Voluntarism – and The Junior League—is doing well in Canada, thank you. That’s the message from Marion Goard, the Canadian Federation of Junior Leagues’ new National Coordinator.
Marion: There are two different perspectives. Where we’re engaged in the community and having an impact, The League is very well known and highly regarded. Our partners come away with a very good impression of our members and the organization. At the same time, there is less recognition than we would like among the general population but over the past several years, we have been making positive strides and I think we’re making significant inroads. It’s just a question of continuing to go down that path and get our message and brand out there. We were less inclined in the past to speak about our achievements and now learning first hand about the importance of doing so. Recruiting and retaining members may be a bit easier if we were more of a household name. There’s always room for increased national and local awareness; right now our efforts will come at the individual League level rather than as a broad stroke across the country.
AJLI: What are the challenges faced by the Canadian Leagues, and are they any different from those faced by Leagues in other countries?
Marion: Our challenges are really no different that the challenges identified in the Strategic Roadmap. There are more demands on women’s time, and more opportunities for them as volunteers in many different outlets. We’ll need to recruit differently and think differently on how to retain and utilize member’s time effectively. Maintaining a consistent knowledge base and transferring it through leadership and generational changes continues to be a challenge. There is also a very competitive arena for fund-raising, one that is fairly tightly regulated in Canada. But in the end, our challenges are no different than the ones faced by all Leagues.
AJLI: Are your member demographics changing?
Marion: It varies across the Leagues. In my League (Hamilton-Burlington), in the last few years we are seeing more new members in their late 20s, early 30s, In Edmonton, over 50% are under 30 and they have also recruited five recent grads from the local university. Calgary is also seeing younger members and tend to have a higher percentage of members transferring to them from American Leagues, likely because of the location of the city and involvement in the oil industry. Halifax is a younger League than the others—their youngest active is 23; the oldest is 54 with the average about 35. Like all our other Canadian Leagues, Toronto has also dealt with membership declines but is now attracting women from areas across the entire city. So it’s changing in different ways. All of our Leagues are feeling better about themselves and see a brighter future. Right now we’re smaller but stronger and building. I think we’ve seen an end to the “membership declines” of the last 15 years.
AJLI: How strong is the voluntarism ethic in Canada? Has that changed over the last decade?
Marion: Canada has a very strong volunteer environment, and it’s been strong for a long time. Based on a 2004 study, Canada has 161,000 charitable and nonprofit organizations, split fairly evenly between registered charities and nonprofits. About half are run entirely by volunteers. Some 2 million people are employed by these organizations, and that’s in a country with population of 35 million. This sector contributes 7.8% of GDP and about 2 billion volunteer hours annually. There is a wide range of activity – from sports and recreation to social services. At the same time, it increases the competition for volunteers, funding and other support.
AJLI: What are your goals for the next two years?
Marion: I hope that I can personally and through the Federation increase the collective and individual impact of our five Junior Leagues. It’s early days for me, but I see some great opportunities. We will continue to work closely with the Association and represent a strong voice within the larger group. I will be CFJL’s representative to external shareholders as well as with AJLI and I’m encouraged by the energy I am seeing there. I welcome the opportunity to work closely with our five Leagues and learn more about the political and social realities across Canada and how they impact The League, and how we can work them to our advantage. On a personal level, I am always motivated by challenges and I am looking forward to unleashing my creative energy on the national level. I will remain involved with our League in Hamilton-Burlington and its Focus on Poverty initiatives.