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The Changing Landscape of Volunteering

How organizations and volunteers have adapted in light of COVID-19
  • Gigit
  • 10 mins
  • April 13, 2021

The Changing Landscape of Volunteering


The past year has been a tough one for the social good community. The global pandemic continues to have an impact on all of us as we work to adapt to new virtual ways of engaging with each other and maintaining connection. Of course, one of the major focuses has been to keep us all safe and healthy; but for non-profits, charities, foundations and volunteers, another question being asked is, “How do we continue to support our communities with necessary services and programs, despite COVID-19?”

The theme for this year’s National Volunteer Week is, “The Value of One, The Power of Many”. We are all encouraged to reflect on the incredible acts of kindness by millions of individuals, as well as the amazing things that happen when we work together to reach a common goal. What a great opportunity to celebrate the adaptation, flexibility and perseverance demonstrated by the social good community in the past year.

At Gigit, one of our biggest goals is to connect charitable organizations to the passionate, capable, and dynamically skilled people who are eager to help. We want to walk you through what the current landscape looks like for volunteers and charitable organizations and how things have changed in the past year. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see where you fit amongst it all – whether as a new volunteer, a returning volunteer, or maybe even as a non-profit leader who needs some inspiration when it comes to ways to move forward.

The response to COVID-19

In the early days of the pandemic, both organizations and volunteers carried a remarkable amount of uncertainty when it came to how to carry on supporting their communities. In trying to preserve the health and safety of all, community services and programs were shut down. This total shut down proved to be temporary, as everyone pivoted and adapted to social distancing and other safety protocols.

By October of 2020, and after 7 months of COVID-19 lockdown, 49% of organizations had restarted some suspended programs, and 43% had begun to re-engage volunteers for in-person roles, with new health and safety procedures in place. At the same time, 38% of organizations had begun to re-engage volunteers via virtual volunteering roles, and 31% had redeployed existing volunteers in newly crafted roles. The shift to virtual volunteering, for some organizations, began before the pandemic. Others were forced to move their existing in-person volunteer roles to virtual ones.

The pandemic has highlighted many societal inequities and shortfalls, and so despite charitable organizations needing to take a step back and regroup, demand for their services is higher than ever. 12% of charitable organizations have needed to expand due to this increased demand for programs and services, and 40% are still planning expansion in the form of new programs and services.

This combination of challenges and increased need created a recipe for significant change, and forward progress – for both organizations and the volunteers who generously donate their time and talents.

Organizations pivoted, adapted and overcame challenges

In order to keep providing the services and programs that make a difference for community members, charitable organizations needed to develop new volunteer roles and adapt existing ones to keep volunteers safe. 56% of organizations now offer some virtual volunteering roles, allowing volunteers to donate their time from the safety of their homes. The organizations who offered virtual volunteering roles before the pandemic reported seeing an increase in the number of positions from 9% to 49%, and 48% of those roles will remain virtual for the foreseeable future. Increasingly, organizations are finding themselves in need of volunteers who are tech savvy, and who have skills that can easily be used in a virtual setting – like social media coordination and community relations.

So what’s next for charitable organizations? 52% say that their major focus in coming months will be to re-engage the volunteers who took time out of their roles to focus on staying safe and healthy during the pandemic. The 40% of organizations who are expanding, and developing new programs and services are pushing for new volunteers to help achieve their goals. Of course, health and safety is top-of-mind; 69% of organizations say that their top priority is maintaining the health, safety and well-being of their staff, the community members they serve, and their volunteers.

The changing landscape of volunteering

Many Canadians were able to stay on as active volunteers during COVID-19 or were able to return to their roles after a period of time spent adjusting. Due to the closing and cancelation of many activities, many actually found themselves with more time on their hands to volunteer.

With virtual volunteering becoming a new norm, having access to and being comfortable with technology was a significant factor in staying active as a volunteer this past year; 40% of active volunteers were redeployed into adapted or new virtual roles with the same organization they served before the pandemic.

Access to and comfort in using technology served as a barrier for some. Only 24% of inactive volunteers indicated they are comfortable using technology to volunteer, and only 27% reported that they have the technology necessary for virtual volunteering. When we compare these numbers to those associated with active volunteers, we can see that overall, active volunteers are more tech-savvy. 57% of active volunteers reported that they’re comfortable using technology, and 50% have access to the technology necessary to volunteer virtually.

Other barriers to active volunteering were age and health concerns. Of course, volunteers found themselves putting their health and their family members’ health first during the global pandemic. Only 26% of the volunteers who remained active during the pandemic were over the age of 65, and only 14% indicated that they lived with a family member who is over the age of 65. When comparing these numbers to inactive volunteers, we see that 41% are over the age of 65, and 25% live with someone over the age of 65. It’s clear that the volunteers who remained active were able to do so due to their access to technology, and their lack of risk when it came to contracting COVID-19 or passing it on to a family member.

There are brighter days ahead

When those brighter days come, 80% of previous volunteers will return to their roles if health and safety practices are in place. In the meantime, 17% of active volunteers are helping out more casually in their neighbourhood, or with grassroots groups. There is still a wealth of good being generated in communities across Canada. It’s all thanks to the organizations and volunteers who continue to serve our communities – whether virtually, or in-person.

In these uncertain times, as well as when COVID-19 has passed us by, Gigit is here to provide connections between organizations, volunteers, businesses and individual, kind-hearted folks – all for the benefit of our communities and the greater social good. If you’re interested in making volunteer management easier for your organization, we can help. Check out our Solutions for Non-Profits page to find out more, and reach out to us at any time if you have questions. We’re eager to help you create an even bigger impact in your community.

Source: Volunteer Canada