By Melissa Coade
Monday February 13, 2023
A $4 million injection of commonwealth money will help keep 37 volunteer management centres open across Australia, with national trends showing a mismatch between the types of volunteering people are interested in and areas of greatest need.
Formal volunteering in Australia drastically decreased upon the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with about 1.86 million fewer formal volunteers lending a hand at the start of 2022 compared to 2019.
But rates of formal volunteering have been declining since 2010 and 83% of volunteer organisations say they need more assistance. A total of 11% of volunteer groups say they need more than 101 helpers in the short term.
Social services minister Amanda Rishworth said the volunteer sector was integral to the fabric of the nation.
“Volunteers offer the invaluable asset of time, contributing their knowledge and experiences to activities and cause out of kindness and a sense of community,” Rishworth said.
“Volunteering is also personally rewarding, allowing individuals to share their experiences and talents, and creating a sense of personal achievement and purpose.”
According to national data, about one-quarter of Australians (26.7%) engaged in formal volunteer work last year, and just under half (46.5%) were informal volunteers.
Mental health, emergency services, and health groups are among those crying out for more volunteers. But most Australians report interest in helping out in roles or organisations for animal welfare (29.4%), environmental causes (23%) and youth (22.7%).
Rishworth announced the federal funding at the launch of a new national strategy for volunteering on Monday. Volunteering Australia will implement the strategy and work to co-design a three-year action plan over the next 12 months.
“The national volunteering strategy [taps] into some of the fundamental drivers of why people choose to volunteer and the conditions that make it possible. [It provides] a blueprint for the way forward to achieve the outcomes that will add up to creating a vision for volunteering and its development over the next ten years,” the minister told the 2023 National Volunteering Conference.
The four pillars of the 10-year volunteering strategy include making opportunities inclusive and accessible to more people, ensuring more Australians understand the value of volunteering, putting communities at the centre of volunteering optimisation, and promoting genuine collaboration and a common agenda as values underpinning successful volunteer programs.
“We know the strategy will not provide all the answers to the problems we face, but it will provide expert guidance to face these challenges head-on,” Rishworth said.
Three other initiatives under the plan will be delivered this year including the development of a monitoring and evaluation framework, a governance framework, and a model for shared accountability.
Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce said the strategy offered a “collective vision” which put volunteering at the heart of Australian communities.
“As far as we are aware, this is the first time globally that a project of national significance has been undertaken in this way.
“We are grateful to the Department of Social Services for their partnership on this historic piece of work and we thank the thousands of stakeholders who contributed their time and expertise,” he said.
The $4 million targeted funding boost to help select volunteering resource centres stay afloat over two years with $50,000 each.
Among the recipients of the funding are the Byron Bay Community Association in NSW, the Kalgoorlie Boulder Volunteer Centre in WA and Southern Volunteering SA.
“This will provide organisations that deliver, or have previously delivered, commonwealth-funded volunteer management activity (VMA) services time to review their services, and work with the peak bodies to align with the VMA jurisdictional implementation plans,” the minister said.
The VMA program is administered through state and territory peak bodies. It was designed to recruit, train and manage volunteers with their goals.
But Rishworth noted an independent review of VMA provided to the former government in 2018 had led to a number of reforms that had “unintended consequences” that now needed to be addressed.
“Some VRCs have transitioned well, others have struggled, and we want to provide the time and support to adapt as we work through the new model,” Rishworth said.
“Place-based services are critical to the success of the redesigned VMA and volunteering more broadly and the long-term effectiveness of the volunteering management activity will be dependent upon the VRCs and the peak bodies working cooperatively together to provide services at both state-wide and local levels.”
Last December the minister also moved to increase the transparency of government funding distributed through peak volunteer bodies. These groups will now need to provide timely reporting on who and where commonwealth money has gone.
Rishworth said Social Services would invite centres that have previously run VMA to apply for more funding to lift capacity building.
“I know my department will continue to support the State and Territory volunteer peaks and the volunteer resource centres to work together to achieve the outcomes we all want to achieve in this space,” the minister said.
“I’d welcome your support and collaboration to continue to do this.”