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Investing in Volunteering Underpins Civil Society

10 April 2014 at 10:46 am
Staff Reporter
If Australia wants to foster a civil society and mutuality, it must develop and promote a thriving volunteering culture, writes Brett Williamson, CEO, Volunteering Australia, and Sue Noble, CEO, Volunteering Victoria.

Staff Reporter | 10 April 2014 at 10:46 am


Investing in Volunteering Underpins Civil Society
10 April 2014 at 10:46 am
Brett Williamson.
Sue Noble.

If Australia wants to foster a civil society and mutuality, it must develop and promote a thriving volunteering culture, writes Brett Williamson, CEO, Volunteering Australia, and Sue Noble, CEO, Volunteering Victoria.

Recently the Minister for Social Services and the Minister responsible for volunteering Kevin Andrews, addressed the National Press Club on civil society and mutuality and the role of government in promoting good public policy that supports and strengthens the co-operative and mutual sector, and strengthens communities to address their current and evolving community needs.

A key way this happens is through volunteering. Volunteering impacts all aspects of our society – volunteers support people in need, they prepare for and respond to emergencies,  they run sporting clubs, clean-up the environment, care for injured wildlife, raise money for causes, keep many of our cultural and community institutions open – the list goes on.  

Imagine how poor and mean our community would be without these active citizens.

Volunteering is often talked about in dreamy idyllic terms.  Most volunteers are altruistic. Most give freely of their time and skills without thought of reward or recognition.

But it would be a mistake to think that volunteering operates without considerable effort and cost.  

While some volunteering occurs informally or spontaneously, most requires a significant investment of time, skills and resources to ensure optimum outcomes – for the beneficiaries of volunteering services, the volunteer involving organisations and their volunteer workforce.

Volunteering Australia and the peak bodies for volunteering in each State and Territory head-up a wide network of volunteer support organisations – together we support tens of thousands of Not for Profits that rely partially or totally on a workforce of volunteers to do their work.  

As peak bodies we represent more than 6.1 million volunteers and 50,000 registered (and many more informal) volunteer involving organisations (VIOs) across the nation and across all sectors of our community – health, community services, sport and recreation, emergency services, the arts and culture, animal welfare, the environment and conservation, education, religion – the list goes on.

Our work supports individuals, local communities and NGOs, as well as the policy priorities of and the services delivered by the three-tiers of government.

We champion excellence in volunteer management through the delivery of the National Standards for Involving Volunteers in Not for Profit Organisations.  We promote volunteer program innovation. We support research and development, deliver learning and development programs and consultancy services, and facilitate collaborative networks.

We help organisations recruit and manage their volunteers, and we advocate for the rights and well-being of those volunteers. We work with businesses to develop employee volunteer programs that support the work of Australia’s Not for Profit sector.  Through our work we seek to engage and support those who experience disadvantage and isolation due to their age, disability, economic circumstances, ethnicity, gender or visa status.

The national network of grassroots VIOs provide our local communities (including many thousands of individuals, Not for Profits, schools and local government authorities) with a wide variety of critical services and activities such as:

  • Connecting individuals with local VIOs;

  • Assisting and supporting people who experience geographic and social isolation, economic disadvantage to participate in the community through volunteering;

  • Providing training and capacity building to local volunteer managers and VIOs;

  • Providing “volunteer readiness” training and support to community members;

  • Raising the profile of volunteering through promotion and reward and recognition programs;

  • Partnering with local government and VIO’s to create new economic and social inclusion pathways for our communities’ most disadvantaged residents;

  • Piloting and implementing  innovative new volunteer management techniques and programs, often in partnership with other organisations;

  • Supporting the Federal government in meeting it’s community participation objectives by aligning our services with government policies and strategies.

At the organisation level, the success of programs supported by volunteers is largely dependent on great volunteer management.  

A key enabler often overlooked in the volunteering equation is  the volunteer manager who builds, supports and coordinates our incredible volunteer workforce and ensures their safety and wellbeing. Sometimes they are volunteers themselves. Other times they are paid a modest salary.

Occasionally they are recognised for the unbelievably important and often difficult role they play in ensuring organisations can do what they exist to do, often they are not. Yet volunteer management is arguably more complex and difficult than managing paid staff and it requires special skills and experience.

Depending on which research you favour, volunteering contributes somewhere between $14.6 billion to $200 billion to the Australian economy and arguably makes an even greater social contribution to the wellbeing of individuals and the building of resilient communities.  

Yet the Federal Government currently makes a very modest investment of $5,131,976 to support Volunteering Australia, the State and Territory Peak bodies and the some (not all) volunteer support organisations. And this funding runs out on June 30, with no guarantee of any funding beyond that date.

If we want to foster a civil society and mutuality, we must develop and promote a thriving volunteering culture. We must invest in the peak bodies, the grassroots volunteer support organisations, the mutually supportive networks across the volunteering sector and volunteer management.

Together they support and work with communities to meet evolving needs, and those that arise in times of crisis or disaster, applying our collective knowledge, expertise and goodwill. To rely solely or to a great extent on spontaneous or "organic" community support ignores the complexity and scope of volunteering in our communities.

About the Authors: Brett Williamson has been the CEO of Volunteering Australia since October last year. For the previous six years, he  was the CEO of Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA). He holds qualifications in human movement studies (BHMS Ed), a Bachelor of Education and a Corporate Directors Diploma.

Sue Noble, was appointed CEO of Volunteering Victoria in 2012 and has previously worked with membership bodies CPA Australia, the Law Institute of Victoria and Softball Australia. Her qualifications include an MBA, Graduate Diploma in International Trade, Graduate Diploma in Management, Graduate Diploma in Librarianship and BA.

Staff Reporter  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

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