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Sector Advocacy in COVID-19: Volunteer Management is a Core Function of Non-Profits

June 5, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Cara Eaton
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Last updated: July 22, 2020


Volunteer Toronto is actively advocating for the important role of volunteer management in the non-profit sector during COVID-19. We know it takes skill, energy, and dedicated resources to adapt programs for safe and meaningful volunteer engagement, and that services are at risk without this critical work.


Pandemic inspires upswell in volunteers that must be tapped into

Op-Ed by Joanne McKiernan, Volunteer Toronto's Executive Director

"Despite the number of people willing to help, many newly unemployed, a majority of non-profit and charitable organizations have indefinitely suspended volunteer engagement and, in some cases, all client services to manage risk and further community spread of COVID-19.

 ...According to Imagine Canada, 40 per cent of charities have experienced a major impact to organizational capacity....We implore our colleagues across Toronto’s 14,000-plus non-profit organizations, and their major funders (government, foundations, and private donors) to recognize the long-term  consequences of leaving volunteer programs — and these eager new volunteers — behind. Volunteer management must become a core function that enables social services to increase capacity. Not only is this necessary to meet ongoing community needs, but also to compensate for decreased donations and precarious funding during an  economically challenging time that will undoubtedly last longer than a handful of months."



Non-profits want Trudeau to scrap the Canada Student Service Grant, here's why — and where the money should go instead 

Comments by Joanne McKiernan, Volunteer Toronto's Executive Director

"Charities and non-profits...may already have more volunteers than they can manage. According to Volunteer Canada, 52 percent of Canadians looking to volunteer with non-profits during the pandemic have not heard back, while 43 percent of volunteer managers have been experiencing lay-offs, reduced hours or less support staff.

Placing student volunteers en masse makes it less likely that they will find valuable roles for their development or the charity’s work, says Joanne McKiernan, executive director of Volunteer Toronto. 'It’s a recipe for the development of ‘make work’ projects,' she says. It could also disadvantage small organizations that can’t handle that kind of influx, many of which have been hit hardest during COVID-19."




Ottawa outsources student-grant program to a Toronto charity that works with Justin Trudeau's wife

Volunteer Toronto Comment

"The federal government is outsourcing the administration of its COVID-19 grant program for student volunteers to a Toronto-based global charity...Volunteer Toronto spokesperson Cara Eaton said by email that her organization is concerned the program could “redefine ‘volunteerism’ for an entire generation” by creating an expectation of compensation for community service. Eaton added that Volunteer Toronto is “disappointed” the grant program is only available to students and recent graduates. It also only applies to people younger than 31." 




 Ottawa promised $5,000 grants to student volunteers. Six weeks later, the program still hasn't launched

Volunteer Toronto Comment

 "More than a month after promising students grants of up to $5,000 as incentive for volunteer work, the federal government is still sorting details of how the program will work...Volunteer Toronto, Canada’s largest volunteer centre, said it is 'actively engaging' with the federal government to learn more, according to Cara Eaton, the organization’s director of strategic communications.

 'We are fielding many inquiries from members of the public interested in the program,' Eaton said.

  'Not only are we looking to understand what roles fit within the parameters of the grant (and qualifying hours for payment), but we also must unpack how non-profits will facilitate and harness youth skills safely during a pandemic,' she said in an email."



Other Relevant Media:


Canada has an army of volunteers ready to help fight COVID-19 — so why aren't we using them?  

"Thousands of Canadians have volunteered their time to help track COVID-19 cases across the country, but even Canada's hardest-hit provinces haven't used them...Volunteers were called on to help with three key areas: case tracking and contact tracing, assessing health system surge capacity, and case data collection and reporting.

 Health Canada and The Public Health Agency of Canada said 53,769 people signed up to assist in the effort by the time the posting closed on April 24. But weeks later, the volunteer database does not appear to have been used in any province or territory — even in Ontario and Quebec, where 90 per cent of Canada's new COVID-19 cases are now occurring.

'As contact tracing responsibilities fall under each provincial and territorial jurisdiction, they are determining when and how they will train and deploy volunteers to meet their evolving needs,' a spokesperson for Health Canada and PHAC said. CBC News reached out to every provincial and territorial health ministry in the country and none could confirm they had used any of the volunteers. Health Canada said it also shared names from the volunteer database with the Canadian Red Cross to help personnel in long-term care facilities. But a spokesperson for the organization said they have only "recently started the initial process of reaching out to some of the individuals who submitted their names."



Is our contact tracing good enough? Beset by criticism, Toronto Public Health explains how things work

Interview with Toronto Public Health

"I’ve spoken with health workers who’ve tried to volunteer as contact tracers but were told there wasn’t enough office space. In a time when TPH needs as many contact tracers as possible, why can’t you onboard volunteers who are already medical professionals?

'Yeah. It sounds as simple as that, doesn’t it? But you know, volunteers have to be on site. Right now, we’re working through logistics of whether they can work remotely, but we have to be clear that this is sensitive personal health information. And so we can’t just take everyone who says they want to volunteer and allow them to do this work without making sure that we’re also mindful of the sensitivity of the data … while also making sure that our physical space is safe.'"


For additional information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Cara Eaton
Director of Strategic Communications, Volunteer Toronto

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