Volunteering Your Way to Employment By Elisa Birnbaum

The following is an excerpt from "Volunteering Your Way to Employment", by Elisa Birnbaum. Click here for the full article.


You've heard it before and you'll hear it again: Canadians are a giving bunch. With one of the largest nonprofit sectors in the world, it's estimated Canadians volunteer approximately two billion hours yearly, and an average of 168 hours each.

What's more, as both the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating 2007 (CSGVP) and Volunteer Canada's recent Bridging the Gap report attest, about half of Canadians over the age of 15 currently call themselves volunteers.

The latter report also posits that volunteering is a two-way relationship that needs to meet the goals of the volunteer and the organization. That's not always an easy task. For one thing, organizations often focus on what they need, while volunteers have personal goals they're hoping the experience will help them meet. Bridging that gap can be tricky.

For instance, when one person in the equation has employment as their intended outcome, is that a boon, a challenge or a little bit of both for the relationship? For a long time now, the adopted viewpoint in the sector is that volunteering is the best route to a job. Anecdotal evidence affirms the truth in that statement. But how does that overarching goal fall in line with organizational objectives? Is it helpful or detrimental? Can it be a potential source of disappointment for those who don't end up with work? And does the goal undermine in some way the pure altruistic tradition inherent in giving back?

Scratch my back, I scratch yours?

Volunteering with the goal of employment is nothing new, agrees Ruth MacKenzie, president and CEO of Volunteer Canada, who says it's become more prevalent over the 25 plus years she's been working in the sector. It comes down to the reciprocal nature of volunteering, one that seems to be ever-growing in importance.

"Whether it's increased network or skills, a sense of wellbeing, it's widely accepted to get something back from volunteer experience," she says. And as people are increasingly — and understandably — looking for an edge on the professional front, volunteering helps demonstrate that you're "part of the community and presenting yourself as whole person, with interests outside of work."

Volunteering is also seen as a mechanism to gain skills and experience and to build some social capital to make people more marketable in the job market. "We are seeing that in a greater way," affirms MacKenzie.

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