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‘Persistent’ shortage of volunteers hitting groups that rely on them | CBC News

For the past 75 years, the Brockville Concert Association has been putting on musical performances featuring international and local artists ranging from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to Yo-Yo Ma. 

But recently, the group was looking into dissolving completely, said association president Samia O’Day.

“In our case we actually are in great financial shape, and one of the reasons that we have been considering wrapping up is because we couldn’t find enough volunteers to help us keep going,” she told CBC Radio’s Ontario Morning.

Sometimes we feel like, oh, I’m just one person. How could I make a difference?– Samia O’Day, Brockville Concert Association

The association is run entirely by volunteers, and needs about eight to 10 board members and a good number of support volunteers to help with events and concerts. With three longtime board members leaving this year, there are only three people left to run the entire organization, which O’Day said isn’t sustainable. 

“I don’t know if we gave up a little bit after COVID or what happened,” she said of the struggle for volunteers. 

“We asked for some volunteers, we put the word out there and … nobody came forward and we thought, I guess this isn’t important, or people can’t or people are busy,” she said. 

For O’Day, the thought of having to dissolve the organization is “so sad,” especially since she’s seen how it’s touched the lives of so many in the community. 

A group of teenagers stand in a church with a piano seen in the background.
These musicians performed in a classical and jazz youth concert presented by the Brockville Concert Association in 2022. The concert association’s president says events like this would be lost if the association had to dissolve. (Submitted by Samia O’Day)

“Music is so powerful, it transforms lives. I saw the change,” she said, referring to a concert last summer by Toronto-based music group Sultans of String that was attended by local students.

“They loved it. They were cheering like they were at a rock concert. They were transformed,” she said. 

O’Day said when the organization went public about the risk of dissolving, more people started coming forward offering to help out. She said sometimes it might just take an extra push to get people volunteering again. 

“Sometimes we feel like, oh, I’m just one person. How could I make a difference?” she added.

Demand for volunteers ‘increasing rapidly’

The concert association’s situation isn’t surprising to Christine Trauttmansdorff, executive director of Volunteer Ottawa. 

It’s an example of the volunteer shortage being felt across the region, she said. 

A headshot of a woman against a leafy wallpaper background.
Groups and charities across the city continue to feel the volunteer shortage, Volunteer Ottawa’s executive director Christine Trauttmansdorff says. The return to volunteering has been slow since the pandemic, when most services moved online or scaled back. (Submitted by Christine Trauttmansdorff)

When it comes to filling executive volunteer positions such as sitting on a board, the challenge is “persistent,” Trauttmansdorff said. Part of that could be because those roles often entail a long-term commitment over two or three years.

But finding volunteers in general has been an issue since the pandemic, Trauttmansdorff added. 

“There’s certainly a lot of pressure on individuals,” she said. “People who might have had time for volunteering before, maybe they’ve got a second job or they’re helping out with child care in the family.”

Thousands of posts unfilled 

At the same time, the demand for services from charities and non-profits that rely on volunteers has also risen, Trauttmansdorff said, especially amid soaring inflation.   

Volunteer Ottawa works with more than 300 different charities and groups across the city, sharing volunteering opportunities. 

“The number of volunteer positions and postings that they’re bringing to us every week is increasing rapidly. I would have to say that supply is not keeping up with demand at the moment,” she said. 

A woman stands on a ladder painting, and a man stands behind her also painting.
Volunteers paint the walls of an apartment building. Despite the wide range of volunteering opportunities available, it can still be challenging to find enough people wanting to help, Volunteer Ottawa’s executive director says. (Submitted by Christine Trauttmansdorff)

There are currently well over 800 active postings on Volunteer Ottawa’s site, with about 10,000 individual volunteers needed at any given time. Trauttmansdorff said that far outweighs the number who are actively seeking volunteer opportunities. 

But she remains hopeful more people will start volunteering again soon. 

“It’s an overwhelming time in the world right now and you hear so many problems and you think, what in the world can I do to solve climate change or to solve homelessness?'” Trauttmansdorff said.

“But when you start looking at some of the volunteer opportunities that exist, you can see that there are a whole lot of ways that one person can make a difference. So sometimes it’s just a matter of taking that one step.”


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