Why is Volunteer Such a Dirty Word? The decline in volunteering in Australia.

As the title suggests, why is volunteering such a dirty word?

 I will attempt to dive in and explain the qualms and quandary of this issue, increasingly faced by non-profit and member organisations.

It seems that whenever a charity or benevolent organisation recruits new members, and in this case, 'volunteer' which every member organisation shares, it seems that a mental 'rejection' or 'trigger' is activated to avoid or skip over it.

This is often the result of the following possible experiences:

  • A bad experience in a volunteer or member organisation previously.

  • A bad impression has been received by one or more organisations.

  • Politics within organisations.

  • Lack of gain, focusing mostly on lack of financial gain, or the fact that getting involved is unpaid. This would make a person, look for a second job and take a paid shift, rather than an unpaid one.

  • A combination of the above issues.

Could it be, that most people are greedy? Perhaps. But you can't refute the millions of people all over the world, spending their spare time with non-profit organisations and it benefits society, so this is not entirely a valid statement. They are volunteering and doing a great job. It impacts you already, without you even knowing it. It's an indirect effect.

So, what could it be exactly that people hold back? I believe it lies in the heart of modern society.  We have access to more information at our fingertips than ever before, and we can socialise in a never ending way, online and offline and we can be entertained by the content producers, both professional and amateur.

A common theme that I have noticed working in a large company, is that volunteers are few and far between. In a group of 300, you might only see 2. Just 2, who devote 'spare time' for whatever cause they are passionate about. The majority is not volunteering.

There are so many factors to dissect in this discussion piece, but another point could be the danger. Not everyone wants to be a fire-fighter or a rescuer.  Often the word volunteer is synonymous with these types of services, but a fact is, the majority of volunteering is done in almost ‘no risk’ type jobs or member organisations. This debunks that the word ‘volunteer’ is always associated with rescue responder services.

Going back to large workplaces, I have observed and heard that the majority who don’t volunteer, complain about being tired and fatigued and are hence managing their fatigue. I agree with this notion, but it’s also a cop out. Since there are days when you're able to volunteer and often it’s just a few hours, or even as little as 1 hour.

Furthering to the observations and hearings, I constantly hear that a lot of people who are employed and unemployed is spending every spare moment of their time, either with social networking or with movie and TV series streaming service providers.  So, it seems, that it’s more important to be entertained constantly with an almost never ending supply of content.

Recently I read an article that said:

“Combining volunteer work, paid work and raising kids is a juggle and indeed one that fewer Australians seem to want to attempt.”

-From the article:  https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/benefits-of-volunteering-to-community-and-society/11075998

The article also describes a statistical fall in volunteering since 2010. This trend is continuing now.

That article then continues to state:

“All of this points to the fact that you need to have the combination of time and money to be able to volunteer.”

 Further to that, Harvard states:

"There is some evidence that volunteering is an activity closely associated with happiness and wellbeing. Certainly regular volunteers report the benefits to physical and mental health associated with their unpaid work."

-from article: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/volunteering-may-be-good-for-body-and-mind-201306266428

The article earlier, then concludes by stating:

“For the sake of our communities, and for the sake of our own well-being, we should make volunteering easier for all Australians, not just those with the time and money to do it.”

This is bang on, along with the article from Harvard that explains the benefits of volunteering. I have been at both ends of the spectrum. I have done it whilst financially challenged and I have done it, whilst in paid employment as I do now. In both regards, it’s enormously rewarding, and I overall find it enjoyable. Even more enjoyable than paid employment.

 I certainly do not want a retirement in the long future ahead, that involves television streaming services along with endless cups of tea/coffee and sedated dispositions. I will be volunteering and enjoying my life doing a worthwhile thing, for as long as I possibly can.

To sum up, it’s obvious that there are benefits to volunteering and incorrect assumptions and stereotypes. It’s time to change these thoughts and see volunteering as a community honour to serve.

So the old question still comes up.

“How do I find the time?”

Well you find an organisation that fosters your interest and lets you adjust your time commitment based on your availability. Some organisations benefit even with a single hour of your time each week. It’s often not a big ask and that’s why I won’t deny, that volunteering with the Australian Preppers Survival League is something I am truly proud to volunteer my time with. They are immensely flexible to your requirements and offers many open opportunities to this day, to step up and serve your community to increase awareness and prepare and act in civil emergencies or disasters.

Now I wish to go back to the early bit about past negative experiences with volunteering. I have experienced terrible mismanagement, the good and the bad.  However, one thing that stood out to me, is the enormity of good. I found it astonishing that the volunteers, were better communicators, better organised and better at a lot of things compared to ‘paid’ employees in structured and well financed business and government organisations. It’s that awesome friendship and good work, which I call the Aussie spirit.  As for the bad impressions from some organisations, they soon learn quickly by the loss of volunteers, causing them to improve.

The benefits of volunteering is immense. The skills obtained, puts you ahead of the rest. I obtained skills through volunteering, which not only achieved ongoing employment, but also increased life skills for interpersonal relationships and the wider community. Further to that, organisations often provide free training which is undervalued by many. Training which you can add to your repertoire of skills, when applying for future employment or positions within volunteer or member organisations.

Keep up the good work volunteers and members, if your only starting, your journey has only just begun, give it time. If your experienced, you’re always learning and always adapting to the challenge at hand.

Further reading is this interesting article about the benefits of volunteering:


Happy days ahead people! Volunteer is now a very positive word. Make the change and stick to it. Don’t hold grudges from the yesteryear, whatever it was that gave you a bad impression, it's time to move on.

About John

Secretary General, Survivalist, Principal Academy Trainer.