The ultimate guide to volunteering in Vancouver

November 6, 2017

by Michelle Hopkins

Looking to lend a helping hand in the community? Good for you! Finding the right volunteer opportunity will make your experience that much better, and ensure that your skills are put to the best possible use. This guide to Vancouver’s volunteer scene will help you find a good fit with an organization in need. [Photo courtesy of iStock/Rawpixel]

The ultimate guide to volunteering in Vancouver

We Canadians are not only some of the friendliest people on Earth, we are also very generous with our free time. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians volunteer an average of 154 hours per year, translating to two billion hours in total. “Today’s volunteer sector is very healthy with strong levels of commitment across different types of non-profit organizations,” says Maria Turnbull, associate executive director at Vantage Point, a Vancouver organization that manages “However, what has changed over the last decade is the volunteer. Today’s volunteer is looking for shorter term commitments, while actively searching for positions that use their specific skillset.” With hundreds of non-profit organizations looking for help, where do you start?

Step one: Asking the right questions

Although everyone has their own personal reasons for wanting to volunteer, most are drawn to philanthropy for personal growth, to make a difference in their community, expand their personal network and to develop new skills. But, how do you find the right volunteer opportunity for you?

Ask yourself:

  • What am I passionate about?
  • How much time do I have?
  • What skills do I have that I want to share?
  • Do I want to volunteer by myself or as part of a group?
  • What do I want out of this experience?

If you’re a couple or family that wants to volunteer together, call a meeting and discuss these questions (and answers) together. Make sure everyone – no matter their age – gets their say. Keep in mind that there may be minimum age requirements to volunteer at various organizations.

Step two: Finding an organization

Not sure where to look? is an umbrella organization where local non-profit organizations post volunteer roles. You can browse the website by skills used, causes you care about, dates, location, special events or keyword search. Perhaps you’re a family passionate about B.C.’s nature and outdoors, but only have a few days to spare, why not help harvest with the Vancouver Fruit Tree Project or volunteer at your local farmers’ market? Perhaps you’re an individual concerned about Vancouver’s housing crisis, and have the availability to volunteer a few hours a week on a regular basis – you could lend a hand to the B.C. Tiny House Collective.

You can also scroll through the directory to see which organizations are a part of the GoVolunteer community. The website has more than 950 charitable organizations on its roster, and range from arts and culture organizations, to advocacy and support groups, to health, social service, environmental and animal protection organizations and more. Other good websites include Charity Village, LinkedIn, Craigslist and Volinspire. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to an organization you admire. They may need your help, but haven’t had the time to put up an ad.

Step three: Get to work

Before you get started, make sure to ask the organization about the time commitment, any costs incurred by the volunteer (such as a criminal record check, travel or supplies) and inquire about where the organization is going (what their goals are and where they expect to be in five years).

In Vancouver, there are many wonderful organizations that could use your help. Here is a sampling:

  • The YMCA is one of the largest non-profit organizations in B.C. and has been helping Vancouverites since 1897. There are many different ways to volunteer, from mentoring to event planning to gardening and more.
  • AIDS Vancouver was founded in 1983 as the first AIDS service organization in Canada. It began in response to the growing need for community health organizations to support individuals vulnerable to the epidemic. You can choose to assist in their Grocery Program, Helpline, Boys’R’Us program, outreach program and so much more.
  • The Greater Vancouver Food Bank promotes access to healthy food, education and training. Supporting up to 26,500 people each week, it can’t survive without volunteers. From leading events to working in the warehouse to food and education, there is something for everyone.
  • Covenant House Vancouver has been providing care and shelter to downtown street youth and runaways since 1997. There is a wide range of positions and departments available for volunteers, with varying levels of interaction with the youth they serve.
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