Measuring the Economic Value of Volunteering

Economic Value of Volunteering in CanadaThe final week of April saw Canada celebrate National Volunteer Week. In honour of this event, TD Bank released a report that estimates volunteering in Canada creates $50 billion in economic value each year. To put it into perspective, that is almost 3% of Canada’s national economy.

In fact, the report also calls that $50 billion figure “conservative,” as it’s only about half of Statistic Canada’s estimation of the value add from the non-profit sector in Canada. The discrepancy comes from the fact that this figure doesn’t include capital investment (not to mention intangible outcomes).

The report begins with the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition of a volunteer as an individual who performs “unpaid non-compulsory work; that is, time individuals give without pay to activities performed either through an organization or directly for others outside their own household.”

As volunteer work is unpaid, the report argues that one way to measure economic value from volunteering is by the opportunity cost for spending time on unpaid work as opposed to paid work. Multiply the average hourly wage rate ($24) by the total Canadian volunteer hours (2.1 billion) and you are left with the $50 billion figure that would have been produced if those volunteer hours were instead spent on paid work.

Again, this is a meager estimate as it doesn’t include economic value from the social capital generated. These are the intangible benefits associated with volunteering, such as skills developed through volunteering that are applied to a paid job, or socio-economic outcomes that benefit vulnerable groups.

Putting aside the calculation of this figure, let’s talk about why it is important.

For the most part, volunteering is recognized by its altruistic characteristics like selfless acts and giving back to the community. While these characteristics are important to our society’s well being, they are difficult to quantify and do not demonstrate economic value. Without these things, it is far too easy to undervalue the important role that volunteerism plays in our economy.

We’ve seen first hand what this undervaluation can do. There are many aspects of volunteering that go neglected causing ongoing struggles for organizations working with volunteers. This creates a burden on volunteering that could be overcome with more investment into a supporting infrastructure. Technological innovation in the sector is particularly lackluster, current tools leave much to be desired and innovation is stagnant in favour of more profitable markets.

This study reminds Canada how critical volunteering is for our economy. It becomes clear that volunteerism that is not only worth protecting, but also bettering. We call upon our friends in the volunteer sector to join us in thinking big, innovating, and working to improve accessibility so that our volunteer hours (and dollars) continue to be put to great work.

With better tools, support, and innovation, who knows what the world of volunteerism can achieve?

- Kevan and Jon

Our Experience at the University of Waterloo Leadership Conference

UW Workshop - 1

A short while ago Jon and I were asked to take part in University of Waterloo’s inaugural Leadership Starts Here conference. The event is a one-day student-run conference for 200 UW undergrad students looking to expand their leadership abilities and network with peers, staff, and alumni.

When we received the invite we were honoured to say the least. Jon and I are both UW graduates and can link some of our current progress and inspiration back to our days in Waterloo.  Naturally, we were happy to come back for a day and help out. We were to assume the role of workshop lead, meaning we would plan and prepare a workshop for about 50 attendees.

The theme we were given was “passion into action”. Ok, awesome! But what would we talk about?

Before we started writing anything down we decided to take a few steps back and come up with some objectives. A presentation is only as good as the foundation it sits on, right? First off: how could we provide the most value for the attendees? We really wanted the students to come out of the workshop feeling like it was a useful and fun experience. We also wanted to get them involved somehow. No one likes listening to someone talk at them for an hour straight.

With our theme and objectives in place we were ready to pick a relevant topic. Some good advice I’ve received in the past is to talk about what you know. One thing that Jon and I have found is that you can never underestimate how important a pitch is, that is, communicating your idea in a succinct and convincing way. We are constantly being asked “what is it you’re doing?” which inevitably results in a pitch of some sort. Meeting with our advisors, potential customers, friends, family, or networking. The audience changes but the core message remains the same. The best part is, a pitch is not exclusive to starting a business. Whether it’s trying to start a business, taking an idea to your boss, or anything in between. Your pitch is your idea’s gateway to the community.

It was decided then. We would talk about the importance of a pitch and incorporate a fun competition to get the students involved.

The competition went like this: we divided the attendees into groups, gave them a product and 15 minutes to prepare a pitch, then 2 minutes to pitch as a group in front of everyone assuming their product was new to market. The groups then voted on each pitch using a sign that said “Buy” on one side, and “Pass” on the other. For example, we used products like toilet paper, staplers, and pillows. Funny, yes, but simple enough that they wouldn’t take away from the pitch.

