Volunteerism Has Taken A Nosedive. Here’s What To Do About It

Volunteerism Has Taken A Nosedive. Here’s What To Do About It


Date: Sunday, August 7th
Location: Montreal, Canada
Population: 4.2MM

The annual Pride parade was scheduled to roll at 1:00pm. This event is a huge deal for the city. They spend millions on it, and it brings in a big pile of revenue. The city counts on it every summer, and the crowd pours in for what promises to be a lively display. According to Canada’s National Observer, this year alone, the event received $600,000 in funding from the City of Montreal, and over $1.1 million from the Quebec government.

At 10:00am that morning, the Pride parade was abruptly canceled. The reason? No volunteers to provide security along the parade route. Initially, the Executive Director of Montreal Pride claimed labor shortages across Quebec and beyond, COVID-19 cases, and heatstroke contributed to the ‘volunteer’ difficulties. 24 hours later, the truth came out. The Executive Director told all the news outlets the organization forgot to hire the required number of “paid volunteers” to provide security along the route.

As if the nonprofit sector needs another challenge… here we are. Volunteerism has hit an all-time low, but the issue is much bigger than that. Communities across North America want parades, festivals, events, you name it – but they won’t support them as volunteers without compensation. “Paid volunteer” is an oxymoron, but it seems to be the reality of the present day.

Costs of nearly everything have gone up 30%. Well, guess what? Volunteerism in Canada (and North America by extension) has gone down this year. Most organizations have lost 75% of their volunteers. That’s three out of every four volunteers gone. Money is what keeps the lights on in the building, but volunteers are a huge part of what keeps the heartbeat of the Mission in the community. The nonprofit sector hasn’t even begun to confront the impact of plummeting volunteers.

So how did we get here? A big piece of it is that individuals within their communities expect to be served, and refuse to serve. I’ll call it the Entitled Person. Instead of honoring, respecting, and supporting the work of the charitable organizations that are there to help, the Entitled Person heaps expectations and abuse upon them.

What does the Entitled Person do when they no longer want the work of caring for their 14-year old dog? They dump him at the local animal shelter. “It’s their problem now”, as they walk back to their vehicle and breathe a sigh of relief. What does the Entitled Person do when their kids grow out of 10 boxes of toys? They drop them off at the local Goodwill or Salvation Army. “That’s what they’re there for”, they say. Absorbing the communities’ disinterest in responsibility and rampant overconsumption is not in any one of our job descriptions. But that’s where we have now arrived. Charities are bearing the burden of every community’s refusal to take ownership.

If we want beautiful parks in our lives
If we want museums in our lives
If we want art in our lives
If we want music in our lives
If we want events in our lives
If we want a better way of living

As a sector, we are going to have to come together and create a new agreement. So many charities are victims of the Entitled People within their communities. Making those people wrong, shaming them, and punishing them is not the answer. It simply won’t work. Rather, we need to begin a conversation for redefining what it means to live in community. The people have forgotten. We haven’t, because fostering community happens to be our specialty! It’s where our mastery lives.

What’s happening in our communities? We already know. There are people with a whole lot, and people with little to nothing – except now the gaps are glaring. Bigger than ever. It’s driven community members to protect what they earn, what they spend, and where their time goes. They put a fence around their money and their time – to the point of refusing to serve without being paid for it. They abandon what they feel they cannot keep, dump what they no longer want, and take whatever they can. The thought of giving back has disappeared. The thought of serving is non-existent.

The ugly truth is, the nonprofit sector understands every community’s predicament because we’ve all lived it at one time or another. We know what it’s like to squirrel away money. We know what it’s like to not have enough. This is what our communities are now facing at an unprecedented level. They are currently attempting to solve their problems by isolating. The nonprofit sector knows that solving problems like this requires asking. Not isolating.

Community members have long since forgotten how to be community members. It’s very possible that you, as a nonprofit leader, have forgotten as well. I implore you to remember who you are, because you have a skill set and a commitment your community is longing for – whether they realize it or not. It takes a village, but it starts with one person. YOU.

Want help? I offer individualized coaching and consulting specifically tailored to meet you where you are, with the people and resources you have available to you, and with your goals in mind.

Reply to this message directly to set up a conversation. Even if we don’t end up doing work together, I promise our conversation will highlight a direction and solutions you haven’t yet considered.

Let’s start there.