National Volunteer Week runs from 17-23 May, organised by Volunteering Australia, and is calling on all Australians to 'wave your appreciation' for the country's volunteers and recognise the vital role they play in their communities' everyday lives.
Australian volunteers dedicate over 600 million hours a year to help others in need, but there has been a severe and ongoing decline in volunteering following the announcement of COVID-19.
At the height of the pandemic, around two thirds of volunteers (66 percent) stopped volunteering altogether, equating to an estimated loss of 12.2 million hours per week.
Mark Pearce, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Volunteering Australia, says he is confident that the volunteering sector will recover after a very tumultuous year.
"This year’s National Volunteer Week theme acknowledges that it is time to recognise, reconnect and reimagine volunteering in Australia. By recognising volunteers, reconnecting by giving our time and reimagining how we better support volunteers, I believe Australia can reinvigorate volunteering for the future," says Mr Pearce.
"We are working hard to engage with decision-makers and influencers inside and outside of Government, to build an understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on volunteering and its role in Australia’s recovery.
"It is vital for all of us to work together, share our collective knowledge and reimagine how we can better support Australia’s diverse, dedicated and invaluable volunteers. With COVID-19 providing many challenges, it is more important than ever that we thank and recognise volunteers this National Volunteer Week."
Volunteering is a really important role in the aged care sector; many people provide their time to social inclusion Government initiatives like the Community Visitors Scheme (CVS), or contacting residential aged care facilities directly to help out.
The rate of volunteering through an organisation was already declining in Australia from 36 percent in 2010 to 29 percent in 2019.
Three quarters (72 percent) of organisations reported that their volunteer program was not fully operational, whilst 42 percent was not confident they would be able to meet pre-COVID levels of volunteering activity in the next six months.
While 43 percent of organisations have had an increase in service demand, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data found that over the last year only 3.6 percent of Australians started to participate in unpaid voluntary work and less than one in five (17 percent) of volunteers have continued donating their time.
Mark says, "This National Volunteer Week, we will celebrate the significant contribution made by almost six million Australians. This includes community sport coaches and managers, volunteer programs across hospitals and aged care, and volunteers supporting disaster response and recovery.
"We encourage everyone to reconnect with what is important by giving our time to help others and ourselves."
To learn more about National Volunteer Week, visit the Volunteer Australia website. Or to get involved and find a volunteer opportunity, visit the Go Volunteer website or contact your local State or Territory volunteering peak body.