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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.

 

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