Volunteering more in the new year? Don't over-commit

Many people resolve to volunteer more in the new year, but Volunteer B.C. says be wary of over-committing and leaving organizations hanging.

Organizations often see a brief surge in volunteers who disappear after the New Year's rush

Volunteering a few hours each week or at a specific event is a good way to contribute without over-committing, says Volunteer B.C. president Lawrie Portigal. (Getty Images/Blend Images)

If you're planning to volunteer this year, don't bite off more than you can chew, says Volunteer B.C.

Like many other New Year's resolutions, enthusiasm starts to taper off a short time later and organizations see volunteers quitting soon after starting.

"It's very common," said Volunteer B.C. president Lawrie Portigal. "It's very much like what happens with gyms and things like that."

While it can leave some organizations in a lurch, Portigal said it's something that organizations have begun to expect and plan for.

"People are interested in shorter and shorter term volunteering," he said.

Part of the issue is the demographics of volunteers are changing," Portigal said. "People who would normally volunteer are looking after demands from their young children as well as their aging parents and have less time overall to commit to volunteering."

At the same time, Portigal said there's huge demand for volunteers especially for long-term positions and in areas where funding isn't enough to cover essential services. Organizations that help seniors and mental health organizations are two examples of areas that often need volunteers, he added.

For people who do want to contribute, he recommended starting with a commitment of two to three hours each week, or volunteering at a one-time event to start. Be realistic about your schedule and choose an organization that resonates with you, he said.

"If you're doing something that you're interested in, you're more likely to stay there."

A 2010 Statistics Canada report found that Canadians devoted over two billion hours to volunteering over the course of the year, but nearly half the hours could be attributed to a small group of volunteers.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Here's how you can volunteer more in the new year