Canadian Heritage



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United Way of Ottawa-Carleton


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What This Manual Will Do
The Benefits of a Multicultural Organization
The Challenges and the Opportunities
Preparing Your Organization
Recruiting Ethnocultural Volunteers
Interviewing the New Recruit
Support for Minority Volunteers

Summary: the Opportunities and the Challenges

Resource List


We would like to thank the following people for contributing their many hours of time and thoughtful advice to this handbook:


* Syeda Bharti Co-ordinator of Intercultural
Ottawa-Carleton Immigrant
Services Organization
* Abayomi Coker (Former Executive Director,
National Capital Alliance
on Race Relations)
Multicultural Consultant
* Herman de Souza Executive Director Catholic Immigration Centre
* Dianne Markle Former Manager,
Volunteer Services
Queensway-Carleton Hospital
* Rose Orach Volunteer Co-ordinator Catholic immigration Centre
* Nizam Siddiqui Community Liaison Division City of Ottawa
* Ngoc Tran Community Development Officer Ottawa-Carleton Immigrant
Services Organization


* Syeda Bhatti Ottawa-Carleton Immigrant Services Organization
* Marilyn Box Central Volunteer Bureau of Ottawa-Carleton
* Gilda Good Central Volunteer Bureau of Ottawa-Carleton
* Bev Grostern Jewish Social Services
* Caroline Horgan Elisabeth Bruyere Health Centre
* Jane Homer Elizabeth Fry Society
* Jeannine Langlois Dalhousie Community Centre
* Jaime Marulanda City of Ottawa
* Rose Orach Catholic Immigration Centre
* Laurie Steven Odyssey Theatre


* Maureen Kellerman Catholic Immigration Centre
* Emma Williams Catholic Immigration Centre
* Joan Cox Royal Ottawa Hospital
* Bernice Forster Children s Hospital of Eastern Ontario

We acknowledge the assistance of the Government of Ontario
through the
Ministry of Citizenship
for primary funding of this project

Ministry of Citizenship
Ontario logo


are also extended to the following for their
financial support:

Foundation of
La Fondation

{short description of image}Minto Developments Inc.

with assistance from

Voluntary Action Directorate
Multiculturalism and Citizenship Canada


Because this handbook is a first Venture into the field of working with ethnocultural volunteers, we would very much appreciate receiving your comments, your views, and especially your experiences. Please let us know how this book was of help to you, how it could be improved, and any adjustments you have made to your volunteer program that were particularly effective. Address your comments to:

The Central Volunteer Bureau of Ottawa-Carleton
256 King Edward Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 7M1
(613) 232-4876
Fax: (613) 232-6680


The Central Volunteer Bureau of Ottawa-Carleton refers people interested in volunteering to a wide range of community organizations needing volunteers.

Over the last few years we have been struck by two major changes in our Recruitment and Referral Program:

a. There has been an increase in the number of people from ethnic minorities seeking volunteer positions, primarily to practice new language skills and to gain Canadian work experience.

b. There has been an increase in the number of requests for volunteers from mainstream organizations.

At first glance, there would seem to be a logical compliment of needs. However, experience has revealed that matches between minority volunteers and mainstream organizations have not been successful.

This manual has been written in response to requests from voluntary organizations for information about how to make their programs attractive and accessible to ethnic minority volunteers. Many organizations were already aware of the wealth of skills and experience that minority volunteers possess, but wanted suggestions on how to incorporate new methods into their existing programs.

The content was developed through a series of workshops with managers of volunteers from both mainstream and ethnic organizations. Advice was sought from organizations that were successful in recruiting and maintaining ethnic minority volunteers, as well as those who had experienced difficulties keeping new volunteers.

This manual is for:

  • Managers of Volunteer programs
  • Boards of Directors and committees of not-for-profit organizations
  • Staff of voluntary agencies and organizations

The purpose of this manual is:

  • to help voluntary organizations look beyond perceived barriers to understand and value the special skills, attributes and experiences that people from ethnic minorities can bring to volunteer programs
  • to assist organizations in adjusting and adapting their policies and volunteer management techniques to reflect the diversity of volunteers from other cultures
  • to help organizations avoid the trap of recruiting “token” minority volunteers simply to fill a perceived political or public relations need
  • to help organizations understand that immigrants and Canadians from ethnic minorities may not always wish to volunteer within their own cultural communities and may prefer to serve in mainstream organizations

In this handbook, the term “ethnic minority” is used to mean people who are relatively new to Canada and whose first language and cultural background is neither English nor French. “Mainstream” indicates a non-ethnic organization.


