Why a positive volunteer experience needs to be prioritised

Last updated on 8 June 2023

National Volunteer Week (May 15-21) is the time for volunteers to be recognised and celebrated.

National Volunteer Week is dedicated to putting the spotlight on Australia’s unheralded workforce – our volunteers. Most volunteers choose to be a part of the community as it brings them personal satisfaction while doing something worthwhile for others.

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Mark Pearce, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Volunteering Australia, said volunteers are a key piece of Australia’s social fabric and this week is the perfect opportunity for organisations to recognise those who give up their time.

“Volunteers are change makers because they bring about positive implications for all of us either directly or indirectly. They’re often the first ones to identify changes taking place, they identify needs within the community and develop solutions,” Mr Pearce said.

In aged care, volunteers are an essential part of the team, providing invaluable support for residential aged care and home care recipients. Unfortunately, there has been a gradual decline in the number of formal volunteers over the past decade, while volunteer numbers took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic – volunteer numbers dropped by almost 50% from 2016 in residential facilities

But Australia is bouncing back and over two-thirds of the voluntary workforce has returned. They’re seeking out opportunities to connect and contribute in a meaningful way. 

“We certainly see that in aged care, the people who put up their hands to volunteer are doing so because they know their time, effort and compassion will directly impact the quality of life of the people they’re interacting with,” Mr Pearce explained.

Volunteers provide value to organisations

Although much of the focus is on the resident’s experience, the volunteer experience is of utmost importance to Volunteering WA CEO, Tina Williams. She reinforced the need for organisations to recognise the value of investing in support for their volunteers.

“The key thing is to recognise that volunteering isn’t free, in order for organisations to run excellent volunteer programs they actually need to be funded and supported,” Ms Williams said. 

“People volunteer for many different reasons but if the experience they have is a poor one, they’re not going to volunteer anymore. It’s so important that we ensure volunteer managers are trained and they provide quality and best practice within their programs so volunteers have a meaningful and good experience to ensure they keep coming back.”

Ms Williams, who is part of a community visitor scheme in Perth, said it’s crucial that organisations have volunteer programs that are suited to the needs of volunteers themselves. For example, she visits an older woman within the community once a fortnight, a perfect balance for both parties involved. 

“We’re encouraging organisations to be more flexible when introducing volunteers,” she said. “Perhaps it’s giving them shorter, sharper experiences because one of the reasons that people don’t volunteer is because they say they don’t have the time and they don’t want to make the commitment and feel like they’re going to let someone down.”

“But if organisations design programs that suit the way people want to volunteer and understand that we are time-poor; if there’s a bit of flexibility then it can work.”

Ms Williams’ thoughts were echoed by Mr Pearce, who suggested a fresh approach to volunteer strategies, including how you recruit, resource and manage volunteers within your organisation.

“We can generate great outcomes for our organisations, and certainly in aged care, by focusing on the volunteer experience. We need to ensure that volunteers feel connected with the organisation and its mission so they can see that their time, effort and passion directly connect to beneficial outcomes,” Mr Pearce said.

“The challenge and opportunity for organisations moving forward is to reconsider their volunteer programs in a strategic way for them. Organisations that are facing significant workforce pressures and demand for additional contributions can be improved by improving the volunteer experience.”

A successful volunteer program should be embedded within your organisation’s framework to ensure volunteers are properly supported and protected just like regular staff. Crucial Volunteering Australia resources that can help you achieve this include the National Standards for Volunteer Involvement and the new 10-year National Strategy for Volunteering