Volunteering: The secret sauce for inclusive communities?

As of late last week, I am now the chair of the board of the United Way of Greater Moncton and Southeastern New Brunswick, the backbone organization working with dozens of partner organizations to address social challenges in the region. It’s a bit of a challenge for me given the last two chairs were very strong.

I also volunteer on two other community boards. In fact, since returning to New Brunswick in the early 1990s there hasn’t been a time that I was not volunteering with at least one organization.

I have written quite a bit over the years about the importance of volunteerism but after my column this weekend, I was thinking about it in the context of inclusion.

The latest survey data from Statistics Canada (for 2018) indicates that 42% of adults in New Brunswick volunteer formally and 78% volunteer either formally or informally during the year. That is impressive.

This represents 124 million hours per year of volunteering across New Brunswick. Just for fun, let’s say that volunteerism is ‘worth’ about $30/hour. In other words, if those were paid hours, the direct, indirect and induced economic impacts would conservatively boost GDP by $30/hour. So all that volunteering is ‘worth’ nearly $4 billion that is not included in the formal GDP statistics.

As I have said in the past, the high level of volunteerism in Canada is one of the things that sets us apart from many other countries.

I think it also helps with the goal of inclusion. Imagine if community sports leagues were unable to rely on volunteers. It’s already expensive enough to put kids into sports – imagine if all the volunteers had to be paid? Community sports leagues would be priced out for all but the richest families.

Imagine if support organizations such as food banks, shelters, etc. didn’t have a legion of volunteers. It could double or triple – or even more – the cost of the services making it much harder to reach the folks that need the services.

As we look to become an even more inclusive place in the years ahead, I think the role of volunteerism will become even more pronounced.

I am a little concerned the volunteerism rate drops significantly among older NBers (specifically the 55-64 age cohort). For formal volunteerism, the rate among those aged 55-64 is only 33% (compared to 43.5% among those aged 45-54 and nearly 47% among those aged 35-44).

I suspect the higher rates of volunteerism among younger people is related to children and volunteerism in schools, sports, etc.

If we want to be a diverse and inclusive society in the years ahead, we will have ample opportunity. Immigrants will be streaming in by the thousands each year. Historically marginalized groups will need more support. The relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations needs a lot of work – not just at the governmental level – at the community and individual level.

Volunteerism will be key to ensuring we are a diverse and inclusive society moving forward.