Why don’t Aussies volunteer?

Flinders University History Professor Melanie Oppenheimer is leading a new study to find out why people don't volunteer.
Flinders University History Professor Melanie Oppenheimer is leading a new study to find out why people don’t volunteer.

The reasons why Aussies volunteer, and the benefits they bring to society, are well known.

Now – in a world first – Flinders University together with a team of Australian and international researchers will try to find out why people don’t volunteer.

Funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), the new three-year project – Creating and sustaining a strong future for volunteering in Australia – aims to identify innovative ways to increase social participation by understanding the barriers that deter people from lending a hand.

One of the study’s chief investigators, Flinders University History Professor Melanie Oppenheimer, said the project will involve surveys, interviews and focus groups with hundreds of non-volunteers and volunteer organisations Australia-wide, as well as an analysis of the broader function of society.

An expert in volunteering and chair of a working party for the State Government’s Volunteering Strategy for South Australia, Professor Oppenheimer said the motivations for volunteering and the benefits it creates for individuals and societies are well-established, yet less is known about the factors that prevent and deter people from volunteering.

“There’s little doubt that without volunteers, Australian society would grind to a halt,” Professor Oppenheimer said.

“Vital things wouldn’t get done – for example the elderly in their homes wouldn’t get Meals on Wheels, the bushfires would still blaze and our beaches wouldn’t be patrolled,” she said.

“The fundamental contributions of volunteering to Australian society are well documented. There’s also plenty of research on the benefits for volunteers – in fact the most researched area is motivation, or why people do something for nothing, but we still don’t know why people don’t do it.

“About 36 per cent of adult Australians volunteer their time but what about the rest?

“They might have quite simple reasons, such as not knowing what’s available or where to go, or their reasons could be much more complex, for example feeling alienated from the community, but if we don’t ask, we won’t know.”

Reflecting societal changes, Professor Oppenheimer said volunteering now takes many different shapes and forms, with a particular surge in volunteer tourism, where holidaymakers actively pursue volunteer work as part of their holiday “experience”.

She said the overall aim of the project is to identify ways to increase participation in both traditional and non-traditional models of volunteering by understanding and addressing the barriers.

The research, which is Professor Oppenheimer’s second ARC-funded project into volunteering, will be undertaken in collaboration with Curtin, Victoria and Macquarie universities, as well as partners from Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Volunteering Victoria, Volunteering SA/NT, Volunteering Western Australia and the WA Department of Local Government and Communities.

Professor Oppenheimer, who has co-edited the soon-to-be published book Volunteering In Australia (Federation Press) will reflect on her 25 years of research on Australia’s volunteer history at a public lecture on Tuesday, October 14, titled 10 Things You Should Know About Volunteering: Reflections on Volunteering in the 21st Century.

Held as part of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Science’s Professionals Lecture Series, the seminar will explore 10 core features of volunteering in the 21st century through a historical lens, and consider the role of these features in responding to new challenges.

10 Things You Should Know About Volunteering: Reflections on Volunteering in the 21st Century will be held at Flinders University Victoria Square, Level 1, 182 Victoria Square, on Tuesday, October 14, from 3.45pm for 4pm.

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Corporate Engage Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences School of International Studies

4 thoughts on “Why don’t Aussies volunteer?

  1. How many of these non-volunteers spend un-paid time at work, or continue to work while not formally at work?

    What of people at home who volunteer their time to provide child, aged and disabled care etc. Perhaps they get some small government sponsored fee for their efforts, but the hourly rate is well below minimum wage the rest of the time is volunteered.

    Then consider all the non-organizational income neutral/negative events such as music, dance, meditation, classes (where the cost of the hall is covered by fees but naught else) a list too long to bother writing here. Perhaps they build skill or exposure for the operators but they put their own money in and rarely break even, while others staff the door, the setup, supply equipment and clean up. Musicians and other creatives spend time doing this and such events/classes are happening multiple times a week in every town in Australia.

    Finally anyone who hands over money (time) to an unknown person in need. They are volunteering to help while it may be pocket change it can be time such as giving the old lady a lift home.

    Perhaps you will discover that the issue is not so much that people don’t volunteer rather that the definition of what is volunteering needs to be re-considered.

  2. I think that the main reason not to find a bridge to jump of is a purpose in life.
    Consequently, especially once you retire, you go & volunteer.
    Easier said than done, especially today when volunteers get treated like any other member of the work force, except off course, they don’t take any wages home. I for one object to be treated like an unpaid worker. I give my time for free, I am there because I want to be, no ulterior reason.
    Secondly a number of places you will simply not get a foot into the door way, unless you fill in some forms ON LINE. If I am prepared to offer my time for FREE, the leased an organization can do is offer a face to face situation. After all & I do mean after all, there are so many hoops to jump through these days for volunteers, I sometimes wonder why so many good people still bother.
    Having retired some time ago now, I do volunteer my time a lot & let me assure you, have collected a number of experiences which ultimately keep willing people away from volunteering.
    In Adelaide for instance, some will ask for a fee to join before you can volunteer with them. Some orgs will reimburse you for your travel (car or bus); a lot of them do not. Will I actually incur expenses out of my small pension in order to volunteer?
    Some places you contact you don’t even get a reply from, or sometimes two or three month later. It’s like applying for a job. Well I am not applying for a job, I am offering my time – for FREE.
    And to end my whinge on a high note…..Let me tell you that there are PAID volunteer coordinators out there that simply haven’t got a clue about volunteering. They have their nose so far in rule books that the human aspect is totally lost on them.
    As I said, I volunteer my time a lot, to four different organizations at present. But it took me a looong time to find them.

  3. Well guys, if you’re as archaic as me & still read hard copy news papers, have a look at the front page of the Sunday Mail (19/10/14).
    There in bold letters you will find another reason: ‘why Aussies don’t volunteer’ (really?). Or rather why some very helpful people actually stop their volunteering activity. The front page of the paper talks about the Emergency Levy (one of our taxes) & how it has just recently been going up like NASA’s rockets.
    We all know that tax collecting is necessary to run a country, but in this particular case it seems to be counterproductive. Especially with the emergency service volunteers and rightfully so.

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