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Exclusive: your first look at Australia’s new National Volunteering Strategy

13 February 2023 at 1:22 pm
Danielle Kutchel
In what’s believed to be a global first, the volunteering strategy has been co-designed with the sector and government.

Danielle Kutchel | 13 February 2023 at 1:22 pm


Exclusive: your first look at Australia’s new National Volunteering Strategy
13 February 2023 at 1:22 pm

In what’s believed to be a global first, the volunteering strategy has been co-designed with the sector and government.

Australia has a new National Volunteering Strategy, with a vision for volunteering to be “the heart of Australian communities”.

Launched at Volunteering Australia’s 2023 National Volunteering Conference, the strategy is the culmination of 12 months of co-design with the volunteering sector and provides a blueprint for volunteering over the next ten years.

It comprises three key aims and 11 strategic objectives designed to reach those aims and fulfil the strategy’s vision of putting volunteering at the heart of the Australian community.

The heart of the community

The focus areas are:

  • Ensuring the volunteering experience is enhanced, and volunteering is safe, inclusive, accessible, meaningful, and not exploitative. 
  • Articulating and celebrating the diversity and impact of volunteering with a greater understanding of the value of volunteering to the community
  • Ensuring the right conditions — including policy, infrastructure and support — are in place for volunteering to be effective and sustainable, and to thrive.

The 11 strategic objectives feed into these aims and include:

  • Making volunteering a cross-portfolio issue for government;
  • Reshaping public perceptions of volunteering, to inspire others and to improve awareness of volunteering;
  • Recognising the importance of volunteer management and adequately resourcing the role; and
  • Empowering and enabling communities to be drivers of how volunteering influences their futures, to ensure everyone who wants to volunteer can do so.

During the first year of the strategy, a three-year action plan will be developed to implement its vision, along with the development of a governance framework, monitoring and evaluation framework and a model for the shared accountability of the strategy’s implementation.

Co-design vital to success

Thousands of stakeholders took part in online consultations, interviews, participatory design workshops, working groups, surveys and a bespoke research project, all of which contributed to the design of the strategy, which provides a blueprint for the sector for the next decade.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Bono News, Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce said the consultation process that built the strategy was “as broad as it was deep”.

“It took place over every part of Australia involving lots and lots of priority groups, cohorts, the entire volunteering ecosystem. And to be at that point now of being able to deliver a truly co-designed national strategy for volunteering to the ecosystem is extremely exciting.”

It’s believed the strategy’s co-design is a global first.

The diversity of feedback allowed for a granular level of detail, Pearce added, laying bare the hopes, opportunities and fears around Australia’s volunteering sector.

“It gives a real sense of where volunteering is. It gives a sense of what volunteering has achieved through its time and where it can go as a function of what has been a rapidly changing and significantly changed social, economic and cultural environment,” he said.

Volunteering’s sustainability crisis

The strategy comes at a pivotal time for volunteering in Australia.

The rate of formal volunteering in Australia has declined since 2010, from one third of adults in 2010 to one quarter of adults in 2022.

See more: Report finds challenges and opportunities for volunteering

COVID-19 had a particularly devastating impact on the sector, with the number of volunteers declining from 36 per cent of the population in 2019 to 26.7 per cent in 2022 — a total of nearly two million fewer volunteers in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

Meanwhile, 83 per cent of volunteer involving organisations need more volunteers, and 11 per cent reported needing more than 101 volunteers in the short-term.

Research underpinning the strategy found that volunteering is facing a sustainability crisis, with the report noting that although volunteering “has always been a constant in Australian society” it “has never achieved its full potential”.

See more: Data behind national volunteering strategy revealed

Successive crises have also impacted volunteering in Australia.

While COVID-19 decimated volunteer numbers, the cost of living crisis is also creating challenges both for the work that volunteers do, and the ability of people to volunteer.

Volunteering’s time

With formal volunteering on the decline, and so many challenges facing Australians, Pearce said the time was right for a volunteering strategy.

