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Returning to volunteering after a COVID-19 break

Last Updated at May 10th 2022
During COVID, every two in three volunteers stopped volunteering due to health concerns or since they were an at risk group for the virus, leaving a huge gap in the social sector. With the move to a COVID-19 normal society, many older Australians are returning to their volunteering passions and finding a changed volunteering landscape.

Key points:

  • COVID-19 has encouraged the volunteering sector to change and adapt to be able to provide volunteering to communities
  • Older Australians may face digital literacy barriers when trying to find new volunteering opportunities
  • Having open discussions with volunteering organisations about your skills and experience can open up new and different volunteering roles
Older woman volunteering at a city clean up
Older people who want to volunteer may find their mobility, health or skills as the biggest barriers to volunteering. [Source: Adobe Stock]

Roles in volunteering have changed and the roles you have once had may not be the roles that are available to you now but COVID has also shown that sometimes there is a different way of doing things.

Chief Executive Officer of Volunteering Australia, Mark Pearce, says that COVID changed the volunteering landscape and is now moving towards more flexible roles, a bigger focus on technology, and is working on creating new ways to deliver volunteering services.

"We are seeing that older Australians are returning to volunteering, as all Australians are returning to volunteering. But I guess there is a bit of a difference in the complexion of how they are volunteering and how they are returning," explains Mr Pearce.

"The involvement of older Australians in communities is critically important not just to the volunteer themselves but also to the community."

This change to the volunteering sector may mean changing what volunteering roles are on offer or searching for new opportunities that are inclusive and accessible to your abilities and personal interests.

Barriers to volunteering

Older people who want to volunteer may find their mobility, health or skills as the biggest barriers to volunteering.

For instance, after a couple of years on hiatus, a volunteering opportunity involving a lot of lifting or other physical labour may be too dangerous or taxing on your body to undertake.

Another common barrier for older people is digital literacy and digital inclusion, which are becoming more important within the volunteering workforce.

"There is an expectation, certainly, amongst some of the volunteer involving organisations that people will be able to use technology, because, you know what, for the last year and a half, that is the only thing that has carried volunteering through [COVID-19]," explains Mr Pearce.

Some older people may feel out of depth with the new focus on using technology to provide volunteering services, like video calls.

Mr Pearce adds that COVID-19 has also resulted in a lot of red tape, restrictions and requirements around health and safety, which has made it increasingly difficult for volunteers to be able to serve their community.

"Two years have gone on and for some older Australians that means that there are more restrictions around what they can do and how they can be involved," says Mr Pearce.

"Your capability of doing something two years ago may not be the same as today, but that shouldn't preclude you from looking towards doing something else within that chosen area of passion or interest."

A focus on training

Mr Pearce says that many volunteer involving organisations have put a lot of effort into shaping training for their volunteers, which has become a fantastic way for older Australians to upskill themselves.

He has found that many older people that have previously had low digital literacy are now using digital technology while volunteering because they have been upskilled through their volunteering organisation.

"Volunteering is nothing if not innovative. At its heart, it is about identifying problems and solving those problems, creating solutions for those. Volunteering involving organisations are at the cutting edge of that," explains Mr Pearce.

"They are looking for ways to make it more accessible, make it more inclusive, make it easier, and work around some of those inherent barriers. And some of the ways they are doing that is by recognising the fact that people want flexibility and they want choice, at any age, at any part of their life and within any cohort."

Mr Pearce says older Australians will find volunteering opportunities as a great way to learn something new while assisting the community.

Starting conversations

Mr Pearce says that in the past, some volunteering roles were quite rigid in their definition, where you would sign up for a role and you would follow everything involved in that role only.

However, the changing volunteering workforce has resulted in more flexibility and more collaboration with the volunteers themselves on how they can contribute.

He says it is exciting to see volunteer involving organisations having open conversations with volunteers about why they are volunteering, what they would like to do and how they can find the best role to fit their budding new volunteer.

Mr Pearce provides the example of a person loving animals but you don't want to be cleaning out cat and dog exposures constantly. Rather, you can work with volunteering organisations on how you can spend your time working with animals in a way that is constructive to you and the community.

"What is going to put a smile on your face and make you feel like you are contributing in a really manifold and manifest way to the thing you are passionate about?" asks Mr Pearce.

"And we can shape up roles, we can provide opportunities and you can do those things, which may not have been a part of the thinking previously."

Understand the role

When searching for a volunteering role, Mr Pearce says it is important you have a thorough understanding of the responsibilities you would have in that position, including whether it would work for you.

The questions you should be thinking and asking about the role include:

  • Do you know what costs are involved?
  • Are there regulatory requirements for the role? (Like a background check or working with children certificate?)
  • Will the volunteer involving organisation pay for those regulatory requirements, is that covered by the State/Territory or Federal Government, or do you need to pay?
  • How do you go through the process of applying and getting the role?
  • What training is involved?
  • What do you need to do within this role and does it fit with my abilities?

It is also a good idea to let the organisation of any limitations you have or any modifications that can be made to ensure you can achieve your volunteering goals.

Mr Pearce adds that you should also let them know about what abilities and skills you can bring to the role and the organisation, and you should treat it "no different to a paid role" you have applied for.

"More frequently than not, volunteer involving organisations are going to find a way to include a person with lived experience to get involved!" says Mr Pearce.

"Importantly and encouragingly, older Australians are returning to volunteering which is critically important for all the benefits [you get from] volunteering and particularly older Australians provide by volunteering to the community."

What made you decide to volunteer? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Volunteering benefits for older Australians
How to get involved in your community
Quality of life factors for older Australians

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