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New Definition of Volunteering Revealed

28 July 2015 at 2:17 pm
Lina Caneva
A new long-awaited national definition of volunteering has been released, with activism to be included and businesses recognised as volunteers for the first time.

Lina Caneva | 28 July 2015 at 2:17 pm


New Definition of Volunteering Revealed
28 July 2015 at 2:17 pm

A new long-awaited national definition of volunteering has been released, with activism to be included and businesses recognised as volunteers for the first time.

The new definition follows a two year review by the national peak body, Volunteering Australia (VA) along with the State peak bodies.

VA says the result is a broader and more inclusive definition that reflects the diversity of volunteering activities undertaken nationally.

The new definition states that “‘volunteering’ is time willingly given for the common good without financial gain”.

A set of explanatory notes delivered with the definition shows what is in and what is out, and says activism can now be considered volunteering.

“This definition is aligned to the current UN position on volunteering that states: ‘When people participate in peaceful activism, for or against animal research or building of a dam, both sides seek what they consider to be beneficial outcomes’. They are included in our definition. Activities involving or inciting violence that harm society and actions not corresponding to the values attributed to volunteerism are not included in our definition,” the explanatory notes said.

Also, for the first time, corporate volunteering by an entity, that is, a company that organises employee volunteers, is recognised under the new definition.

But a number of programs that are described as “highly structured, with fixed requirements and provide options of volunteering-type activities” are not included in the definition. For example mandated court orders including community service and fines and any other mandatory Government programs.

“We know that the role of volunteers has changed drastically; our previous definition did not reflect this,” CEO of Volunteering Australia, Brett Williamson said.

“For volunteer-involving organisations the new definition will assist in workforce planning and bring clarity around what volunteers can do. For volunteers it will allow better support of the work they do.

“Above all things, the new definition will ensure a common understanding of what volunteering is, ultimately supporting the integrity of the work they do.”

Volunteering Tasmania led the review project on behalf of Volunteering Australia.

Volunteering Tasmania CEO Adrienne Picone said that the new definition was much broader with the aim of being more inclusive and as such, more enduring.

“The definition has broadened areas around informal volunteering to recognise the many and varied forms of volunteering in the community,” Picone told Pro Bono Australia News.

“The issue of activism was discussed in some detail at the last IAVE (International Association of Volunteer Effort) conference around small groups of volunteers who are seen as activists and changemakers.

“Another aim of the new definition is to broaden out the way we obtain volunteer data and the way volunteers see themselves.

“For the first time the definition also includes corporate volunteering by an entity and this recognises the entity or company as giving the time rather than a focus on individuals who volunteer within their paid working time.”

Picone said the new definition had come at a crucial time for the sector as it coincides with the release of the National Standards for Volunteering and community discussion and debate about volunteer numbers.

In June it was revealed in new ABS data that volunteering rates in Australia were declining for the first time in almost 20 years with 75 per cent of people surveyed saying they felt too rushed or pressed for time.

The results of the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014 General Social Survey found that  volunteering in Australia had fallen by five per cent since 2010.

The definition of volunteering explanatory notes also include supportive statements concerning best practice.

Volunteering Australia said the first review of the new definition will be undertaken in six months, then annually thereafter.

Download the new definition and explanatory notes HERE.

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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