Could individual social responsibility strengthen volunteering?

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On July 20, Volunteer Canada and Investors Group will present a free webinar on the expanding landscape of volunteer recognition. While recognizing volunteers continues to be an important dimension of volunteer engagement, Volunteer Canada’s new research highlights that community involvement in 2017 is varied and diverse, and may not always fall into the traditional definition of volunteering. Increasingly, Canadians are putting their personal values into action informally through Individual Social Responsibility (ISR), a concept that offers a more inclusive and progressive way to frame volunteering within the larger spectrum of engagement.

While 12.7 million Canadians volunteer an average of 154 hours per year through nonprofit organizations, charities, and public institutions, Canadians are doing great things outside of these formal structures. Trina Isakson points out in Beyond Giving and Participating: How and why individuals are exploring new ways to advance social good, that social media and technology have influenced interactions between Canadians and community organizations. She suggests that, “Volunteers are increasingly demanding short-term, episodic, skilled roles.” She outlines four key areas where individuals choose to advance social good outside of formal volunteering activities: consumerism; technology and data; investing; and business owner practices, noting that these are all valid forms of advancing social good.

This shift signals that as the nature of volunteering and engaging in community is evolving and expanding, our conceptualization and recognition of the term must adapt. The notion of ISR may present a broader lens through which to conceptualize all forms of volunteering and engagement in an inclusive and more robust way. It’s like the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, which has become an integral part of business and today encompasses a broad range of considerations including environmental footprint, purchasing (ethical supply chain management), hiring (diversity and opportunity), charitable donations, employee volunteering, and community relations.

Volunteer Canada’s new report, Recognizing Volunteering in 2017, aims to better understand what kinds of activities people consider to be volunteering, how people are currently engaged in communities, and how we can recognize a broader definition of volunteering through the notion of ISR.

How Canadians help out

Canadians engage in community in diverse ways, ranging from informal activities to more formal activities that have traditionally been associated with volunteering. One constant trend is that for Canadians, volunteering is ultimately about helping and giving. Three in ten Canadians have contributed their time in the last 12 months, while half have contributed money.

In terms of public perceptions and attitudes, the majority (87%) agree that Canada needs volunteers as society and the economy would suffer without them, and that volunteering is a community activity that is easy to do. Canadians are divided in terms of the activities that constitute volunteering, with 35% of Canadians saying they help out in the community but do not consider their engagement to be volunteering, and four in ten agreeing that there are many people who help out in the community who are not thought of as volunteers.

Why should we care? Because the small details matter

Although rates of formal volunteering have diminished in the last few years, more Canadians are volunteering on an informal basis. So, what does ISR mean for volunteer centres that match individuals with opportunities? How can corporations integrate ISR into their employer-supported volunteering programs? Could ISR provide new opportunities for recruitment, outreach and promotional strategies?

Join Paula Speevak, President and CEO of Volunteer Canada, Trevor Krahn, Director of Community Investment at Investors Group, and Alison Stevens, Volunteer Centre Consultant to Volunteer Canada, at our free webinar on July 20 as they explore these questions and the evolution of volunteer recognition.

Involved Canadians build strong and connected communities to create a vibrant Canada. Volunteer Canada provides national leadership and expertise on volunteerism to increase the participation, quality and diversity of volunteer experiences. Since 1977 we have worked closely with our network of more than 200 volunteer centres across Canada, over 1200 Volunteer Canada members, charitable and nonprofit organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and government departments.

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