Value Enabled by Volunteers, Extends to the Sector and Requires Investment
5 December 2017 at 8:42 am
In the face of a national decrease in formal volunteer participation, coupled with an increase in the demand for services that volunteers provide, now is the time to increase the investment in the volunteering infrastructure, writes Volunteering Australia CEO Adrienne Picone on International Volunteer Day.
Today is International Volunteer Day (IVD). Mandated by the United Nations and held on 5 December every year, this day is aimed at celebrating the incredible contributions volunteers make in the community, for-purpose organisations, the private sector and government.
This years’ theme is Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere. It aims to recognise the contributions of volunteers as first responders in times of crisis, and the crucial role they make in times of need, whether it is helping save lives or supporting those in the community.
In Australia, volunteers are essential to building strong and resilient communities, increasing social inclusion, and social cohesion. From the arts, education, emergency services, sports, environment, health, aged care, disability, and community welfare; volunteers play a vital role in delivering on the government’s priorities.
As an official supporter of International Volunteer Day, Volunteering Australia acknowledges and celebrates the critical role Australia’s 5.8 million volunteers play as the change-makers in our society.
While Volunteering Australia defines volunteering as “time willingly given, for the common good and without financial gain”, it comes at a significant cost to the individual. Findings from our 2016 State of Volunteering in Australia report indicates that while 99 per cent of volunteers would continue to volunteer in the future, volunteers were deterred by factors such as personal expense, red tape, and a lack of flexibility.
The report also identified numerous barriers to attracting and retaining volunteers, with 86 per cent of Volunteer Involving Organisations struggling to attract the volunteers they required for adequate operations. Many Volunteer Involving Organisations surveyed (86 per cent) also stated that they required more volunteers and resources.
The changes in the rates of formal and informal volunteering in the country present a growing challenge for Volunteer Involving Organisations, requiring innovation in workforce planning and management strategies.
To support our volunteers, it is important to acknowledge that volunteering requires considerable leadership and continued investment to ensure safe, effective and sustainable volunteering. Managers of volunteers and volunteering support services provide the stable and secure volunteering infrastructure needed to support volunteers and volunteer programs on the ground every day.
Nationally there continues to be a growing demand for volunteers. But the volunteering sector faces significant change and uncertainty as the Australian government reviews the primary source of funding for volunteering support services and volunteer management. In the face of a national decrease in formal volunteer participation, coupled with an increased in the demand for services that volunteers provide, now is the time to increase the investment in the volunteering infrastructure.
Short-term funding, funding uncertainty, competitive grant programs, and the impact of CPI on operational costs, all cause significant problems within the sector. Many organisations have been asked to deliver a lot more, with a critical lack of funding and resources. Longer-term, ongoing funding is essential to stability within the sector.
With volunteers making an estimated $290 billion social and economic contribution, a continued investment is required to meet the increasing operational costs of delivering critical programs and services enabled by volunteers. A National Volunteering Strategy will provide a nationally consistent approach to volunteering in Australia, by providing a strategic direction for the sector, at a whole-of-community level.
As the national voice of the sector, Volunteering Australia continues to be a strong advocate for volunteers.
While it is a whole-of-community effort to facilitate public interest and participation in volunteering, and ensure the long-term viability of the sector. It is vital that there is strong support, recognition and investment in the sector by all levels of government, business and the wider community.
About the author: Adrienne Picone is the CEO of Volunteering Australia. Prior to starting at VA, she was the CEO of Volunteering Tasmania and during that time was a tireless campaigner for, and supporter of volunteering. Picone has worked with volunteers for more than 15 years as a volunteer manager, trainer and management consultant. She has qualifications in education and extensive experience with local and state government as well as for purpose organisations.