Is there a reluctance among many in Canberra to volunteer?

Tim Gavel 10 December 2019 46
SES volunteers

Volunteering is possible in many different areas; emergency services, sport, not-for-profit organisations, charities and fund-raising events. Photo: Supplied.

Is there too much red tape involved in volunteering? Are people too time poor to help others? Is the younger generation unwilling to volunteer? From my experience, the answers are no, no and no!

With a fortnight of massive bushfires burning throughout the region, there will no doubt be a surge in enquires from people wanting to help out as volunteer bushfire fighters.

It apparently happens every time there is a significant event such as the fires we are witnessing throughout NSW and Queensland.

But the question needs to be asked: why does it take an emergency to prompt people into volunteering?

It is not just in the volunteer bushfire fighting ranks. I’ve witnessed the same phenomenon across the charities that I’ve been involved with over the years. It happens in cycles.

Some individuals are drawn to volunteerism because it has always been a part of their life. Often, retirees find they can dedicate their time and energy to help out with a community group or a charity.

People can feel unsure about the process of volunteering and this can block involvement. It often requires some homework, paperwork and signing up for a Working with Vulnerable People card, but as most volunteers will tell you, the effort is worth it.

Time and money can preclude many.

When you’re paying a mortgage and need to spend time with the kids, it’s difficult to find the time, let alone the energy to give to others. So for some, maybe just one or two voluntary events and activities a year with the family helping out as well, will do.

There are also plenty of opportunities for parents with young families to volunteer. Sporting clubs are always desperate for coaches, managers, committee members, officials, linespeople and canteen staff.

Sport thrives on the willingness of parents and community members to ensure children have a positive experience when it comes to sport.

But I’ve decided to write about volunteerism because a number of young people have approached me recently about volunteering. And not around sport, either. They’re keen to help the disadvantaged in Canberra. Some aren’t old enough to take on roles, but others have stepped up and are thriving. It’s hard to describe the fulfilment associated with helping others but these younger Canberrans really do understand it.

It is possibly one of the greatest levellers a person can engage in. Small things in life disappear into insignificance: wi-fi down, 20-year-old daughter still asleep at 11:00 am after coming home at a ridiculous hour of the morning, the kitchen’s untidy, where is that phone charger? Life little trials become trivial.

I’ve spoken at a number of Canberra schools and other functions this year about the benefits of volunteering. Following one talk at Daramalan College, Ronald McDonald House Canberra was deluged with requests from the students to cook meals for families using RMHC facilities.

RMHC contacted Daramalan College to find out the reason for the surge in interest. The interest was always there, it just needed a prod.

Kids are often viewed collectively as selfish and self-centred. We’ve all seen it: heads down looking into the glow of their phone, or that pout as they pose for another selfie. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t have time for others.

In my experience, all that is required is a bit of steering in a direction where they can see they can help.

Once there, the benefits are enormous.


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46 Responses to Is there a reluctance among many in Canberra to volunteer?
Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:03 am 23 Jan 20

I volunteer, although as I also go travelling now at times, these days it is only in between that. I thought of volunteering for another organisation as well, but I had to get references, and being retired this is not so easy now. I could probably get a reference from where I have volunteered now for over ten years, but I needed more than one reference. Yes, I could get 'anyone' to write a reference, but 'who' are they when I pass my reference on.

Blake Thatsitukno Blake Thatsitukno 10:45 am 16 Dec 19

Half of us can barely afford to drive let alone volunteer.

Benjamin Rose Benjamin Rose 3:15 pm 14 Dec 19

Time poor and financially restricted.

Jill Tarrant Jill Tarrant 7:01 am 14 Dec 19

Volunteering is what makes a community. We have been looking for a place to retire in that process we look at what there is in volunteer groups as it shows what kind of town it is.

John Hynes John Hynes 10:14 pm 12 Dec 19

So many sport volunteers are hounded out by do nothing knowall parents.

dustytrail dustytrail 6:08 pm 12 Dec 19

I am too old and too sick to volunteer now but I did so when I was young, in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. I was a Girl Guide and volunteered to be a “leader” in Melbourne and Canberra (many decades apart). In Sydney I volunteered to visit Nursing Homes. That was one of the saddest things I have ever done. Old people being neglected by their family. I didn’t last long.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:21 am 23 Jan 20

    Those who oppose assisted death should spend some time in a nursing home witnessing what dustytrail has seen. The children of these forgotten souls are too busy exchanging nothings on social media to worry about what is happening to their parents.

