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Letter: Volunteer Alberta –Submission to the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy

August 10, 2010

The Honourable David Emerson, P.C.

Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy
11th Floor, Legislature Annex
9718 – 107 Street
Edmonton, Alberta
T5K 1E4

Attn: Honourable David Emerson, P.C.

Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy, Council member

Re: Volunteer Alberta –Submission to the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy

Dear Mr. Emerson:

The recent acknowledgement by the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy (in An Invitation to Help Shape Alberta’s Future) of the investment and contribution volunteers make to communities in Alberta and to the overall economy was unexpected, but welcomed by Volunteer Alberta’s members and collaborating organizations.

Volunteer Alberta applauds the Council’s recognition of the strong linkages between the strategic development of Alberta’s economy and increasing the development of the ‘brainpower of people’ or the so-called social and human capital aspects of the economy. The Council rightly identified how creating strong and vibrant communities will attract and retain the human capital necessary to diversify and strengthen our economy.

It should be highlighted how the ongoing activities of the nonprofit/voluntary sector in Alberta are already complementing three of the Council’s conversations in the report, particularly related to:

  • #3 creating new wealth through knowledge and innovation;
  • #4 ensuring healthy, skilled and engaged citizens;
  • #5 ensuring communities are vibrant, supportive and inclusive.

Nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations in Alberta are actively working to make communities stronger and more desirable places to live. Volunteer Alberta encourages the Council to focus public policy and financial investment on the nonprofit/voluntary sector to achieve its objective of raising and sustaining the quality of living for Albertans.

The Social Investment Volunteers Make in Alberta

Alberta leads the way in 21st century volunteerism. The rural roots of the province established the foundation for generations of volunteers, at a time when neighbours relied on each other for social and economic stability. Although the demographics of Alberta volunteers reflect an urban shift, the intensity of the act of sharing time and talent has not diminished. Some characteristics of the sector include:

  • Alberta has a volunteer rate of 52 percent exceeding the Canadian average of 48 percent.
  • Roughly 1,445,000 Albertans contributed an average of 172 hours in community services in 2007 (6 percent more than the national average).
  • Of the 19,000 nonprofit/voluntary organizations in Alberta, approximately 58 percent have no paid staff and are entirely volunteer run.[1]

How can strategic Volunteerism contribute to Alberta’s Economic Strategy?

Nonprofit/voluntary organizations provide cost-effective structures to deliver social services and respond to grassroots level community needs. The efficiency and effectiveness of voluntary organizations goes a long way, making for a high social return on investment. However, if the only value added is that of low cost delivery systems, Alberta’s economic and political leaders are missing the overall impact that community based organizations make to create a standard of living that is unparalleled.

Besides delivering services that are integral to the quality of life in communities, volunteer participation also builds trust and reciprocity among people, encourages social solidarity, and enhances citizens’ belief that they live in a caring community.

There are several other benefits from volunteering noted in the recent Canada Survey of Giving Volunteering and Providing (2007) as well as in academic research about how volunteering enhances an individual’s own social capital (expression of values and what makes people fit into a social reference group) and human capital (the skills, enhancements, competencies, and knowledge an individual gains).[2] A learned and connected populace promotes civil engagement and creates a valued community.

The nonprofit/voluntary sector not only serves underprivileged and vulnerable populations (this is often acknowledged by elected and corporate leaders, but is a facile observation that does not nearly reflect the diversity and integration of the sector in every single Albertan’s life), but also serves and are supported by ordinary, middle-class Albertans. Every day in Alberta, individuals and families participate with volunteer groups such as the 4-H Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, local sport associations, or volunteer firefighters.

Many segments of the Albertan population benefit from volunteer activities. The classification of the voluntary sector relies on the ‘John Hopkins International Classification System’.[1] Volunteer Alberta recommends adoption of this internationally recognized system, which underscores the diversity of the nonprofit/voluntary sector and its 12 distinct subsectors. [2] From sports and recreation to social services…from education to environment…from arts and culture to business and industry ­ –organizations large and small depend on volunteers as they provide community programs and services to assist, entertain and connect local residents.

