The Year of the Green Volunteer?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I want to make a bold statement and hopefully back it up with some observations. I think that not only is volunteering becoming more and more popular, but also that volunteering will help you succeed in life. Not only does it make you a better person, but it makes the University a better place. So why it is so hard to have a good volunteer experience.

Over the past few days I have giving a couple of presentations about sustainability in various courses on campus. I have delivered presentations to a Natural Resources Management course and two introductions to Environment and Society courses (one in English and one in French). I have another course scheduled next week for Corporate Social Responsibility and last semester I presented to some environmental sciences and environmental studies courses.

So why do I go and present in all these courses? Sure I sometimes like hearing my own voice, but the true reason I do it is harvest volunteers. My first year here on campus I had about one or two people come by and ask if there was some volunteer work they could do and I had 8 students do some community service work for me. In this past week, I have had over 20 students ask about volunteer work and I have approximately 400 students doing community service work with the Office. This is quite a difference.

Check out this video and you will get an idea of how uOttawa is trying to focus on community service learning. There are a lot of good reasons why the University would want to do this.

  1. Everyone thinks that university is too theoretical and not practical enough... so volunteering gives real world experience.
  2. University is sometimes really boring so it takes other interesting stuff (like volunteering in something you believe in) to keep you from losing your mind
  3. People who have volunteer experience have a better chance of getting a job than someone who has no experience
  4. Every time someone does volunteer work on behalf of uOttawa, the University's reputation grows.
So if you were the University, wouldn't you try to get more students volunteering? 

I also want to bring up the example of We Canada, an environmental organization that is working to raise awareness about the Earth Summit in June. Recently the organization posted a volunteer opportunity for an executive assistant. This volunteer position was full-time and completely unpaid. And if you can believe this, there were dozens of amazing applicants chomping at the bit to get this job. And if you had to ask me why this was the case, I would sum up my response to just one word... experience.

In the past I have blogged about the Living Laboratory project that we are working on. But now the Office of Campus Sustainability is working on creating a new Volunteer Experience program. What we want to create is a something where any person can come and volunteer for us and instantly recognize the impact that they are having. Our hope is to create a program where you can get as involved as you want and never feel that your efforts are being wasted. You should always be recognized and never feel like you are just a number.

Here is a quick photo of our volunteer matrix grid. It shows how we would like the journey of each volunteer to be a meaningful one. We haven't figured out all the kinks yet and we need your help to make the best volunteer program on campus.We would be honoured if you could make sure that we are keeping to our goals, call us on our mistakes, and help us when we are struggling. And in return, we will make sure you get the most out of your volunteer experience.

-jon - campus sustainability manager
photo credit - jonathan rausseo

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