50 Key Messages – Why Volunteer?

Today we are continuing our look at volunteering due to Volunteering Australia’s National Volunteering Conference being held in Sydney. Today we are going to look at the reasons why people do and do not volunteer.

The reasons for volunteering were often closely aligned with the reasons for giving money. For many, volunteering has been an important part of their childhood and upbringing and resonates with their other values. Even more so than with giving money, the sense of satisfaction from using knowledge, experience and skills to contribute to the community was highlighted among volunteers. Reciprocity was also identified as a strong driver for volunteering.

Qualitative participants spoke of volunteering offering personal mental health benefits. This was seen by managers of volunteers as an interconnected relationship whereby providing help for others in an altruistic way bestowed mental health benefits on the volunteers, which in turn would benefit society as a whole. One participant mentioned in particular how volunteering could give young people a sense of focus and direction in life, which in turn could go on to provide societal benefits. Another motivation for volunteering, particularly for younger volunteers, was the ability to obtain practical skills or course requirements.

One of the most prominent motivators identified by focus group participants from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities was the sense of responsibility to one’s community. This responsibility appeared to be linked to a childhood experience, and focus group participants described modelling their behaviour on family members or teachers. For many, this sense of responsibility went further and developed into a way to stay connected to their community and/or culture. For others, there was a strong socialising benefit for volunteers born overseas, which helped them to learn about Australian society and fit in better, as well as to secure employment. Descriptions of factors influencing giving and volunteering were generally heartfelt and not undertaken for personal gain or acknowledgment.

Barriers to volunteering were also discussed in the interviews and focus groups. Just as with giving, social changes limiting personal spare time were a notable barrier to volunteering participation. Multiple participants noted that women are less likely to be full-time in their home, and are instead balancing work, life and family. This shift diminishes the amount of time that women could perhaps have devoted to charitable work. It was reflected that in times past, many workers were able to maintain a more clearly compartmentalised work and home balance. Where work hours previously occurred between set hours (often 9 am–5 pm), participants perceived that employment is now more fluid. This lifestyle shift was noted to include irregular hours and/or scope to take work home and work off-site. Inconsistency and fluidity of paid employment commitments had influenced the scope to secure volunteers, who once might have been able to commit to regular weekly/monthly voluntary shift hours, but now required flexibility to engage in voluntary activities in conjunction with an unpredictable paid employment schedule.

To help combat this, half (49.6%) of all organisations with volunteers surveyed offered virtual volunteering opportunities, where people could volunteer without being physically at the organisation. Most commonly, these opportunities involved volunteering online. Other ways people could volunteer virtually included promoting the organisation via social media and using phone or Skype to help in reading programs, mentoring, coaching or maintaining contact with vulnerable persons.

Turning attention to strategies that might move spontaneous volunteering to a more committed form, participants felt that greater government acknowledgment of their contribution to society, and recognition or reimbursement of the often considerable out of pocket expenses incurred, would assist. While individual and organisational tax incentives were noted as being important to the giving of money, there was a much greater debate on this matter with respect to its effect on volunteering.

Recognising the change occurring within the community and the sector, leading to uncertainty of funding and sometimes fewer/shorter/narrower volunteering opportunities, several participants suggested a national database or volunteering passport allowing people to move more freely between projects and organisations, without the need for additional review and monitoring. A further idea was the ‘modularisation of volunteering’, also described as ‘Uberisation of volunteering’ (Focus group, Managers of volunteers, VIC); that is, introducing a higher level of mobility or transferability to volunteering so volunteers can easily complete tasks for multiple organisations.

Both our data and extant research shows that people are more likely to give and volunteer to those organisations they know and trust and those they believe can genuinely make a difference. This finding points to the need for organisations to strategically examine their relationships with volunteers, and devote more time to thinking about activities that will facilitate and sustain this trust over the longer-term.

To read the full reports and factsheets, go to https://www.communitybusinesspartnership.gov.au/about/research-projects/giving-australia-2016/

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