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Volunteering Conference Ends on High Note

4 November 2010 at 2:22 pm
Lina Caneva
The 13th National Conference on Volunteering wrapped up on a high note in Melbourne late last week as participants were buoyed by discussions on the future of volunteering.

Lina Caneva | 4 November 2010 at 2:22 pm


Volunteering Conference Ends on High Note
4 November 2010 at 2:22 pm

The 13th National Conference on Volunteering wrapped up on a high note in Melbourne late last week as participants were buoyed by discussions on the future of volunteering.

Over 500 delegates from around Australia and the world attended the conference, hearing from a range of local and international experts on the state of volunteering.

Pro Bono Australia was the conference media partner, reporting on speakers and promoting the conversation about the conference on Twitter.

The response on Twitter has been fantastic, with a rich, dynamic conversation running alongside the conference, allowing attendees to connect and discuss ideas through the event and giving those not able to attend the conference the opportunity to follow along in real time, the sharing of ideas.

Highlights from the conference include:

Day 1

Senator Ursula Stephens, stepping in for the new Minister for Social Inclusion, Tanya Plibersek, told the conference that volunteerism has been placed at the centre of the Gillard Government's policy agenda and elevated to the office of the Prime Minister, the National Volunteering Conference in Melbourne has been told.

Senator Stephens opened the conference, saying volunteerism has now been placed within the social policy framework of Government, adding that there has never been such a national focus on volunteering.

Bernard Salt, KPMG Partner and commentator on demographic trends, got tongues wagging with his presentation on how Baby Boomers will create a golden age for volunteering.

Salt said that the peak age for volunteering in Australia is 65-79 – with 24% of people in this age bracket volunteering. Salt says that over the next decade this age group is set to blow out by 800,000 – this means there will be an extra 200,000 people volunteering.

With the average retirement age in Australia at 58, and the average life expectancy hitting 82, there is now a 20 year gap between the retirement and death, something Salt refers to as the ‘sweet spot’ of volunteering.

But Salt said Not for Profit organisations will need to learn to manage the expectations of the intelligent and opinionated generation if they are to effectively harness their volunteering potential.

Elaine Bradley, CEO of Volunteering Ireland, described the unique challenges facing volunteering in Europe, many of which have been brought on by the Global Financial Crisis.

Bradley also questioned the role of peak bodies, saying the focus of peak volunteering bodies needs to move away from brokerage and towards information sharing and capacity building.

Bradley said that these organisations need to move away from ideas of ownership of volunteering and move towards a decentralisation of volunteering infrastructure.

Bradley urged a devolving of the volunteering infrastructure back into the community. She said most people in Ireland who volunteer find their own roles – they don’t go through a brokerage services.

Kenn Allen, President of the Civil Society Consulting Group (USA) and Sarah Hayes, Director of the Global Corporate Volunteer Council, presented an international look at corporate volunteering.

Allen warned Not for Profit organisations to be wary of the ‘elephant in the bathtub’ when entering into partnerships with corporation, saying a power differential between the two parties can create risks and challenges. He urged NFPs to think strategically when thinking about corporate partnerships, and to be upfront about what is best for their organisation.

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Day 2

Dr Ron Edwards, Australian Social Inclusion Board Member, spoke on volunteering and the role of values in the social inclusion agenda. Edwards said that in today’s society, people often behave as if emotions and values don’t matter. But he said what connects volunteers, and the delegates at the conference, is that they believe in holding onto values and emotions instead of setting them aside.

Dr Edwards said the Not for Profit sector is a significant economy that requires ‘light touch’ regulation and bold thinking around governance.

Professor Peter Shergold, Centre for Social Impact, provided a in-depth look at the size, scope and potential of volunteering and the Not for Profit sector in Australia.

Shergold said after the resources sector, the NFP sector is probably the fastest growing sector in Australia, experiencing 7.7% real annual growth.

Shergold said that what is missing from the sector is self-awareness. He said there is a world of givers and donors, but they are unaware they are part of a movement, and its economic, political and social significance. Shergold said when asked, volunteers often describe their role simply as helping others – but they do much more than this. They advocate for the people or cause they are serving, they create civic engagement, and they become agents of social change.

Looking to the future, Shergold said Governments around the world are facing increasing challenges in regards to creating public policy to deal address the public consequences of private behaviour.

He said Government has to find a way to interfere with private behaviour (smoking, obesity etc.), and one way of doing this is through supporting volunteers and empowering communities.

He said western societies are experiencing low levels of public trust in Governments, the law, churches and traditional models of authority. However, he said there are high levels of trust towards nurses, teachers and community organisations. In this respect, Shergold said volunteering offers a significant way forward.

Shergold also warned of future dangers for the sector, saying that as Australia moves towards a more litigious society, Governments may manage increasing risk by over-burdening the sector and crushing the spirit that drives it.

Day 3

The final morning of the conference saw a fascinating panel discussion exploring the definition and values behind volunteering.

Volunteering Australia CEO Cary Pedicini highlighted the importance of describing volunteering in term of the value added to the community.

On the question of whether corporate volunteering really is volunteering (as participants are being paid by their employer), President of the Civil Society Consulting Group Ken Allen was refreshingly frank when he said if organisations are focused on outcomes, it doesn’t really matter.

Other conference events included 75 workshops, networking events and a conference dinner. 

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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