Volunteering – it is good for you – and good for Australia

Unpaid childcare for a friend or neighbour is a form of volunteering
Unpaid childcare for a friend or neighbour is a form of volunteering

Nearly one-third of Australians aged 15 and over participated in unpaid voluntary work in 2019. These volunteers contributed nearly 600 million hours to the community. 

Volunteering Australia defines volunteering as time given willingly for the common good and without financial gain.

Lisa Begley, senior coordinator of volunteers for the Rise Network, says volunteering is a different landscape since covid struck

“There are fewer of the traditional older volunteers and more young people in their 40s – even some in 20s, but overall numbers are down by about 13,000 from 600,000 volunteers in WA. 

“It is even worse in aged care homes where volunteer numbers have fallen by 58 per cent.

“We have a desperate need for volunteer drivers to take people who can no longer drive to medical appointments and for social and family reasons.

“I could use 15 more drivers tomorrow. We need active volunteers able to drive old people and have a yarn with them during the trip. Social isolation is as serious for good health as smoking. 

“We need more volunteers to support more people living independently at home and in the community,” she said.

An important volunteering activity is the community visitors scheme (CVS). Participants visit, on a regular basis, people who are socially isolated and lonely and have little or irregular contact with friends or relatives, and whose frailty, mobility or communication impairments prevent them from participating in social activities. 

Men and women participate equally in voluntary work. Nearly 40 per cent of volunteers had been volunteering for more than 10 years, although women were more likely to have volunteered over a longer time period. 

Most volunteers are in the 40 to 54 age bracket, although nearly 30 per cent of over 70s volunteer.

Volunteers worked mainly for sports and recreation (39 per cent), religious groups (23 per cent), education and training (22 per cent) and welfare/health (12 per cent). These four categories accounted for nearly three-quarters of all volunteers efforts. 

The socio-economic and cultural value of volunteering to Western Australia alone is conservatively estimated to be $39.0 billion.

The most common reason for people’s involvement with unpaid voluntary work was that they knew someone involved or were asked to volunteer. 

Why do they volunteer? 

When asked, more than half of both male and female volunteers over all age groups gave ‘helping others’ or ‘helping the community’ as a reason for being a volunteer. However, volunteers also identified benefits to themselves with 44 per cent reporting ‘personal satisfaction’ and 36 per cent ‘to do something worthwhile’.

The Australian Government website www.healthdirect.gov.au says volunteering helps people share their talents, learn new skills and creates a better work-life balance. It combats stress, loneliness, social isolation and depression. 

It helps you meet new people, which can help you feel more connected and valued.

A University of Sydney study also reported that social contact is one of the key motivators for people to volunteer (opportunities for which were severely limited during the pandemic), and that people who stopped volunteering during the pandemic had greater reductions in life satisfaction than people who had never volunteered. 

Other studies have shown that volunteering improves psychological well-being, self-esteem, happiness and life satisfaction. It is also associated with lower symptoms of depression and anxiety and lower risk of suicide.

Not all volunteering is done for organisations. Many people participate in informal volunteering, which is the provision of unpaid work and support to non-household members, excluding family members. 

Examples of informal volunteering include providing transport or running errands, unpaid childcare for a friend or neighbour, and providing emotional support. About one-third of the Australian population aged 15 and over participated in informal volunteering in 2019. 

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Frank Smith was trained as an agricultural scientist in the UK, moving to WA in 1974 and shortly afterwards began lecturing at WAIT (now Curtin University) in soils and agronomy. In 1979 he joined the Agriculture Protection Board in charge of publications and media relations, studying part time for a degree in Journalism. In 1992 he spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Later he ran a small publication company with his wife Mary-Helen. He then began freelance writing, editing and book indexing. He has written articles for more than 40 magazines in four continents and indexed more than 20 books. In 2007 he started writing for Have a Go News and gradually reduced his writing for other publications. He later took over the subediting, ensuring Have a Go News is consistent in style and highly readable. He and Mary-Helen live in a passive solar home in the Perth Hills with a varying collection of quendas and native birds.