Why reversing the recent downturn in volunteering will be good for community health

Data collected as part of the 2021 Census has highlighted that the number of people undertaking unpaid or volunteer work fell by 19% compared to 2016. COVID has played a big part in this decline but it’s not the only factor, the decline has been occurring for the past 10 years.

A decade of declining volutneer numbers: Source ABC News

The assumed reason for the decline is because people are just too “busy” to find the time. But the demographic representation, according to the latest census data doesn’t necessarily reflect this. The highest volunteer representation occurs across age groups between 35 and 54 and this age group also contains the largest representation of people who are working full time and have young families

Representation of volunteers by age: Source ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2021

The concept of being too busy implies that volunteering is viewed as having to give something. While volunteering is certainly a very generous act, there is a large body of work which shows the positive benefits to those who volunteer their time. A report prepared by Volunteering Australia provides the following insights:

  • Volunteering is associated with better perceived mental health and quality of life
  • Volunteering supports mental health by increasing psychological and social capital
  • Mental health benefits are especially pronounced for older people, people experiencing lower levels of life-satisfaction, unemployed people and people with chronic health conditions
  • There is no single form or type of volunteering which has a better impact on mental health outcomes
  • The extent of mental health benefits is positively correlated with the motivation to volunteer
  • Volunteering can play a strong role in mental health recovery

The most gratifying work I have been involved in at NGT has only been possible because of volunteers. It has taken me many years to not feel guilty about being paid to work alongside others who are giving their time for free. But the more time I spend with volunteers, hear their appreciation and see their motivation, the better I feel about the experiences we can provide. And I also know that when I have volunteered my time, it has had a positive effect on how I feel, it makes me feel part of the village.

We have several opportunities this month so please check them out. And if you are in the Hamilton region, there is also a day on the 15th October which is specifically designed around creating an opportunity for people who haven’t quite found an opportunity to get involved in volunteering (see flyer below).

Lachlan Farrington