Recognising the vital role of volunteers this National Volunteer Week

By: Mark Pearce   |   Chief Executive Officer, Volunteering Australia   |

Every year millions of people volunteer to support communities across the country. This National Volunteer Week, we are highlighting the vital role of the often-invisible workforce that supports the nation every day and through challenging times.

Volunteer engagement has changed dramatically in recent years, and especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Continuity and change: volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic

Volunteering Australia’s research ‘Continuity and change: volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic’ shares insights from over 800 volunteers to reveal a story that figures alone can’t capture. The research explores the experience of volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic, revealing its striking diversity and resilience.

Many volunteers had positive experiences, reporting that their voluntary work helped them maintain a connection with others, kept them active and busy, and gave them a sense of purpose. We know that volunteers were critical in providing services to those affected by the pandemic.

However, for some, this was not without cost.  Volunteering during the pandemic also had negative impacts, with many reporting increased workloads and heightened concern over the risks to themselves and others.

Some types of volunteering, such as environmental volunteering and committee work or board membership, were largely unaffected by the pandemic or adapted quickly in response to public health restrictions, by moving online or adapting to new ways of working.

Taken together, these stories illustrate the diversity of the volunteering experience, highlighting both the benefits and challenges of volunteering, and the ongoing shifts in volunteer engagement which may remain significant as the pandemic response progresses.

Volunteers: Australia’s backbone in times of crisis

With the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, together with flooding and bushfires, the past few years have undoubtably been tough for all Australians. Holding us up in these times of crisis are over one million volunteers supporting Australia’s crisis resilience, of which more than 400,000 work directly in emergency response and relief. Our nation’s volunteers are the country’s backbone during crisis and emergency. 

Our new report ‘Volunteering and Australia’s crisis resilience’ reveals volunteers are central to Australia’s crisis resilience. The research examines how volunteers support communities in the context of natural disasters and other crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research shows how volunteering underpins Australia’s crisis resilience, facilitating social connections, contributing to the development of social capital, and improving access to local supports and services. Volunteers support crisis resilience by contributing to prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery activities.

This volunteering occurs through many routes. Volunteers support local and state/territory government services, through major charities and not-for-profits, and directly through informal community groups or online platforms.

However, we found that support and planning for volunteer involvement is not consistently included in national crisis management frameworks. As the frequency and scale of emergencies in Australia increases, a nationally co-ordinated approach to volunteer involvement during and after crises is becoming more pressing.

Reimagining volunteering for the future

Action is needed now if volunteering is to continue to support communities through the challenges of living with COVID-19 and to ensure volunteering across Australia is effective, inclusive and sustainable for future generations.

Volunteering Australia is leading the development of Australia’s first National Strategy for Volunteering in ten years. The National Strategy will be designed and owned by the volunteering ecosystem and will provide a blueprint for a reimagined future for volunteering in Australia.

Australia’s largest volunteering survey coming soon

To ensure the development of the National Strategy is evidence-based, we are undertaking a major new research program to provide a comprehensive understanding of the landscape of volunteering in Australia, map current trends, and provide insight into how volunteering may evolve into the future.

This Volunteering in Australia research involves a partnership with Curtin University, Griffith University, and the University of Western Australia and will involve the largest ever survey of volunteer involving organisations in Australia. 

If you are a manager, coordinator or leader of volunteers, a CEO, or otherwise represent a group involving volunteers, you will be invited to have your say on the future of volunteering. Look out for the survey announcement very soon.

Let’s celebrate the power of volunteering

This year’s National Volunteer Week theme is ‘Better Together’ as we celebrate the power of volunteering to bring people together, build communities and create a better society for everyone. I invite everyone to take a pause from our busy lives and join us in recognising the vital work of volunteers, and to say thank you.

National Volunteer Week is May 16-22.

May. 12, 2022

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