Volunteer contributions generate considerable benefits for organizations, individual volunteers, people served by volunteers, communities, and society at large. These benefits should not be taken for granted. Volunteers are not free –indeed they are citizens whose investments of time and energy require support.

Challenges facing the Sector

Increasing economic pressures are challenging the capacities of nonprofit/voluntary organizations to maintain the levels of active citizenship and community engagement in Albertan communities. Some of the practical and conceptual challenges facing the nonprofit/voluntary sector include:

  • Organizations are financially vulnerable as the Alberta government decreases an already lower than national average level of investment in the sector and are struggling to meet growing demands with the same or less revenue;
  • Staff leading nonprofit organizations struggle to generate revenue, maintaining contract arrangements, and recruit and retain skilled employees – all the while trying to create an elusive level of sustainability;

Volunteer engagement trends are fluctuating dramatically. Organizations struggle to respond to changing demographics in Alberta. (For instance, a core of highly-engaged people (10 percent of volunteers) contributes 54 percent of all hours. Losing these types of volunteers

  • would have disproportionately adverse effects on organizations and local communities. New strategies are available and investment is required to implement recruitment and retention for youth, immigrant populations, baby-boomers, etc. as volunteers).

Recommendations:

Volunteers support individual Albertans and provide life to our communities.

Volunteer Alberta encourages the Council to consider strategies which harness and support the powerful spirit of citizenship in Albertan communities by supporting volunteers and nonprofit/voluntary organizations. Strategic actions might include:

  • Allocating both financial and thought investment to reinforce the efforts of volunteers and nonprofit/voluntary organizations;
  • Expanding the levels of support for ‘made-in-Alberta’ legislation, programs and services designed to remove barriers to volunteerism in Alberta. A heightened understanding of the impact of legislation on the nonprofit/voluntary sector either as delivery mechanisms or responders to the changes in community is required.
  • Supporting ‘capacity-organizations’ (such as Volunteer Alberta, Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations and others) in providing human resource tools, training initiatives and more, to better assist the operations of nonprofit/voluntary organizations;
  • Assigning specific resources to support research and development in the nonprofit/voluntary sector, with the aim of generating innovative programs, services and policies in response to the needs of local communities.

Volunteer Alberta: Supporting Volunteerism in Alberta

Volunteer Alberta is the only provincial capacity builder for the voluntary sector. Since its founding in 1990, Volunteer Alberta evolved to become an expert source of knowledge on volunteerism and the nonprofit/voluntary sector, with hundreds of members reflecting all twelve subsectors –including arts and culture, social services, education and health.

Volunteer Alberta leverages its knowledge to provide tools, initiatives and resources that build internal leadership and help community organizations engage volunteers to achieve their missions.

By energizing volunteerism and empowering local organizations, Volunteer Alberta shares with the Government of Alberta the goal of improving the quality of life for Albertans by creating on-the-ground action that will build strong, engaging communities.

Volunteer Alberta accesses networks (both formal and informal) and resources/information that could assist the Premiers Council for Economic Strategy in further developing strategies for the province.

For more information about volunteerism in Alberta, visit Volunteer Alberta on our website at: http://www.volunteeralberta.ab.ca/ or phone 780.482.3300.

Sincerely,

Karen Lynch

Executive Director

Volunteer Alberta

 

cc: Volunteer Alberta Board of Directors

 

[1] Salamon, Lester M. and Helmut K. Anheier, “The International Classification of Nonprofit Organizations: ICNPO-Revision 1, 1996.” Working Papers of the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, no. 19. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, 1996.

[2] These subsectors include: culture and recreation: education and research; health; social services; environment; development and housing; law, advocacy and politics; philanthropic intermediaries and voluntarism promotion; international; religion; business and professional associations, unions; and not elsewhere classified.

