When Canadians ponder the meaning of the phrase “community engagement,” we often find stories that focus on negative traits.
Some individuals have blamed social media for turning residents against each other, particularly in the heat of a federal election campaign. Others believe that life, especially in urban settings, has become more expensive and adults are busier than ever. In this scenario, it is difficult to help or get to know those around us.
A survey conducted by Research Co. last month on behalf of the United Way of the Lower Mainland sought to look into specific aspects of “community engagement” in British Columbia. The results provide a look at some of the issues that are affecting the way we communicate and act to help one another, but also outline the immense rewards of participating with others to make a community better.
Some results of this provincewide poll may seem unencouraging at first glance. Almost half of British Columbians (46%) admit that they sometimes feel lonely, including 57% of those aged 18 to 34.
In addition, two in five British Columbians (41%) say they do not have many people to talk to in their neighbourhood, and more than a third (38%) acknowledge that they feel isolated from other residents of their community.
Simple acts of kindness, such as donating to charity or volunteering, can foster a greater sense of belonging among a community’s residents. With this in mind, the survey sought to measure the primary feeling that British Columbians experience when participating in four different types of activities: making personal or individual donations to charity, participating in group fundraising efforts, carrying out a kind act alone, and volunteering as part of a group.
Across the province, 29% of British Columbians said that, the last time they made a personal or individual donation to charity, the first feeling they experienced was “being a part of something meaningful.” Other positive emotions were ranked lower, such as “pride” (25%), “inspiration” (24%) and knowing that their individual contribution “would make a difference” (22%).
When British Columbians are asked about the last time they volunteered or carried out a kind act alone, “pride” was the first feeling cited (29%), followed by “being a part of something meaningful” (27%), knowing their time and effort “would make a difference” (23%) and “inspiration” (22%).
The reaction from residents changes dramatically when their donations and time are provided to those in need as part of a larger group.
When asked about their last participation in a group fundraiser or campaign, almost two in five British Columbians (39%) said the first feeling they experienced was “being a part of something meaningful” – a significantly higher proportion than “inspiration,” “making a difference” and “pride.”
When British Columbians volunteer as part of a group, almost half (48%) say the top feeling elicited is “being a part of something meaningful” – once again significantly higher than the other feelings tested.
The survey suggests that we are more likely to feel that our contributions are meaningful if we give or volunteer with others, instead of by ourselves. Initiatives, such as the United Way’s Hi Neighbour program, can allow residents who may be feeling lonely, isolated or disconnected from those who live nearby to establish new connections.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted September 13–18, 2019, among 800 adult British Columbians. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.