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Volunteering in Victoria thrives, but at what cost?

19 October 2020 at 5:46 pm
Maggie Coggan
The State of Volunteering report is the first of its kind 

Maggie Coggan | 19 October 2020 at 5:46 pm


Volunteering in Victoria thrives, but at what cost?
19 October 2020 at 5:46 pm

The State of Volunteering report is the first of its kind 

It’s costing Victorians around $1,700 per year to volunteer their time to charity, with new research warning the hidden costs of the practice have the potential to exclude those who can’t afford it. 

Published on Monday, the State of Volunteering Report found that 41.1 per cent of Victorians volunteered their time in 2019, and the value of volunteering to Victoria was nearly $60 billion, representing a net return of around $3.70 on every $1 invested in the sector. 

The value extended beyond the purely financial. The majority of volunteers reported a “productivity premium” from their volunteering, meaning that volunteering helped them to be more productive in their paid work.

Volunteering comes at an expense 

The report found that on average, volunteer-involving organisations (VIOs) are reimbursing $1 for every $8 a volunteer spends in the course of volunteering. 

“This means on top of their valuable time, volunteers are donating nearly $6.70 per hour to volunteer after reimbursements,” the report said. 

Scott Miller, the CEO of Volunteering Victoria, told Pro Bono News that with only around 20 to 30 per cent of VIOs reimbursing their volunteers, offering reimbursement was one way organisations could reach more volunteers. 

“Obviously, not all volunteers are seeking to be reimbursed, but when we’re looking at exploring populations that historically haven’t volunteered as much as the mainstream middle class Australians, then this is a great way of addressing some of those challenges,” Miller said. 

He said that if volunteering was always done by the same kind of people, organisations would inevitably neglect the people and communities they were trying to serve. 

“So we’re really not doing ourselves any favors,” he said. 

Volunteering in the time of COVID

Across the COVID-19 reporting period, 61.3 per cent of VIOs noted they had altered their recruitment methods. The majority stated they had paused all recruitment. Some organisations, however, reported they had continued some targeted recruitment, for instance for virtual roles.

On average, volunteers contribute 223.9 hours a year or 4.3 hours every week. 

The data for the report was collected between April and June 2020 when the impact of COVID-19 altered the work, travel and daily pattern of life across the entire state, allowing researchers to examine the pre-COVID patterns, as well as the impact of the pandemic on the sector. 

In the early months of the pandemic, volunteering participation was cut in half, and there was a net decline of volunteering hours by almost two thirds. 

Health concerns were cited in the report as a key barrier to volunteering hours for volunteers and non-volunteers during this time. 

Miller said that COVID-19 had presented a huge, and ongoing challenge to the volunteering sector in Victoria. 

“It’s a really complex dynamic at the moment in Victoria, because unless you’re doing a permitted activity, you can’t actually move freely like you used to in pre-COVID times… and so organisations are seeing an attrition of volunteers,” he said. 

“But at the same time, we’ve seen some innovative responses through technology to ensure that volunteering can remain.” 

A full copy of the report can be found here. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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