New research around finding and keeping volunteers

Helen Henry, 8th April 2016

The latest research into the volunteering sector in Australia has found that there are some key challenges that affect volunteering management.

These include resourcing for volunteer-involving organisations, volunteering recruitment and matching people to volunteer opportunities, and conditions for volunteers.

With the positive impact of volunteers on organisations and volunteering efforts on those giving their time well documented (see below for some key stats), it is important that organisations look at how to manage challenges and plan for effective volunteer management in the future. The research report, which comes from Volunteering Australia, offers some insights to guide volunteering organisations on these matters, shared below:

Resourcing for volunteer-involving organisations impacts volunteer recruitment

Volunteer-involving organisations generally lack resources, both human and financial, and this can inhibit their ability to recruit and retain volunteers.

Specifically, to:

  • Recognise and support their existing volunteer base (including having enough volunteers on board);
  • Engage volunteers "with barriers" (e.g. people with a disability, people with language barriers); and
  • Engage with corporates through Employee Volunteering Programs.

Organisations have issues with locating suitable candidates (such as those that might be found through employee volunteering programs) and limited time and funds to manage existing and additional volunteers. With regards to "volunteers with barriers", almost half of responding organisations were unable to engage volunteers with barriers. Reasons for this were most commonly stemming from organisations not having the requisite resources.

More resources are needed to enhance the capacity of volunteer-involving organisations in these areas and that greater funding would support volunteer-involving organisations and volunteer recognition programs. 

Resourcing could also assist organisations to respond more quickly to enquiries from interested volunteers (which has a significant impact on volunteer recruitment. See Key Finding 6 in the report). In the meantime, volunteer-involving organisations need to try and ensure a timely response to volunteer expressions of interest. 

Matching people to volunteer opportunities

There is a disconnect between what volunteers are interested in and the opportunities available. This includes both the sectors that volunteers are interested in (vs the sectors with the most positions advertised) and the roles they're seeking (vs what organisations are offering). 

Regarding the sector-level interest, this means that the sectors volunteer would like to volunteer for end up oversubscribed, whereas the sectors that have the greatest shortages of volunteers are undersubscribed. To improve this balance, the report recommends that volunteering bodies and organisations themselves should support the development and delivery of targeted marketing and recruitment campaigns for undersubscribed sectors. 

To address the issue of volunteer roles themselves, organisations should review whether they are missing opportunities to make effective and efficient use of volunteer time by just bringing volunteers on as manpower rather than developing volunteer roles to suit individual skills and experience. 

Attracting (or not deterring) volunteers

People can be deterred from volunteering because of lack of flexibility, personal expenses incurred, lack of reimbursement for out of pocket expenses, and burdensome administrative requirements. The biggest barrier to people volunteering into the future is work commitments and out of pocket expenses being overbearing.

To address this, volunteering peak bodies and volunteer-involving organisations further advocate for red tape reductions to reduce administrative burdens on volunteers. Within organisations, exploring virtual volunteering (e.g. online) to accommodate flexibility needs and minimise additional costs to volunteers, as well as complying with the National Standards for Volunteer Involvement with regards to reimbursement of out of pocket expenses, is recommended.

Going online to support recruitment and volunteering in the future

Online methods of recruitment and volunteering could complement the needs of future volunteers. There is a call for volunteer-involving organisations to adapt to technological change to benefit volunteer recruitment and virtual volunteering. This could also go some way to addressing the misalignment in the types of roles people are looking for and the roles organisations are offering. 

To achieve this, organisations must be supported with information and training to assist with workforce planning, including adapting volunteer roles, as well as technological platforms to use for volunteer recruitment and flexible volunteering roles. 

Key statistics on the positive impact of volunteering

The positive impact of volunteering:

  • 99% of volunteers would continue to volunteer in the future.
  • 93% of volunteers saw positive changes as a result of their volunteering efforts, including feeling appreciated by their community, and improving the wellbeing of others and their own sense of place in the world.
  • 60% of volunteers improved their patience skills through volunteering.

Benefits for organisations:

  • 67% of volunteer-involving organisations stated that volunteers brought new insights into their organisation.
  • 64% believe that engaging volunteers has improved the effectiveness of their operations.

About the research

These insights and statistics come from Volunteering Australia's 2016 State Of Volunteering report. The report details trends, demographics, challenges and successes in the volunteering sector in Australia.

The research aims to answer many questions relevant to organisations that involve volunteers in their operation. This includes:

  • Are the current volunteer engagement and management practices appropriate for the future?
  • Is there alignment between the types of roles volunteers want to undertake, the sectors they are interested in volunteering in, and the needs of volunteer involving organisations?
  • What is the appropriate framework to support informal volunteering?
  • What are the necessary steps that need to be taken to future proof volunteering?

Read the full report. 

Check out the National Standards for Volunteer Involvement.

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Giving Australia 2016 reports that volunteering time and hours have both increased in the past decade.


Participatory research design appears as an attractive option in the study of community media organisations. It puts the generation of the research question, the design of data collection methods, and the analysis of the results in the hands of the researched. This approach can demystify the research process and can be an empowering experience. But, as I found out with my doctoral research, the researcher needs to carefully assess an organisation’s capacity to undertake do-it-yourself research, because, when things go wrong, this approach can also reveal conflicts within an organisation, as well as give rise to tension resulting from the divergent needs of the researcher and those of the researched. This paper describes the troubles that arose during fieldwork conducted at a community radio station, how these unexpected events forced a reformulation of the research question, and how this eventually led to an improved theoretical insight.


A community radio pilot scheme was run in the UK during 2002 and the pilot stations have been allowed to continue operating pending the first full licensing process, which took place in 2005 and 2006.

This paper is the first report of a study conducted in the summer of 2005. The study examined a sample of new UK community radio stations and compared these with a sample of established Australian stations, which parallels the UK group, for example urban stations, communities of interest and geographic communities. Community radio is well established in Australia and serves wide and diverse audiences. The study of these stations will help give a ‘vocabulary’ of terms with which to examine UK stations and also give indicators as to good practice and measurements of success.