Andrea Sherko

National Volunteer Week 2022 is nearly here! This important week (16 to 22 May) is Australia’s largest annual celebration of volunteers and their important contribution to our communities. After a very difficult time over the past few years, it is more important than ever that we should recognise, celebrate, and thank our wonderful volunteers.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Better Together”. In this blog post, we aim to show how volunteering helps to build this togetherness, for both the receivers and the givers of volunteered time and effort. 

Volunteering explained

Volunteers are people who willingly donate their time and skills to help others without being paid to do so. Volunteering can take many forms but is generally categorised as being either informal or formal.

Informal volunteering involves providing unpaid assistance to someone who is not a relative or friend. More specific examples include:

• helping your neighbour with grocery shopping,

• providing free childcare to someone who isn’t a relative,

• driving an older neighbour to an appointment.

Formal volunteering involves giving unpaid help through a group, club, or organisation (including public, private, and voluntary organisations). Formal volunteer roles typically have set hours, clear role descriptions, and involve supervision by a member of staff within the group, club or organisation. Many people have formally volunteered with a variety of different organisations at some point in their lives, often dipping in and out of involvement over time.

Volunteering in Australia – some facts and figures

Data collected recently by Volunteering Australia reveals the following:

  • In 2020, 23.1% of men and 26.3% of women volunteered formally.
  • People aged 40-54 years are more likely to volunteer (30.5%) than other age groups. Volunteering rates for other age groups are: 15-24 (19.4%), 25-39 (20.9%), 55-69 (24.9%), and 70 years and over (28.0%).
  • The most common types of organisations for which people volunteered were those relating to sport and physical recreation (30.7% of volunteers), religious groups (23.1%), and education and training (18.8%). This was largely unchanged between 2019 and 2020, though the proportion of people involved in community/ethnic groups increased from 11.6% to 15.7%.
  • 66.4% of people volunteered for one organisation only, 23.0% for two and 10.4% for three or more.
  • In 2019, nearly all formal volunteering (98.3%) involved volunteering in person, in the office, or in the field, but 8.5% of people said they volunteered over the internet and 9.5% over the phone. In 2020, 96.6% of volunteers undertook some in-person volunteering, 17.3% volunteered over the internet, and 13.9% over the phone.[i]

These percentages are likely to have altered substantially since 2020 as a result of the pandemic, but this data is not yet available.

Volunteers’ contribution

The significance of the contribution made by volunteers cannot be overstated. Without volunteers, many not-for-profit organisations simply could not function. Many of society’s most vulnerable people (and animals) enjoy better services and care due to the efforts of volunteers.

Volunteers also come to the rescue (quite literally) during times of emergency. The horrific bushfires in late 2019 to early 2020, and the recent floods in Queensland and New South Wales are dramatic examples of the assistance provided in the direst of circumstances, by volunteers who are often willing to put their own lives at risk for the benefit of others. The contribution of these brave people is, quite simply, beyond all computation.

The benefits of volunteering – given and received

While the benefits to the community provided by volunteers are often readily apparent, the act of volunteering is also beneficial to the volunteers themselves.

According to Volunteering Victoria, volunteers:

  • make new friendships and create professional networks,
  • gain work experience and learn new skills,
  • enjoy new social and cultural experiences,
  • develop personally and build confidence,
  • feel satisfaction from helping their community, and
  • have fun![ii]

Importantly, volunteers have been found to be happier and healthier than those who do not volunteer. Dr Tim Sharp from the University of Sydney explains this result: “When we’re helping others we’re more likely to feel good about ourselves which is, not surprisingly, a positive contributor to mental health. Mental and physical health are highly correlated so when we’re psychologically well, we’re also more likely to be physically well,” he says.[iii]

Volunteering is also an excellent way to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, by getting people out of their homes and mixing with other, like-minded people. This community involvement gives otherwise isolated people a sense of purpose, which helps to increase their feelings of self-worth and improve their mental health.

When we consider all the benefits of volunteering, for both givers and receivers, it really is a win-win result!

Interested in volunteering?

If this blog post has inspired you to become a volunteer, there are always organisations that are on the lookout for willing helpers. For more information on volunteering, the following are some places to get started:

  • Volunteering Australia has fact sheets for volunteers on its website (volunteeringaustralia.org). It also provides links to Volunteer Resource Centres in each state and territory.
  • You can search for volunteer positions in your local area through the Go Volunteer website (govolunteer.com.au).
  • SEEK (the job website) has a section devoted solely to voluntary positions, located at volunteer.com.au.
  • If you are interested in volunteering overseas, have a look at the Australian Volunteers website: australianvolunteers.com.
  • For those wanting to volunteer from home, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award website has some excellent ideas at: https://dukeofed.com.au/top-15-ways-to-volunteer-from-home-in-australia.

Friends for Good is currently recruiting volunteers for our FriendLine service in Victoria. Please visit https://friendsforgood.org.au/who-we-are/volunteer-with-us/ to apply now!

Whatever your interests, skills, and availability, there are likely to be volunteering opportunities that are just right for your circumstances. Why not give it a go? You will be helping your community and yourself!

In conclusion: Thank you!

While offering a simple “thank you” may not seem sufficient, it is certainly the least we can do for our volunteers. So, to the volunteers reading this post, THANK YOU for all that you do. You really do make the world a better place.

[i] https://www.volunteeringaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/VA-Key-Volunteering-Statistics-2022-Update.pdf.

[ii] https://www.volunteeringvictoria.org.au/for-volunteers/volunteer-benefits-and-stories.

[iii] https://www.sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2017/05/03/7-surprising-benefits-of-volunteering-html.