Volunteering: Is it dead?

The concept of altruism and donating one’s time selflessly in the form of volunteering has undoubtedly changed to adapt to modern times. Not surprisingly, the state of volunteering has been a topic of constant deliberation. Whereas some may say that volunteerism is alive and thriving, others may disagree. As a matter of fact, Colleen Kelly, the Executive Director of Volunteer Vancouver, has boldly stated on her blog:  “Volunteering is dead.”

While this may be shocking to hear from the Executive Director of Volunteer Vancouver herself, her proclamation must be clarified. In place of volunteering, Colleen proposes the term “active citizen engagement.” She explains, “…the difference between volunteering and active citizen engagement is small – but very real. Volunteering refers to a structured donation of time, whereas active citizen engagement is a spontaneous, organic method of participation.” She further suggests that the bustle of our fast-paced lives leaves little time for volunteering under its formal definition, and so, we should practice active citizen engagement.

Now one may wonder what exactly counts as active citizen engagement and how one can become an actively engaged citizen. The beauty of it is that there really aren’t any rules or guidelines in participating, so you may be surprised to find that you have already been contributing as an active citizen without knowing or even considering it. Think about what you’ve done for yourself, for others or for your community lately. Maybe you went for a run this morning; maybe you flew a kite with your little neighbour the other day; maybe you voted in a local election; or maybe you picked up some garbage you found lying on the grass. All those things count as active citizen engagement and, by extension, volunteering.

D-code, “a company that specializes in researching the Information Age Generation as employees, consumers and citizens,” compiled a report, in 2003 on ways young people in Canada engage with civil society. Among their findings, they cite the following “modes” or methods through which people have become actively engaged citizens: charitable giving; volunteerism; political participation; activism; social and recreational participation; and faith. Ways to practice active citizen engagement are, of course, not limited to these, and you may very well find your own way to contribute.

Volunteering or donating one’s time or talents for charitable or worthwhile activities allows us to learn and develop skills while giving back to the community and nurturing the well-being of society. What is now also important to emphasize is that the well-being of oneself is just as important; after all, we are all citizens of society.

Active citizen engagement, which encompasses the self, others and the community, is an extension of volunteering because one volunteers his/her own time willingly to the betterment of oneself or of the community. So in response to the statement “Volunteering is dead,” I propose that volunteering, in fact, is not extinct – it has merely evolved.

What’s your take?

- by Amanda Chen

(originally posted in our June 2008 issue of our old newsletter, ventureVolunteer)