A team of volunteers from Doctors Without Borders has descended on Chad. The central African nation is plagued with recurring droughts and the aftermath of civil war, causing massive food insecurity. In the capital city of N’Djamena, health centers are overwhelmed with severely malnourished children. Volunteer doctors and nurses are easing the burden, saving hundreds of lives every week.
We thought of the time dedicated by medical professionals—how rewarding it must feel to volunteer such a specialized skill. You may not have the training to fight an epidemic, but eight years of medical school isn’t necessary to make a difference. Each and every one of us has skills gained from our jobs, hobbies and life experience that could help us give back.
Organizations like Volunteer Canada tell us that a growing number of non-profits are seeking specific skill sets in many areas.
Say you’re an accountant. A few hours of free bookkeeping each month frees up staff time and funds that community organizations can invest in programs. Pro bono legal counsel offers huge savings for cash-strapped charities. Are you bilingual? Translators are in growing demand for groups working with immigrant communities. And for computer gurus, free tech support is a godsend for non-profits with online registrations or email list serves.
Charities will always need help with the basics: stuffing envelopes or filling food hampers. But skilled volunteers bring even bigger benefits to non-profits—as much as 500 per cent higher impact in terms of time and cost savings compared to unskilled volunteer roles, according to Billion + Change, a U.S. campaign that promotes pro bono service.
Teenagers—do your parents complain you’re always on Twitter and Instagram? What mom and dad call a timewaster, non-profits call a valuable skill. In this wired world, every charity needs a hand with social media outreach. Helping out with a few tweets a day is a volunteer job that takes little time and can be done from anywhere, easy to fit between school and extracurricular activities.
If you have experience organizing events—even a track record in multiple wedding parties—that’s an asset. Offer to help your local non-profit plan its fundraiser.
“Even perspective is a skill,” says Volunteer Canada president and CEO, Paula Speevak.
Perhaps you’ve grappled with substance abuse or other mental health issues. Those life lessons have endowed you with understanding and empathy valuable to organizations that offer peer-to-peer support for those facing similar challenges.
To find a fit for your unique talents, there’s a network of 220 volunteer centers across Canada. Organizations like Volunteer Ottawa, Spark Winnipeg, and Calgary’s Propellus can help identify what you have to offer, and connect you with non-profits that need your skills. Even LinkedIn, the professional networking platform, has a Volunteer Marketplace. And for youth, the Government of Canada’s new Service Corps initiative is now building a web-based volunteer database platform.
Aside from the satisfaction of helping others, there’s something in it for you. Skills-based volunteers are 47 per cent more likely to report high satisfaction with their experience, and 142 per cent more likely to gain further job-related skills from giving back.
You may not be a heart surgeon, but you still have skills that can help change lives. A talent not shared is a talent wasted.
Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE Movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.