In 2009 Volunteering Tasmania talked about successful volunteering as being like a ‘three legged stool’: willing volunteers, meaningful roles, and effective leadership. Today, I would add a fourth essential leg: the need for a credible, reliable and measurable evidence base.
One of the first pieces of work that VT produced during my tenure as CEO was a Positioning Paper highlighting the need to better understand volunteering in Tasmania. This paper became our first State of Volunteering Report – research letting us finally measure and understand trends in Tasmanian volunteering. Since then, VT has released two more State of Volunteering in Tasmania reports (2012 and 2014). Each sought to understand volunteering and its incredible social, cultural and economic impact in Tasmania. Despite this, I believe we really have only touched the ‘tip of the iceberg’. The volunteer effort still goes unrecorded, unmeasured and unseen.
Volunteers hide in ‘plain sight’ as they are embedded in the very fabric of our community. I never cease to be surprised by the number of people that tell me they ‘don’t have time to volunteer’, yet I inevitably find out later that they donate their time to the community in some way, just don’t identify as volunteers – in their mind they are just do what needs to be done so that they can have the kind of community they want to live in. In fact,
volunteers are Tasmania’s ‘movers, shakers and doers’. They donate 7.1 million hours each year to make our world better. That’s a lot of people showing up, stepping up and creating change.
Our evidence base shows that our volunteers are not just a ‘nice to have’ in our community. Volunteers – and the organisations in which they give time – are key economic and social contributors.
VT’s 2014 State of Volunteering Report, produced in conjunction with the national Institute of Project Management, has been an absolute game changer, making an unequivocal case for investment in volunteering. Its cost benefit analysis of volunteering showed that for every $1 invested in volunteering $4 in benefits are returned to the community. Volunteering is also one of Tasmania’s most economically valuable industries, contributing $4.9 billion to our community.
It has been two years since VT released this unarguable economic evidence for volunteering. We’ve had time to absorb its impact. It’s now time to get serious about this industry.
How? Firstly, by recognising and valuing the unpaid work that we do ourselves, our friends, families and neighbours. I believe our state-wide Volunteering Awards, now in its second year, will help bring this about. My vision is that Tasmania becomes known as the ‘giving state’ and that we never hear someone say, ‘I’m just a volunteer’ again.
But as a society, we will still need to do more. If Tasmania continues to do what it has always done, we may, if we are lucky, sustain current levels of volunteering. But if we were to heed the economic evidence and get proactive and visionary in our approach, we would see real remunerative and social returns.
If we took a strategic approach to volunteering and made it our mission to grow volunteer participation by 1% per year, we would add an average of $70.6 million per year in value to the Tasmanian economy. In today’s economic climate that is a significant return.
How do we get to this point? We need to treat volunteering with the strategic importance it deserves. We need to have a Tasmanian Strategy for Volunteering; something that provides a blueprint for where we need to go and how we will get there. VT has advocated for this in our 2018-2018 Budget Priority Statement to the Tasmanian Government.
There are many challenges facing Tasmania’s volunteering sector – adapting to new trends in volunteering; managing our ageing population and growing corporate and skilled volunteering, to name but a few. Now is the time to plan for this future. If we want to live in a Tasmania that is socially, culturally and economically prosperous, we need to create an investment in the cornerstone of our community – volunteering. Let’s work together to encourage people to give and be part of the change they want to see in their backyard.
Adrienne Picone is the outgoing CEO of Volunteering Tasmania. She will take the position as CEO of Volunteering Australia in January 2017.