Redefining volunteering in Australia: Volunteering Australia wants to hear from you

Redefining volunteering in Australia: Volunteering Australia wants to hear from you

After nearly 20 years, the peak body for volunteering in Australia is reviewing it’s definition of volunteering, and is calling on organisations to share their ideas and help to inform the decision.

Volunteering Australia (VA) today launched a review of it’s current definition of volunteering, which will include a series of public information sessions and an Australia-wide survey, giving volunteer managers and not-for-profit leaders an important chance to shape how volunteering is defined and perceived.

The impetus for the change, according to VA’s Issues Paper, is that volunteering has evolved significantly since the current definition was established in 1996:

“In 1996, volunteers were expected to commit long-term and work in traditional organisations.

However the current definition does not reflect many of the different areas in which volunteering occurs. It does not, for example, encompass informal volunteering which is a large component of volunteering activities– particularly for youth volunteering, in multicultural communities and spontaneous volunteering. The current definition of volunteering also generally excludes other growth areas in volunteering, such as corporate or business volunteering and micro volunteering.

What could a new definition of volunteering mean?

If you have responsibility for recruitment or management of volunteers, a new definition could have significant impact on how you and your organisation support current and potential volunteers.

VA believes that as well as better reflecting what volunteering has evolved to in Australia, a new definition will help support organisations to better engage with communities and individuals who currently fall outside of the current, strict definition. VA says:

“The existing definition fails to recognise aspects of virtual volunteering, social entrepreneurship, corporate volunteering, volunteering for government organisations such as museums or informal volunteering in the community.”

The move to a broader definition could be a positive one for organisations that rely on volunteers, with VA stating that the impacts of the change could result in:

  • The development of better volunteer management practices to support a wider variety of volunteering;
  • Greater support and recognition for volunteers currently not covered under the existing definition – and as a result potentially encourage even more people to engage as volunteers; and
  • A better understanding of the size and breadth of volunteering in Australia, which would lead to better recognition, and potentially greater investment in the volunteer sector.

On the flipside, defining what volunteering isn’t will also be useful for organisations and volunteer managers.

Government initiatives like work-for-the-dole and an increase in work placements and unpaid internships have meant that there are now many grey areas for volunteer managers to grapple with. By ruling these activities in or out, organisations and managers can better direct resources to those who fall under the volunteering banner.

Of course, simply changing the definition won’t be enough to ensure practical changes occur, and VA recognises that there are some complex issues to be explored throughout the consultation process:

“The impact on legislation and policy will require detailed discussions. It may take a number of years to work through specific areas of focus within various government levels and departments. While this sounds daunting, it is critical to enable Australia’s volunteering sector to work effectively and support the contemporary Australian way of life.”

How to have your say

The Volunteering Australia consultation process kicks off today with their online survey now open until April 17.

If you’re interested in making a contribution they recommend that volunteer managers do the following:

  • Take part in an information session held in your local state or territory;
  • Read the Issues Paper to get a better idea of the current definition of volunteering in Australia and the theory and thinking behind the change; and
  • Take part in the online survey.

Full details about the consultation process can be found on the Volunteering Australia website.

Will you be participating in the consultation? We’d love to know what you think about redefining volunteering in Australia in the comments below.

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