Volunteering Australia defines volunteering as “time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain.” Volunteering is critical to delivering the Australian Government’s priorities of building strong and resilient communities, by encouraging economic participation, mitigating isolation and loneliness, and increasing social inclusion, community resilience, participation and social cohesion.
Volunteering is an incredibly diverse activity, extending to every corner of society. From the arts, education, emergency services, sports, environment, health, the private sector, aged care, disability, and community welfare; volunteering has woven itself into the fabric of everyday life, and Australian society increasingly depends on volunteering activities and programs.
Recent data indicates that people from diverse backgrounds are very engaged in volunteerism. While Census data has its limitations (only capturing formal volunteering through an organisation or institution), it does tell us that of the 3.6 million people who volunteer over the age of 15 years, almost a third are born overseas.
In the settlement sector we know that the capacity of many Settlement Council of Australia (SCoA) member organisations is greatly enhanced by the large numbers of volunteers who support the work of the settlement sector. Anecdotal evidence suggests that across the settlement sector, many volunteers regularly engage in formal volunteering. Many of these volunteers are themselves from a migrant or refugee background.
Volunteering Australia and the Settlement Council of Australia have conducted a National Survey on Volunteering and Settlement in Australia to inform our findings. Some key insights from the survey include:
- 65% of new arrivals to Australia engaged in volunteering within the first 18 months of their arrival to Australia;
- New migrants and refugees are very involved in volunteering;
- Motivations to volunteer differ for everyone, however respondents were largely looking to contribute to society, make friends, improve their English or gain local work experience;
- There was a number of personal and professional benefits gained from volunteering by volunteers;
- Organisations also reaped many benefits from volunteer engagement, with the support proving invaluable;
- More support is needed to engage volunteers from diverse backgrounds.