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New Definition for Volunteering?

23 September 2014 at 10:22 am
Lina Caneva
The volunteering sector must review, and possibly change, its definition of the word volunteering or risk being left behind by the wider Australian community, the sectors’ peak body has said.

Lina Caneva | 23 September 2014 at 10:22 am


New Definition for Volunteering?
23 September 2014 at 10:22 am

The volunteering sector must review, and possibly change, its definition of the word volunteering or risk being left behind by the wider Australian community, the sectors’ peak body has said.

Speaking at the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) World Conference in the Gold Coast recently, Volunteering Tasmania’s Claire Ellis said a review of the official definition of volunteering was needed.

Ellis said the current definition used by Volunteering Australia was adopted in 1996 and was different to that used by IAVE.

She said that Volunteering Tasmania was leading the review process on behalf of Volunteering Australia and was getting ready to start a consultation phase.

Ellis said that Australia’s volunteering leaders could be left behind by a changing community like Volunteering England had been.

“We can stay conservative and we can stay with something that we can manage and we know that we take a low-risk approach with it, but if we do that in our community we know from all of you and from the discussion we’re having over the last couple of days, if we don't move forward … if we don't take those risks and move, our communities and our societies will move while we'll just be left behind,” Ellis said.

“I don't think that's where we want to be as the leaders in volunteering personally.”

The current definition used by Volunteering Australia is that “formal volunteering is an activity which takes place through Not for Profit organisations or projects and is undertaken to be of benefit to the community and the volunteer, of the volunteer’s own free will and without coercion, for no financial payment and in designated volunteer positions only”.

Ellis said it was necessary for the sector to have a definitive answer to what volunteering is.

“So, realistically many of us think about volunteering as a concept, there’s a breadth and a lot of grey areas,” she said.

“But all of us at times seek the single definition because I may be a researcher and have a hat on and I have to be able to explain what I'm exactly researching or I'm trying to measure and I go to the government and I talk about the value of volunteering in the Australian community and I try and put a number on it.

“We've had those conversations already in several of the speeches through this conference and most of us around the table went, 'yeah but that's undervaluing it because that's been a formal definition of volunteering and measuring’ and we know that when we look at our communities and the variety of things that happen in our communities that are important in an area of volunteering it is much larger than that.

“It is much more of a social glue out there and we’re not able to describe that to our Government and therefore seek the support and help that we may wish for, but were also not able to reward and recognise each other because we're excluding quite a variety of different activities.”

Ellis said it was necessary for the definition to be reviewed as new forms of volunteering had emerged, such as virtual volunteering and macro volunteering.

“Remember in this review process we may review it and decide to stick with our existing definition,” she said.

“We're not trying to predetermine where we'll get to but there's a lot of evidence and a lot of people in conversations that are wanting to change.

“It sounds like a piece of academic jargon or it sounds like something that might be irrelevant, you guys just get on with and tell us what it is we'll worry about it later. If the Government policy changes we'll read it then.

“But in fact by changing the definition we want to hear and engage and discuss in debate not just within ourselves but with all those people that are not here in the room. About what it could be and what the difference would be if we altered it.

“What's really interesting to me as we talk about what our definition could be is not those of us that are stakeholders here now and volunteering, but it's those people who are not attending this conference and not attending and coming to meetings because they don't think they have anything to do with volunteering, but perhaps they're a really important part of social engagement, of growing social capital in an area, of fostering a participatory activity that we want, but we have currently excluded them so they're not attending these things.”

She said Volunteering Australia was in the process of creating an issues paper which it was expected would be distributed throughout the sector by December this year.

“Hopefully by mid next year we will actually have a new concept, a new definition around volunteering or a restatement of our existing one if that's where we go to,” she said.

“Part of the issue is there are a number of definitions and IAVE's is different to volunteering Australia's.

“The water is muddy and we here in Australia have sometimes made it muddier. If I think about Volunteering Australia and I think about all of our state peaks, part of our role is to provide some clarity.

“I think the thing is there are enormous amounts of grey areas here and at the moment we don't know where that boundary may be with our new definition.”

The 23rd IAVE World Volunteer Conference was organised by the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) and hosted by the National peak body for volunteering,Volunteering Australia.

This is only the second time in 44 years that Australia  has hosted this international event.

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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