Giving back: Volunteering massage therapy services
By Helen Lammers-Helps
Many massage therapists choose to volunteer their services, and although pay doesn’t come in the form of money, both community and therapist can benefit.
By Helen Lammers-Helps
The opportunities to provide the healing touch of massage on a volunteer basis are both abundant and varied. They can range from working with chronically ill children, terminally ill hospice patients, physically challenged adults, to participants in sporting events or fundraising walks – locally, across the country or around the world.
The Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba (MTAM) in Winnipeg regularly posts volunteer opportunities online that they think their membership may be interested in, says Managing Director, Tricia Weidenbacher. RMTs may choose to volunteer their massage services for one or more reasons such as the good feeling they get when they give back, to promote the benefits of massage therapy, to reach potential new clients, and/or to expand their skills or earn education credits, she says.
Building awareness of the benefits of massage therapy is another reason some massage therapists volunteer, says Weidenbacher.
Volunteering can also be a good networking tool. There are opportunities to connect with other massage therapists, other healthcare professionals or potential clients. In this case, it’s wise to choose events that align with your business goals and the type of client you want to target, says Weidenbacher.
For RMTs who work in a building with multiple tenants, health and wellness days held in the building would be a natural fit for volunteering.
Sudbury massage therapist Danièle Gervais used volunteering as a marketing tool when she first started her massage therapy business four years ago. Gervais says it was a cost-effective way to attract clients. “Trying to get your name out there as an RMT is challenging. I didn’t have a lot of money (for marketing) but I had lots of time,” she says.
When she volunteers her massage therapy services, Gervais puts out business cards and brochures to make it easy for people to book appointments with her afterwards. She likens the practice to a Costco mentality: The store gives out free samples of food and if you like them, you’ll buy the product. By volunteering you are giving a free sample which often results in a booking, she says.
When Gervais volunteers, she also generates an email list of prospective clients by doing a draw for a free treatment. Those who participate in the free draw consent to be contacted in the future. Gervais is careful to follow all regulations pertaining to the collection of personal data and using it for contact purposes.
In addition to volunteering as a means of promoting her business, Gervais also volunteers her massage services at sporting events, with the hours counting towards those required for the sports massage certification she is pursuing.
Gervais also likes to support her existing clients by volunteering at charitable events that they are involved in.
While the time spent volunteering is time that could be spent working for paid employment, in Gervais’ opinion, the time invested in building her business is worth it. “One of the people you treat might become a client, and then one of their family members might become a client, and so on,” she says.
While volunteering her massage services can be good for her business, that’s not the only reason Gervais volunteers. It’s also important to her to give back to the community. She reached out to the local hospital to offer massages to nurses during their annual Nurses Week celebration. Gervais and another RMT colleague “go in and provide 15-minute massages on anything that’s sore or tight,” she says.
While she sometimes gets a free meal while volunteering, Gervais has never asked for a charitable receipt for the donation of her time, noting that she feels that would demean what she’s doing.
At many massage therapy programs across Canada, students gain valuable and necessary experience through volunteer work. At the West Coast College of Massage Therapy (WCCMT) in Victoria, Clinic Coordinator Fran Blake says students are involved in many volunteer activities. They have mandatory clinical internships for the last four terms of the program and also have additional volunteer opportunities through outreach programs. “The volunteer opportunities and the exposure to various populations, demographics, and needs of the community are invaluable to the experience of each student,” she says.
Some of the options for volunteering through WCCMT include working with special populations such as seniors in geriatric care, individuals rehabilitating from strokes, or those living with Parkinson’s disease. There are also opportunities to work with high performance athletes through a partnership with Rugby Canada and a new professional soccer team based in Victoria.
WCCMT students also offer post-event treatments to participants in various sporting events such as the Goodlife Marathon, the Victoria Ironman competition and the Tour de Victoria cycling race.
By volunteering their services at various charity events in return for donations, the WCCMT students are able to raise money for various charities such as the MS Society through its MS Grape Bike Tour.
However, there are some caveats when it comes to volunteering. Weidenbacher recommends avoiding events such as recreational sporting events where alcohol is served. Participants cannot give their consent if alcohol has been consumed and it can be difficult to know who has been drinking.
It’s also essential to ensure you’ve covered off liabilities with insurance and consent forms, says Weidenbacher. For the Challenge for Life, MTAM provides a consent document that outlines the limitations of the assessments and short massage treatments provided at the event.
Blake says WCCMT-Victoria students are always supervised by faculty when they volunteer at the College’s clinic and in the community. Specific consent forms, health history forms and waivers are used so the demographic they are treating understands they are working with student interns.
Massage therapists should always consult an accountant for tax advice but Weidenbacher says their organization has been told by their tax advisors that massage therapists cannot claim their time as a tax deduction when volunteering but that supplies, and possibly vehicle expenses, would be tax deductible.
As an alternative to volunteering their massage services, RMTs could give away branded items like hot/cold gel packs which would be tax deductible, says Weidenbacher. Or RMTs can talk about the benefits of massage or give a stretching demonstration.
Massage therapists benefit in many ways from volunteering. Understanding your goals, whether it’s to promote the benefits of massage therapy, reach potential new clients, give back to the community, expand your credentials, or help those in need, will help you choose the right opportunities.
HELEN LAMMERS-HELPS has more than 20 years’ experience writing about diverse subjects including business, environment, sustainability, food, gardening, and agriculture for a variety of publications and websites. She is a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada.