Wellington North council learns about volunteer landscape

WELLINGTON NORTH – About 134 of 142 survey respondents in Wellington North say they volunteer in the community.

At the Sept. 28 meeting council heard a report from Emily Vincent of the People and Information Network (PIN) regarding a review of the nature of volunteer engagement in the township.

Vincent said the surveys and focus groups took place early in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the province.

PIN held three focus groups: at the Arthur arena on Feb. 19, in the council chamber in Kenilworth on Feb. 20, and at the Mount Forest sportsplex on Feb. 20.

“The work includes where and what volunteers do, how they find out about opportunities, what motivates them and what barriers they experience that might prevent or deter them from volunteering,” Vincent said.

“We created a survey and had a number of focus groups that really essentially informed the information that created the results of the report.”

The survey was available from early January and to the end of February.

There were 142 survey respondents and 134 individuals said they volunteered in the township.

Of those 134, 86 people said they had volunteered in Wellington North within the last 12 months.

“In terms of the survey results, just a comment in terms of the number of people who participated, really good response,” Vincent said.

“We were quite happy with that and we were able to find out really critical detail about volunteering in Wellington North.”

Council Steve McCabe asked whether Wellington North had a good number of people volunteering compared to other municipalities.

“In terms of the response to the survey and the participation?” Vincent asked. “Yes it is.

“In fact, just thinking of a few much larger communities or organizations and the response that they had by comparison – it was actually good results.”

The primary reason respondents said they wanted to volunteer was to make a difference and contribution to their community.

Of the people who volunteered, 49 per cent said they volunteered at service organizations, non-profit agencies and charities, while 34% volunteer with sports or other community organizations.

“These two top results, people volunteering in service organizations and in sports, community organizations are very reflective of the national standards in terms of the two top places that people contribute and invest their time and volunteering,” Vincent said.

She added others were participating in informal volunteering at their churches or with service clubs.

“Although we know that the work in these organizations is significant and really very much volunteer-based, it is an area in terms of overall volunteer involvement, nationally, that we’re finding is really increasing over time and really important to be able to try and get a better sense of where people are contributing their time on a more informal basis,” Vincent said.

In terms of learning about volunteering, she said word of mouth is most common. People also learn about volunteer opportunities through community groups like the church, library or school.

“Something else that was interesting was that 13% of people found volunteering opportunities through online or internet searches,” she said.

“In terms of Stats Canada, we find that 26% of people 35 years of age and younger find out about volunteering through online opportunities.

She added, “It really suggests that if you want to attract younger people (it’s) really important to ensure that you target online recruitment as a recruitment method.”

While many people want to volunteer there are also some barriers in Wellington North.

The number one barrier people said they experience when volunteering in the township is that they don’t feel welcomed.
“They feel there is an unwelcoming nature of the group or the organization or for newcomers to the community and it’s not that the people are outrightly unwelcoming, it’s just in how a new person has a hard time getting into a well-established group in terms of making that connection,” Vincent said.
Councillor Lisa Hern asked if this was common in all municipalities or unique to Wellington North.
“It’s definitely not uncommon,” Vincent said. “Especially in organizations that have longer term more well-established volunteer pools.
“It just makes it a little bit more challenging for volunteers to come in and feel really a part of that group.”
Hern asked for a solution.
“I’m very sensitive to it because … unintentional unwelcomeness is something that I feel all the time because I’ve only been here for 23 years and that’s still new around here and sometimes people get off on their side chatter and talk about high school and whatever,” she said. “It makes you feel uncomfortable.
“At some point I had someone ask me how I could be a councillor if I wasn’t born here and I think bringing outside skills to the table is a good thing.”
Mentorship is one way to make volunteers feel more welcome, Vincent said. By pairing up a new volunteer with a long-time volunteer it gives the new person a contact, someone to go to for advice and a mentor to make introductions to the rest of the team.
“There needs to be a little bit of mentoring to the people who are going to take on that role because you want to make sure somebody is actually committed to that welcoming approach,” Vincent said. “It’s much more than just greeting them the first time that they come to a group. It’s a little bit more ongoing than that.”
Other barriers to volunteering mentioned in the survey results are lack of time, not knowing how to become involved and lack of money.
“There are sometimes hidden costs to volunteering,” Vincent said. “It might be a membership fee, it might be a fee for perhaps the tests … you might need to purchase a uniform.
“So there’s lots of extra little costs that are involved that just really add up and people may not feel that they can contribute.”
To make volunteering more accessible survey respondents suggested creating a space where all organizations in Wellington North that are looking for volunteers can post their available opportunities, training opportunities and resources.
There was some disparity within the survey results regarding recognition. Some respondents thought people volunteer for the satisfaction of contributing to the community and are not seeking individual recognition. Others said volunteers do want recognition like awards and events.
“They want to feel appreciated for what they do and they feel these are certainly important pieces of that,” Vincent said.
“Common ground though both groups really believed that the value of highlighting shared success of a group was really important and that was a great way to provide recognition.
If you’re highlighting the success of what your organization has done, what they’ve created in the community, whether it’s locally, on the radio, in the newspaper or at some community event, they felt that was really important.”
As for next steps Wellington North community recreation coordinator Mandy Jones said the staff project team would work with PIN to look at creating a community dialogue event.
“As Emily mentioned this event was originally envisioned as an opportunity for PIN to share results of the research for the purpose of soliciting more concrete and specific feedback, Jones said. “So following this modified event the staff project team intends to bring a formal report to council including the PIN report to address some of the recommendations around engagement, recruitment and recognition.”