About Volunteering

Definition & Principles of Volunteering

Definition of Formal Volunteering

Formal volunteering is an activity which takes place through not-for-profit organisations or projects and is undertaken:

  • To be of benefit to the community and the volunteer.
  • Of the volunteer’s own free will and without coercion.
  • For no financial payment.
  • In designated volunteer positions only.

Principles of Volunteering

  • Volunteering benefits the community and the volunteer.
  • Volunteer work is unpaid.
  • Volunteering is always a matter of choice.
  • Volunteering is not compulsorily undertaken to receive pensions or government allowances.
  • Volunteering is a legitimate way in which citizens can participate in the activities of their community.
  • Volunteering is a vehicle for individuals or groups to address human, environmental and social needs.
  • Volunteering is an activity performed in the not-for-profit sector only.
  • Volunteering is not a substitute for paid work.
  • Volunteers do not replace paid workers nor constitute a threat to the job security of paid workers.
  • Volunteering respects the rights, dignity and culture of others.
  • Volunteering protects human rights and equality.

Who Volunteers?

Volunteers are people who choose to share their time, skills and energies with the community for no monetary reward.

They come from a variety of backgrounds, and collectively, have a vast array of skills. Volunteers with special needs are given the opportunity to participate in community life. Volunteers supplement but in no way compete with the work of paid people. Society could not function effectively without volunteer effort.

Volunteering North Queensland Inc. has grown from an organisation assisting 52 organisations in 1995 to 150 organisations in 2003 with a bank of around 3000 volunteers now assisting in the local community. According to the 2000 ABS study, over 31% of the population now volunteer annually in Australia. Volunteering effort contributes significantly to our GDP with an estimated contribution of 2.2 million hours valued at around $42 billion per annum (Ironmonger, 2001).


Volunteers Work in Not-for-Profit Organisations & Services

This includes organisations such as public hospitals and schools, charities, cultural organisations, activist and self-help groups.

The profit sector, e.g. banks, retail outlets, restaurants, manufacturers, is set up to make profits and must pay their workers otherwise it is exploitation of labour.

Some for-profit organisations provide support to not-for-profit organisations through ‘corporate volunteering’ e.g. auditing the books, or arranging for their employees to renovate a day respite center’s activity room.


Benefiting the Community

In some way, small or large, directly or indirectly the outcome of any work in the not-for-profit sector has an altruistic quality of benefiting the community.


Illegal activities, although freely chosen, not paid for, and believed by those involved to benefit the community are excluded from the definition of volunteering.


Revolutionary and planned violence is not volunteering!

Many services would, without question, be seen of benefit to the community, e.g. assisting a person who has a disability, umpiring the local netball team. However, would you regard the secretary of a blatantly discriminatory organisation to be of benefit to the community? Can acts of terrorism be regarded of benefit to the community?

In deciding what is, and what is not, ‘of benefit to the community’ Sidoti (1998, p7) gives us a measuring tool:

‘Organisations that support, promote and coordinate volunteer activity are challenged to ensure through their leadership and educational roles that volunteer effort promotes human rights and positive social change, not the violation of rights.’


Free Choice

Volunteer work is freely chosen by the volunteer. Volunteers exist outside the framework of formal organisations, form ad hoc groups to promote a cause or provide mutual assistance and provide regular neighborly support to individuals in need of assistance – commonly known as ‘informal volunteering’.


What is not Volunteering?

  • Unpaid work – e.g. parenting, housework and house maintenance work, as well as work performed by unpaid carers. People are not always choosing freely to perform these tasks, and therefore it is described as unpaid work.
  • Work experience – arranged by educational institutions and the student must obtain specific outcomes as a condition of completing a course of study. However, volunteering can offer experience of work, increased skills and confidence for the volunteer.
  • Community work in order to obtain social security benefits – however making this an option would, if taken up, be regarded as volunteering.
  • Community services – ordered by a court.

Without Financial Payment

Volunteer work is never paid. Out of pocket expenses, such as travel costs & lunch allowances, may be reimbursed. Once a salary or honorarium is offered, the work ceases to be voluntary.


Sometimes people believe that volunteer work directly leads to paid employment. This is rarely true and should never be the sole motivation for volunteering. The experience gained in the course of doing volunteer work would, however, be an advantage if a volunteer feels that he/she wishes to resume pursuit of a paid career.


Designated Volunteer Positions Only

Voluntary work should never jeopardize the paid work force and its conditions and awards. It should not usurp the positions of paid workers or replicate paid work. Volunteer motives vary, but depriving paid workers of an income is not one of them.


In some community organisations, the employment of a paid worker may be desirable, but lack of funding is the prohibiting factor. In such cases, volunteers may agree to carry out the work. However, as service demands increase and there is a chance that the service recipients would be seriously disadvantaged, all efforts should be made to obtain further funding to employ staff.


