Filling the volunteer gap

How two Ontario communities are recruiting a new generation of
volunteers

By Bonnie Schiedel

Truth: Volunteers can make or break a sport event. Another truth: In many communities, it’s getting harder to find volunteers because the large baby boomer cohort is aging and the 25- to 55-year-olds are time-starved with commitments to work and caregiving.

ADRENALIN chatted with Marnie Lapierre, coordinator of festivals, events and special projects for the City of Timmins, and Randy Pascal, executive director of the Greater Sudbury Sport Council (SportLink) to find out how their cities are filling the volunteer gap.

How do you make volunteering appealing to a younger generation?

Marnie Lapierre: Try to identify what is important to the volunteer. If it’s the environment, they can help green an event by organizing water stations. If it’s someone looking to enter or re-enter the workforce, we look at gaining skills through ticket sales and managing revenues. If they like being outside, don’t put them inside.

Prep for the role is really important, too. We’ve started pre-training for the volunteers—they have a session where they get introduced to the site where they’ll be working, an exact description of what they’ll be doing and who the committee lead is. We make sure they’re well provided for if they need personal protective gear or a lunch voucher. If an event requires a driver’s abstract or a police records check, we cover the cost.

Randy Pascal: SportLink and Volunteer Sudbury offered a workshop on the PREB Volunteer Recognition Training Certificate. People have always listed volunteer activities on their resume, and this is a standardized way for employers to see exactly what skills from that volunteer role are transferable to the workforce.

Do you see attempts to link older and younger volunteers?

Marnie: We have a legacy program. Your best source of recruitment is your current volunteer base reaching out to their own social circle to bring them on board.

Randy: I’m seeing more of a mentorship approach, where retirees who have volunteered in the past work hand in hand with a younger generation that can sometimes be a bit more tentative about jumping in.

What doesn’t work?

Marnie: A shotgun marketing strategy where you’re just saying, “hey, we need volunteers.” Target your campaign specifically. If you need people in a financial role, there’s no harm in dropping off an intro package at a local accounting company and saying, “We’re looking for a few volunteers on this particular weekend; would you mind passing this around to the employees?”

Randy: Just guilting people into it doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did. Taking time for a simple thank you, treating them to a coffee if you know they’ve spent six hours in a row at an arena: that’s a better idea. You don’t have to give them fancy coats or something expensive. You just want them to feel appreciated.

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