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Volunteers Give More

1 December 2016 at 11:05 am
Wendy Williams
Volunteers are more generous with their dollars as well as with their time, according to new research.

Wendy Williams | 1 December 2016 at 11:05 am


Volunteers Give More
1 December 2016 at 11:05 am

Volunteers are more generous with their dollars as well as with their time, according to new research.

The Giving Australia 2016 project, which is the largest ever research effort into philanthropic behaviour, has revealed that people who volunteered in the 12 months prior to September 2016 gave nearly double the amount of money that non-volunteers donated.

Those who both volunteered and donated money to charity gave an average donation of $1,017.11, compared to an average donation of $536.69 from non-volunteers.

Lead researcher and director of Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS) at Queensland University of Technology, Associate Professor Wendy Scaife said this was one of her “high-five moments” from the report.

“I am just blown away by the power of the engaged volunteer,” Scaife told Pro Bono Australia News.

“This is borne out in the figures where you see that if you have someone who both volunteers and donates, their donation amount is nearly double the contribution of a non-volunteer… we’re talking about over a thousand dollars.”

Graph of donations from volunteers and non-volunteers

The research, which was released on Thursday, showed an estimated 43.7 per cent of adult Australians volunteered a total of 932 million hours over the course of 12 months between September 2015 and September 2016.

On average, volunteers gave 134 hours of their time or about 2.5 hours a week.

Meanwhile, 38.2 per cent of people surveyed both volunteered and donated to not-for-profit organisations.

Scaife said engagement was “absolutely everything”.

“We know that our community organisations win when the community feels they own them, when it’s not some suits who are running the charity. And of course, when people volunteer their time they do feel an ownership of the organisation,” she said.

“They are there, they see and touch and feel the work, they deliver the work in some small way whether it is putting on the stamps or counselling somebody… it is their organisation.

“And so I think this is a real validation of the importance of people engaging with our organisations.”

Scaife said the report acknowledged that engaged volunteers were “giving so much more”.

“So I think our volunteers, it is a common refrain, but they are so undervalued,” she said.

“And so I think this is yet another reinforcement that those engaged volunteers are giving so much more… it’s this over and above.

“To give the time is such a gift and it is so needed, and it’s investing yourself… but for those who… have the capacity to give in dollars as well as time, they are really making a big difference.”

Interestingly the latest data pointed to an increase in both the percentage of people and the amount of time spent volunteering over the past decade.

This stands in contrast to data published within the last year that suggested Australia’s participation in volunteering was in decline.

But Scaife said the Giving Australia 2016 project, which was led by the ACPNS with the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology and the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs, used a different method.

“This is one that I think will occasion a lot of discussion in the sector,” she said.

“What we did differently in our method was to spend more time actually asking them about individual organisations.

“So the ABS work will ask about key organisations, top of mind organisations and then they will ask about others, we went and asked them about every organisation they were involved with and we prompted them about volunteering, were they a member of a committee, did they do something for the community through their church? Things that people didn’t regard necessarily as volunteering.

“I don’t want to diss any other studies… but we were at pains to try and gather as much real data and to prompt people to think about what they did as volunteers and I think this is what is reflected in the data.

“So I wouldn’t necessarily be celebrating a growth in volunteering, I would be celebrating a growth in greater recognition of what is volunteering, because people are very unassuming about what they contribute to their community.  

“In a sense it is back to that culture of giving, they are doing it automatically, and that’s the bit that we’re not celebrating that this is a habit for them.”

Graph showing volunteers also donate

Volunteering Australia CEO Brett Williamson OAM told Pro Bono Australia News the report confirmed that the way people volunteered was changing.

“The data that we’ve been receiving about participation rates, for example from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is asked in a way that the definition is that you are only a volunteer if you volunteer through an organisation, that’s formal volunteering as we call it, but there is an increase in informal volunteering which wouldn’t have been captured in the ABS data,” Williamson said.

“In the Giving Australia report… the questions that were asked reflected the modern way, or how people volunteer in different ways in 2016.

“Volunteering Australia launched our new definition last year in 2015, and part of that reflected that volunteering is not just through an organisation it can be done online, it can be done in a episodic or spontaneous way without having to sign up to do it through the traditional means.”

Williamson said the new data would help set a benchmark to monitor volunteers and help work out the best ways to support both organisations and individuals to find a volunteering experience that suits them.

“It’s the old saying, you can’t manage what you don’t know,” he said.

“[The report means] we will have some contemporary data and information that can help inform policy and work towards enhancing volunteering participation.

“Volunteering in 2016 is very different from volunteering in 1990.

“We know that many organisations… are desperately in need of more volunteers but at the same time the volunteers, or those that are potentially volunteers are saying ‘well, I can’t volunteer for that organisation because I can’t commit a day a week or whatever’, so it is about that workforce planning… so that a person who is interested in volunteering can be more comfortable or have a better opportunity to volunteer when they are available and on their terms and conditions.”

The report helped paint a picture of who was volunteering, with women more likely to volunteer than men and people aged between 35 and 44 more likely to volunteer than other age groups, with 45 to 54 year olds the second most likely to volunteer, and volunteers 65 years and over volunteering the most hours on average.

The cause area most likely to attract volunteers differed according to volunteer age:

  • younger volunteers (18 to 24 year olds) most commonly volunteer for religious causes, sports, health and social services
  • those aged 35 to 44 most commonly reported volunteering for primary and secondary education
  • 45 to 54 year olds most commonly volunteered in sports
  • those aged 65 years and over are most likely to volunteer for religious causes, followed by health and social services.

Key reasons people volunteer:

  • personal satisfaction
  • connection to community
  • practical benefit (eg to gain skills)
  • keep busy when no longer working
  • mental health benefits
  • family tradition.

But the report also highlighted emerging issues for volunteering including systemic change in the not-for-profit sector, including the use of information technologies which is both a barrier and an opportunity, and a lack of knowledge about engaging culturally and linguistically diverse groups in formal volunteering with not-for-profit groups.

Williamson said they were common issues that had been on the horizon for some time.

“We know that they are issues but it gets back to resourcing to enable those things,” he said.

“It gets back to the true value of volunteering and it’s not just in terms of that volunteering act, whether it is helping somebody in hospital or coaching or planting trees or whatever, it’s how you bring communities together. And you see it in rural and regional areas probably more so where communities do rely on each other because they don’t have access to all the services that larger populated areas or the cities or townships have… we can strengthen the communities and build social cohesion through volunteering, it shouldn’t be relying on gender or age or nationality.”

Williamson said it was important to recognise the “quiet achievers”.

“I think people recognise the good work of volunteers when there is a crisis or a disaster and things like that but [not always] the unsung heroes, the volunteers who help out at children’s sport and recreation or at environmental groups or up at the hospitals or in schools, in libraries, those quiet achievers,” he said.

“I don’t think the true value, and it is not just economic, but the social and connectedness and the health benefits of the volunteers, not only for the recipient of volunteer acts of kindness but also to the volunteers themselves, are [acknowledged].

“But that’s our job to hopefully help communicate that message in a clear way because all too often the volunteers are recognised unfortunately only in times of crisis or following natural disasters or fires or whatever but volunteering is happening 24/7 in all parts of our life.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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