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A Message from Volunteer Toronto

Photo of Maryann Istiloglu, Board Chair of Volunteer Toronto, and Joanne McKiernan, Executive Director of Volunteer Toronto

Welcome to a new decade.

Many of us had other plans for 2020. Instead, we’re responding to the all-encompassing pandemic that is COVID-19. And this response will last longer than a handful of months. Yet, the discomfort we’re experiencing right now will act as a catalyst for broader change. Our sector must innovate how and where we deliver support to help those in our community who need it most.

Just like our founders nearly a century ago, we’re rolling up our sleeves. But this time, it’s going to take more skill to rehabilitate the sector. And it will take more than technology to manage the supply and demand of volunteer participation. We’ve got a new baseline we’re fighting to improve. In Canada, 43% of non-profits have laid off volunteer engagement staff or have reduced their hours, resulting in millions of volunteers dismissed from roles on the frontlines. As a result, 50% of pandemic response in Toronto is happening at the grassroots level. We’ve seen a surge of new volunteer managers and new small-scale initiatives stepping in to meet growing needs. We must enable them, and lend our platforms to those fighting for equality.


For most of the last decade our research and programs have focused on jobseekers, new immigrants, and youth because volunteering is a critical access point to economic and social opportunities. We have always strived to be what’s needed, and we can now say our values reflect this perspective. Our recent history means we also step into 2020 with a foundation to innovate from.


We’ve put our hand up to build better systems for volunteerism. Only a couple of years ago, Volunteer Canada asked us to help roll out the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement. Just before that, we ran a multi-year capacity building project for grassroots groups in the Province. And most recently, we’ve dug into helping non-profits by sub-sector in both rural and urban contexts. In 2019-2020, we also supported the most volunteer seekers ever through partnerships with key city-wide agencies, like the Toronto Public Library, to increase access to volunteer experiences.

However, it’s now time to evolve. And what was relevant a hundred years ago, a decade ago, or even a year ago, will not be what’s needed in 2020. It’s time we recognize that volunteerism is not a "nice to have" in Canada. And frankly, neither is a Volunteer Centre. Our social services are reliant on volunteers, the equivalent of more than 850,000 full-time jobs in 2018. It is our founding during the Great Depression, not dissimilar to today, that reminds us of when we are needed most.

Communities across Toronto continue to offer valuable and needed services through the efforts of volunteers. As we meet the needs of our neighbours and work together to be there for each other, take a look around your own neighbourhood and see how you can 
help too. We know you'll gain so much more than you'll give.

Joanne McKiernan 

Executive Director

E-signature for Joanne McKiernan, Executive Director of Volunteer Toronto

Maryann Istiloglu 

Board Chair

E-signature for Maryann Istiloglu, Board Chair of Volunteer Toronto
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