National shortage of volunteers is hitting non-profits in Waterloo region

National shortage of volunteers is hitting non-profits in Waterloo region

A national shortage of volunteers is affecting how and what programs and services organizations, charities and non-profit organizations deliver and these impacts are being felt in the Waterloo area.

According to figures recently released by Volunteer Canada, as of November 2022, up to 65 percent of organizations in the country are facing a shortage of volunteers, with up to 35 percent of them having to reduce or cancel their services as a result.

The Executive Director of the Volunteer Waterloo Region fears the region will soon feel the effects of these service cancellations, which is already happening in larger centers like Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa.

“We’re not far from being a big hub in the Waterloo area, so I think we’re going to feel that in the foreseeable future,” said Jane Henning.

Volunteer Waterloo Region is a hub connecting people with volunteer opportunities, serving over 160 organisations, charities and non-profit organizations in the region.

Katie McArthur is the volunteer coordinator at Carizon. The organization offers a range of tutoring programs for high school students thanks to volunteers. McArthur said they are feeling the effects of a volunteer shortage and are trying to find creative ways to nurture, recruit and retain more volunteers. (Submitted by Katie McArthur)

“It’s harder to recruit volunteers,” she said, noting that she’s also noticed a 20 percent drop in website traffic.

Hennig said retaining volunteers is also a challenge. Some organizations have not resumed programs in anticipation that they won’t have the volunteers to run them, she said.

The pandemic has changed the way people volunteer, Hennig said, and many people don’t want to volunteer long-term or don’t feel safe returning full-time because of COVID-19.

She adds that burnout in the nonprofit industry also plays a role in scarcity.

“There’s a lot of burnout and fatigue among volunteers, but also among sector staff because they have to pick up on the work that volunteers would have done in the past,” Hennig said.

“I think that’s going to affect so many ministries in the community.”

The Morning Edition – K-W8:10A nationwide volunteer shortage is impacting non-profit organizations in the Waterloo area

There is a nationwide shortage of volunteers that impacts how and what programs and nonprofits can accomplish. Recent statistics from Volunteer Canada show that 65 percent of organizations in the country are struggling with a shortage of volunteers. According to Jane Hennig, Executive Director of the Volunteer Waterloo Region, communities in Toronto and Vancouver are already grappling with this impact… And the Waterloo Region may soon be too. Local nonprofits are trying to adapt

Hennig said Volunteer Waterloo Region staff are working with the organizations they serve to find ways to adapt to the volunteer shortage.

Over at Carizon Family and Community Services, volunteer coordinator Katie McArthur said her volunteer roster has shrunk from 173 people before COVID to just 85 as of November 2022.

A large proportion of these volunteers help run Carizon’s tutoring and homework programs. Staff are now brainstorming ideas to recruit and retain volunteers, but also to get more students to join.

“That makes it difficult because if the students don’t come, the volunteers won’t stay and vice versa,” McArthur said.

She said they are considering introducing smaller study groups, where a few volunteers would not only focus on supporting five students at a time, but would make it easier.

“It might also help generate a little more interest and keep volunteers accountable,” she said. “It gives them more of a leadership role.”

Julie Phillips is CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Waterloo area. She said they had to stop accepting youth into their program due to a lack of volunteers. (Submitted by Julie Phillips)

Julie Phillips, CEO of Waterloo Region’s Big Brothers Big Sisters, said her organization is in a very similar situation to its BC branch in Surrey, where it has had to pause recruiting young people due to a lack of volunteers.

Before COVID, the Waterloo area group ministered to over 1,300 children and youth with more than 550 volunteers. Now they have 375 volunteers looking after 600 children and young people, with another 200 on a waiting list.

“There is a gap. We have way too many kids on a waiting list to be mentors,” she said.

“Right now, child registration is closed so we can catch up with someone with that backlog and take some of those kids off the waiting list.”

She said they are expanding programs like Big Bunch, which provides mentoring support to children and young people in a group-based setting, to hopefully get more children off the waiting list.

Both Phillips and McArthur said they are “incredibly grateful” for the volunteers they currently have, but acknowledge that the ways and times people want to volunteer have changed.

Some have moved away from the area and would like to continue virtually, others said the pandemic has deprived them of the opportunity to volunteer and for others it has given them the opportunity to donate more time.

Hennig said she hopes things will improve because there will always be people who want to give back to the community.

“We will always have volunteers. People want to give back to the community and get involved,” she said.

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