There are 6 million volunteers in Australia in a broad range of community, charity, sporting, arts and government organisations. Their contributions constitute essential social infrastructure without which Australian society cannot function.
As our population ages, a growing number of Australians will be looking for volunteering options through which to make connections with others, form relationships, share skills and wisdom, and make practical contributions in their areas of special interest.
However, volunteers face many challenges. Risk management and legal pressures have formalised volunteering in recent years, producing tight role descriptions and strict terms of engagement which have made some volunteer roles less attractive. In many cases, these roles reproduce the authority structures of paid work.
The emergence of 'volunteer management' as a specialist management function has tended to de-personalise the way voluntary contributions are made in society. There has been a tendency to slot volunteers into pre-determined roles within organizations, rather than enable volunteers to make voluntary contributions in unique and personalized ways.
In turn, volunteers have not had processes though which they can act on unsatisfactory volunteering experiences or respond to unsatisfactory relationships with managements.
Governments have unwisely included volunteering as a condition for receipt of certain welfare benefits, with adverse consequences for established volunteers and organisations that engage them. People cannot be forced to volunteer if their heart is not in it.
For these reasons, Australia needs a volunteers' union to represent the interests of volunteers and to speak on their behalf in the public arena.
No one has signed up yet, but you could be the first!