Data about people in Australia who volunteer are primarily drawn from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2014 General Social Survey (GSS). Volunteering in that survey is defined as the ‘provision of unpaid help willingly undertaken in the form of time, service or skills, to an organisation or group, excluding work done overseas’ (ABS 2018).

3 in 10 people are volunteers

In 2014, 31% of the Australian population aged 15 and over participated in voluntary work. Over a 12-month period, volunteers contributed an estimated 743 million hours to the community. In 2012–13, the estimated value of voluntary work in not-for-profit organisations was $17 billion (ABS 2015).

 

In Australia, volunteers provide substantial benefit to their communities. Organisations report that they bring new insights, enhance the image of the organisation, increase efficiencies and volume of operations, and improve effectiveness. Volunteering also broadens the networks and professional skills of the volunteers.

Volunteering is an indicator of wellbeing. It also has links to the economic and health status of a nation. It benefits the economy and the health and wellbeing of volunteers by providing a personal sense of satisfaction and making them happier (AIHW 2017).

Who volunteers?

In 2014, 5.8 million people participated in voluntary work—more than half (54%) were female. Younger people were more likely to be volunteers, with 42% of people aged 15–17 volunteering, followed by 39% of people aged 35–44 and 35% of people aged 65–74. While limited information is collected at national level about younger volunteers, the literature suggests that they volunteer to engage in their community for a combination of reasons, similar to volunteers of other age groups. Reasons include a combination of personal gain, desire to contribute, and social, cultural and family expectations. A 2015 study identified that the key motivators for people aged 12–25 for volunteering were linked to factors such as socioeconomic circumstances, education, gender, location, and cultural identification (ARACY 2015).

The volunteering rate in 2014 was higher for people who had attained a Bachelor degree or above. A total of 41% of this cohort had participated in voluntary work, compared with 32% whose highest non-school qualification was an advanced diploma or below, and 25% who did not have a non-school qualification.

Patterns of volunteering varied by geographic location, with 30% living in Major cities volunteering in the past 12 months, 33% in Inner regional and 39% in Outer regional and Remote areas.

Couples with children were more likely to volunteer than individuals without children or couples without children (38% compared with 25% and 29% respectively). People who worked part time were more likely to volunteer (38%) than those who worked full time (30%), were retired (27%) or not in the labour force for a different reason (30%).

Volunteering rates increased with increasing household income—39% of people living in households with the highest quintile of gross household income volunteered, compared with 23% in the lowest quintile.

How often and where do people volunteer?

Volunteers in Australia are generous with their time. In 2014, 50% of all who had volunteered in the previous 12 months contributed more than 50 hours during that period and almost one-fifth (19%) contributed 200 or more hours. Half (50%) of all volunteers had been volunteering for more than 10 years, and 70% had parents who had been volunteers.

In 2014, almost two-thirds (63%) of people who volunteered did so for 1 organisation, 24% for 2 organisations and 14% for 3 or more. The most common types of organisations were sports and recreation (31%), education and training (24%) welfare/community (21%), and religious groups (19%).

Trends

Overall volunteering rates have fluctuated over time. In 2002 and 2006, 34% of all people aged 18 and over reported volunteering in the previous 12 months. In 2010, this increased to 36% and in 2014 it decreased to 31%.

Across age groups, fluctuations have been more noticeable, including increases in 2010 among those aged 45–54 and 55–64 and the subsequent steep decline in these age ranges in 2014, along with declines in all other age groups (Figure 1).

This line graph shows the changing proportion of people aged 18 and over who undertook unpaid voluntary work in the last 12 months, by age group, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. Volunteering rates across age groups have fluctuated over time, including increases in 2010 amongst the 45–54 (39% in 2006 to 44% in 2010) and 55–64 (32% in 2006 to 43% in 2010) year age groups and the subsequent steep decline in these age ranges in 2014 (down to 32% for 45–54 age group and 29% for 55–64 age group), along with declines in all other age groups.

These decreases reflect the broader changes noted in the GSS of a decrease in the levels of involvement in activities that connect people to their broader community. The ABS Measures of Australia’s progress, 2013 also noted a decrease in the time and opportunity that Australians have for recreation and leisure, and social and community interaction (ABS 2014). The proportion of people providing help and assistance, such as home maintenance jobs, gardening, running errands and unpaid childcare to others outside their household, also declined (49% in 2010 down to 46% in 2014).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on volunteers in Australia, see General Social Survey: Summary of Results, Australia 2014  

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2014. Measures of Australia’s progress, 2013. ABS cat no. 1370.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2015. Australian national accounts: Non-profit institutions satellite account, 2012–13. ABS cat. no. 5256.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2018. Information paper: Collection of volunteering data in the ABS, March 2018. ABS cat. no. 4159.0.55.005. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017. Australia’s welfare 2017. Cat. no. AUS 214. Canberra: AIHW.

Walsh L & Black R 2015. Youth volunteering in Australia: an evidence review. Report prepared for the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. Canberra: ARACY.