International Volunteer Day 2023: Celebrating How Volunteers Uplift Our Lives and Communities

December 1, 2023

 Written by Amethyst Zapisocky, ESPC Volunteer


International Volunteer Day is an international initiative to recognize and appreciate the work volunteers all over the world do to support others and various communities.

December 5th is a day to honour the time, passion, and effort of millions of volunteers and service organizations worldwide. (1) The International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development (International Volunteer Day) was established in 1985 by the United Nations and has been annually observed to raise awareness of, acknowledge and promote volunteerism at the local, national, and international levels. (2) The theme this year is the power of collective action: if everyone did. (2) (3) Speaking to this theme, given the remarkable impact volunteering makes on the local and global community, if everyone was able to volunteer in some way the effects on the world would be immense. As the United Nations describes, if billions were able to donate their time to volunteering, there would be incredible opportunities for social, economic, and environmental development. (2)

Impact of Volunteering

There are many positive outcomes that volunteering provides, outcomes which greatly benefit individuals (volunteers and users), organizations, communities, and the world at large. Some ways in which volunteerism can be enriching are:

  • Facilitate collaboration and connection between citizens and governing authorities which can amplify the voices of marginalized communities, inform public policy, and help lessen unequal power structures. (4) (5)
  • Volunteering is imperative during individual, community and/or global crises as they are often the first to respond during emergency situations. (2)
  • Volunteers help connect those in need to available support. (4)
  • Volunteers can gain valuable skills and experiences for personal and professional growth. (5)
  • Volunteering improves mental and physical health. (5)
  • Volunteerism brings people together: Builds trust, increases social inclusion, and enhances understanding within diverse populations. (5)

Just as there are many outcomes and reasons for volunteering, there are many different types of volunteerism. These opportunities range from formal (through an organization) to informal (work not attached to a specific organization) and can be one-time, episodic (for example, during specific times or events), or continuous. (5)

Volunteerism in Alberta

It is still undeniable that volunteering does a lot of positive and necessary work in the community. A 2020 report by the Government of Alberta outlines how Albertans volunteer and why. According to the report, 50% of Albertans volunteer and 85% donate, both of which are higher than the national average (44% and 82% respectively). (5) 1.6 million Albertans provide over 262 million hours of volunteer hours each year. (5) Nonprofits, which deliver vital services and programs that improve the well-being of Albertans, are majorly supported through volunteerism, with 50% of organizations in Alberta having no paid staff. The report also shows that most Albertan volunteers do so for altruistic reasons, to contribute to the health of our community. (5) Volunteerism also boosts Alberta’s economy, with volunteer work in Alberta being worth $5.6 billion annually. (5) Volunteerism in Alberta has led to great public service and quality-of-life improvements that would be otherwise impossible. For finding opportunities in Alberta, Volunteer Alberta has opportunities to consider. The City of Edmonton’s website also offers Edmonton-specific opportunities for those seeking ways to volunteer locally.

Barriers to Volunteering

While volunteerism is important and provides access to many benefits, there are social exclusions and gaps in opportunities that are in need of acknowledgement and action. These limitations are crucial to consider so we may address inequalities that exist within volunteerism, and identify solutions. It is widely understood that the post-pandemic world has been struggling in many ways. Economic instability, housing shortages, and increasing mental health and substance use concerns have complexified community needs and raised demand for support (i.e., non-profit) services. (6) Without sufficient support for nonprofits, the staff and volunteers within them experience increased fatigue, anxiety and frustration. (6) Additionall, those who are working full time or more and can barely make ends meet may not have the privilege to offer their time and attention to volunteering as easily as those with their basic financial and/or needs fully met. Thus, when considering the theme of collective action, we must ask: how can we ensure that individuals and service organizations are supported enough to offer volunteer services in the first place?

Social inequities are also a factor in volunteerism. Not only have equity-seeking organizations (e.g., Black and Indigenous-focused groups) been more underserved (e.g., less funding), (7) but there are disparities among volunteer populations as well. That is, marginalized individuals are less likely to be able to access volunteer opportunities. (6) (8) According to a report authored by Mutamba & Rock (2022, p. 5), all parts of the volunteer screening process impose barriers to BIPOC applicants. (8) Women are more likely to volunteer, particularly informally, but access is often limited by caregiving responsibilities and their work is often under-valued. (4) (6) Physical accessibility is also a concern, particularly for older persons and for those with diverse-abilities (5) Addressing and working on these inequalities necessitates making sure the diverse individuals and groups are aware of ways they can volunteer and feel welcomed and accommodated doing so. (4) (5) The needs of marginalized communities should be acknowledged and met, and it should be ensured that their contributions are regarded equally–for example, given access to decision-making roles. (4) As a report by Briggs et al. (2022) writes, awareness and equity-seeking efforts should be maintained; increasing inclusivity in volunteering, and recognizing various systemic and socio-economic barriers, can help broaden the potential volunteering has for doing amazing work in our communities. To learn more, Volunteer Canada has resources, legislation, and learning modules on inclusive volunteerism.

Conclusion and How to Honour International Volunteer Day

Despite the barriers and gaps present in the system, volunteerism greatly enriches the lives of everyone within local and global communities. Through crisis or joys, volunteers are there to offer support which is what December 5th, International Volunteer Day, aims to acknowledge, advocate for, and celebrate. The theme of collective action: if everyone did expresses the fantastic outcomes volunteers and service organizations provide through their work. It also gives us a way to consider the inclusivity of volunteerism, who has time to give and why. Looking forward, it will be important to explore those barriers so that collective action can happen.

There are many ways to participate in International Volunteer Day. Some ideas for getting involved are as follows:

  • Social media: Spread awareness for volunteers and the work they do
  1. Can use the UN’s hashtags #IfEveryoneDid and #IVD2023.  (3)
  2. Read and share stories from volunteers and service organizations.
    • Taking the time to thank a volunteer for their service. (1)
    • Consider opportunities to volunteer or donate.


    1. Awareness Days. (n.d.). International Volunteers Day 2023. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from

    2. United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Programme. (2023, September 26). An overview of International Volunteer Day (IVD). Retrieved November 29, 2023, from

    3. United Nations. (n.d.). 2023 Theme: the power of collective action: if everyone did. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from

    4. United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Programme. (2021). 2022 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report: Building equal and inclusive societies. Bonn.

    5. The Government of Alberta. (2020). Profiling volunteerism: An Alberta nonprofit/voluntary sector initiative discussion paper of the value and contribution of Alberta volunteers.

    6. Briggs, A., Ball, K., Boda, K., Little, J., & Lee, C. (2022). Alberta’s nonprofit sector: Too essential to fail. Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations.

    7. The Centre for Young Black Professionals. (2022, May 30). The current climate: What is happening in the B3 sector?. Imagine Canada. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from

    8. Mutamba, M. & Rock, J. (2022). An anti-racist approach to volunteering. Volunteer Connector (Volunteer Centre of Calgary).

    Posted by:

    Susanne Urbina

    Related categories: Blog: Miscellaneous
    Share This