Want to know how to make the world a better place? It starts with you.
Helping others is something millions of Australians are already doing. Whether it’s knitting beanies to donate to premature babies, mowing an elderly neighbour’s lawn or volunteering at a local soup kitchen - each day, there are people actively giving their time and energy in order to benefit someone other than themselves.
What is volunteering?
Volunteering, as defined by Volunteering Australia, is “time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain”. In last year’s census, 3.6 million Australians reported that they'd engaged in voluntary work, either through an organisation or group.
Types of volunteering
Before you rush out, it’s important to have a think about what sort of volunteering is going to be the right fit for you.
There are all kinds of ways to volunteer.
- You can volunteer as part of a short-term arrangement such as a fundraising drive or a backyard blitz project. This kind of volunteering is ideal if you have a specific project in mind and a team of people who are energised and ready to get involved.
- You can volunteer at an event - for example, the annual Sanitarium Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon would not be possible without the 1,600 volunteers across Australia who give a few hours on a Sunday morning to cheer kids along as they swim, ride and run their way towards the finish line. This is a great way to work together as a team and be part of the atmosphere of a big event.
- You can also make a longer-term volunteer commitment, often by linking in with an existing volunteer group or organisation - for example, as a Girl Guides leader, a football coach, or a volunteer with your local State Emergency Service. While this can be a more time-consuming commitment, it’s also the opportunity to make the biggest difference as you’ll be able to contribute more, and can be the most rewarding as you have the opportunity to see the results of your contributions.
- Your organisation may have a process in place for corporate volunteering, for staff to donate time and resources and link in with other programs in your local area. Many charities have corporate volunteering programs that businesses can link in with - or if your organisation doesn’t have a program like this in place, perhaps you can suggest it.
Do your research
Particularly for a longer-term volunteer role, it’s important to get a clear understanding of what’s involved. If you can, chat with current volunteers or read up on the organisation and be sure you understand what level of commitment is required and if there are any particular requirements, such as a Working with Children Check clearance or having a current driver’s licence. It’s important to know yourself and be aware of your emotional energy. While it may be tempting to throw yourself into it with all you’ve got, this is not sustainable over a long-term commitment. You’re better to pace yourself, and take care of yourself so that you have the time and energy to continue helping other people instead of burning out. It’s all about balance!
Find the right fit
Volunteering isn’t something you’re paid to do - which means that you’re motivated by other reasons. You’re doing it because you want to, not because you have to. It’s important to consider your own interests, passion and skills when you’re looking at volunteer roles. If you’re doing something that doesn’t come naturally to you, or that you don’t genuinely enjoy, it won’t be long before you find yourself dreading your next volunteer shift. However, if you select an area you’re genuinely interested in or that utilises a skill you already have or want to develop, your volunteering efforts will be much more rewarding.
Contributing towards a common cause
Although you’re not being paid, there are still intrinsic benefits associated with volunteering that help to enhance your wellbeing and give you a renewed sense of purpose.
Helping someone else can help to take your mind off your own problems or worries. There are a lot of things that you may not be able to change in your own life, but through volunteering there are a lot of ways you can be part of changing someone else’s life for the better. And, in the process, you can also learn new skills, meet new people and give back to your community.
Each year around May, Volunteering Australia coordinates a National Volunteering Week, with events held around the country to say thank you to volunteers. However that doesn’t mean you have to wait until then to say thanks! Who do you know who gives generously of their time to help others? Think of one way you can affirm them and recognise their efforts: perhaps a thoughtful note, a kind word, or some quality time spent together. Whatever it is, look for how you might be able to express your thanks for the valuable work they're doing.
Ready to get involved? Good for you! If you’re looking for ideas on how you can link in with organisations or community groups in your local area, Seek’s volunteering website is a great place to start: https://www.volunteer.com.au You can search for volunteer opportunities based on industry, interests, cause and even time of day.
If you're already actively volunteering - congratulations! Consider how you could look out for any newcomers that join the team, and mentor them as they learn and grow in their roles.