 

Letter: Submission for the Advisory Committee on Health

July 23, 2010

Mr. Fred Horne

MLA, Edmonton Rutherford Chair, Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health c/o Legislature Office #721 Legislature Annex 9718 – 107 Street Edmonton, AB T5K 1E4

Re: Submission for the Advisory Committee on Health

Dear Mr. Horne,

I am writing as Executive Director of Volunteer Alberta, Alberta’s only provincial capacity builder for the voluntary sector. Volunteer Alberta works and collaborates with a network of voluntary and non-profit organizations across the province to leverage knowledge to provide tools, initiatives and resources that help community organizations engage and retain volunteers, build internal leadership and achieve their missions.

Volunteer Alberta was encouraged to read the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health report which emphasised wellness, prevention and overall quality of life as being intricate parts of health care. The report reiterated the insight Volunteer Alberta and its partners have long expressed about the powerful investment Alberta’s 19,000 nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations make every day creating an unparreled quality of life for Albertans. Volunteer Alberta and its member organizations agree health is about much more than medical care. Many factors impact a person’s health. Families, the environment, education systems, and communities are the widely recognized so-called “social determinants of health.”

As Alberta modernizes its health legislation, greater emphasis needs to be placed on wellness, prevention and overall quality of life. Voluntary sector organizations are about enhancing quality of life in Albertan communities. From sports and recreation to social services…from education to environment…from arts and culture to business and industry –organizations large and small depend on volunteers as they provide community programs and services to assist, entertain and connect local residents. Voluntary organizations play a critical role in supporting quality of life and peoples’ overall wellness. These organizations are often heralded as basic and elemental by community leaders, but the financial investments in this province do not always reflect that importance.

Volunteerism is vital for health care. Continuing care organizations, for example, often rely on volunteers for enhancing quality of life of their residents — engaging them in recreational activities, providing a hand to hold, offering friendship and companionship, etc. In Alberta (based on 2007 statistics) health volunteers gave an average of 71 hours annually for a total of 16 million hours volunteered for health organizations. It is noteworthy that while approximately 2% of the nonprofit/voluntary organizations in Alberta are health organizations, upwards of 8% of Alberta’s population volunteered for health organizations. Health volunteers are motivated by the opportunity to make a contribution to the community (92%), or because they are personally affected by the cause of the organization (73%). (see Volunteer Alberta’s website: www.volunteeralberta.ab.ca for more health care volunteer data and information). Volunteerism does not replace the work of health professionals. It complements their skilled work and helps enhance the overall patient or resident experience while in a health care institution. This is but one example of volunteerism’s role in health care; there are thousands more.

Volunteer Alberta understands the Alberta Health Act will make provisions for ongoing engagement of Albertans as future decisions about the health system are made. In designing such engagement processes, we encourage the increased use of existing community networks. Voluntary sector networks are extensive, and are right down at the community level. The nature of their work is such that they are engaging everyday Albertans from all walks of life. The nonprofit/voluntary sector can connect with thousands of Albertans easily and readily, be it a cross-section of society or very targeted groups from specific backgrounds and interests.

Volunteer Alberta and the many organizations it represents would welcome the opportunity to partner, participate and assist in engaging Albertans and Alberta communities in the future as decisions about health are made.

Volunteer Alberta knows that volunteers are valued in this province. The reality is that health care legislation in Alberta needs to formally recognize the inputs invested every day from volunteer-engaging organizations. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Karen Lynch

Executive Director

Volunteer Alberta

cc: Angela Keibel, President, Volunteer Alberta

Concerns over the Government of Alberta’s Charitable Gaming Model Review

Back in September 2009, the Hon. Fred Lindsay, Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security, responsible for the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) appointed a three-member MLA committee to examine aspects of the province’s charitable gaming model. The government of Alberta’s reasoning was that the “committee came in response to concerns from some charities on how proceeds and wait times between events vary throughout the province. Many groups have also reported difficulty in recruiting and retaining enough volunteers to support their activities including casino events.” (see: GOA website)

Volunteer Alberta is concerned about the potential outcome of the charitable gaming model review which was due on March 31, 2010. Part of the reason for the concern is that Culture and Community Spirit Minister Blackett was of the opinion that the 980,000 hours invested by volunteers in casinos can be better spent elsewhere and that these views were made known to the Solicitor General.

