10/07/2007 - 22:00

Not for profit: Volunteer numbers fall short

10/07/2007 - 22:00

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Volunteers may be the backbone of many Western Australian not-for-profit groups, but according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the state has the lowest volunteering participation rate in the nation.

Not for profit: Volunteer numbers fall short

Volunteers may be the backbone of many Western Australian not-for-profit groups, but according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the state has the lowest volunteering participation rate in the nation.

 

The ABS 2006 Census showed just 17 per cent of Western Australian adults (262,653) volunteered last year – the lowest rate in Australia.

 

The Perth metropolitan area had the lowest participation rate in the state, with 15 per cent of the adult population volunteering, compared with 30 per cent in the Wheatbelt and Great Southern.

 

According to research undertaken by Volunteering Australia, WA’s volunteering rate in 2004 was about 30 per cent of the adult population, indicating a significant decline during the past two years.

 

Volunteering WA chief executive officer Lynn Fisher said methodological differences between the two surveys may have inflated the size of the decline, although she said the volunteer shortage was evident among many not-for-profit organisations.

 

Ms Fisher said it was important to make volunteering more accessible by providing roles during evenings and weekends, for example.

 

“We need to make it easier and more convenient for people to volunteer,” she told WA Business News.

 

To this end, Volunteering WA will launch an online database of volunteering opportunities in the state.

 

Ms Fisher said there were several barriers to volunteering, including training requirements at some organisations.

 

She said certain types of roles were also more attractive to volunteers, resulting in a disproportionate spread of the state’s volunteer resource.

 

“There are areas that are flush with volunteers and areas where organi-sations are crying out,” she said.

 

Community services providers and junior sports clubs, in particular, are finding it difficult to source volunteers, while regional groups are struggling to fill roles at the executive or presidential level.

 

Another issue affecting the sector is human resource management.

 

Ms Fisher said there was often a high attrition rate among volunteers, due to burnout and competition with other leisure activities, which needed to be managed.

 

“Volunteering is a workforce and it’s no different to any other workforce in that regard,” she said.

 

According to some not-for-profit organisations, administrative changes to the recruitment process have discouraged individuals from enrolling as volunteers.

 

Aged and Community Services WA acting chief executive, Toni Stampalija, said increased regu-lation, including compulsory police clearances, was having an effect on the state’s volunteer base.

 

“The requirements to become a volunteer are becoming more stringent than ever before,” she said.

 

“It’s generally fair to say that the role of volunteers in this decade is far more sophisticated. There’s a lot of scrutiny and due diligence that goes on before any agreement is entered into, which is perhaps why people are less inclined to volunteer.”

 

However, not all organisations are equally affected by the decline in volunteer numbers.

 

Counselling organisation Youth Focus has a waiting list of 14 people for its 22 volunteer positions, which include mentoring and camp leadership roles.

 

The organisation’s youth development officer, Sally Easthope, said Youth Focus provided a number of social functions for its volunteers, which aided retention.

 

“I think that helps to keep your volunteers interested,” Ms Easthope said.

 

Similarly, WA’s arts sector has received strong support from the volunteer workforce in the past year, with business volunteering in the sector more than doubling over the past 12 months.

 

Last financial year, the value of business volunteering to the arts in WA was estimated to be $213,000.

 

Australia Business Arts Foundation state manager Henry Boston said business volunteering was increasing, particularly through programs such as boardBank, which places members of the business community on cultural organisations’ boards.

 

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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