Reflecting on the voluntary workforce this National Volunteer Week
23 May 2019 at 8:27 am
To mark National Volunteer Week, Volunteering Australia CEO Adrienne Picone explains the need for improved data collection that includes all forms of volunteering, to gain a better understanding of Australia’s volunteering activities.
This week is National Volunteer Week, the annual celebration of Australia’s almost 6 million formal volunteers and many others who volunteer informally across the country. As we shine a spotlight on the volunteer workforce, it is timely to reflect on who this workforce is, and how we can invest in growing a culture of giving.
Volunteering is an inextricable part of Australia’s national identity with 5.8 million formal volunteers donating 734 million hours of time to the community. Australia’s voluntary contributions yield a 450 per cent return for every dollar invested. Nationally this is estimated to be a staggering annual economic and social contribution of $290 billion.
A recent article has detailed that the rates of formal volunteering are in decline and drawn links that those who have a combination of time and money are more likely to volunteer.
Whilst it may seem like there is a decline in community participation at first glance, it should be noted that anecdotal evidence does not convey a lack of willingness by Australians to participate in and support their local community.
Like everything else in our society, volunteering is evolving, and volunteers are looking to contribute in different ways that match their skills and time constraints.
Depending on how you cut and dice volunteering, the numbers can look quite different. The 2016 census actually shows a 1.7 per cent increase in the number of people volunteering from the previous census to 19 per cent of the population.
Meanwhile, the 2017 Australian Charities Report has just been released, with the data showing that there has been an increase in the number of volunteers supporting the activities of charities by 400,000, with 3.3 million people volunteering across the charitable sector.
Quantifying volunteering is important, but current statistics don’t reflect the true picture of giving in Australia.
Australia’s most reliable data collection on volunteering, collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, is captured on formal volunteering through a not-for-profit organisation only, and not the myriad of ways that people make a donation of time to the community every day.
It would be more accurate to say that we are giving our time, but we are doing it in different ways to suit our lifestyle. More and more organisations are rising to the challenge and creating diverse volunteer positions that engage the unpaid workforce in new and innovative ways.
Today’s volunteer doesn’t necessarily want to sign up for long-term commitments, but they do want to use their talents and skills to make a difference to a cause they believe in.
Volunteering shouldn’t just be for “people with a combination of time and money”. Everyone, no matter what your background deserves to experience the many benefits of volunteering.
Whether they are motivated by enhancing their CV, building their networks or wanting to make a world of difference we need to ensure that volunteers and volunteer involving organisations are adequately resourced for their tasks.
Volunteers are not a money-saving device, and lack of access to reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses should not be a barrier to volunteering. The costs of supporting the work of volunteers should be considered as an investment in the community.
Volunteering Australia’s mission is to strengthen promote and celebrate volunteering.
Building our understanding of the diverse ways that people volunteer is an important way that we can support and enhance this contribution.
During National Volunteer Week, it is timely to call for improved data collection that includes all forms of volunteering, to gain a better understanding of Australia’s volunteering activities.
Volunteering Australia is celebrating 30 years of National Volunteer Week this year. You can find out more here.