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Opinion  |  Social Affairs

Vote Yes for Volunteering


18 January 2018 at 8:24 am
Gemma Rygate
The provocative notion that volunteering does not make the world a better place is nonsense, writes Gemma Rygate, the chief executive of The Centre for Volunteering.


Gemma Rygate | 18 January 2018 at 8:24 am


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Vote Yes for Volunteering
18 January 2018 at 8:24 am

The provocative notion that volunteering does not make the world a better place is nonsense, writes Gemma Rygate, the chief executive of The Centre for Volunteering.

In her recent opinion piece for Fairfax Media (Volunteering Doesn’t Make the World a Better Place, SMH, 5 January 2018), Catherine Walsh highlights the problem of governments relying on volunteers to fill gaps in services, but her proposed solution –  to stop volunteering – is not the answer.

The suggestion that a sudden reduction in volunteer labour would somehow make governments wake up and actually fix broken social systems is, sadly, implausible.

Let’s remember, too, that people volunteer for many reasons… to help their kids’ sporting teams, to keep active in retirement, to make friends and connections, to learn new skills, and to combat loneliness or depression, the list goes on.

The good news is that all the research shows volunteering delivers huge health benefits to volunteers themselves including increased happiness, well-being, life satisfaction, and community connectedness.

The provocative notion that volunteering does not make the world a better place is nonsense.

The volunteering sector is critical to civil society. Volunteering underpins the delivery of social and community services in NSW and nationwide, and without volunteers many services simply could not function.

In 2014, more than 2.1 million people aged 15 years and over participated in formal voluntary work in NSW and they contributed more than 230 million hours of work to the community (ABS General Social Survey 2014). Volunteers’ contribution to the NSW economy is conservatively estimated at $8 million a year. This contribution does not include the many informal ways people volunteer every day, which adds even greater value to the community.

Volunteers deliver vital services in aged care, surf life-saving clubs, emergency service organisations, hospitals, disability services, for disadvantaged families, refugees, in sporting clubs, museums and cultural institutions, for environmental causes and more. These are services that governments cannot and do not deliver. However, governments should support the infrastructure that enables this volunteering effort to continue. Volunteering is not free!

In 2010, formal volunteering was conservatively estimated to be worth $25.4 billion to the Australian economy and informal volunteering worth $59.3 billion. More recent estimates of the value of the sector range up to $290 billion per year.

However, even these impressive numbers undersell the real value of volunteering, which has a far greater social value and impact than just the notional cost of paying for that time.

Volunteering plays a key role in strengthening communities by creating networks between people, which generates a range of positive social practices. Volunteers deliver services that would otherwise not be provided or would be provided at greater cost to government, and therefore to the community.  

Volunteering also has significant benefits for volunteers – it helps to mitigate the negative psychological effects of disadvantage, and is important for connecting people to social and economic participation, career paths and labour markets. In the digital era, where face to face human interaction is diminishing, often to the detriment of society, volunteering is instrumental in reconnecting and strengthening communities and upholding the Australian tenet of lending a hand.

The suggestion that “volunteering undercuts paid work” is offensive to those who give their time willingly, for the common good and without financial gain. Volunteers bridge the gap between paid roles and services that simply would not happen were it not for volunteers. Volunteering can in fact be a pathway to paid employment for those who want a change of direction or who want to develop new skills.

So by all means, continue to write to politicians and campaign for more effective funding and service delivery from governments, but also insist on support for the infrastructure that allows us to volunteer, and still say “yes” to volunteering.

Your health and the health of society and our community will be better for it.

About the author: Gemma Rygate is the chief executive of The Centre for Volunteering, the peak body for volunteering in NSW. The Centre for Volunteering promotes and supports volunteering and community participation and includes Volunteering NSW, its volunteer referral service, and the National School of Volunteer Management (SVM), its RTO. The Centre for Volunteering is a not-for-profit organisation with over 40 years’ history. The centre provides leadership on volunteering issues in NSW and connects people and organisations to enrich the community through advocacy, volunteer referral, volunteer recognition, training, resource development, as well as information and education services.


Gemma Rygate  |  @ProBonoNews

Gemma Rygate is the chief executive of The Centre for Volunteering, the peak body for volunteering in NSW.

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One comment

  • Karen Ellis says:

    I do not want to formally volunteer with an organisation or agency. I am retired and am happy to informally volunteer on-line and in my community. The moment the bureaucrats with their red tape appear wanting you to ‘sign up’ and take control I say NO WAY. Virtual volunteering suits me because i have my own sense of agency.

    As baby boomers retire many will not volunteer because they will not want to feel like they are back at work. We also have other amazing interests to keep us active and engaged.

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