Why research giving and volunteering?

A blog to help celebrate Give Now Week and Giving Tuesday 2015

By Dr Wendy Scaife, Project Director, Giving Australia 2015*

*Giving Australia 2015 is

Like many, I truly respect the nonprofit and philanthropy sector. It’s not perfect but it is great: its fervour for every kind of cause; its clout to effect change; its passion for and by people; its compelling voice for those humans, animals and landscapes that have none.

Its ironies should be cherished: its most valuable workers are often unpaid, those with most help those with least and the worst in society brings out the best in our people; equality-based entities battle inequality and tenaciously pursue profit for nonprofit purposes; and the sector works with, while also advocating against corporate or government actions.

It is a unique and inspiring space and force.

In round figures, one in 10 Australians works in a nonprofit organisation, the sector contributes 3.8% of GDP and a host of other statistics tell its tale of sheer presence and difference (see McGregor-Lowndes 2014).

But our current knowledge of giving and givers of time, talent, influence and dollars is lacking. The most comprehensive national giving and volunteering study took place more than a decade ago in 2004-05 (Giving Australia 2005). So the effort in 2015 and 2016 to examine this area is not just worthy but exciting and essential.

Our sector organisations, which ubiquitously do lots with little, need evidence so they can do more and spend those scant resources most wisely. For instance, they must know what givers and volunteers need and are responding to most. Studies confirm that while generosity is a widespread value, it is enacted as much as 85% of the time through individuals or organisations asking for support (see for example Bekkers 2005). What is it that prompts or prevents Australians answering that call for support? Why do some people of the same income/asset level give more or less time or resources than others? What are the messages our nonprofit sector needs to act upon? Is Australia in line for a bandwagon backlash against fundraising such as the unprecedented events currently happening in the UK where there has been a clear communication breakdown between givers and organisations and government and media?

As a nation, we also need to know the gaps, such as what is being undersupported. We need hard data to define and highlight these gaps of amount or form. Are our organisations too siloed or conversely do they overlap and duplicate? Do we have enough hybrid organisations to tackle unsolved challenges in different ways? Who thinks what and what is the objective picture?

Barriers to success are another key topic: issues can’t be tackled if it is not clear what they are and who is most affected and how. Maybe that might be in volunteers knowing more about online sites or unpacking the issues communities rightly raise about what they see as invasive fundraising techniques. Do answers lie in policy change, peak body activity, training, public debate, more collaboration or where?

We need to know too the ideas and opportunities and give breath to innovation if we want change and improvement. Giving Australia 2015 will consider Big Data and technology as two topics at least. Are there good thoughts also from beyond Australia worth adapting? We have few ways to compare with and learn from overseas counterparts unless we gather fresh national data.

When countries undertake national studies of this kind – and many do – thousands of people are directly involved, major opinion leaders activated and a climate for change cultivated. Research breeds action. Those who contribute to the study from households, businesses, nonprofit and philanthropic organisations and the further thousands who interact with its findings question themselves about what is being aired and use it to frame their own future giving, volunteering and organisational practice.

Major international comparative work in this space earlier this year (Wiepking and Handy 2015) reminds us that we know some eight drivers of giving and also that national context counts. Factors such as the economy, media and government initiatives can foster or constrain giving and volunteering. Where do we stand?

Below are some of the core questions being asked in Giving Australia 2015. Our role as a research collaboration undertaking this research is to get people talking and hear the counterpoint of voices so Australia can more strategically grow giving and volunteering in country in amount and effectiveness.

To be a part of this research and/or sign up for quarterly updates on progress, contact acpns@qut.edu.au

We know that the funding spent on this research will be leveraged many times over in greater giving and volunteering, better resourcing decisions and new relationships. Please be a part of this communal effort in any way you can.


Bekkers, R. (2005). It’s not all in the ask. Effects and effectiveness of recruitment strategies used by nonprofits in the Netherlands (Presented paper). Washington, DC: ARNOVA-Conference.

Bekkers, R., & Wiepking, P. (2011). A literature review of empirical studies of philanthropy: eight mechanisms that drive charitable giving. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 40(5), 924-973.

McGregor-Lowndes, Myles (2014) The Not for Profit Sector in Australia : Fact Sheet. ACPNS Current Issues Information Sheet 2014/4.

Giving Australia 2015 Research question topics

About the givers/volunteers

  • Rates and patterns
  • Behaviour changes
  • Use/influence of innovative technologies
  • What influences use of specific methods
  • Overseas comparisons
  • What motivates giving and volunteering (by age, gender, cultural background, family structure, income or employment status)?
  • The role of intermediaries
  • Current CSR trends and levels
  • Factors influencing differences between businesses’ CSR approaches
  • How do philanthropists select a charity?
  • How do performance and outcomes reporting influence philanthropists’ decisions about donations?

About the recipients

  • How are giving changes affecting NPO funding?
  • Are different sectors changing their fund raising approaches?
  • Strengthening giving
  • What does information about changing patterns of giving and volunteering in 2015 tell us about the future of philanthropy in Australia?

12 responses

Post a comment
  1. Rick Sillett

    I look forward to seeing your findings and am happy to assist in any way.


    Rick Sillett MFIA
    Chief Executive Officer
    Communication Direct

    • Wendy Scaife

      Thanks Rick. Appreciate your support and that of all in the sector.

  2. craige gravestein

    Excellent step Wendy, so glad this is being done, well done to you and ACPNS team.

    • Wendy Scaife

      Thanks Craige. We are happy to be collaborating with colleagues at CSI Swinburne and the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs on this one – collaboration being a watchword of the sector we research. We trust the results will be valuable.

  3. John Godfrey

    Vital work, Wendy. Your results will help us all improve our games. Best wishes J.

    • Wendy Scaife

      That’s the goal, John! Great to see your research work progressing too. Reflective practitioners are such an important part of game improving.

  4. Lesley Harris

    Another great QUT research initiative. I look forward to keeping up to date with findings.

    • Wendy Scaife

      Thanks Lesley! We aim to please – or rather to make people think and give evidence they can use. Of course we are working with CSI Swinburne on this one and the Australian Centre for Corporate Public Affairs. Many minds and perspectives will hopefully mean the optimum results.

  5. Lisa Cunningham

    Great work Wendy and team.
    I look forward to following the findings

    • Wendy Scaife

      Thanks Lisa! We have the Household Survey in the market at the moment then some heavy duty analysis but we look forward to some great data before too long for all to engage with.

  6. Raymond Blessing

    Hi Wendy, TaskForce is a Melbourne charity that commenced in Prahran in 1973 working primarily with individuals and families impacted by substance misuse. We work across Melbourne with a strong base in the southern region. We are keen to learn more on how philanthropists select a charity and how we more effectively demonstrate performance and outcomes to influence philanthropists’ decisions about donations to TaskForce. Keen to support your project in any manner. Ray

    • Wendy Scaife

      Hi Raymond and congratulations on your important efforts. Both of these questions feature in the Giving Australia study and we look forward to giving you some evidence and perspectives on this in due course. Meantime if you would like to email me on w.scaife@qut.edu.au I would be pleased to chat further. Thank you for your interest and support for this research that we hope will benefit many people, organisations and the communities they serve. Wendy

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