Volunteers have traditionally forged the way in calling for additional services involving the employment of paid workers, and they continue to raise funds to maintain paid workers’ employment. Any calls for volunteers to replace paid workers will not come from volunteers, but form funding bodies which have reduced funding, or from organisations which are anxious to reduce costs.


As a Volunter you have the Right to:

  • Information about the organization for which you are volunteering.
  • A clearly written job description.
  • Know to whom you are accountable.
  • Be recognised as a valued team member.
  • Be supported and supervised in your role.
  • A healthy and safe working environment.
  • Be covered by insurance.
  • Say “no” if you feel you are being exploited.
  • Be advised of the organization’s travel reimbursement policy.
  • Be informed and consulted on matters which directly or indirectly affect you and your work.
  • Be made aware of the grievance procedure within the organization.
  • Orientation and training.

As a Volunteer you have a Responsibility to:

  • Be reliable.
  • Respect confidentiality.
  • Carry out the job agreed to.
  • Be accountable.
  • Be committed to the organization.
  • Undertake training as requested.
  • Ask for support when you need it.
  • Give notice before you leave the organization.
  • Value and support other team members.
  • Carry out the work you have agreed to do in a responsible and ethical manner.
  • Value yourself and the work you do.

Benefits of Volunteering

The benefits often become the reasons people volunteer – or the ongoing motivation to volunteer. Here are some points to consider:

  • People enter at different points.
  • People often enter into volunteering at a time of change in their lives.
  • People may begin volunteering for one reason but continue for other reasons.
  • Volunteering is the longest career you can have.
  • Volunteering is an educational activity.
  • Job-seeking volunteers may intend to be short-term volunteers, but may stay longer.
  • Most long-term volunteers also have paid work.
  • Try not to focus only on skills if you are also looking for paid work.

No reasons to volunteer are ‘better’ than others, however it is important to realize the reasons you are looking for volunteer work.


Personal Benefits to Volunteering

  • Increased confidence.
  • Fulfills personal needs and goals.
  • A feeling of self worth.
  • Provide a sense of purpose, spurs motivation.
  • Social contact and relief of boredom.
  • Commitment to a cause.
  • Desire to help those in need and to assist others in the community.
  • A feeling of making worthwhile contributions.
  • To be active and involved in the community.
  • To promote the goals of the organisation.
  • To maintain skills and develop new ones.
  • Opportunities to meet people.

General Benefits to Volunteering

  • Opportunities for career advancement.
  • Involvement in a process affecting change.
  • Skills maintenance and development.
  • Networking opportunities.
  • Provide references/working experience.
  • New inclusions in resumes for paid employment.
  • Opportunities for new career experiences.
  • Develop language and literacy skills.
  • Sharing skills knowledge and experience with others.
  • Training opportunities.
  • New job search avenues. 

Benefits to Organisations from Including Volunteers

  • Expansion of work service.
  • Contribution of special talents.
  • Enthusiasm of fresh work force.
  • Keeping in touch with grassroots issues.
  • Creativity of those ‘not in the system’.
  • Representatives of different community views.
  • Being reminded of purpose in the community.

Organisation’s Responsibilities & Provision of Support

  • Time off must be allowed for job interviews, and success in obtaining paid employment celebrated even though the organisation is likely to lose a valuable staff member.
  • Acknowledge that the period of volunteer involvement may be short term.
  • Personal Support, encouragement and self-esteem building may be required, particularly for people who have been unemployed for a long period of time.
  • Acknowledgement of volunteer involvement through the provision of references, certificates of services etc. may be requested.
  • A clear understanding of the organisation’s stance on employing volunteers in a paid capacity if a paid position becomes available. This expectation should be covered in the organisation’s policy guideline alongside a clear structure for negotiating these expectations. For example, their policy may be to advertise each position publicly.
  • The organisation should arrange adequate insurance cover (e.g. public liability, personal accident, vehicle etc.).
  • Provide an orientation to make volunteers feel welcome and demonstrate the value placed in volunteers through the investment of time and information. This information session could cover the following topics:
    • Philosophy of the organisation
    • Information about services/programs/projects
    • Expectations of volunteers
    • Types of positions and role descriptions
    • Benefits of Volunteering
    • Education and training opportunities
    • Paid and volunteer staff positions

Work and Workers: Voluntary and Paid

Organisational management and paid staff involved in the many areas where volunteers work are now realising that they need to increase their awareness and competency in working collaboratively with volunteers, in order to achieve organisational goals.

Paid Workers

Attitudes and expectations will depend on the worker’s views on volunteering in general, and whether they believe volunteers in their organisation will present an opportunity or a threat.

