Volunteers and volunteering during the COVID-era in Australia

Volunteers and volunteering during the COVID-era in Australia
Author/editor: Biddle, N & Gray, M
Year published: 2022


In 2021 the Federal Government announced the development of a National Strategy for Volunteering with the design of this strategy being led by Volunteering Australia. The ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods is undertaking research to support the development of the strategy, with this paper focusing on the changes to volunteering and volunteers that have occurred over the COVID-19 period. The paper is based on the April 2022 ANUpoll survey, that collected data from 3,587 Australians aged 18 years and over, as well as data from April 2020 and 2021.

We show lower rates of volunteering than prior to the pandemic, albeit with some increases since April 2021. There is some evidence that this decline in volunteering has led to a reduction in wellbeing, with those who say they stopped volunteering due to COVID-19 but who had not started again by April 2022 having far lower levels of wellbeing than those who had maintained their volunteering over the period. Furthermore, the vast majority of volunteers (more than nine-in-ten) were either satisfied (53.1 per cent) or very satisfied (37.9 per cent) with their volunteering experience.

One of the focuses of the paper was on variation in volunteering across the population as Australia enters the COVID-recovery period. Females were more likely to volunteer than males and older Australians (those aged 55 years and over) were more likely to have volunteered than younger Australians. Those born overseas in a non-English speaking country are less likely to volunteer than those born in Australia or those born overseas in another English-speaking country. Compared to those who have completed Year 12, those who have not completed Year 12 have a lower probability of volunteering compared to those who have no post-school qualifications, those who have a degree have a higher probability. There was also an association with hours worked, with those who worked 1-10 hours in the preceding week more likely to have undertaken voluntary work compared to those who did not work at all and those who worked more hours per week.

The paper also looks at the reasons people give for why Australians did and did not undertake volunteering in the previous 12 months. When asked ‘What were your reasons for being a volunteer?’, the most common reason given was ‘Personal satisfaction / to do something worthwhile’, given by 71.9 per cent of volunteers, with more than half of volunteers also saying that they did so to ‘Help others / the community.’ When asked ‘What are all the reasons that you have not formally volunteered for an organisation or group in the last 12 months?’ the most common reason given was work/family commitments, given by 40.8 per cent of Australians.

Formal volunteering is not the only way people contribute to their communities and a little under half of adult Australians (46.5 per cent) said that they provided some form of informal volunteering outside of their household over the previous four weeks. The most common form of informal volunteering was providing emotional support (provided by 20.4 per cent of Australians), followed by providing transport or running errands (19.1 per cent), and domestic work, home maintenance or gardening (16.8 per cent).

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