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Overhaul for Definition of Volunteering in Australia


Tuesday, 3rd March 2015 at 11:33 am
Xavier Smerdon, Journalist
Volunteering Australia is reviewing the definition of volunteering in Australia and has proposed three alternatives for discussion in a new document.

Tuesday, 3rd March 2015
at 11:33 am
Xavier Smerdon, Journalist


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Overhaul for Definition of Volunteering in Australia
Tuesday, 3rd March 2015 at 11:33 am

Volunteering Australia is reviewing the definition of volunteering in Australia and has proposed three alternatives for discussion in a new document.

According to the national volunteering peak’s Issues Paper, National Review of the Definition of Volunteering in Australia, is “the start of a national engagement on the definition of volunteering,” which will see stakeholders consulted Australia-wide.

Volunteering Australia CEO Brett Williamson said the definition of volunteering in Australia was developed almost 20 years ago in 1996 and did not reflect the extent of volunteering today, given it only recognised formal volunteering undertaken for Not for Profit organisations.

“A lot of volunteering that is common today simply didn’t exist 20 years ago,” Williamson said.

“The spirit of volunteering hasn’t changed, but it’s important we refine what volunteering means in Australia to make sure we better recognise, measure and support it.

“The rise of internships, work for the dole programs, and community service orders has created grey areas for organisations. They want to know if these activities overlap with volunteering, particularly around roles, rights and responsibilities.”

Proposed alternative definitions put forward by Volunteering Australia include:

Option 1

Volunteering is an activity undertaken as an individual or in a group, for the benefit of the community, without expectation of financial reward. Volunteering is a choice freely made by each individual and can include formal or informal community participation.

Option 2

Volunteering is doing something willingly, for no financial gain, that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives or the individual.

Option 3

We define volunteering as any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives. Volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual. This can include formal activity undertaken through public, private and voluntary organisations as well as informal community participation

The peak body said the development of the Issues Paper is the first phase of the review process, to be followed by a program of “national engagement,” which will result in a final recommendation on a definition of volunteering to be made to the Volunteering Australia Board.

Volunteering Australia said that one of its proposed definitions may be adopted or modified for use, the current definition could be reaffirmed, or an alternative definition may emerge as a result of the Australia-wide engagement process.

“ABS figures show one in three Australians – 6.1 million people – volunteered in 2010. If we don’t accurately recognise the types of volunteering people do, we risk undervaluing it,” Williamson said.

“In reviewing what volunteering is, we also need to be clearer about what volunteering isn’t.”

The existing definition fails to recognise aspects of virtual volunteering, social entrepreneurship, corporate volunteering, volunteering for government organisations such as museums or informal volunteering in the community.

It states that formal volunteering is an activity that takes place in Not for Profit organisations or projects and:

  • is of benefit to the community

  • is undertaken of the volunteer’s own free will and without coercion

  • is undertaken for no financial payment

  • occurs in designated volunteer positions only.

VA will hold stakeholder information sessions and that an online survey for all Australians to submit their views will be open from 16 March to 17 April 2015 on its website.

Review of the Definition of Volunteering in Australia can be viewed at www.volunteeringaustralia.org


Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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