Do we need to rethink volunteering?


The peak body for volunteering in Australia is asking the question: do we need to redefine what we think of as volunteering?

Volunteering Australia is currently conducting a national review of the definition of volunteering, which currently only considers activities undertaken through non-profit organisations or projects. This doesn’t take into account social entrepreneurship, some kinds of virtual volunteering, volunteering for Government departments such as museums and less formal contributions of time.

Volunteering Australia CEO Brett Williamson said that “The spirit of volunteering hasn’t changed, but it’s important we refine what volunteering means in Australia to make sure we better recognise, measure and support it,”

“ABS figures show one in three Australians – 6.1 million people – volunteered in 2010. If we don’t accurately recognise the types of volunteering people do, we risk undervaluing it.”

“In reviewing what volunteering is, we also need to be clearer about what volunteering isn’t.

“The rise of internships, work for the dole programs, and community service orders has created grey areas for organisations. They want to know if these activities overlap with volunteering, particularly around roles, rights and responsibilities.”

Volunteering Australia’s issues paper raises the following key issues for consideration:

  • Benefit to the community (versus primary benefit to an individual or organisation)
  • No payment or financial reward
  • Only unpaid work? (should certain types of activity be included or excluded?)
  • Choice? (whose choice is it and are there degrees of choice?)
  • Structure – is it only volunteering if performed for a charity? Can organisations volunteer?

The current definition of volunteering was set in 1996, a time where volunteers would often commit long periods of time to traditional organisations. Updating the definition to reflect a more modern vision of volunteering is expected to assist with managing, acknowledging, measuring and supporting volunteers in Australia today.

Photo Credit: Luke Fonfara/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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