Helen Goddard Helen Goddard 1:24 pm 12 Dec 19

I spent time with CFA (Vic). We went through a phase where we found lots of folk would sign up as volunteers … which was great and they went through the training process … also great. Notwithstanding the efforts (and associated) costs to train folk, they’d then go down the road (so to speak) and join the SES and see what they had to offer. So they weren’t there for a long time, they were there for a good time – not lost to the volunteer sector, but lost to an organisation. Not sure whether it’s still the same, but if there was just one organisation it would be better — there should be no “competition” as they’re all striving for the same outcome.

    stevew77 stevew77 2:45 pm 03 Jan 20

    I’d like to volunteer, however to be honest, due to the nature of my job makes it difficult to just drop it and go. The problem I face isnt not wanting to volunteer, but making sure I can actually pony up when needed. If I cant do that, its unfair on the organization to join up.

Phil Ebbott Phil Ebbott 10:42 am 12 Dec 19

I volunteer for a very large organisation. The training alone is daunting.

liberalsocialist liberalsocialist 6:26 am 12 Dec 19

Ha! To all the people who sit back and type comments on how the younger people aren’t doing anything here – it’s apparent that you yourself don’t volunteer. Having spend many, many years in the SES (since Thredbo landslide) I would suggest it’s primarily school leavers and university students, led by a smaller number of people who have since gone into understanding business/ workplace. Then there are the ‘old salts’ who’s information and advice is invaluable – but in my unit at least, half the people who head out in the trucks are 25 or under. I’m well past that stage now – but the number of energetic young people who rock up week in/ week out is fantastic.

Lyndon Taylor Lyndon Taylor 6:06 am 12 Dec 19

Unfortunately people don't volunteer because they expect to be rewarded, probably the same people that expect to get a trophy for participating in sport.

    Michael Knighton Michael Knighton 9:00 am 12 Dec 19

    I think there is two sides to it.. 1. we are creating a culture of expecting to be rewarded for everything without getting your hands dirty.

    2. The lack of appreciation for the people who actually do volunteer (especially in kids sports) it's no wonder people become reluctant

Jill Brown Jill Brown 8:14 pm 11 Dec 19

The only part of the population who have the time dont have the inclination.

Ed N Joanne Towner Ed N Joanne Towner 5:03 pm 11 Dec 19

I have found volunteering ACT to be a good way to get into volunter roles.. Ed

Suzanne Milne Suzanne Milne 4:42 pm 11 Dec 19

once this present generation becomes too old to carry on, so many organisations that are now household names here in Australia will cease to exist. We have been caring for the Australian wildlife for ages volunteers say they are interested but where are they? .

Maria Greene Maria Greene 12:02 pm 11 Dec 19

How many working with whoever certificates can you be required to have ? State based different vulnerabilities. It drives me mad

Spiral Spiral 11:51 am 11 Dec 19

One of the challenges facing many volunteer organisations is how to attract people from different ethnic backgrounds.

Having spent many years as a volunteer for several organisations, especially school P&Cs it is very common to attend meetings where the vast majority of volunteers are from an Anglo Saxon type background.

The photo in this article seems to suggest the SES may have a similar issue.

    bikhet bikhet 5:49 pm 11 Dec 19

    Good point Spiral, and it’s something I’ve noticed. The volunteers in most organisations does not match the ethnic make-up of Australia and that’s a problem now and will may become bigger in the future.

Natalie Porter Natalie Porter 10:33 am 11 Dec 19

I'm 26 and a mother of 4. I have been a volunteer for almost 5yrs. I also did small amounts in my teen years as well. I found it very hard finding volunteer work as a young person. I found a lot treated me like I knew nothing. I might have not done so well in school but didn't mean I was incapable. But in saying this a lot of young people are working multiple jobs just to make ends meet so time is a big issue

    Fiona Atkins Fiona Atkins 7:41 pm 11 Dec 19

    Natalie Ferris my advice to you, is if you really wish to help by volunteering, try not to be disheartened by the ridiculous politics of some organisations...plug away until you find the right fit for you

    Natalie Porter Natalie Porter 8:15 pm 11 Dec 19

    Oh I did, I found a lovely one while still living in Canberra and now one in North nsw. I find smaller ones that don't get much support are the best

Sharee Schultz Sharee Schultz 10:31 am 11 Dec 19

As a person who volunteers for numerous organisations, I find a number of issues:

1. You are not always appreciated for your efforts

2. Not enough volunteers for the workload & then you are obligated to take on a part time unpaid job

3. Some people want the title, but do not want to do the work that goes with the title

    Fiona Atkins Fiona Atkins 7:37 pm 11 Dec 19

    Sharee Schultz 100% agree

    Suzanne Milne Suzanne Milne 8:12 pm 11 Dec 19

    so you volunteer to be appreciated, then no wonder you don't enjoy it, most of us do it because we want to help others...

