in mind; don't automatically use private or
public sector management approaches.
invest a lot of time trying to understand what prospective
volunteers want to do and what they have to offer, and
then we develop a role that fits them and our mission.
- Collaborate at the community level to raise local awareness
of what voluntary organizations do and why they're important.
- Consider adjusting roles and management styles so that voluntary
organizations can attract volunteers - especially young people,
retired people and people with special skills.
- Since much of the information, tools, guides, etc., already
exist, focus on making them accessible (e.g., outreach) in a
consistent way throughout Canada and ensure they're adapted
to the diversity of cultural, sectoral, geographic and other
- Recognize that front-line volunteers, administrator of volunteer
resources, and board directors all have distinct needs in terms
of screening, orientation, training, recognition, etc.
- Operating transparently in an accountable way is a good way
to ensure that voluntary organizations remain relevant to their
Promoting public awareness of volunteerism is essential.
Making information, tools, advice and other forms
of support of a consistent standard easily accessible
across Canada is very important.
- Voluntary organizations are going to have to become a lot
more professional if they're going to be taken more seriously.
- If you make volunteering professional you'll kill it; volunteering
is something that anyone should be able to do just because they
- Ensure that volunteering can remain an activity that people
can do out of sense of altruism and commitment to their community.
- Extend 'mandatory volunteering', especially in schools so
that young people can get into the habit of volunteering.
we need to invest more in national security, but we also
need to invest in improving the capacity of voluntary
organizations to engage Canadians and contribute to the
kind of democracy that has made Canada number 1.
- Work toward eliminating 'mandatory volunteering' because,
if volunteering is to continue being vital to our society it
needs to be an activity that is freely given.
- Ensure that volunteers contribute to designing surveys and
research on volunteerism.
- Provide support to groups that provide advice and services
to voluntary organizations (e.g. police who help in the screening
- Encourage more research on volunteerism, including further
analysis of the results of the NSGVP.
Comments on principles
not have some new bureaucracy for the NVI; there are lots
of good voluntary organizations out there that can share
in doing the job.
- Build on existing mechanisms by providing more resources to
enrich the offerings of voluntary sector organizations and to
extend their reach, particularly to isolated/rural/remote groups
- Establish mechanisms to support collaboration and dialogue
- including face-to-face dialogue -- among voluntary organizations
and between voluntary organizations, governments and the private
- Avoid new centralized federal mechanisms.
- Strengthen the federal role - in collaboration with the provinces
- in promoting volunteerism, and supporting measures to enhance
engagement and support of volunteers.
I really hope that whatever the government is going to
be doing under the NVI, it's going to find a way of doing
it with less paper and red tape. Ensuring adequate financial
support for the NVI is essential.
- Ensure support for recognizing and celebrating volunteers
- Ensure that increased funding is made available one way or
another to meet the needs of voluntary organizations.
- Avoid federal-provincial squabbles in the process of establishing
any new mechanisms.
- Ensure that resources get to the local level and are not eaten
up either by government or voluntary sector bureaucracies.
- The NVI should recognize that the meaning and goals of volunteering
and volunteerism vary substantially among organizations, sectors,
and social and cultural groups throughout Canada.
volunteer because I like to, not because I have to. But
I didn't appreciate that for many cultural and other communities,
volunteering is like an essential service; if people don't
volunteer, the community doesn't survive. Period.
- The NVI should recognize that for some geographic and cultural
communities, volunteering is much more than 'a nice thing to
do'; it's essential for 'survival'.
- The NVI should not aim at a 'one-size-fits-all' solution;
it should be sensitive to differences relating to culture, location
(urban/rural/remote), evolving community needs, and the approach
to volunteerism by other levels of government.
- The NVI should strongly support efforts to help ensure that
volunteering remains a rewarding experience.
- The NVI should promote reaching out to all groups in the community
and designing programs and volunteer positions that are truly
- The NVI should recognize that voluntary organizations can
be important agents of change, particularly by tapping into
the experience and expertise at the community level.
- It is important to ensure that provinces have a genuine role
in the NVI because many of them have legislation, policies and
programs that affect volunteerism and voluntary organizations
in fundamental ways.
Maybe September 11 is going to help us realize how important
volunteering is not only for dealing with emergencies and
providing services, but also for bringing us together.
I don't feel 'at home' unless I'm volunteering.