April 17, 2012; Source: Leader Post

It’s not only National Volunteer Week in the U.S., but in Canada too, where in honor of the dates, Statistics Canada released data showing the sprawling province of Saskatchewan with the nation’s highest volunteer rate, followed by tiny Prince Edward Island. Nonetheless, the statistics also showed that of the 49 percent of Canadians age 15 and older who volunteered at some point during 2010, 10 percent of them accounted for more than half of all volunteer hours. Imagine Canada’s take on the situation is that the nation is in dire need of sharply increased citizen volunteerism. “A small charity or non-profit can almost live or die on the backs of one or two volunteers,” Imagine Senior Vice President Cathy Barr told the Postmedia Network. “If those people stop doing what they’re doing, the whole organization can collapse.”

The press is full of coverage of this person or that extolling the virtue of their volunteer labor, often at the “usual suspect” volunteer venues such as the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity, and all of that is generally positive. Some of the interesting coverage concerns volunteer efforts that are a bit out of the ordinary, addressing very difficult issues or providing a service that isn’t simply a volunteer numbers function.

In Mississauga, Ontario, a nonprofit called Health Partners International of Canada gathered volunteers to pack donated pharmaceuticals as medical kits for doctors who participate in overseas humanitarian missions. The volunteers in Mississauga are a great example of what just about all of the volunteer week coverage highlights—the volunteer’s passion for the work, for the charity, and for doing good.

It should be noted, however, that in most communities, the volunteer rate of a few hours a month is still not what the voluntary sector would like it to be, and the most active source of volunteers are people who volunteer for or through religion. Some people translate that into a faith-based message that presumes apostates and free thinkers aren’t comparably charitable. Our take is a little different. What transforms a person into a nonprofit volunteer is the ask. Try it. Asking people to volunteer and help often works. What makes organized religion a primary source of volunteers is that houses of worship are places where people are more likely to be asked, pure and simple.

Tell us your most distinctive, challenging, and fascinating volunteer stories. We’d love to publish some of the best on our website.—Rick Cohen