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What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Volunteering (Part 1 of 2)

Published: Apr 20, 2021 @ 1:58 PM

This week is National Volunteer Week here in Canada, a time to celebrate the time, energy, and value that volunteers offer to communities and organizations across the country. Volunteerism and the giving sector have a reputation as a feel-good time and space, it is the warm and fuzzies in a world where these moments can feel few and far between. We should celebrate people for the good work they do but we also need to acknowledge some truths. This is not about to be some big expose on the sector or volunteerism it is just going to outline things we all know but never say. 

Volunteering is an act of privilege. 

It costs on average $1700/year to participate in volunteering. There are many people in our country who do not have the luxury of spare time or energy to dedicate to even thinking about pursuing something that sparks joy in their spare time because their spare time does not exist. They are too busy meeting basic needs for themselves and their families. It means those voices are often missing at the tables in spaces designed to support these same humans. 

Saying everyone is welcome as a volunteer is different from ensuring everyone is welcome. 

In recent qualitative research out of the United Kingdom which collected the stories of BIPOC volunteers and compared them to the experiences of white volunteers. Black, Indigenous and People of Colour volunteers described environments where they felt they had to go over and above to prove their value, battle to make their voices heard, spend extra time and energy to fit in, experience consistent invoking of racial stereotypes and microaggressions. A black woman described her experience of volunteering - "it hurts, it hurts all the time" (Dr. Timbrell) 

Are you uncomfortable?

Maybe this felt like a lot, maybe you are currently composing an email to tell us exactly why we are way off base, maybe you are feeling defensive of yourself or your organizations. That is ok. Centre the voices of people in your organization who are underrepresented, do what they recommend, circle back to check to see what still needs to be done. There is not a checklist for solutions, a certification for completion and perfection is not possible so just start doing something. 

Keep learning.

Inspiration and information for this piece was taken from the below people and spaces: