Volunteerism

My first post in my politics blog is about the most important aspect of any organization: Volunteers.

Volunteers are the difference makers in the viability and success of any organization.  Take a minute and think of any campaign, fundraiser, organization or group within Toronto and how volunteers play vital roles.  It is the commitment of their time which carries the most value,  time that cannot be replaced with technology.  A computer doesn't knock on a door or energize a crowd, nor can a robot be able to reasonably empathize with a resident or member.  

In the context of an election; volunteers are the lynchpin of a campaign and will make or break its success.  No matter the quality of the candidate, not having a team to engage a community and put in work that is often not publicly recognized will likely end in defeat.  Volunteers range from experts (willing to donate their time to a dedicated purpose) or are a friend/family/resident who believes in the campaign and will do any task asked. 

From personal experience I know that volunteers are great resources in communities.  I had volunteers that had never canvassed and were apprehensive.  They overcame their personal fears to accomplish a goal I could not do alone.  There were many moments I learned something new from the experiences of my volunteers.  I hope that all my volunteers know how much their involvement meant to me, I certainly don't want them to believe I didn't appreciate their help.

With so much positivity from volunteerism, there is one definite negative: convincing people that they could/should volunteer.  If we split volunteerism into two camps: politics vs everything else, the fundamental purpose is the same. 

VOLUNTEERISM IN POLITICS

The main difference: political volunteers usually are only needed for a short period of time which may or may not be predetermined.  The intense focus of needing volunteers usually aligns with political affiliations or the belief in 'getting the other party out'.  Like any good organization would have, a solid base of volunteers can be counted on.  A truism about volunteers: they aren't usually paid, are there on their own volition and make the personal decision to come back.  This is the hardest point to stress, volunteers don't have to come back.  When a person decides to volunteer they choose when they are done.  A lot of hard work rests on shoulders that may not decide to come back. 

This leaves campaigns vulnerable to volunteer fatigue.  When the main cluster of volunteers are relied on heavily, it may put undue stress on them.  Like stated above, they can choose if they want to come back and the tightrope act begins of finding that balance of personal satisfaction and organizational need. 

VOLUNTEERISM IN ORGANIZATIONS

Volunteerism also has an organizational need for groups that operate within Toronto.  Many grassroot organizations are created, funded and managed by volunteers.  Expanding an ideology, paradigm or purpose needs physical beings.  An organization needs to go beyond a social media structure to have a true impact.  People pounding pavements or meeting face to face entrenches the importance of the organization. 

Organizational volunteers also have the issue of fatigue because life doesn't always allow for constant and consistent availability.  If a volunteer commits to a monthly allotment of hours but cannot for situational circumstances, does the absence make them less likely to 'double up' or stay away?  As attitudes shift and the perceived importance of one's time alters, organizations are left with a fluid gain and loss of volunteers.

Unfortunately there are simply too many organizations out there to volunteer for and not enough people who actually donate their time.  Unlike high school students that are required to accumulate community hours, residents of communities have no social contract to contribute to its well being.  There will never be legislated volunteer requirements for residents because that in itself seems over-reaching to say the least.  

I personally do not volunteer for any organization on a regular basis.  I do attempt to donate platelets as often as I can (of which the process from leaving my home and returning) takes approximately 4-5 hours.  Over the course of the past year I have taken the opportunity to meet and promote many organizations.  I have become an active participant in events or attend meetings to offer advice/time on a one-off basis.  I am still searching for an organization I can dedicate more time towards that is both enjoyable and also community changing.  Political organizations will be there for my interests, I simply categorize their needs differently.

What can you do?

I will not preach to anyone about how they should volunteer more.  There are many who attempt to bribe, shame, entice or even  expect people to help their organization.  My advice is simple: if you have the time, if you have the motivation and finally if you have the ability, volunteer.  How do you choose, that is the best part, it is up to you.  Depending on your thoughts/beliefs/hobbies/neighbourhood, many opportunities can be done locally with like-minded individuals.  

Where should you volunteer?

I contemplated creating a list of organizations that I would suggest but felt those interested in the concept have the capacity to seek out organizations who they would best align with.  My list was a bit heavy on the political spectrum and know many are simply not interested.

Good luck and hopefully this year Toronto sees an increase in volunteerism, an increase in making a difference and finally a year where anyone realizes they can make a difference.

Posted on January 23, 2015 .