Importance of volunteers and economic development

Dan Dibbelt
Smoky River Regional Economic Development

We don’t often think of volunteers as an important component of economic development, but they are in fact an essential to a community’s social and economic success.

It is true volunteers do not get paid so are not creating employment. They don’t receive a salary so don’t pay taxes.

They don’t usually have a set schedule to work, and they don’t pay into CPP or EI. But like paid employees, they are working and creating benefit to our communities.

The 2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP) shows volunteerism in Alberta is changing and evolving.

While volunteerism rates in Canada as a whole are relatively unchanged, the study highlights some interesting statistics coming out of Alberta:

. Alberta’s volunteerism rate rose nearly 7 per cent between 2004 and 2010.

. 54.7 per cent of Albertans volunteered in 2010, compared to 48 per cent in 2004. This is compared to 47 per cent of Canadians in 2010.

. 58 per cent of Alberta females volunteered in 2010 compared to 51.6 per cent of Alberta males.

. 65.5 per cent of Albertans with school aged children volunteered an average of 146 hours, while those with no children were less likely to volunteer (49.1 per cent did so) but gave the most hours (151).

. Alberta youth aged 15-24 had the highest rate of volunteering of all ages (58 per cent did so).

The statistics show that Albertan’s like to volunteer, in particular married or common law couples, families and even youth.

But besides the dollar value what is the actual value of volunteering?

According to a study by the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, it’s quite a bit.

According to the study, based on 2000 data in US dollars, a board of director volunteer is worth $31.30.

Coordinators are worth $26.85 and special events volunteers are worth $12.22 per hour.

While the above figures are in US dollars, the figures are also 15 years old, so likely pretty good indicators of present day Canadian dollar values.

Looking around the Smoky region it is hard to imagine the actual value of the volunteer hours contributed by every organization.

McLennan has the Kimiwan Bird Association, Donnelly the genealogical society, Falher has the FABuLAS society and Girouxville the museum society, then add in chambers of commerce, tourism organizations, sports teams, and numerous regional festivals and celebrations and you have a staggering dollar value.

Without volunteers, organizations such as libraries, Family and Community Support Services, Adult Literacy and even the local fires services, would struggle to get by.

Our region without all the various volunteer groups would be a rather lonely and sad place to live.

A two hour meeting with a board of directors of 12 would be worth more than $750 dollars. In one year alone that is worth $9,000.

A one-day festival with numerous planning sessions and all-day activities would go into the tens of thousands.

While we can put a dollar value on the impact of volunteers, the real value, the difference volunteers make to our communities, is not so easy to measure, that is until we lose our volunteers and start losing some of the organizations that are making a positive impact in our region.

Without volunteers, our kid’s sports teams would not exist, some of our sports complexes would shut down, schools would struggle to deliver programs and our community festivals would not exist.

The statistics from the CSGVP suggests volunteer numbers in Alberta are growing. Yet, many rural communities are struggling because the “same ten volunteers” are getting tired.

The CSGVP suggests 58 per cent of Alberta youth are volunteering. But are we seeing that trend in our region? Perhaps it is time to figure out how we engage the region’s youth into volunteering.

Youth tend to volunteer for international causes, causes they see on television, on YouTube and Facebook, causes that are not in our region. Perhaps we need to figure out what we can do to encourage them to volunteer at home.

Share this post