The attitude towards volunteering by the board and senior management is likely to affect how paid workers view volunteers. For instance, if they are expected to supervise volunteers but are given no recognition for the extra time and skills involved, they will be unlikely to welcome volunteer involvement.

Paid workers who have confidence in their own abilities and display initiative in harnessing as many resources as possible, and in delegating responsibility, are more likely to feel comfortable working alongside volunteers than those who do not.

Responsibilities include:

  • Knowing the rationale behind the involvement of volunteers in the organisation, and their particular role in fulfilling organisational goals
  • Analyzing their own job and assessing if, and how, volunteers can assist in ways which will enhance/extend goal achievement
  • Ensuring that volunteers are neither used as lackeys or exploited
  • Being prepared to provide the necessary supervision and support to individual volunteers, and to support the volunteer program as a whole
  • Accepting volunteers as co-workers
  • Working closely with the volunteer program manager, making suggestions and reporting any concerns, and adhering to the boundaries which have been set in relation to the work volunteers can/should not do.


Attitudes to volunteering often depend initially on whether families and friends have been involved and the result of this involvement. Once involved, volunteers may change their attitude, depending on their experience. One bad experience may discourage a person from ever volunteering again.

The expectations of volunteers will vary considerably depending on their motivations. Volunteers will expect that their skills, time and past experiences are recognised and used to the maximum extent in providing worthwhile services. Working as a volunteer in an organisation can provide the sense of community, which has largely been lost these days where people may not know their neighbours.

All volunteers, whether serving in the short, medium or long-term, expect to work in a well-managed organisation, and to have their efforts recognized.

Responsibilities include:

  • Thinking through their motivations and expectations, and making these clear to the organisation
  • Acknowledging that the organisation has a right to expect them to work towards achieving the goals set and the practices laid down
  • Understanding job requirements and undertaking these in a responsible manner
  • Appreciating how their job fits in with overall organisational goals
  • Providing support to the organisation as a team member
  • Being reliable in terms of attendance, and giving notice if unable to attend; or to fulfill job requirements.
  • Taking an active part in planning and decision-making in areas of interest
  • Bringing to notice any area of concern/suggestions
  • Assessing their role from time to time, and making changes as desired or necessary
  • Recognizing themselves as colleagues with other volunteers who work across many areas, both within and outside organisations, and who together comprise a vast community resource.

Policy & Practice Guidelines – The volunteer/paid worker team

  • Volunteers and paid workers will, as a joint team, p[participate actively in meeting organisational goals, keeping in mind the need to involve those best suited to respond within a particular situation, at a particular time.
  • Strategies, structures and procedures will be instituted to:
    • -allow for a two-way flow of information and ideas
    • -ensure all staff members are provided with opportunities to participate in planning and decision-making processes
    • -provide adequate orientation, and where necessary, training to ensure all staff members are able to perform their duties in a satisfactory manner.
  • A climate of mutual trust, recognition and support for and between staff – paid and voluntary – and the board/committee of management, will be fostered at all times
  • Recruitment and selection criteria will be based on a clear match between job requirements and volunteer attributes and interests.
  • Appropriate orientation, training, development and resources in line with job requirements will be given.
  • Any plan to extend services through volunteer involvement will involve prior consultation and agreement by all parties.
  • The interests of both paid and volunteer staff will be monitored in an effort to ensure they receive satisfaction from their efforts, and to avoid exploitation or an inappropriate transfer of duties.
  • Volunteers will not be recruited until a needs assessment has been made of the tasks to be performed and the time, skills and experience required to perform those tasks
  • The different but complimentary roles, expectations and responsibilities of paid and voluntary staff will be clearly defined in job descriptions, and regularly reviewed.
  • The involvement of volunteers will not constitute a threat to the job security or work satisfaction of paid staff.
  • In the event of an industrial dispute, volunteers will not be expected to undertake work normally taken by paid staff, except by agreement between all parties involved – management, paid staff involved in the dispute and their representatives, and volunteers.
  • Paid staff involved with volunteers will be allowed sufficient time and given proper recognition and training to enable them adequately to carry out their responsibilities.

Accessing Employment & Training Opportunities

People who volunteer while seeking paid work will wish to:

  • Improve the likelihood of obtaining paid employment by gaining further experience, skills and contacts in a work setting.
  • Maintain self-confidence.
  • Maintain existing skills and develop new ones.
  • Develop new networks.
  • Open up new job search avenues.
  • Avoid boredom and enjoy life.
  • Expand social contacts.
  • Try out a vocation or enter a new area of work.

The fact that a person is out of work does not mean they lack qualifications or skills; some will be graduates, others will have years of experience behind them.