This manual looks at ways to help your organization, its staff and its volunteers become more sensitive and responsive to ethnic minority volunteers. We won't be telling you how you can make these new volunteers act more like your old volunteers. We will, however, suggest how your organization can adapt to the cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity of the community you serve and become part of the multicultural reality that is Canada today.

Plenty of traditional volunteer program management suggestions are included as well. Many of the tips on recruitment, interviewing, training and support that have been developed over the years will be applicable in your new campaign.

We tried to write a handbook that will encourage you to make some changes in your organization and in your volunteer management practices. We are suggesting that your organization will be enriched, if you are prepared to make some changes. Those organizations that can listen and learn from their ethnic minority volunteers, and can be flexible enough to adapt their procedures and attitudes, will find themselves greatly strengthened.


Although there may be some costs in adjusting and adapting systems and practices, the organization will benefit in the long run.

  • Your organization will have a broader pool of volunteers from which to recruit.
  • When staff and volunteers are exposed to a wider range of ideas, experiences and skills, better decision-making results and the organization becomes more innovative.
  • By involving ethnic minorities, who are a significant segment of the community, there will be greater involvement and support from the community as a whole.
  • There can be more fairness in employment practices.
  • Programs are enriched as ethnic minority volunteers bring a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience.


Civilization is to be judged
by its treatment of minorities.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Canada is a multicultural society and is becoming even more culturally diverse. This fact has been recognized by the Canadian Multiculturalism Act which was in the process of becoming law in 1990. This Act recognizes the racial and cultural diversity of Canadians, and it states that all Canadians must have equal opportunities and must be treated with the same respect.

A reform of our immigration policy has resulted in a larger proportion of new immigrants and refugees coming from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean/West Indies, and South and Central America. Even if immigration is maintained at present levels, by the year 2000 it is projected that over 50 percent of Canadians will be members of ethnic minorities, and 10 percent will be visible minorities.

Today, one-third of the population has cultural origins other than British or French and one in every six Canadians was born outside this country. Of course, many ethnic and visible minorities are not new immigrants but have been in Canada for many generations.

At the same time, there has been a tremendous growth in the number of voluntary organizations set up to serve the increasing needs of our society. Fiscal constraints have meant an increasing reliance on volunteers to help carry out programs and services.

Why is it then, with the increase in both the ethnic diversity and the need for volunteers, there has not been a corresponding increase in the number of people from ethnic minorities entering the ranks as volunteers in the mainstream voluntary sector?

The primary reason seems to be that the majority of mainstream voluntary organizations have not altered or adapted their procedures and practices to reflect changes in the community. They have failed to provide access for the multicultural community into their organizations.


Nothing could be more discouraging to volunteers than to go through the process of being interviewed and trained for an assignment, only to discover that they are not really welcome or appreciated. To evaluate how accessible your organization is to people from ethnic minorities, ask the following questions:

  • Do your brochures, pamphlets and newsletters depict a multicultural organization?

    Written material and graphics should reflect the multicultural reality of Canada. Information and materials to help multiculturalize your organization are available from the Multiculturalism and Citizenship Canada office and the various provincial Ministries of Citizenship.

  • Have you ever taken a "walk-about" of your facility?

    Try to see your organization as a minority person might see it or, better still, have someone of a minority background who is experienced in this type of analysis accompany you.

  • Does your organization have a multicultural policy?

    This would include guidelines on employment equity, cross-cultural training, and the elimination of cultural and racial biases. Treating everyone fairly, not necessarily the same, shows sensitivity to differences.

  • Is your volunteer department flexible enough to include non-traditional recruitment methods and acceptance of a wide range of interviewing techniques? Is there funding for the development of multilingual recruitment, cross-cultural training, and recognition materials?

    Your local immigrant aid agency or the nearest Multiculturalism and Citizenship Canada office offers advice on developing these policies and materials.

