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An image of Sue Woodward AM

National Volunteer Week is being celebrated this week so it’s timely for me to reflect on the vital role volunteers play in the charity sector.

I am sure, as readers of this column, you understand the extensive contributions volunteers make to our communities and you won’t be surprised that our upcoming Australian Charities Report will show over 50% of charities are entirely volunteer run. Remembering that half of all registered charities have no paid staff is front of mind for us when we think about how we do our work.

Volunteers support charities in many ways from helping to deliver services to leading on charity boards. There is no doubt that without the dedication and skill volunteers bring, many people would not get the help that they need as quickly as they need it.

You don’t have to look far to see great examples of this in action. Tomorrow, I have the pleasure of speaking at the Victorian Neighbourhood Houses conference with hundreds of people gathering on Bunurong country from all over the State. Neighbourhood houses have been operating for over 40 years, with a mission to bring people together to connect, learn and contribute to their local communities. Volunteers are critical to their operations with over 6,900 people volunteering to assist with everything from running classes to office administration for the Victorian houses alone. And there are over 1,000 neighbourhood houses across Australia!

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that the contribution of volunteers is not something we can take for granted. Our next Charities Report (coming out in a couple of weeks) will show that, while the volunteering rate is still high, there has continued to be a decline in the number of volunteers. The number has decreased by 180,000 volunteers compared to the previous reporting period, and almost 600,000 fewer volunteers compared to 2018 when charities reported 3.77 million volunteers.

The decline in volunteer numbers is why I encouraged charities at the National Volunteering Conference earlier this year to nurture participation by sharing their success stories and documenting the impact they have using evidence and data.

As part of our own reflection on volunteering, we were grateful to have Mark Pearce, CEO of Volunteering Australia, speak at our recent staff meeting. He talked about the National Strategy for Volunteering, reminded us that volunteering is a form of giving and emphasised the importance of ensuring volunteers feel respected, valued, and resourced.

Volunteering helps give people a sense of achievement and purpose by allowing them to live their values, passions, and follow their interests. Giving time to charities connects people with their communities, helps them make friends and provides new social and cultural experiences. Using the Charity Register is a great way to help people find charities in their local area working on causes they are passionate about and want to connect with.

To support you, we also have guidance about the things you need to consider when engaging volunteers and why we value working with the peak bodies for volunteering, so we understand current issues.

So, from me, a big thank you to those of you who volunteer. What a difference your collective contribution makes.

Warm regards,
Sue Woodward AM