“Whatever the motivation, when we volunteer, we reap the benefits of connection and community.”
National Volunteer Week from 17- 23rd May 2021 was a great reason to pause and reflect on the significance of volunteering and the extraordinary contribution of volunteers.
Volunteering Australia estimates there are a staggering six million volunteers who lead programs (think Scouts Australia, Girl Guides, Surf Life Saving and sports associations like NSWRL), deliver essential services, offer care, comfort, and support. Many more offer their skills and expertise on Boards (my Advisory Board members), to agencies, and to mentor others (like Startmate – the epicentre of or startup ambition across Australia and New Zealand).
Volunteering Australia has encouraged us to recognise, celebrate, and thank volunteers for their vital role in our lives. To reconnect with the essential truth, we are rewarded deeply for giving our time to help others; and to reimagine how we better support volunteers and communities they help.
The last 18 months has shone a bright light on the importance of volunteers across Australia and in my community. We have dealt with drought, devastating bushfires (firefighters extinguished the massive Currowan Fire Shoalhaven after 72 days and half a million burnt hectares), local floods in both February 2020 and March 2021 and then the ripple of fear from the global pandemic. In this mayhem, volunteers from the Rotary Club of Berry organised food packages and livestock feed for drought-stricken farmers. The Rural Fire Services went out to fight fires, then to rescue livestock from floods, and others have delivered essential services.
It is clear volunteers make our communities more robust, but why do people volunteer, and how can we support time-poor volunteers to reimagine what they do?
We choose to volunteer for various reasons – to give back, make a difference, develop new skills, build experience or express a purpose. Whatever the motivation, when we volunteer, we reap the benefits of connection and community.
In his 1995 book Bowling Alone:The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam documents the decline in America of social organisations such as churches, unions, and community groups. In recent years, the number of people who say they have few or no close connections or friends has increased dramatically, with worrying implications for our wellbeing.
Julia Baird in Phosphorescence: On awe, wonder & things that sustain you when the world goes dark, 2020 surveys relevant research which concludes “social connectedness can act as a ‘social cure’ for psychological ill-health”.
Despite the importance and benefits of volunteering – demographic, social and economic factors have driven a 20 per cent decline in the number of hours volunteers since 2014. Many community spaces are managed partially or solely by volunteers. During COVID-19, two-thirds of volunteers stopped working, and social purpose organisations continue to lose one in four volunteers due to illness or caring responsibilities. Creating a compelling need to reimagine how volunteers work.
My business Vennu® is connecting people and spaces with ease. Transforming the use of space with an intuitive marketplace. Vennu takes the hassle out of bookings and makes it easy for time-poor volunteers to manage short-term hire and engage with their communities more efficiently. Leaving more time for their purpose!
CEO and Founder