  • Do you provide cross-cultural training for staff and volunteers?

    To reduce misunderstandings and intolerance, training sessions should examine cultural similarities and differences. Skilled trainers are usually available through your local immigrant service agencies or community college. This type of training is strongly recommended for all organizations.

  • Does your organization require character or work references which may be impossible for new immigrants, especially refugees?

    Be aware of any unnecessary or arbitrary criteria concerning education or language.

  • Are you in regular contact with local ethnic groups? Do you have local ethnic groups on your mailing list, and are they invited to your functions?

    Establishing a dialogue may help you discover what their members require from volunteer involvement and what you can offer in exchange. Check with City Hall or local immigrant aid agencies for mailing lists and labels.

  • Have you discussed different concepts and practices of volunteering with representatives of various ethnic groups?

    Find out the various ways that community responsibilities are carried out in their cultures. Ask for advice on adopting some of these methods and adapting your activities to become more accessible and attractive.

  • Can some existing positions be adapted to accommodate people with language limitations?

    Consider if new positions could be created.

  • Do assignments for new recruits offer social or career benefits to people trying to establish themselves in Canadian society?

    The assignment should make use of the knowledge, experiences, and skills that they bring with them. Consider whether it will also provide an opportunity to learn new skills, practice a new language or explore possible careers.


The practice of helping others is not alien to ethnic minorities. A healthy system of community participation exists in most cultures. This communal responsibility can be a complex, obligatory system of providing assistance to one another. It is this level of participation which helps to define one's role in society and often has a greater impact on establishing a person's standing in the community than paid work. The system appears to be informal, is seldom institutionalized, and never extends to profit-making activities.

It is easy to see why the highly structured and professionalized form of volunteerism that has evolved in Canada would be baffling and somewhat suspect to people with a very different cultural experience.

Before beginning your recruitment campaign, consider these questions:

What do you offer?

  • Are you prepared to revise assignments and requirements to surmount language or cultural barriers in order to benefit from the skills and experiences of the minority volunteer? Do you have enough opportunities at both the direct service and decision-making levels to allow people to make a significant choice?

Who do you want to recruit?

  • Are you seeking certain skills, knowledge or language abilities?

Where do you find ethnocultural volunteers?

  • Contact immigrant aid agencies, ethnic minority groups, and volunteer centres. Tap into existing networks. Articles in local and ethnic media about your minority volunteers will send the message that your organization is willing to adapt to and welcome the new skills and experiences that ethnocultural volunteers bring to an organization.
  • Talk to other mainstream organizations that have successfully recruited ethnic minority volunteers. Familiarize yourself with organizations that have large ethnic minority memberships. Churches, temples, youth groups, sports groups, schools and universities, professional and employee groups, arts and cultural associations and language classes may be approachable and willing to display your recruitment information or may allow you to address their groups.
  • The Embassy is probably NOT a good resource. In the case of refugees, the Embassy may represent an oppressive regime.

How do you communicate with potential volunteers?

  • Talk to the ethnic minority volunteers already involved with your organization. Satisfied volunteers are your best recruiters.
  • Visit ethnic groups or invite them to an information evening or Open House at your organization to discuss volunteer opportunities.
  • Use visuals wherever possible, (slides, videos, pictures, posters, drawings). Explain in a clear, jargon-free manner, what your organization does and why you need volunteers.
  • Discuss what to expect in an interview, what training and support is provided and all benefits, such as skills development, job references, social interaction and language practice. Describe any provisions for child care, meals, or bus fare.
  • Be aware that professional terminology can be intimidating. An “inter view” could be just a chat about volunteer opportunities and “orientation sessions can be a chance for both parties to learn more about each other.
  • Describe the steps that your organization is taking to make it more welcoming and accessible to ethnic minority volunteers.
  • Be candid about cultural differences. Indicate a willingness to learn and to design volunteer work that recognizes and is sensitive to diversity.

When do you start?

  • Don't wait until everything is perfectly set up in your organization before launching your new recruitment campaign. The timing will never be just right and you might hesitate to take the first step. You can continue to make internal changes with the advice and assistance of your new volunteers.

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    Last updated : 1998/10/26
Canadian Heritage Canada