Fort McMurray non-profits struggling to find volunteers

food bank

By Wood Buffalo Food Bank

Fort McMurray non-profits are seeing fewer volunteers coming out for fundraising events this year, with at least one seeing half the typical number of volunteers.

Some say it’s due to burnout; some say it’s inflation.

Jennifer Kennett, executive director with the Boys and Girls Club of Wood Buffalo, said that this year attendance has been huge at their fundraising events, but “volunteerism [is] really slowing down.”

“People are tired,” Kennett said.

She said she’s seeing about half the number of people volunteering for events. It means she’s had to pull staff to work overtime, which increases the event cost.

“We do find that we end up relying on the same volunteers over and over again, and we don’t want to burn them out,” Kennett said.

The Wood Buffalo Food Bank says the organization has been particularly busy this month.

“Volunteer burnout is real,” said Dan Edwards, executive director of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank.

He said the volunteer base has gotten smaller as people were laid off or left the community.

“The volunteers that are still around… they’re just burnt out and so recruitment is a serious problem,” Edwards said.

During the recent food drive, Edwards had to end early because he didn’t have volunteers to staff them.

Now the organization is trying to get creative in recruiting the next grouping of volunteers. Edwards said it’s especially trying to attract young people who will learn about the value of volunteering.

He’s also being more specific about his volunteer postings. Typically the volunteer spots are broken into four hour shifts, but Edwards said that’s not a requirement.

“If you can only come for 45 minutes, I’m still happy for you to come,” Edwards said. “It is just about messaging and communicating with those out there looking to volunteer.”

Edward said he’s seeing fewer volunteers day to day. Some days he’ll have four people preparing food hampers, but then others will pass without any.

He said there’s been no delay in helping clients because staff can pack and prepare the food hampers. But it does mean that they aren’t able to focus on other projects.

Edwards said this is the busiest he’s seen the food bank in a long time with the service fully booked daily for hamper pick up appointments.

Return to in person

Shawna Huxter, capacity building programs director for FuseSocial which helps connect volunteers with non-profits, said this year there has been an influx of volunteer hours reported, but that is due to the increase of in-person events that were not happening during the pandemic.

Overall, Huxter said volunteers are looking at shorter-term volunteering options instead of long-term commitments.

“That can be really challenging for organizations… looking for board members or wanting consistency with program volunteers,” she said.

In 2020, there were 8,900 volunteer hours logged on FuseSocial’s hub, many of which were from volunteers helping during the April 2020 flood. In 2021, there were 4,923 hours and this year there were just over 8,000 hours logged.

She said over the pandemic some people had to cut volunteer management positions because not as many volunteers were available. In addition, many people have had to increase their work hours or get a second job because of inflation, meaning they have less time to volunteer.

To try and help organizations fill longer-term volunteer positions on boards, FuseSocial started a board match program.

Anyone wanting to be on a board but not sure where or how to start can go to FuseSocial and get training. The volunteers are then paired with an organization.

“We know that it can be probably intimidating for volunteers coming in,” Huxter said.

“So we wanted to ensure that people were being educated and knowing what those responsibilities were in advance.”

About 20 people have gone through the program this year.