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The Canadian Perspective

~ October 2006 ~ Topics

The Canadian Volunteer

Every volunteer program development manual will tell you, that in order to effectively recruit volunteers you need to target your message to the appropriate audience. So who is the typical Canadian volunteer? According to the 2004 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, the average Canadian volunteer:

  • Could be either male or female.
    • Females volunteer at only a slightly higher rate (47%) than men (44%).
  • He or she would probably be young.
    • Fifty-five percent of all youth (15-24) volunteer compared to 32% of seniors (aged 65 plus). With the exception of the 25-34 age group, the likelihood of volunteering declines with age. However, the number of hours that a volunteer contributes follows the opposite pattern and generally increases with age.
  • Lives in a high-income household.
    • The likelihood of volunteering rises with income as 60% of the population who earn in excess of $100,000 volunteer, compared with 30% of the population who earn less than $20,000 a year. However, the opposite holds true in that lower income individuals volunteer more hours on average.
  • Is university educated.
    • The greater the education level, the more likely it is that the person will volunteer. Survey results showed that 59% of those with a university degree volunteer, compared to 37% of those who have not completed high school. The number of volunteer hours also follows this trend, with university graduates averaging 180 hours per week compared to 140 hours from those who have not completed high school.
  • Has school-aged children living in their household.
    • Those who have school aged children (6-17 years) in the household are more likely to volunteer than those with pre-school aged children or those with no children. However, households with no children volunteer more hours per year than those households with pre-school or school-aged children.

*All statistics taken from the 2004 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, can be downloaded at http://www.imaginecanada.ca/.

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Reference Checking 101

The pros and cons of reference checking have been debated; some question their reliability, while others swear by them. Most organizations, ask volunteers to provide references as part of the screening process -- here are a few ways that you can get the most out of interviewing a reference:

Listen – Often one of the hardest skills to master, listening is an essential skill of a great reference checker. References may be hesitant to come right out and say something negative about somebody – making it extremely important to listen to how the reference is speaking. Are they hesitating? Are they talking around or dodging questions? Do they sound uncomfortable? Let them tell the whole story, never cut them off.

Be Comfortable with Silence – Most of us have the urge to fill long silences, but when checking references it is essential that you pause long enough for the reference to think about and answer the question before you prompt them with a reply. This may make them slightly uncomfortable and tell you things to fill the silence, that you may not otherwise have been told.

Trust your instincts – if something doesn't feel right, or they say something that leaves you puzzled, follow-up on it. Ask more questions, bring the potential volunteer in for a second interview and ask for additional references.

Screening Volunteers

The importance of screening volunteers has increased dramatically in the last decade, due to a changing world. We are living in a world where everybody is a little bit more cautious, increasingly skeptical and wary of the unknown.

If your volunteer program doesn't have a screening process in place, it is time to create one. The public holds organizations accountable for their volunteer's actions making it important to have screening measures in place, as well in Canada there are laws in place that require organizations to screen their volunteers.

Before creating or updating your current screening processes an important document to consult is Provincial Laws and Screening (Volunteer Canada, http://www.volunteer.ca/volunteer/pdf/ProvincialUpdate_eng.pdf ).

This document will walk you through the issues surrounding screening volunteers including negligence, defamation and administrative law. It gives a general overview of Canadian legislation surrounding incorporation, occupier's liability, privacy protection, child protection, human rights, change of name, victims' services and regulated professions; as well as pointing out additional or different legislation that exists in the different provinces.

Kelly Noiles

Kelly Noiles is the Community Volunteer Coordinator for the Canadian Diabetes Association for the Nova Scotia Region in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She can be reached by phone at: (902) 453-4232 Ext 3232 or at: kelly.noiles@diabetes.ca.

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