It’s never too late for giving

Downturn noted, National Volunteer week

By Sonia Isaacs

QUEENSLAND, in line with the rest of the country, is experiencing a steep decline in volunteering, a new report reveals.
This sobering outlook on the back of national volunteer week has long been echoed by community groups throughout the Glasshouse Country and Hinterland regions.
Volunteer organisations have faced a multitude of challenges and sadly, in some cases, closure.
Local groups say they have struggled to attract and retain volunteers; citing changing societal values, time restraints, health and cost of living pressures.
A comprehensive new report commissioned by Volunteering Queensland, has confirmed this downward trend, both in the number of people volunteering and the overall time spent.
National volunteering data released during National Volunteer week (May 20-26) by Volunteering Australia also reiterates this decline. The State of Volunteering 2024 Report revealed that 64.3 per cent of Queenslanders (aged over 15 years) volunteered in the previous 12 months, which demonstrates a decline of marginally over 10 per cent in the last three years. According to Volunteering Queensland CEO Mara Basanovic, the reason people don’t or can’t volunteer more is a multifaceted issue. She said research identified several key barriers.
“Most notably people’s restrictions on time, health factors and the rising costs of living,” she said.
According to the report, the cost of volunteering forms a major barrier for Queenslanders who wish to volunteer, being estimated that the combined cost of volunteering in Queensland was $25bn in the 2022-23 financial year.
The lack of knowledge around volunteering possibilities is another factor echoed throughout organisations, with 23 per cent of those surveyed, who did not volunteer, saying they had never been asked or were unsure how to volunteer.
Despite the decline and costs involved, one of the principal findings of the report revealed the benefits of volunteering significantly outweighed the costs, resulting in a substantial return that enriched the whole community.
“The report found the economic value of volunteering in Queensland was over $117 billion in 2022-23. The labour replacement cost to replace all volunteers would be over $31 billion. For every dollar invested in volunteering, there is an economic return of $4.70,” the Volunteering Queensland CEO said.
Ken Husband from Morris House Neighbourhood Centre acknowledged that the long-running Landsborough-based community run organisation had “always found it hard” to attract volunteers. He said while he firmly believed that there were people in the community who may wish to volunteer or have valuable skills that could benefit an association, he felt people were potentially not aware enough about local opportunities. He also acknowledged that times had changed and less people were either making time or were being financially restricted from volunteering locally.
“Like many community organisations, we’ve struggled with a lack of members, and being able to attract younger people and new blood to the committee,” he said.
He said an ongoing issue was often it was the same people putting their hands up to help year after year.
“I’m 82 and although I’d like to step back after so many years, we’re just not getting new people stepping up. These types of positions would be perfect for the recently retired, but without people getting involved, it’s left up to the same people who just get too old or burnt out,” explained Ken.
Debbie Philpott from Mooloolah Valley Community Centre said outside of the community run Op shop, it had always been difficult to attract volunteers to the Centre, particularly to the management and events committee’s. She said people seemed to have less availability or just couldn’t afford the time.
Despite these challenges, one of the positive aspects she observed was the joy of companionship and opportunity for people to be part of a collaborative community.
“I’ve seen so many people flourish and gain confidence through volunteering and being able to interact meaningfully in the community,” she said.
Tony Long from Glasshouse Country Rotary said like many other clubs they were desperate for new members, and had also struggled over the past few years. He said it seemed an inevitable yet unfortunate sign of the times that less people were volunteering. He also acknowledged that attracting a younger cohort remained an elusive challenge.
“People just don’t seem to have the time anymore, and frankly it also takes a particular type of person who is inclined to volunteer,” he said.
Cr Jenny Broderick said she had seen first-hand the ongoing struggles for groups to remain viable. She said the need for dual incomes and cost of living pressures had impacted the time people might have previously given to volunteering and giving back to their community. She said there had been a societal shift in the volunteer landscape. One of the biggest issues she had seen over the last 20 years was “volunteer burnout”.
“Perhaps we need to consider more creative ways to make volunteering outcomes more achievable to attract greater community involvement.”