Volunteers are the lifeblood of thousands of for-purpose organisations across the country. In 2020, six million Australians generously donated 490 million hours of social, cultural, and economic support in aged care, disability support, emergency services, sport and recreation, and other vital areas of community services. (1)
However, COVID-19 and other structural factors are fundamentally affecting the outlook for volunteer engagement. (2) This has wide repercussions for the not-for-profit sector with the ACNC finding that 51% of the 56,000 active organisations in 2018 were comprised wholly of volunteers. (3)
As we join the sector in celebrating National Volunteer Week with this year’s theme ‘Better Together’, the team here at Strategic Grants outline some ideas to help your organisation ‘futureproof’ its volunteering strategies for the years ahead.
Thanking loyal volunteers
National Volunteer Week is a chance for all of us to celebrate and recognise the vital work of volunteers and to say thank you. National and state volunteer peak bodies have lots of resources to inspire you about how you can acknowledge, both privately and publicly, the wonderful work your volunteers do in helping your organisation make a difference.
It’s helpful to remember that you’re not limited to traditional gestures of appreciation. Empowering your volunteers with opportunities for input into decision-making can also provide them with significant intrinsic rewards.
Some helpful resources are listed below:
Ensuring volunteer safety
While Australia is still contending with the consequences of COVID-19, there is now greater certainty about what organisations should be doing for their volunteers to be assured of a safe work, health, and safety environment.
As more people are considering whether it is now safe enough to offer their in-person support, it is critical that your organisation develop and maintain policies that will see you comply with your duty of care to your volunteers as well as engage them with structured induction, training, and ongoing management and support.
Promoting these policies will show the community that you are a best-practice volunteer organisation that cares about safeguarding its volunteer workforce, which will also ultimately help recruitment and retainment.
For some information about volunteer policies and safety obligations, check out these sources:
Attracting new volunteers
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the ability and willingness of people to volunteer. There are also more systemic factors that deter people from volunteering including: a disconnect between volunteering roles that people are interested in and the roles being offering, work commitments, lack of flexibility, and non-reimbursed out-of-pocket expenses. (4)
However, volunteering is a core part of our national character, with an estimated one in four Australians donating their time through an organisation in 2020. (5) The upshot is that there are people out there who can and want to help your organisation, but you need to think more strategically about finding them, motivating them to support your cause, and looking after them when they’re part of your team.
Some ideas to help your organisation tap a wider pool of engaged volunteers include:
- Asking your current or past volunteers to promote your organisation to family and friends. This recognises that word-of-mouth is the most common source of information about volunteering opportunities (6)
- Using online volunteer platforms such as:
- GoVolunteer (www.govolunteer.com.au)
- Seek Volunteer (www.volunteer.com.au)
- Government volunteering websites (e.g www.makeadifference.volunteering.nsw.gov.au/)
- For-purpose recruitment websites (e.g www.probonoaustralia.com.au/volunteer/)
- Emergency volunteering websites (e.g www.volunteeringaustralia.org/get-involved/emergency-volunteering/#/)
- Applying for support from corporate employee volunteer programs (e.g. www.volunteering.pwc.com.au/)
- Offering more remotely-delivered, flexible volunteer opportunities
- Ensuring you’re effectively using your website and social channels to promote that you are a best-practice volunteer organisation
- Increasing your organisation’s volunteering profile and reputation by nominating your top volunteers to external volunteer recognition or awards programs
- Providing volunteers intangible things that are of value to them (e.g. targeted work experience, professional networking opportunities, references, paying for accredited training or qualifications, volunteer socialising events, public acknowledgement in annual reports, etc.)
Measuring volunteer value
Putting a dollar figure on something delivered in-kind makes the ‘worth’ of that resource more tangible. To that end, estimating the dollar value of your volunteer program is an important metric you should consider measuring and tracking. This information can be used:
- In annual reports and social impact reports to publicly demonstrate the importance of your volunteers to your organisation’s work
- To inform your strategic planning, project planning and resourcing, and risk mitigation policies
- To signal to key stakeholders and the broader public that your organisation is a trustworthy, grassroots provider that is well-entrenched in its local community
- In grant funding applications where in-kind contributions are included in project budgets (More broadly, in-kind contributions such as volunteer support are usually categorised as co-funding and are viewed favourably by funding organisations.)
Calculating the value of your volunteers’ contribution does not have to be complicated. Many volunteer peak bodies provide easy-to-use Volunteer Cost Benefit Calculators that apply a volunteer replacement cost based on the average hourly part-time wage of a person of their age in their state of residence, plus 15% employer on-costs (inclusive of superannuation, payroll tax and administration expenses).
Figure 1 shows The Centre for Volunteering (NSW)’s volunteer costs calculator. This applies an hourly volunteer replacement rate from $19.85 for volunteers aged 18-25 to $56.15 for those aged 45-54.
Securing volunteer funding
The team at Strategic Grants regularly hears first-hand from our clients that they would love to grow their volunteer base but face a range of obstacles to making this happen. Consistent with this feedback, Volunteering Australia found that almost half of all volunteer-involving organisations believed that they didn’t allocate sufficient human and financial resources to effectively recruit and engage volunteers. (7)
Local, State, and Federal Governments are particularly committed to encouraging volunteering as they recognise that the contribution it provides to our communities and economies is effectively irreplaceable. As a result, there are numerous government grant programs that fund volunteer initiatives on offer throughout the year (though Federal grants are currently on hold as the government is currently in electoral caretaker mode).
Some common government volunteer funding priorities are listed below:
- Promotion of volunteering opportunities: Moreland City Council Youth Initiative Grants – https://www.moreland.vic.gov.au/my-council/grants-and-awards/community-grants-program/minor-grants/#autoAnchor4
- In-kind services: Western Downs Regional Council In-Kind Assistance Program (use of Council-operated digital billboards for promotional support) – https://www.wdrc.qld.gov.au/living-here/grants-funding/
Volunteers truly are the heart and soul of any for-purpose organisation. And there is no denying the challenges that volunteers have faced and will continue to face as we live in a world with COVID-19. But the good news is that there are many resources out there to support your volunteer strategies and to make your volunteers feel safe, supported, and valued. And don’t forget that when it comes to grants, in-kind contributions such as volunteer support are usually categorised as co-funding and are viewed favourably by funding organisations!
We are passionate about building the capability of for-purpose organisations to apply strategic thinking to their service delivery and fundraising programs. Get in touch to find out how the Strategic Grants team can help your organisation!
- Volunteering Australia and PwC (2016) ‘State of Volunteering in Australia – Help Create Happiness (April 2016)’ (pg ix) https://www.volunteeringaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/State-of-Volunteering-in-Australia-full-report.pdf
- Volunteering Australia and PwC (2016) ‘State of Volunteering in Australia – Help Create Happiness (April 2016)’ (pg 4) https://www.volunteeringaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/State-of-Volunteering-in-Australia-full-report.pdf
- Volunteering Australia and PwC (2016) ‘State of Volunteering in Australia – Help Create Happiness (April 2016)’ (pg 29) https://www.volunteeringaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/State-of-Volunteering-in-Australia-full-report.pdf