Formally, Australia has 6 million volunteers – that’s 1 in 4 of us. The power of this collective who form the backbone of Not-for-Profit organisations across the nation is regularly campaigned. According to various reports, the economic value of volunteering ranges from $25billion to $290 billion without even taking into account the social benefits of this activity.
Shortly after this year’s National Volunteer Week which was held on the 11 – 17 May, Volunteering Victoria‘s CEO, Sue Noble joined us to discuss to profile of volunteers and their unique and incredible contribution to our communities.
There are as many ways to volunteer, many different causes and organisations to volunteer for, and many different types of people volunteering – and that’s more than 6 million people in formal figures. The formal figures tell us that more than a third of people over 18 volunteer, slightly more women than men, and are most likely to be aged over 35 (volunteering rates increase at about that point – but are still very healthy in the younger age groups). People who live in regional and country areas are more likely to volunteer too; they are more likely to be employed part time, and to be people with a family with children. But there’s no such thing as an ‘average’ volunteer – they all unique, doing incredible things in our communities.
National Volunteer Week happened last week. It is a week where volunteering-organisations and programs across the Nation take time out to thank their volunteers and encourage all of us to recognise what has been achieved because of the work of volunteers. From council run volunteering programs like meals on wheel and ‘friends of’ groups, through to animal shelters, environmental groups, sports clubs – you think of something in your community and the chances are, it thrives because volunteers make it happen. NVW activities varied across the States/Territories, and across communities and organisations. Many activities focused on recognising the contribution of volunteers
The theme was ‘Give Happy Live Happy‘ – noting that by giving, we benefit not just our communities or a cause, but ourselves. We are healthier, happier people when we volunteer.
The economic value of volunteering has been calculated many times. The dollar figure depends on the methodology – and depends on whether we include informal volunteering as well as formal. But the figure nationally is anywhere from $25 billion on conservative estimates to $290 billion taking into account formal and informal volunteering and some of the flow-on economic benefits. This does not measure the social benefits – the things that cannot be measured in dollar terms, such as the value of enabling someone to remain living in their own home as they age, or if they have a disability; or the value of being a part of a sports team for each individual child’s well being.
The social value can only be guess at. In our ‘Imagine the possibilities‘ campaign, which features 10 Victorian volunteering programs, we invite people to consider what might be lost if not for volunteers. This goes some of the way to imagining a social value. We would say that the social value of volunteering in many many multiples of any economic estimate. How can you value one hour of a volunteer’s time for example, at around $30 when what they did in that hour, just say, was spend time with four people who are lonely, or isolated, or the sports coach who volunteers an hour a week to train the under 10’s and builds in those kids a sense of belonging and pride as well as developing their skills?
Maintaining motivation and engagement is critical for a thriving volunteer culture. Volunteers want to give of themselves and be a part of something good. The come with motivation and they want to be engaged. That’s where volunteer managers and coordinators are critical. These people may be volunteers themselves, or paid, but it’s their job to develop and manage volunteers and direct their energies towards the goals of the organisation, cause or program. If we want to have a growing, vibrant volunteer culture, we need to look after the volunteer managers and coordinators – and support them to do their work, so volunteers can keep doing what they came for.
Sue will be discussing the ‘Imagine the possibilities‘ campaign at the Community Work 2015 conference in Melbourne on the 29 & 30 July 2015.