TORONTO - No one can accuse young, work-hard, play-hard, urban professionals of being lazy. Yet ask them if they do much volunteer work and there's a good likelihood they'll say ''No.''
Known for their drive, enthusiasm and strong desire to be head honcho, generation Y hardly has time to spare. While pursuing their lofty goals, some admit they've all too easily neglected donating any of those rare free moments to charitable work.
''I knew I wanted to get involved with volunteering. But I say that to myself every year - I say I'm going to start giving back to the community,'' says Janelle Maregman, of Brampton, Ont.
Thanks to an innovative event that brings under one roof everything a would-be volunteer might need, the 22-year-old student and accounting intern is at long last entertaining her altruistic goals.
Billed as part volunteer fair, part silent art auction, part night on the town, an event called Timeraiser - now spreading across the country - is meant to plant the seed of good work, nurture it and help it grow.
The novel concept is simple: Hundreds of people, dressed to impress, mingle with artists and representatives of not-for-profit organizations that are seeking volunteers - all while sipping wine and grooving to cool tunes. As they discover opportunities that match their skills and interests, they scope out artwork by mostly emerging and local artists.
Attendees bid on those original works of art not in money, but in time: They must pledge to complete the greatest number of volunteer hours to score a piece.
''If it wasn't for Timeraiser and me bidding and me winning - I have to commit 80 hours in my year - it would probably be just another year of saying 'Oh, I'll (volunteer) sometime,''' said Maregman, who now has one year to prove her commitment before she can claim her art.
Building on the success of past years - including six events in Toronto and coming on four in Calgary (June 18) - Timeraiser debuts in Hamilton on May 9 and Edmonton on Oct. 17 this year. It will also run for its second time in Vancouver, on Sept. 24, and in Ottawa on Nov. 14.
Combined, all previous Timeraisers have garnered 42,000 volunteer hours, seen $245,000 invested in the careers of emerging artists, hosted 3,300 Canadians and given exposure to 250 non-profits.
With its trendy but authentic vibe, the social affair targets the reasons why Canadians in their 20s and 30s are among the groups least likely to volunteer: nobody asks, they don't have time and they don't know where to find meaningful opportunities, according to Imagine Canada's Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating.
It was the stale routine of lavish, flavour-of-the-month charity galas - where attendees never really grasp the cause they're supporting - that prompted Anil Patel to get in the picture. At another dime-a-dozen night he spoke to an artist who had been asked to donate his work to the cause for the eighth time that year - as though artists survived on goodwill.
''That's when the lightbulbs went off,'' said Patel, the founder and executive director of Framework Foundation, which runs Timeraiser.
''What if there was a way where we could raise money to pay artists at nights like this and what if we could actually have an evening that was really about meaningful conversations with the organizations that are trying to make a difference?''
His idea to create a night of ''speed dating for volunteerism'' was born.
To pay the artists for their contributions, the foundation collects funds from sponsors and divides it up to ensure art is purchased at fair market value.
''When the bidding starts, it gets a little crazy. People get really excited and start rushing around,'' said Julia Prime, a 28-year-old Toronto-based artist whose silkscreen piece, A Sudden Gust of Wind, was recently up for auction.
Within 15 minutes her work had achieved the maximum bid of 125 volunteer hours.
''It was great to know that that many people were willing to give up that much of their time (to earn my work),'' she said, adding that Timeraiser helps make contemporary art accessible to people just starting their careers - who otherwise might not be able to afford starting a collection so young.
For more information see timeraiser.ca.