Volunteering Tasmania Forced to Close Launceston Office
Thursday, 21st September 2017 at 8:25 am
Volunteering Tasmania has said there is no need to be concerned about the future of the organisation, despite having to close its second office in the space of just 15 months.
The Launceston office was closed on 4 September, and follows VT’s closure of their Burnie regional office in June last year.
In an announcement to their supporters, VT explained they had been “transitioning through challenges and change” over the last year.
“These challenges continue to impact Volunteering Tasmania, and the recent announcement from the Australian government regarding their Strong and Resilient Communities funding has forced us to once again reassess how we deliver volunteer support services across the state,” they said.
“The Australian government’s decision to retain dedicated funding for volunteer support services is welcomed. However, with funding to remain fixed at the current level for the next 3.5 years there regrettably won’t be an opportunity for Volunteering Tasmania to request additional funding to cover the rising costs of delivering these services.
“Consequently, Volunteering Tasmania will be implementing changes to its structure and operations, which will include the closure of our Launceston office from Monday, 4 September 2017.”
The Strong and Resilient Communities funding comes into effect from the beginning of 2018, replacing the previous Strengthening Communities grants.
It means volunteer support services will no longer be eligible for their own pool of grants funding.
After vigorous campaigning from the volunteering sector, they achieved a small “victory” when the Department of Social Services (DSS) announced that $19.95 million would be dedicated to Volunteer Management Activity from 1 January 2018 until 30 June 2021.
But VT CEO Alison Lai, told Pro Bono News that increasing service delivery costs meant “difficult decisions” were still necessary.
“Not being able to apply for additional funding to cover the increasing cost of delivering services has an impact, and a part of that was making difficult decisions, one of which was having to close our Launceston office,” Lai said.
“It won’t affect our services to a great extent. But what it will impact immediately is the ability for our members in that region to access face-to-face assistance from our employee that was based up there.
“However all of our other services…such as our online referral service will still continue, as will our bi-monthly meeting in the region and we’ll still have people on the phone who can provide advice on volunteer management issues. We’ll still travel to the region frequently, so [that support] will still continue.”
Lai also said there was no need to be concerned about VT’s future, since the organisation would be equipping itself to deal with changing circumstances.
“I know that the first reaction is for people to be concerned when they see that offices are shutting. But I don’t think people should see that as a sign the organisation is crumbling. We will be here in 10 years time, but we will see change in the way we deliver services,” she said.
“I think people should feel concerned more generally about how things are changing around government funded services [especially] as the community sector does rely quite heavily on government support.
“So we should be seen, not as an organisation that is struggling, but an organisation that is adapting. What you’ll see change is how we do it, what you won’t see change is our level of commitment to making sure we deliver these services.”
She has previously spoken of a need for volunteering organisations to turn to a “diversification of funding streams” rather than relying on government support, and Lai admitted this was “a challenge”.
“If the strategic objective of what we’re trying to achieve is to get more people into volunteering and provide them with assistance, then we just have to think more creatively about how we do that, perhaps thinking more outside the box with who we target and the particular organisations we partner with,” she said.
“What we’re been previously doing won’t necessarily be what it looks like in another five years time. So we have got to be constantly consolidating and re-assessing our strategy… and getting more people volunteering and making sure there’s no barriers to that.”
“We need to keep on consulting with government around the challenges that we face, but we also need to be proactive ourselves within our organisations to find solutions and to be nimble and navigate through these challenges.”
“The impacts across the country will vary, because the funding [and] service delivery model for volunteering services across the country varies.”
Across the Bass Strait, Volunteering Victoria CEO Sue Noble told Pro Bono News their organisation had not been as affected by the new funding model, but that challenges for the volunteering sector in Victoria remained.
“The challenge is that the [volunteering] organisations that receive current funding from the federal government will continue to receive funding from the recently announced arrangement, but organisations that don’t currently receive funding, will not be able access funding unless they are successful in applying for some of the other grants,” Noble said.
“So while the continuation of funding is welcome, as it gives us some continuity and time to build a case for ongoing and better support from the federal government, it does lock us into a model that we have always identified as not ideal. And it does excuse some organisations from funding.”
Noble also said while diversification of funding sources was important, there was a “reluctance to pay to support volunteering” in Australia.
“While it’s an aim for all of us to diversify our funding it’s incredibly difficult, because there is a perception that volunteering is free and that it just happens,” she said.
“It’s really difficult for volunteering support services to compete for funding with other organisations which are also seeking funding from the same type of sources, whether that be philanthropic funding, sponsorships or government funding.”
“There’s intangible benefits of volunteering, like building resilient communities [and looking after] the health and wellbeing of recipients of volunteering delivered services. There’s a lack of recognition and acceptance of the value of volunteering in those sorts of contexts.”