    Sharee Schultz Sharee Schultz 9:57 pm 11 Dec 19

    Suzanne Milne I volunteer as I am a helpful community person, however everyone should be appreciated in some form for their efforts!

    Lynn Nerdal Lynn Nerdal 7:35 am 23 Jan 20

    Sharee Schultz I have volunteered ever since I stopped paid employment when I had my children almost forty years ago now. I think the organisations with the best retention rates of volunteers are those who truly appreciate the vital role volunteers play and make that very clear to the volunteers.

    I have volunteered in many different roles from breastfeeding counselling and birth support to court support for victims of crime and taking lonely elderly folk out for lunch and helping at the local food bank. I currently volunteer for a huge organisation well known in the community. I feel valued, appreciated and respected in that role, and the training was comprehensive and thorough. The oldest volunteer I work with is 88 and has been in the role for decades. I guess that is the true testimony to how much she loves her role!

    Volunteers who are taken for granted and overworked will not stay long!

    Lynn Nerdal Lynn Nerdal 7:47 am 23 Jan 20

    Suzanne Milne Sharee certainly did not say that!

    The reason people volunteer is different for each one of us. We might have spare time, a passion for helping in a certain area, a family connection to a certain organisation, or simply a desire to make a difference and do something meaningful with our time.

    Wanting to help others sounds very noble, but it is way more complex than that. Many of us have skills and life experience that make us an asset to any organisation that needs us.

    Whatever the reason people volunteer, one thing is universal. Everyone needs to be respected, appreciated and validated for the work they do. Without that it becomes a chore and people move on elsewhere.

    Sharee Schultz Sharee Schultz 7:51 am 23 Jan 20

    Lynn Nerdal thanks Lynn.

    That is exactly what I meant 😉

bikhet bikhet 9:50 am 11 Dec 19

Yes, and it’s not just Canberra. From my experience talking to volunteer organisations at the local, State and Federal level the responses to the initial three questions are “no, yes and yes” rather than “no, no and no” and these questions don’t cover it by any means.

I agree with the point about organisations needing to be welcoming of potential volunteers, but there seems to be a decline in numbers coming through the door, not just of those continuing their involvement.

I wish I had answers to this problem.

Michael McDonald Michael McDonald 9:31 am 11 Dec 19

Well, if we are to believe our prime ministers, volunteer fire fighters WANT to be out there risking their lives, without sufficient government support . Its not a matter of simple human decency or necessity, its desire.

    Fiona Atkins Fiona Atkins 7:33 pm 11 Dec 19

    Michael McDonald those volunteers do do it from the desire to help

    Michael McDonald Michael McDonald 8:00 pm 11 Dec 19

    To help others. Not to risk their lives. Different.

    Brent Hutch Brent Hutch 10:53 am 12 Dec 19

    I'd suggest most volunteer fire fighters understand there are real risks in choosing that line of volunteering. That is what makes them particularly special and inspiring.

    Michael McDonald Michael McDonald 10:55 am 12 Dec 19

    Yes, but they aren't volunteering BECAUSE of that. They're volunteering to save peoples lives, property and otherwise just be good human beings. They aren't volunteering because they want to be away from their families risking their lives. Which is my point.

    Brent Hutch Brent Hutch 3:49 pm 12 Dec 19

    I can't be certain why other people volunteer, because people do it for many different reasons. While I agree that no fire fighter wants to risk their life, you actually can't separate their motivation from the reality of the risk.

    Anura Samara Anura Samara 4:49 pm 12 Dec 19

    Michael McDonald I can’t comment on everyone else’s motivations, but as a volunteer firefighter it’s definitely about the desire to help the community in a role that I know not everyone can do. While my family and I understand the risks and I accept them willingly, as well as the impact of days away from home, my preference is that we are an insurance policy that never has to be used.

    Michael McDonald Michael McDonald 3:58 pm 13 Dec 19

    Anura Samara and for that, i thank you.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:25 am 11 Dec 19

The “pecking order” in some volunteer organisations appears to be worse that in the public service so if you are considered to be “a threat” you will be treated accordingly.

    Gilavon Gilavon 8:29 pm 11 Dec 19

    Yes, I volunteered for a particular organisation where the “President” was an ex Government Servant nabob. He treated the organisation and the other volunteers as if he were still Head of Branch/Head of Division/Senior Executive Service. Must have missed out on the Public Service Medal or other gong, this was his last chance to score an AO. Quite a suffocating and controlled atmosphere, I didn’t stay long.

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