UW Workshop - 2

This was the best part of the workshop. It gave the students an opportunity to get out of their seats and put some theory into practice. Soon they were networking, collaborating to design a pitch, and for some, getting over a fear of public speaking. Everyone seemed to have a laugh while we took time to vote “Buy” or “Pass” after each pitch. It was a scenario reminiscent of Dragon’s Den.

All in all it was a great experience for us and hopefully for the attendees as well. To the eager individual that listed “prizes!” as a suggestion for a future workshop: we are listening and couldn’t agree more!

Thank-you to the crew from Alumni Affairs and the Student Success Office for putting on such an inspiring event and inviting us out. We’ll see you next year!

Kindness Connect Receives YCI Global Action Grant

We are happy to announce that Kindness Connect has been selected as a recipient of the Global Action Grant program from Youth Challenge International (YCI)!

Head-quartered in Toronto, YCI has over 20 years of youth development experience promoting volunteerism as a first principle. They leverage this experience to set up volunteer programs with partners and youth across the world and in four sectors: livelihoods, leadership, health and environment. These opportunities are truly for everyone. Volunteers can be students, groups, or professionals ready to engage in global youth development programming.

The YCI Global Action Grant program was designed to support innovative solutions to youth issues in development. This is something that we take to heart. Our mission at Kindness Connect is to remove barriers to volunteering, a task that is of particular importance for youth. The Canadian Survery of Giving, Volunteering and Participating outlines that “the likelihood of volunteering in later life appears to be linked to a number of early life experiences during one’s primary or secondary schooling. Those who had these prior life experiences were more likely than other Canadians to volunteer”.

We at Kindness Connect are very proud to be supported by such a veteran in volunteerism. Many thanks to YCI for their support and generosity!

- Jon and Kevan

More about Youth Challenge International
“Youth Challenge International is a leading global youth development organization that promotes youth innovation to drive positive change. Building on over 20 years of experience, our community development programs are designed to meet the needs of youth affected by poverty through four integrated sectors: livelihoods, health, leadership and the environment. YCI engages youth in creating solutions to the challenges they face, incorporating youth development, volunteerism, partnership, and equity into all that we do. YCI’s projects are currently located in Africa, Central and South America.”

Kindness Connect & Next-Gen Volunteering [Infographic]

Kindness Connect presents: “Next-Gen Volunteering In Canada”, the infographic. Click on the image below for a quick look at the problem and solution.


Kindness Connect at TEDxToronto 2012

On Friday October 26 the Kindness Connect team shut down our computers, turned off the coffee maker, hopped on the TTC, and attended TEDxToronto. For those unaware, TED is a non-profit that began as a conference devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading” (which is also their slogan). These conferences showcased talks under 20 minutes in length from inspiring minds throughout the world. TED has come a long way since its 1984 conception. Somewhere between then and now a program named TEDx was born with the mission of hosting local, self-organized events in a TED-like format. You can now visit the TED website at any time to view  video recordings from each TED event around the world. I encourage you to explore the categories of videos on the left side of their webpage.

We entered the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts early in the morning. The first thing that caught my eye were the large, red TED letters glowing indistinguishably. I was comforted by memories of some of my favourite talks: Sir Ken Robinson on why school kills creativity and Toronto’s own Neil Pasricha explaining the 3 A’s of Awesome behind his celebrated blog, 1000 Awesome Things.

TED videos are whatever you make out of them. Some inspire, some seek to educate, others encourage a laugh. While sharing an experience is definitely the TED way, the talks do not exist solely as a clap on the back. They exist to share ideas and inspire an audience for a better future. As the Toronto talks commenced I began to think more about this TED model and all of a sudden it hit me: this was certainly fitting for human nature. Look at everything around the world today: we can travel overseas in a matter of hours, healthcare has considerably improved our quality of living, and technology keeps us connected even in some of the most remote regions of the world. It’s human nature to progress, we have it hard-coded in our genes. Everything we have today is great, but humans will always see room for improvement, for advancement. This is something that TED celebrates.

Gavin Sheppard and Drew Dudley were our hosts for the day, each accomplished in their own right. Gavin provided deep stylings of a seasoned MC while Drew lent his soothing voice to introductions and a story of his own. The crowd was reminded several times that although the TED slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading”, we should all be thinking about these talks under the guide of “Ideas Worth Doing”, a phrase that was coined during TEDxAmsterdam.

