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Called to serve

Australia runs on volunteers.

These are the people who doorknock for the Leukemia Foundation, help at the Lifeline Bookfest, organise Meals on Wheels and so much more.

In a Productivity Commission report released in February the Australian Government’s independent research and advisory body found that 4.6 million volunteers worked with not-for-profits (NFPs) with a wage equivalent value of nearly $15 billion.

UnitingCare Queensland CEO Anne Cross said there will always be a need for volunteers.

“The need to be a good neighbour, to be a good community member, to participate in activities and services that make the community better will always be necessary,” she said. “Professional services only fill some of the gaps.”

Lifeline Brisbane Volunteer Manager Anastasia Magriplis said the face of volunteering was changing and non-profit organisations needed to be flexible to offset the risk of a significant drop in volunteer numbers.

“As a provider of so many essential services to the community, it is one that we are addressing with rigour.”

She said they were focussing volunteer recruitment efforts on Baby Boomers, Generation Y, new arrivals and students.

“We are investigating how we can be flexible and responsive to the needs of these groups and how we can develop mutually beneficial arrangements.”

According to Ms Cross and Ms Magriplis, the majority of volunteers within Blue Care, UnitingCare hospitals and Lifeline in Queensland were over the age of 60.

A National Church Life Survey (NCLS) report released in March found that church attendees are more likely to be volunteers than the general community (57% vs 35%).

Ms Cross said that while the roots of UnitingCare lie in the Christian faith the organisation has volunteers from all walks of life and beliefs.

“Many people have personal values and beliefs that draw them to contributing to the common good of the whole community,” she said. “At UnitingCare our job is to seek out and welcome into our work all people of good will who are concerned about the common humanity of all people.”

With 35,000 employees and 25,000 volunteers UnitingCare Australia is the largest non-government provider of social services in the country, providing services which are rooted in the dedication of volunteers to two million Australians.

National Director Susan Helyar said with changing demographics and opportunities, the traditional face of volunteering has been transformed in the past couple of decades.

“Whilst many organisations continue to be underpinned by men and women who regularly contribute time and expertise to their communities, there are also many younger people who volunteer their time, and increasing numbers of people who donate their skills and advice on specific projects.

“Volunteering is a very practical expression of mutuality and generosity, qualities that strengthen and give hope to people and communities which are vulnerable or face disadvantage, hardship and loss.”

She said it was important to learn from those who had long-term experience in volunteering.

“The contributions of volunteers who have worked for decades in their communities are profound, and we need to make sure that as they reduce their volunteering, we learn all we can from them about how they stuck at it for so long.”

Ms Magriplis said the future of volunteering in Australia lies with organisations’ ability to be responsive to the changing culture and community.

“The culture of the community bearing witness is still alive and well,” she said. “While we face some difficult times ahead with recruiting and retaining volunteers, our agencies are agile and up for the challenge.”