“This strategy was built during a time of vast transformative change, of disruption,” Pearce explained.

“I think what that meant was that… every component of the volunteering ecosystem had an opportunity to consider what was important. 

“In many ways, despite that disruption and despite the change, it was kind of a perfect time because everyone had the opportunity to step back and say things have changed, what’s important, how can we do things better, what works well and how can we come together? And that was a big piece. How can we come together to ensure that our communities are more inclusive as we move forward?”

The strategy deliberately set out to be inclusive, he added.

“We wanted as many voices as we could get. And the reason for that is that historically, strategies for volunteering have been written by government, and that’s great. But oftentimes they are top down and they don’t resonate with communities. 

“It was fundamentally important from our perspective that by building a co-design process which was truly inclusive, that we were able to bring communities along, that they build this strategy. 

“It’s not a Volunteering Australia strategy; it’s a national strategy built by the ecosystem.”

Pearce is confident too that policy settings are now right to support volunteering to grow again, with the support of the federal government.

“I feel confident that government, in a really simple fashion, ‘gets it’. And it’s incumbent upon all of us, in the ecosystem to ensure that we move with government and to move government, to build greater supportive and enabling frameworks for volunteering as we move forward.”

Next steps

With the strategy now launched, efforts now turn to implementing it.

The strategy has been created with points of reflection built in so it can be periodically reviewed for effectiveness.

Pearce said the first year would be the “establishment phase”, where Volunteering Australia will come together with the volunteer ecosystem to “talk about things which are achievable, how they can be done, where the responsibility lies, and how funding and resourcing is allocated towards achieving very specific goals”.

From there, the strategy will see three, three-year phases of implementation, including review and adjustment where needed.

Pearce said it is essential to be “fully cognizant” of the pace of change that could impact volunteering.

“You just have to look over the last two to three years [to see] how much change has taken place. For us, to look forward ten [years] means that we need to be nimble. We need to recognise the fact that things will change and the strategy is designed in such a way as to provide appropriate timeframes and mechanisms to be able to adjust,” he said.

Crucially, improving the volunteer experience is “very much a first step”, Pearce explained.

“We know volunteering is a deeply personal thing. It’s… perhaps one of the original human activities… and it’s been occurring on this continent in lots of different ways and under many, many different names for over 60,000 years. And always the volunteer experience has to be first. 

“So for organisations and for the ecosystem, ensuring that the volunteer experience is improved, is maintained, is critical to driving a successful and thriving volunteering ecosystem.”

The infrastructure around volunteering should enhance this experience and not restrict it, Pearce said.

“We need to ensure that we provide the appropriate mechanisms to make sure that volunteering survives and thrives for another 60,000 years,” he said.

With the strategy now out in the world, Pearce said there is still much to be done.

“There are big structural pieces of reform which are taking place in this country which volunteering has something to say about and which volunteering contributes towards,” he said.

“We will continue to focus on that core tenet of ensuring that communities are as strong, inclusive and diverse as they can be through volunteering. We won’t be taking a breath and we won’t be taking a break. There’s a lot to be done.”

Funding boost

Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth said the introduction of the strategy will address the increasing demand for volunteers and boost sustainability in the sector.

“The sector is integral to the fabric of our nation. The National Volunteering Strategy is the blueprint for how we will create a future in which volunteering can continue to be a rewarding experience for those who volunteer and for those in our community who benefit from it,” she said.

Ahead of the strategy’s launch, Rishworth announced $4 million in funding for Volunteering Resource Centres, released over two years from 2022-23 and 2023-24.

The funds are intended to help Volunteering Resource Centres nationally to review and adapt their services to align with changes made in 2021 under the previous federal government to the Commonwealth funded Volunteer Management Activity.

The funding will go to up to 37 centres.

The Government is also providing $367,000 to Volunteering Australia to coordinate the implementation of the National Volunteering Strategy and $240,000 over the next three years for National Volunteer Week 2023, 2024 and 2025.

View the National Strategy for Volunteering online.

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting. Reach her on or on Twitter @D_Kutchel.

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