All-in-all we were treated to the hard work and wonderful performances of 16 speakers. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t get much from reading the biographies of each speaker before the event. Somehow I felt let down by a lack of inspiration. That feeling died as quickly as it entered once the talks began. Reading short blurbs does not come close to the magical experience that these events and talks deliver. True to TED’s word of accessibility, you don’t need to have been an attendee to experience this magic for yourself. Stay tuned to the TEDxToronto webpage as all 2012 videos with be posted soon, free of charge. Here were my top 3 favourites from the day:

  1. Ryan Henson Creuighton & Cassandra Creighton – a father and daughter duo that will win over anyone’s heart. Over the course of just two days they created an online video game called “Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure“. Ryan manned the development while Cassandra created the graphics and voice-overs. Did I mention that Cassandra is in grade one?
  2. Marcelo da Luz – how many times have you shared an ambitious idea only to hear “that’s dumb”, “you can’t” or “no”? For Marcelo, a flight attendant with a marketing degree, this was a daily occurrence. You see, Marcelo wanted to build an electric vehicle from scratch. For him the hardest part wasn’t building the vehicle, it was keeping the dream. Sometimes it would take him days to get over being told “no”. Marcelo shared his inspiring story as he built the first electric vehicle to reach the Arctic, and cross the longest ice road in the world, driving 36,200 km using only sunshine as fuel.
  3. Dr. Joseph Cafazzo – sometimes it’s not enough to hear a great idea. Sometimes we need a call to action, and that’s exactly what Dr. Cafazzo understands. What images do you conjure when you hear the word “healthcare”? I think of hospitals, healthcare professionals, and medical devices. I’ve haven’t studied anything related to the field of health since grade 12, and so I’ve always had the mindset to leave it to the healthcare professionals. Dr. Cafuzzo disagrees. Healthcare affects us all and therefore we should all be viewing it through a lens of constructive criticism. By tapping the minds of individuals from all backgrounds, all fields of study, healthcare can progress to fresh new paradigms, unbiased from current processes.

Each break found us mixing with a cast of captivating individuals: a business student addicted to English literature, crew from Toronto start-up FreshBooks, a habitual marathon runner, a woman who built a sustainable farm in Cambodia, and a man on a mission to end men’s violence against women with the White Ribbon Campaign. The message was always the same: we have a lot to learn, and a lot to look forward to.

The power of these talks will become evident when you hear someone say ”I did this because of TED”. Maybe that person is you.

TEDxToronto is a volunteer run event. Visit their volunteer page for information on how to become involved.

- Kevan @ Kindness Connect

Volunteering: A Waltz of Intentions and Barriers

Volunteering your time, energy, and expertise can mean many things: you can serve on a board, help out at an event, protect the environment, become a mentor, canvass for funds, and much more.

The possibilities are many and the benefits seem to be endless. Volunteering can get you out of your door and into the world where you’ll meet great people with similar interests. You’ll have the chance to make a difference, be empowered with energy and purpose, and use or enhance your unique skill set. Perhaps best of all: you’ll feel really good about yourself.

Volunteering seems like a no-brainer. So why don’t more people follow through?

The National Survey of Non-profit and Voluntary Organizations (NSNVO) reported that of Canada’s approximate 161,000 non-profit and voluntary organizations, 57% had difficulty recruiting non-board volunteers.

It all boils down to barriers, and when trying to squeeze something in to your already busy schedule, those barriers carry all the more weight. The Statistics Canada 2007 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating concluded that “simply wanting to volunteer may not be enough. Some people may have to overcome barriers to their participation such as competing demands for time or simply not knowing how to get started.” 75% of volunteers from the same survey said that they did not have time to volunteer more while 52% said that they were unable to make a long-term commitment.

The barriers to volunteering are all too real to me. Back when I was a student at the University of Waterloo I was looking for a break from the library, the classrooms, and the constant barrage of assignments. I yearned to exercise my skills outside of campus and give back to my community.

So, I did what any student would do nowadays: I googled it. The first barrier I hit was finding out where to look. I eventually settled on a database that contained positions for only a few organizations. Would I have to search for other organizations individually?

As I dug deeper into the tool, determined to put my energy to good use, I found that the opportunities were for long-term commitments rather than a single event. I was a student who didn’t know which night I might have a test or have to prepare for a presentation. I just really wanted to help out that weekend to get started. Furthermore, I was leaving the city for a co-op job in 3 months.

I ended up abandoning my intentions with the incorrect perception that there was nothing out there for me or my schedule. Back to my calculus assignment.

How many people will become involved if these barriers are removed? By identifying and removing these barriers, good intentions can prevail.

Welcome to Kindness Connect.