Charity sector faces unprecedented challenges, leaders tell volunteersDespite statistics that show Canadians are among the most generous in aiding charities, non-profit groups still face unprecedented challenges, several leaders in the sector said last evening.
Every year, about 22 million Canadians donate a total of $9 billion to charitable causes, while a smaller number offer two billion hours of volunteer time, said Teri Kirk, vice-president of Imagine Canada, an advocacy group for non-profit organizations.
Still, there is little legislation regulating, nor a minister responsible for, the voluntary sector, she said.
"It's very much a low point in voluntary sector-government relations," she said.
"It's not a sector that ranks high on the public policy agenda" of the current government, Ms. Kirk added.
Ms. Kirk and other non-profit group directors spoke yesterday at a panel session headed by Penny Collenette, who will be the Liberal candidate for the federal riding of Ottawa Centre in the next election.
Another challenge is that the volunteering habits of Canadians have changed over the years, said Brian Tardif, executive director of Citizen Advocacy of Ottawa, which links up volunteers with people with disabilities.
Over the years, a trend has developed where people view volunteering as a short-term task, rather than repeated work, he said.
"It's not a short-term task," Mr. Tardif said of his group's volunteer work, adding that people today seem to be distracted by more preoccupations.
His group, which has existed for 31 years, faces the same challenges as other groups: increasing public awareness of their work.
"We struggle because there's a huge demand for volunteers, and (because of) donor fatigue," he said.
One man attending the talk worried about what he saw as a trend toward fewer people volunteering.
But even with such challenges, Ottawans tend to be more charity-minded than those in other parts of Canada, according to a Community Foundation of Ottawa report released last year In 2004, 31.3 per cent of Ottawans filing tax returns made a charitable donation, compared to 27.7 per cent across Ontario and 25 per cent across Canada.
That same year, 59 per cent of Ottawa residents over 15 volunteered an average of 158 hours, compared to 45 per cent of Canadians volunteering a slightly larger average 168 hours.
Penny is a frequent public policy commentator on national television. During the 2011 federal election, Penny was a commentator for Global TV. Penny tweets @penottawa.
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