Reshaping how we think about volunteering

Covid-19 has put a spotlight on the voluntary sector. It highlighted the sector’s vital contribution to unity, kindness and the wellbeing of New Zealanders. It mobilised younger people to fill in when vulnerable volunteers had to stand down. It saw whānau and friends uniting behind things that mattered most to them.

Prior to Covid-19 it was clear before lockdown that we needed to reshape the way we think about volunteering.

This is not news to those representing the volunteer sector. In a pre-lockdown State of Volunteering survey of the volunteer sector, 35.8% of organisations expressed concern over an ageing volunteer workforce. And 36.6% stated a lack of volunteers to be their biggest challenge before lockdown.

The number of people who volunteered at a community organisation in 2018 was 1,008,000. The is a significant decrease from the previous report, however, with 2013’s figures indicating 1,229,054 volunteers.

Volunteering New Zealand’s State of Volunteering Report 2020 presents a snapshot of the state of volunteering in Aotearoa New Zealand at a critical point in the nation’s history—just prior to the Level 4 lockdown being imposed as the Covid-19 pandemic hit our shores. The report is supported by quantitative data from official sources, as well as responses received from the State of Volunteering online survey.

This research includes both the voices and opinions of both volunteers and volunteer involving organisations. Volunteering New Zealand hopes that this report can further assist the sector in promoting inclusive, impactful and meaningful volunteering which fosters community connections.

State of Volunteering

Report 2020

Key themes and findings

Four key themes are evident from the results of our survey and from Volunteering New Zealand’s broader work.

Theme 1: Community, diversity, inclusion

The workforce of many volunteer organisations does not currently reflect fully the diversity of Aotearoa New Zealand, with Pākehā and European comprising the majority of volunteers. An ageing volunteer workforce is noted as a concern by 35.8% of respondents, with a lack of younger volunteers also cited by many. Over 60% of organisations report having a diversity and inclusion strategy of some sort in place.

Theme 2: Engaging and recognising volunteers

Recruiting and retaining volunteers continues to pose a challenge to many organisations. A lack of volunteers is reported by 36.6% of organisations as their single biggest challenge. Recognition of volunteer commitment remains inconsistent, with some organisations acknowledging their volunteers in novel and meaningful ways, while many do not have formal avenues of doing so. Reimbursing volunteers for out-of-pocket expenses is variable, with only 32.6% of organisations doing so consistently.

Volunteers report increasing preference for episodic, project-based volunteering. Competing vocational, social, educational and caring commitments were cited as the biggest barriers to volunteering. Developing skills, connecting with, and helping the community are cited as the biggest motivations for volunteering. A notable 82.3% of respondents intend to continue with their current volunteering role long term.

Despite the increasing reliance on technology, word of mouth remains the most popular way for volunteers to hear about volunteering opportunities across all age cohorts. This is how 46.6% of volunteers heard about their current volunteering role.

Theme 3: Funding, administration, regulatory compliance

Both volunteers and organisations cite the increasing burden of administrative and regulatory compliance, especially those related to children, vulnerable people, and health and safety legislation.

Organisations report the challenge of raising funding, as well as competition for the same funding pool. Smaller organisations in particular note the increasing burden and time required for writing grant applications, as well as going up against larger, more established organisations.

Theme 4: Management and strategy

The importance of sector leadership, strategy advice, and reliable statistics is frequently highlighted.

Conflicting information about the impact and nature of the volunteering climate in Aotearoa New Zealand is mentioned by several respondents.

The difficulty in accessing reliable and up-to-date statistics and reputable strategy resources is raised several times by both volunteers and organisations.

Many volunteers note difficulties resulting from management structures and styles—a difficulty exacerbated by a volunteering operating environment that is often resource and time poor.

Michelle KitneyIt’s now time to back up our existing volunteer base. Let’s not leave it up to those who we think happen to have the time. And let’s not leave it up to chance. This is our moment to re-think, re-prioritise, revive the kindness we know is already in us and unite with our whānau, friends and workmatesGroup volunteering will contribute to strengthening our communities to meet challenges (both big and small), to remain connected, to get well, stay well, and to answer the call to unite and be kind.” 

– Michelle Kitney, CE at Volunteering New Zealand.