Volunteers laughing having a coffee

The countless guises of volunteering

Exploring the diverse roles and initiatives you can take to make a difference

Written by Tina Williams FAIM
5 minute read
Volunteers laughing having a coffee

Social volunteering with Volunteering WA and OzFish

Typically volunteering conjures up visions of a mature lady in an Op Shop or your kid’s footy coach, but post-COVID volunteering has never been more surprising or unpredictable in creating innovative ways to support your local community.

Members of the community have spearheaded weekly running or swimming meet-ups to help connect their community, get people outdoors and as a respite for the busy work week.

Others dress up in a Santa suit and visit the workplaces of their friends to encourage Christmas collection donations.

Once unimaginable, volunteer opportunities are popping up to match the hundreds of different ways people want to volunteer and contribute.

Along with a more refreshing and inventive variety of positions, we are seeing more inclusion, diversity, and flexibility to suit a multitude of needs, ages, cultures and cohorts.

In bygone years, Australia enjoyed a very strong volunteering sector making up a staggering 70 per cent of the not-for-profit workforce.

There was a heavy reliance on formal volunteers to support emergency services, aged care, youth, homelessness, animal welfare, and an extensive range of other community services.

Today, our volunteering rates are in decline and the numbers fall drastically short of meeting the demands of our community’s needs.

The decline in volunteering started in 2014 and accelerated during COVID.

In Western Australia, this represents a 22 per cent decrease in formal volunteers (volunteering through organisations) equating to 150,000 fewer volunteers making a difference in our communities.

What are the reasons for the decline in volunteering and community contributions?

We can’t blame the pandemic. Over the past decade, we have witnessed huge universal societal shifts namely increases in our ageing population, single households, digitalisation, individualism, casualisation of the workforce and cost of living crisis.

All of these shifts are impacting the way people volunteer and contribute to their community.

People are time-poor. Traditionally, volunteering has been pitched as just another competitor to a person’s already limited downtime; an activity they must choose above spending time with friends and family, taking up a hobby, or simply having a rest.

But as we reimagine volunteering, some organisations and causes have caught on, and have started to advertise the volunteering ‘experience’ as a way to help people tap into community, hobbies, and fun – making the most of their time, rather than competing with it.

An example of this is a local nursery that needs constant volunteers to help pot seedlings that will eventually be planted.

Once inducted, volunteers can stop by the nursery for as little or as long as they want, pop in headphones and listen to a podcast or music, whilst they plant.

It’s such a simple pitch, but the flexibility and ease of this volunteering activity allows a person to relax, stand and take a respite from sitting at a desk all week, listen to music, revel in a quiet moment to just think, or have a chat with fellow volunteers – it becomes a mechanism for multiple motivations and activities.

CEO of Volunteering WA, Tina Williams FAIM

CEO of Volunteering WA, Tina Williams FAIM

Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay, in his book Australia Reimagined highlighted his growing concerns for our loss of community.

Mackay states that the clearest signs of the health of a society are to be found in the life of its local neighbourhoods and communities.

So, it’s a scary prediction, but if these trends continue, there will be 40 per cent fewer volunteers by 2030 and it will not reflect the thriving community we want to live in.

As the peak body for volunteering, Volunteering WA champions the entire sector working in close partnership with community, corporate, educational and government organisations to provide leadership, advancement, and promotion of volunteering to achieve the greatest impact for Western Australia.

We shine a light on the benefits of volunteering showing how it’s not only good for the community but also for individuals and workplaces for:

Personal Growth and Development: Volunteering offers experiences that broaden your horizons provide exposure to diverse perspectives and help develop a deeper sense of empathy and understanding for others.

• Health and Wellbeing: It’s no secret that volunteering has a positive effect on happiness, overall health and wellbeing.

Volunteering can provide a sense of purpose and fulfilment, boosting self-esteem and combating feelings of isolation or loneliness. A longitudinal study in the UK found that volunteers are happier people and less likely to experience depression.

Undoubtedly, blending the benefits of volunteering with meaningful and fulfilling work also gives us a greater sense of purpose and accomplishment, which ultimately leads to a more satisfying and rewarding life. And for employers, this translates to a more productive workforce.

• Acquiring Valuable Skills and Experience: Volunteering helps to acquire new skills and gain practical work/life experience. These skills and experiences can significantly enhance resumes.

A study by Seek Australia reports that 85 per cent of hirers believe volunteering is as credible as paid work when gaining real work experience, improving job prospects and demonstrating valuable personality traits.

• Inspiring and Empowering Others: Volunteer efforts have the power to inspire and empower others. By taking action and demonstrating a commitment to positive change, we become role models for those around us, especially our children.

Your actions can motivate others to get involved, creating a ripple effect that extends far beyond your individual contributions.

• Building Meaningful Connections: Volunteering connects us with like-minded individuals who share a passion for making a difference. Connections made while volunteering can be incredibly fulfilling, leading to lasting friendships and professional networking opportunities.

By joining forces with others, we can create a powerful network of support and collaboration that can amplify your impact.

Building Stronger Communities: Volunteering plays a vital role in fostering stronger, more resilient communities. By engaging in volunteer work, we can actively address the needs and challenges in our communities. Whether it's volunteering as an individual or in a team these efforts all contribute to creating a healthier, more cohesive society.

With so many worthwhile benefits it’s unbelievable that volunteering isn’t as commonplace as going to work or playing a sport. The volunteering sector is working hard and creatively to turn the declining numbers around.

It’s not just about making volunteering more appealing but also accessible. By creating new ways to volunteer we hope to make volunteering more attractive, flexible, engaging and easier.

A National Strategy for Volunteering was launched earlier this year to provide the blueprint for a reimagined future for volunteering in Australia. It’s a world-first initiative with a vision of placing volunteering at the heart of Australian communities.

With clear strategic objectives outlined in the National Volunteering Strategy, we will see new and exciting forms of volunteering emerge across Australia, reshaping the public perception of volunteering, with a focus on making volunteering more accessible, meaningful, and inclusive.

With more opportunities for everyone to make a difference in the ways they choose, we can create the right conditions for volunteering to thrive and be effective and sustainable in the future.

To find details for ongoing, once-off and corporate volunteering opportunities visit: www.volunteeringwa.org.au