It's time recognize the value of volunteers in a tangible way

Donating time vs. money

Warning: This article is a pure and utter rant.

Normally I try to provide at least a little bit of advice or help to leaders of volunteers, but today I just needed to vent. I was talking with someone this past weekend about the fact that in Canada you can get an income tax deduction for donating money to a charity, but you can’t for donating time, ie. volunteering. Why is volunteering seen as so much less worthy?

Author Kahlil Gibran wrote “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” In other words, our time is more valuable than our money. Think about it. We are happy to spend money on things that will save us time and effort - dishwashers, snowblowers and even electric toothbrushes. Would we be so willing to spend our money if we didn’t think our time was more important (even if we’re just spending it to bing on Netflix programs?)

Don’t get me wrong; money is important. But is it more important than time? It is, according to government agencies, and often even the organizations themselves. If you look at the home pages of most social impact organizations, there’s a big button right up front asking viewers to send money. The volunteer application is usually lost somewhere in a dropdown menu, or even buried at the bottom of a random page somewhere.

And yet most organizations say they couldn’t do anything without volunteers. And it’s true. All the money in the world won’t get services or aid to the clients without people. Unless you’re willing to use the donated money to pay staff to do all the work, you need volunteers. So, why aren’t they seen as just as valuable? It blows my mind. I’m not saying volunteers are more valuable, but they should be seen as equally so.

So what’s the issue? Is it just our western culture that has made money the be-all and end-all? Is it because volunteers have been seen as “free” labour for so long that we’ve lost sight of their true value? Whatever the cause, it annoys me.

Our time is precious and irreplaceable. I was on a panel discussion late last year, and one of the panelists, Wolfgang Krell, said something that illustrates this perfectly.

“Time is not an abstract; it’s a slice of my existence,” he said.

Maybe that’s the way we need to start looking at volunteering, that people are donating a portion of their very lives. Let’s face it, we can always get more money, but we will never get back time that we’ve spent. Should that not be acknowledged?

According to recent surveys, most social impact organizations right now are struggling to find volunteers. Umbrella organizations like Volunteer Canada and Points of Light have been trying to advocate to increase awareness of the impact volunteers make in our communities. Perhaps, rather than trying to raise awareness, we should all start advocating for something specific.

What would happen, for example, if people received a tax receipt for donated time?

Oh, I know there are probably lots of barriers, ways that people could or would abuse the system. Still, as Colin Powell once said, “Don’t let adverse facts get in the way of a good decision.”

Yes, there will be problems but we’re smart people, we can figure out solutions.

Just think of the benefits. There would be way more people volunteering. The impact your organization has could grow exponentially—more salmon streams rehabilitated, more housing for those in need, more children fed.

It wouldn’t be that hard to pull the numbers together to show how it could benefit the government, either.

Every client a social impact organization can help is one less that the government needs to care for. More salmon means more fishers working and the means more income tax paid. I really don’t think the financial argument would be that hard. And, wow, would it ever make for good public relations for the government in power.

Also, if organizations want to increase their recruitment, make it easier for prospects. Put a big red button on your home page, right beside the one about donating money, that leads directly to the application form. Don’t make people go searching for information. Show that you value donated time as much as donated money.

Well, I guess I did offer a bit of advice after all. I never know exactly where I’m going to end up once I start writing. I feel better, though, for having vented.

Thank you for reading and have a great 2024.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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