Episodic volunteering

Gone are the days when volunteers regularly signed up to help week after week - maybe even year after year

Today, many people are looking to volunteer for one time or short time opportunities. In fact, the National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations reports that 31 per cent of volunteers give their time only once or twice a year. Episodic volunteering, as it is called, requires some creativity on the part of volunteer-involving organizations to design suitable positions that maximize the benefit of involving this new type of volunteer.

But it's worth it for Carolyne Hudson, the communications, marketing and fundraising director for Sports Québec. Beyond involving episodic volunteers in fundraising events, like galas and golf tournaments, she also has about 5,000 volunteers involved in the ten-day Québec Games. Some choose to volunteer for one four-hour shift during the games, while others volunteer for two or three days during the course of the event.

What makes it worth it is what happens after the Games. Says Hudson, "It's a stepping stone to promote volunteerism in a community. We have Québecers coming from every corner of the province. Some of the people have never had the opportunity to be involved in such a major event. They taste the joy of volunteer work. We hope as a result of the Games people will get more involved in their communities because they've noticed the impact on the community and themselves." She definitely sees episodic volunteers leave provincial events and get involved in smaller regional Sports Québec events.

Dave Battaino, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sudbury, Ontario, will also tell you its worth it to involve episodic volunteers. Traditionally, volunteering for Big Brothers and Big Sisters involved a long-term commitment. Short-term assignments within Battaino's organization used to be limited to fundraising events. Then, four years ago, Battaino introduced the "Friend for a Day" program. Volunteers simply register, go through a screening process and then, whenever they have some time available, call into the office and staff arranges an outing with a child on the waiting list.

Battaino says the program is very popular. "People just love the fact they don't have to cramp their free time and can still be a mentor. It doesn't hamper recruitment either for the more traditional long-term Big Brothers or Big Sisters because I end up getting traditional volunteers out of it. It's like trying volunteering out for size." The end result is that the organization serves even more children and Battaino finds that his links into the community expand with more people passing through his organization as episodic volunteers.

Episodic volunteering fits in well with running the Dawson City Music Festival because Dawson City, Yukon, has many transient workers. The population changes with the seasons and how well the mining or tourism industry is doing. That affects the volunteer base available to producer Dylan Griffith. He regularly involves new people for short-term volunteer opportunities.

In exchange for helping out during the festival weekend, volunteers receive a free festival pass. "When passes get sold out, that motivates some people to volunteer so they can get a pass that way instead," admits Griffith. Nevertheless, episodic volunteers bring a new perspective that he finds very refreshing. "Sometimes after just one shift they ask questions like 'Why do you do it like this? Wouldn't it be easier if you did it this way?' We may have been doing it the same way for ten years and never realized that." Another benefit of episodic volunteers, he says, is that they help promote the festival because after it's all over, they leave and talk up what a great time they had.

Hudson, Battaino and Griffith all admit that there can be challenges to involving episodic volunteers; however, Battaino sums it up when he says "the investment is worth it and things comes out more in our favour in the long run."

Source: Volunteer Canada

 top fo the page