Tune us in – turn us on!

We know that volunteering means new experiences, new people, continued vitality and a sense of self-satisfaction that only comes from helping. There are others, however, who are willing and able but who are truly not engaged and, incidentally, in considerable danger of personal fulfillment inertia. That brings up the flip side of the coin.

The 2000 National Survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating (NSGVP) found that 95 per cent of us volunteer because we believe in the cause, 81 per cent to keep using our skills and experience, 70 per cent because we have been personally affected by what we are volunteering to do, 57 per cent to further explore our strengths, 30 per cent to be with our friends, and 26 per cent because of religious beliefs or obligations.

Renaissance 50 Plus is an interesting initiative of the Ottawa based Catholic Immigration Centre (CIC) with funding support from the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. The 18 month pilot project aims to look at innovative ways to engage 50 plus volunteers and share any lessons learned with the broader volunteer community. It makes some sense as the capacity to help newcomers adapt and contribute to Canada relies on some experience and familiarity with our communities, an attribute abounding in seniors. It also so happens that some newcomers are also 50 plus and themselves benefit from being engaged in the community. And the circle, it goes round and round.

Renaissance 50 Plus is about half way through its trial period and things are happening. It has done research, literature searches, networked with other organizations, tried coffee klatch match-ups and brainstormed. The inevitable, but essential, web site is up and running at www.renaissance50plus.ca.

One of the most simple, but profound, factors we are looking at is that organizations need to better understand what interests potential volunteers. They need to tune us in before they turn us on, but they also need to turn us on before we’ll tune in. It seems obvious, but it is often easier said than done.

The 2004 NSGVP survey found that over a quarter of volunteers, 27 per cent indicated that they did not volunteer more because no one had asked them. More than one in ten or 13% indicated that they did not know how to get involved. Norah McClintock tells us that older volunteers were more likely to say that half of those over 65 did not volunteer more because they had already made their contribution to volunteering and nearly a third say that they gave money instead of time.

Something we are looking to explore further is how not-for-profits can effectively get to us and an early conclusion is to open up opportunities through existing connections we all have. When you consider that it is common wisdom that most of what gets done, gets done by people who are already doing something, it makes even more sense.

Is it likely that 50 plus-ers can learn more about volunteering opportunities, and ultimately get turned on, through groups and activities in which they are already engaged? Golf tournaments already go a long way to supporting many worthy charities, however, most of them are preaching to the converted. Service clubs and religious groups have long been volunteering stalwarts, but they are experiencing increasingly declining participation rates. Just a few potential examples for engagement could be music festivals, theatre communities, the Legion, ethnic organizations or sports teams and clubs.