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Be a volunteer

25 October 23


‘Volunteering is time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain’ – Volunteering Australia.


In 2014 it was estimated that 5.8 million Australians aged 18 or over volunteered to work in groups or organisations. Then volunteering dropped until the 2016 Census showed it was on the rise with 3.6 million people aged 15 years or over giving their time to volunteer with a group or organisation.

The list of organisations is too long to record. Some that come to mind are the State Emergency Service in all states, the Rural Fire Service and their sister organisations in other states, St John’s Ambulance, Pink Ladies and hospital voluntary groups, Youth Organisations such as the Scout Association, Girls and Boys Brigade, Australian Air League and sporting groups that rely on volunteers. Organisations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army and charitable groups rely heavily on volunteers and our own lodges could not operate without members offering to serve in positions from Grand Lodge to private lodges and chapters.

The question is often asked ‘Why do people volunteer?’ Research by organi­sations like Volunteering Australia has shown that people volunteer for a number of reasons which include altru­ism, wanting to help others, giving back something to the community, using their spare time effectively, learning a skill that may help in the future. Experience has also shown that youth organisations gain volunteers from parents who offer their time to assist their children and children’s friends.

The next question is of course why don’t people volunteer? Reams of words have been written about this vexing question and it is worth looking at some of the answers researchers have found!

Research by Walter Wymer, a man­agement professor who studies volun­teers at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, cites a U.S. study by Gallup which concludes that people are more than four times likely to volunteer when they’re asked. Wymer also found people are more likely to volunteer if they know someone in the organisation because that connection lessens the perceived ‘social risk’ people feel when joining a new group.

Another cause for reluctance is that potential volunteers don’t clearly under­stand what they are being asked to do. ‘People don’t volunteer because it takes too much work to find out what it’s all about,’ says Susan Ellis, president of Philadelphia-based Energize Inc, an international training firm specialising in volunteerism. ‘Break it down into things people can picture and they are more likely to respond.’ Although a volunteer should never sign a contract, a job description or a simple job plan helps to know what is required. Some former volunteers were left with bad experiences and would be reluctant to take up the challenge again. Other reasons people do not put up their hand are based on a bad experience or reports from a friend.

The world of volunteering has many pitfalls. The Scout Association for years had a wonderful saying about ‘if you want a job done, find a busy man’ – the trouble is the busy man is only one person, so remember the other saying about the straw that broke the camel’s back! Many youth volunteers often find that to get the job done they put their hand in their own pocket which causes problems at home. Another major problem is when looking after children, the leader spends more time with other children than their own or the volun­teer’s garden is not the best in the street because the volunteer is never home.

For some years the volunteer’s posi­tion was never made clear. Now there is a Volunteers’ Guide developed by Safe Work Australia in conjunction with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Not-for-profit Reform Council working group that covers Health and Safety, Training, Harassment, the volun­teer’s obligations and the organisation’s obligations to the volunteer.

Lunch In this modern age, there appears to be a ‘use by date’ for everything – but what is to be done with the volunteer who seems to fit this belief? Volunteers are hard to get and certainly hard to replace. Instead of losing a long service volunteer, find a new job in the organisa­tion that is not so taxing or shares a role.

...people are more 
likely to volunteer if 
they know someone 
in the organisation 
because that 
connection lessens 
the perceived ‘social 
risk’ people feel...

Mary Anne Burke and Carl Liljenstolpe suggest in their book Recruiting Volunteers that many volun­teer organisations are not fully aware of their volunteer’s potential. It could also be said some organisations are not fully aware of their volunteer’s contribution. Volunteers do not expect rewards or medals. What they do look forward to is a simple ‘thank you.’

The Essential Guide to Work Health and Safety for Volunteers is available from Volunteering Australia and can be downloaded from their website at:


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