Australia’s National Strategy for Volunteering turns one

Posted on 13 Feb 2024

By Mark Pearce

Lismore volunteers

The National Strategy for Volunteering has achieved a lot in its first year, but there is still much more work ahead, says Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce.

This week marks one year since the launch of Australia’s National Strategy for Volunteering.

Built through a 12-month co-design process, the National Strategy charts a 10-year roadmap for volunteering in Australia.

The National Strategy for Volunteering project was unique: funded by the Department of Social Services, led by Volunteering Australia, and designed by the volunteering ecosystem. This partnership approach proved that collaboration, built on a foundation of trust and transparency, delivers real outcomes.

The National Strategy for Volunteering was designed at a complex time.

The COVID-19 pandemic rocked volunteering to its core. Between lockdowns and vaccination rollouts, the demand for services delivered by volunteer involving organisations skyrocketed while volunteers were excluded from many workplaces.

At the height of the pandemic, the rate of formal volunteering plummeted to record lows.

Despite this, communities were mobilising to ensure their neighbours had access to essential goods and services. During a time of unprecedented challenge, volunteers and the organisations that involve them stepped up to fill critical gaps.

This context provided a vexing challenge for the National Strategy project: demand was outstripping supply while the fundamental issues facing the sustainability of volunteering in Australia remained unaddressed.

Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce launches the National Volunteering Strategy in 2023.

In 2022, the National Strategy for Volunteering became a beacon of hope.

Throughout the co-design process the project benefited from the breadth and depth of expertise of thousands of people and organisations.

To further enhance the credibility of the project consultations were coupled with a comprehensive research agenda involving a nationally representative survey and substantial research evidence on an array of topics relevant to volunteering.

The National Strategy for Volunteering was launched at the 2023 National Volunteering Conference.

It contains a vision, underpinned by five vision statements, three focus areas and aims, and 11 strategic objectives.

Structuring the National Strategy in this way recognises the three pillars of volunteering:

  • People
  • Impact
  • Infrastructure.

Each of the strategic objectives is accompanied by a case for change, which summarises the qualitative and quantitative data obtained through the co-design process and sourced from other materials.

Ensuring each aspect of the National Strategy was evidence-based was critical to demonstrating not just the robustness of its development, but why the 11 strategic objectives were identified as the most significant.

Since its launch, the National Strategy for Volunteering has been in its first-year establishment phase, the purpose of which is to set it up for success over its 10-year lifespan.

Work has been underway on four key deliverables:

  • co-design of a three-year action plan
  • development of a monitoring and evaluation framework
  • development of a governance blueprint
  • development of a model for shared accountability
NVC2023 Day One 296
The launch of the National Strategy at the 2023 National Volunteering Conference.
"At a time of extreme global unrest and in the face of a looming climate disaster, volunteering remains one of the most effective and accessible ways we can create a future we can be proud of."

There has been enthusiastic support for the National Strategy across Australia.

The State and Territory Volunteering Peak Bodies, volunteer organisations of all sizes and from all sectors, and various government departments have been supporting the National Strategy in various ways.

The National Strategy was designed so that anyone could take action to implement it in their own organisation, community group, business, or government department.

Over the past year stakeholders have aligned their own strategic plans with the National Strategy, using it to secure funding and investment, and to strengthen their own volunteering programs.

Regular online events have captured and promoted these case studies to empower others to consider how they can implement the National Strategy in their own organisations and communities.

The past year has also seen a number of related activities:

  • appointing and hosting the first meeting of the new National Strategy for Volunteering Council.
  • refreshing the Research Working Group, which will continue to advance the national volunteering research agenda.
  • appointing an establishment design team that will consolidate consultation findings and other ideas into the draft action plan.
  • presenting the National Strategy for Volunteering at conferences and events around Australia.
  • promoting the National Strategy internationally, helping colleagues across the world learn from the project methodology as they embark on their own volunteering strategy projects.
  • advancing the National Strategy through policy and advocacy initiatives, including key national reform agendas such as the Australian Government’s not-for-profit sector development blueprint, work being undertaken to build a stronger, more diverse and independent community sector, and the Productivity Commission's Inquiry into Philanthropy.
Group shot on bench cropped
Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce with volunteer change makers promoting National Volunteer Week 2023.

The National Strategy for Volunteering will be delivered through a series of three-year action plans, with the first to commence in 2024.

Volunteering Australia is delighted to announce that consultations for the first action plan will begin later this month. These consultations will build on the work undertaken in 2022, which captured hundreds of ideas to advance volunteering. To have your say visit the National Strategy website.

Volunteering has always been a part of the Australian way of life, but it cannot be taken for granted and the future of volunteering in Australia is not assured.

The National Strategy for Volunteering is a shared agenda for change. Achieving its vision to make volunteering the heart of Australian communities will require a concerted effort.

It will require comprehensive investment from across the volunteering ecosystem, including governments, businesses, organisations, volunteers, and communities.

We must collectively acknowledge that time has run out and we must all commit to addressing the sustainability crisis facing volunteering in our country.

As we celebrate the National Strategy’s first anniversary, it is time for each of us to consider our role in its implementation. We all benefit from volunteering, which means we are all responsible for its future.

The National Strategy for Volunteering is anchored in the realities of today with a vision for 2033.

At a time of extreme global unrest and in the face of a looming climate disaster, volunteering remains one of the most effective and accessible ways we can create a future we can be proud of.

Volunteering doesn’t just happen, however. It requires ongoing strategic investment.

The National Strategy for Volunteering is our map – it is up to us to navigate the journey to 2033 together.

Mark Pearce is the CEO of Volunteering Australia.

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