The struggle to reinvigorate volunteering in a COVID-19 world
16 February 2021 at 5:55 pm
Volunteering advocates say a national volunteering strategy is desperately needed
Australian organisations are struggling to re-engage their volunteering workforce, with new research revealing that many volunteer programs are still not fully up and running despite COVID-19 restrictions easing.
A Volunteering Australia survey of the sector over December-January found that volunteer programs were only completely operational for 28 per cent of respondents.
And while 56 per cent of organisations reported needing more volunteers, four in 10 (42 per cent) respondents were not confident their organisation will achieve pre-COVID volunteering levels in the next six months.
Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce told Pro Bono News that there hadn’t been the same level of structured engagement in re-engaging the volunteer workforce that was evident with the paid workforce.
He said it was important to note that while there were around 1.3 million people employed by charities in Australia, there were also about 3.7 million volunteers that were just as important to the sector.
“Those 1.3 million people working in the sector rely on a significant volunteer cohort being available and if they’re not, those jobs can’t be done [as effectively],” Pearce said.
“So when you think about issues of productivity and making sure that services are viable, you need to look both at the paid workforce as well as the unpaid workforce.”
While previous research has shown around two in three volunteers stopped volunteering between February and April last year, volunteer participation rates were already a concern for the sector pre-COVID.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from 2019 shows that 7 per cent less Australians volunteered for an organisation that year compared to 2010.
This data also uncovered a 20 per cent decrease in the number of hours volunteered in the community since 2014.
Volunteering Australia believes this highlights the need for a Reinvigorating Volunteering Action Plan.
This would set out how volunteers can be re-engaged safely, support the adaptation of volunteer programs, and help with the recruitment of new volunteers so services can continue.
The peak body is also calling for a whole of government national volunteering strategy to address the volunteering decline and ensure key government-funded services are sustainable.
Pearce said the fact there wasn’t a strategy already showed there was a level of disengagement around the importance of volunteering and how it contributes to society and the community.
He said this strategy would bring together the diverse volunteering ecosystem in Australia.
“It would create a roadmap for how to address this persistent decline in formal volunteering, the change in expectations for younger volunteers, the utilisation of technology and the emergence of virtual volunteering,” he said.
“It brings all of that together and says, ‘okay, this is the resource we have now. How do we address the problems that we face?’
“Because inevitably volunteering is extraordinarily innovative and adaptable and resilient and it can solve problems, but there needs to be a plan around it.”