A client’s right to privacy is an area of concern for many people when considering volunteers working with clients or doing clerical work with information about clients. This matter should be approached with volunteers in the same manner as it is for paid staff. We recommend that volunteers sign a confidentiality form as part of their training. In many cases staff members sign a confidentiality statement, and the same form may be used for volunteers. The importance of the client’s right to privacy and what that entails, must be made clear to the volunteer from the beginning.

A volunteer may have to see portions of a file to effectively perform the job and to learn pertinent facts about a client with whom he or she is working. This function should be done with the approval of the supervisor. Trained volunteers function as effectively as trained staff, so the policies on confidentiality is stressed from orientation on, there should be no problem.

The staff of Volunteering North Queensland Inc. are required to sign a confidentiality statement regarding the personal information given to us by volunteers with the provision that we are allowed to pass on such information as is necessary for successful volunteer placement, to the organisation involved. The information to be passed on will be discussed with the volunteer concerned prior to placement.


Insurance for Volunteers

It is an organisation’s responsibility to ensure that appropriate insurance cover is provided for volunteer staff. It is the role of the manager of the volunteer program to alert agency management if the insurance cover is known to be inadequate for volunteers and to review volunteer insurance regularly.

Volunteers are not separate for other components of an organisation. Therefore, it needs to be recognised that insurance cover for volunteers should form an integral part of the agency’s overall insurance package and should be planned for and negotiated in this way.

A first requirement in considering insurance is to understand the various types of cover. General cover for the organisation could include public liability and building and contents cover. Cover for volunteers could include volunteers’ personal accident, indemnity for board members and indemnity for professionals when acting in a voluntary professional capacity.


Why do People Volunteer?

Most volunteers will tell you that they get as much out of volunteering as they give. They say they are motivated to do the work because they:

  • Participate in their community
  • Have fun
  • Stay active
  • Meet People
  • Learn new skills
  • Support a cause they believe in
  • Maintain existing skills
  • Bring about social change
  • Get out of the house
  • Are needed
  • Build confidence
  • Gain work experience
  • Are of service
  • Explore different career areas
  • Pursue a hobby or special interest

Becoming a Volunteer

Remember when you start working in a volunteer program, you are there as a valued team member. Whatever your skills or experience, they are of use to the organisation. At the very least, you should expect a safe working environment, training to enable you to perform your job, and ongoing support.

If something goes wrong with your placement, deal with it promptly, talk it through with your supervisor, or use the organisation’s grievance procedure.

An organisation that values its staff will ensure that volunteers gain as much as they give.


National Volunteer Events

National Volunteer Week Overview

Many community activities survive only through the dedicated efforts of volunteers. National Volunteer Week is a time to promote, recognise and celebrate the efforts of volunteers and the organisations that involve volunteers. National Volunteer Week provides a great opportunity to involve the media, politicians, the corporate and general public in emphasizing the efforts and contributions made by volunteers to the community.


National Volunteer Week celebrates volunteering in Australia and was initiated by Volunteering Australia, which is the national peak body for the States and Territory Volunteer Centers.


The first National Volunteer Week in Australia was in 1988.

Since that time, community organisations throughout Australia have taken advantage of National Volunteer Week to acknowledge the tremendous contribution volunteers make to their organisations, as well as draw attention to the need for volunteers to provide the services of their organisations to their communities.


During National Volunteer Week, community organisations hold a variety of volunteer recognition events, such as – dinners, lunches, certificate ceremonies and awards.


National Volunteer Week is held the week following the second Sunday in every May, which is Mother’s Day.


International Volunteers Day: 5 December Each Year

In 1985, the United Nations General Assembly designated 5 December for an annual celebration by communities, peoples and governments of all that is achieved by voluntary effort – by volunteers – around the world. International Volunteer Day (IVD) is already marked in more than half the countries of the globe.


IVD is for volunteers of every kind, everywhere. Whether you offer your talents to improve facilities where you live, your donations to a charity, your friendship and counsel to those ill or in difficulties, or your time for technical cooperation in developing countries, IVD is for you.


The United Nations Volunteer program acts as international focal point for IVD and can supply some basic promotional material directly or through a national source. Reports come in each year of a tremendous variety of events.


The Economic Value of Volunteering in Queensland
A Report

This report by Associate Professor Dr Duncan Ironmonger of the University of Melbourne, was commissioned by the Department of Communities and measures the economic contributions of formal (through an organisation) and informal (outside of an organisation) volunteers throughout Queensland.


The author, Dr Ironmonger, is an internationally acclaimed economist who has undertaken economic analysis of volunteering nationally and for both the Victorian and South Australian state governments.

The report is available from the Department of Communities website.

The Department of Communities