Volunteer Alberta and a number of nonprofit and voluntary sector organizations maintain that many of the government’s concerns with the current casino and gaming model being practised in Alberta are unfounded. Volunteer Centre EDs expressed a contrary position indicating that many volunteers want to participate in exactly the kind of special event like a casino where their involvement is confined to a specific date and effort. Groups such as Volunteer Calgary have made submissions to the MLA Committee indicating survey results that casino volunteering was not a barrier to the majority of Volunteer Calgary’s member organizations. Furthermore, as the Calgary Chamber for Voluntary Organizations rightly highlighted, if casinos were fully staffed (without volunteers), there would be no sound rationale for charities to receive revenue from specific casinos.

In the interests of supporting community organizations throughout Alberta, it is crucial that funding commitments through volunteer managed casinos and other Alberta Lottery Fund programs be maintained. In 2008-09, almost 3,500 licensed charities earned $252 million in proceeds from casino events and there are 6,972 charitable organizations eligible to conduct and manage a casino event. It goes without saying that Alberta’s gaming model provides crucial support for a number of organizations in our communities.

Changes to Alberta’s charitable gaming model have the potential to dramatically shift important funding sources for nonprofit and voluntary organizations throughout Alberta.

During times of fiscal austerity, governments will seek alternative revenue sources, including through casinos and gaming. The concern is that if non-profit and volunteer organizations are not able to manage casino, then casino revenues will become part of general government revenues (rather than remaining part of the Alberta Lottery Fund budget stream). Currently, the Alberta Lottery Fund is made up of the government’s share of net revenues gaming, and these revenues total more than $1.5 billion each year, and are used to support thousands of volunteer, public and community-based initiatives annually.

Alberta maintains a unique charitable gambling model compared to other provinces. Some characteristics of this Alberta model include:

  • Each of the 19 traditional charitable casinos facilities can accommodate 182 two-day events per year resulting in almost 3,500 casino events annually.
  • The province is divided into eight casino regions and eligible organizations are assigned to facilities within their area. Based on geographic constraints and current boundaries, waitlists for a casino event range from 16 to 33 months throughout the province.
  • Charities are required to provide between 15 and 25 volunteers per event depending on the size of casino.
  • Between April and June of this year, charitable proceeds, per event, ranged from $18,246 in Medicine Hat to $76,109 in Calgary.

(See here for a breakdown of Alberta Lottery Fund distribution).

The model in Alberta provides organizations with the opportunity to fundraise through casino events. Casino revenues often provide a critical funding base for smaller organizations, which remain heavily reliant upon these funds. While there are some technical problems with the wait times, rural/urban funding differences, and applications processes, there are reasons not to abandon the overall charitable gambling model in Alberta

Organization in Alberta should look to what happened in British Columbia as a result of the way revenues are collected and distributed to nonprofit and voluntary organization. In British Columbia, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the BC government and the British Columbia Association for Charitable Gaming (BCACG) (a non-profit society, representing charities interests in British Columbia) in 1999, which committed one-third of net community casino revenues to charities and NGOs. Since the gaming funds went into general government coffers the BC government, under province-wide budgetary constraints the government felt the need in 2009 to freeze direct access gaming funds for organizations. The government ultimately released 7.95% ($159 million) later in the year, but funding amounts still fell short of the existing one-third commitment.

Non-profit and voluntary sector organizations in Alberta are right to raise concerns that gaming revenues could become one element of all the revenues collected by the government in Alberta. If gaming were to become part of the entire package of government revenue, when budgets begin to tighten, gaming funding might no longer remain a steady source of funding for organizations. This was precisely the problem which occurred in British Columbia, where despite increases in gaming revenues, funding for organizations declined.

Volunteer Alberta is concerned that any reallocation of casino revenues would further aggravate funding challenges facing organizations. Nonprofit and voluntary organizations already face budgetary challenges due to declining government funding stream and private donations. The challenge of replacing any lost income from casino would be compounded by the substantial decline in other provincial funding programs.

Volunteer Alberta hopes the recommendations made by the three-member MLA committee will recognize the importance of Alberta’s charitable gaming model and will not make changes which might adversely affect funding for organizations.

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