7 May, 2024

Time too pressing as our volunteer numbers dwindle

Over multiple months, many organisations across Moreton Bay and Somerset have put out pleas for more volunteers.

Caboolture Warplane Museum’s volunteers (left to right): Jeff, Peter, Tom and Phil.
Caboolture Warplane Museum’s volunteers (left to right): Jeff, Peter, Tom and Phil.

From the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) and rural brigades, Lions Clubs across the region, animal rescues, council run facilities, show day events… the list goes on and on.

A new report by Queensland Volunteering has confirmed Queensland is experiencing a decline in volunteering, both in the number of people who volunteer, and the overall time volunteered.

The State of Volunteering in Queensland 2024 Report found that 64.3 per cent of Queenslanders (aged over 15 years) volunteered in the previous 12 months, which is a decline of just over 10 per cent in three years.

According to Volunteering Queensland CEO Mara Basanovic, the reason people don’t or can’t volunteer more is multifaceted, but “this research identifies several key barriers, most notably people’s restrictions on time, health factors and the rising costs of living”.

The report estimates the average cost to volunteer is $15.57 per hour (tripled from $4.76 per hour in 2020), while the average cost for organisations with volunteers is $5.09 per volunteer hour.

Despite this, volunteers have reported an increase in the amount that they are reimbursed for their expenses (21 per cent) in the 2022-23 Financial Year.

According to the report, the cost of volunteering is a major barrier for Queenslanders who want to volunteer, being estimated that the combined cost of volunteering in Queensland was $25bn in the 2022-23 financial year.

Caboolture Warplane Museum and Caboolture Historical Village are among some of the recent organisations expressing their need for volunteers so they can continue operating without disruption, as volunteers make up nearly the entire workforce.

Caboolture Warplane Museum’s Marketing Manager, Jaye Thomas, has said the museum is 100 per cent operated by volunteers, meaning they were critical to the museum staying open.

“Our amazing group of dedicated volunteers is what keeps the museum thriving, ensuring we’re open for you every day of the week,” she said.

“But, just like any team, we sometimes find ourselves in need of extra hands to make everything run smoothly.”

According to volunteer Peter Chalk, the museum is “just scraping by” with volunteer numbers, as the 19 volunteers are spread out across different hours during seven days, according to their availability.

If one new volunteer came each day for a few hours, it would already help relieve the pressure.

Ms Thomas echoes what the report data shows, stating she also believes a series of factors have impacted volunteer numbers in recent years, including post-Covid effects, health, and affordability.

“I think Covid collapsed the ideal of ‘community’. People are just managing their own lives and that’s their focus”, she said.

“Before giving to others, you need to have your basic life needs met comfortably. I believe many families and people are just struggling to manage the affordability of living, housing and people are tired and fatigued by their own battles.”

Caboolture Historical Village Volunteer Recruitment Co-Ordinator, Beverley, said that on top of financial demands requiring people to continue working as paid employees rather than volunteering, the age of many volunteers has forced them to retire.

“Many of our volunteers are reaching retirement years and are either not well enough to continue or they have other interest they would like to pursue i.e. travelling,” she said.

“I also believe some people are not aware of the opportunities that are available.”

The lack of knowledge around volunteering possibilities is another factor echoed throughout organisations, with the Queensland Volunteering Report showing over 23 per cent of those surveyed, who did not volunteer, said they had never been asked or were unsure how to volunteer.

This was the case for the youngest volunteer at the Caboolture Warplane Museum, 21-year-old Peter Chalk.

He began volunteering at the museum in December 2023, while on uni break, and has stayed due to the joy it brings him.

“I never volunteered before outside of school, so went on the Queensland Volunteering website and just started looking what they had, but nothing really interested me until I saw the Warplane Museum,” he said.

“I didn’t even know this existed and so many people I talk to, even just up the road from the museum, have no idea the museum is there.

“When uni started again I kept coming because it’s just such a cool and interesting place with so many great people and you can learn so much from the other volunteers, most of which are almost exhibits themselves.”

Ms Thomas pointed out how, among the many benefits of volunteering, connecting to others and sharing knowledge is always a highlight.

“The reciprocity of learning permeates the air with knowledge exchanged between generations,” she said.

“In the end, isn’t the desire to share knowledge a universal thread that binds humanity? And so, in this realm of volunteers, it flourishes abundantly, transcending subjects and backgrounds.

“When all these different folks come together, they share what they know and learn new things as well.”

Caboolture Historical Village volunteer Karen Joy Lee also shared another advantage of volunteering, namely being able to work despite having a disability.

Karen went blind while studying psychology, putting her on the disability side of job searches.

“Because of my circumstances with disability, I can’t use computers much anymore, I have to be careful how much I read… so volunteering just seemed like I good way to give back to the community, working in the café,” she said.

She has to work 15 hours per week due to Centrelink requirements, but loves the flexible hours she can work, allowing her to fit it around her schedule.

Another highlight for Karen is the joy the work brings.

“The kids and parents that come in are just so happy… their happiness just goes straight through me and I just feel like ‘wow, this going to be a really good day’.”

Beverley said, aside from the chance of retirees to use their skills and abilities while having a chance to socialise, those on Centrelink who are over 55 are able to meet their mutual obligation hours at the Village (and Warplane Museum), when returning to the workforce is not an option.

Moreton Bay Mayor Peter Flannery has also weighed in on the issue, saying Council has an active volunteer program and encouraging everyone to get involved, as it’ “the perfect way to connect with others and support your local community”.

“Hundreds of community groups and organisations across City of Moreton Bay couldn’t provide vital services without the support of their passionate and committed volunteers.”

Somerset Councillor Michael Bishop also encouraged residents to look for volunteering opportunities, after Fernvale lost one of their long time Information Centre volunteers, Sue White.

“Passionate Somerset residents are encouraged to join Council’s volunteering team”, he said.

“There are incentives offered to volunteers and above all else, it is a rewarding experience where friendships are made.”

The Queensland Volunteering Report found the economic value of volunteering in Queensland was over $117 billion in 2022-23.

The labour replacement cost to replace all volunteers would be over $31 billion

Caboolture Historical Village volunteers Karen and Steph.
Caboolture Historical Village volunteers Karen and Steph.

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