Benefits and Trends in Volunteering

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Volunteering has always been an important part of all communities. It can make a drastic difference to individuals and shape communities. Volunteering in the Aged Care sector is especially significant because of the need for additional resourcing and government funding to assist a growing population of elderly people in our society. Our population is ageing at a rapid rate and it is estimated by 2057 Australia will be home to over 8.8 million people aged 65 or above. Due to this increase there is a growing need for volunteers to assist in the elderly support network. This essay will distinguish between formal & informal volunteering, discuss trends in both volunteering as a whole and the aged care sector, analyse two theories of motivation, discuss the different contributions made by volunteers and present a number of issues facing volunteering.

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The current definition of volunteering which is provided by Volunteering Australia is “time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain” (Volunteering Australia, 2015). This is a revised definition developed in 2015 which covers such a large variety of activities that can now be either considered formal or informal. The previous definition established in 1996 was “formal volunteering is an activity that takes place in non-profit organisations or projects and is of benefit to the community and undertaken of the volunteer’s own free will and without coercion; for no financial payment; and in designated volunteer positions only.” This definition excluded informal volunteering activities which is a reason for the change in definitions. Formal volunteering typically takes places with an organisation and is generally a designated job/role as the 1996 definition states. Informal volunteering however is much broader and essentially covers most types of volunteering that are not through an organisation. Aged care volunteering has a significant input from both formal and informal volunteers and as such, this essay will look at both inputs.

Over the last few decades volunteering rates have been steadily increasing and the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data provides an excellent overview of these changes. In 2011, 17.8% of the population over the age of 15 were involved in some type of volunteering activity. The following census performed in 2016 showed an increase in the aforementioned rate of 1.2%, bringing it up to 19%. While this does not seem like a huge percentage, when it is put in terms of individual people it works out to be approximately 3.6 million people.

Volunteering with the elderly has also shown continuous growth over the last few years. In 2017, 5% of people over the age of 65 were in a nursing home, 40% were in need of assistance either at home or in cared accommodation with at least one day to day task and the remaining 55% did not require any extra assistance. Informal volunteering was the most prominent provider with 73% of people gaining assistance from family, friends and neighbours. However, 60% of people also received assistance from formal volunteers. Some of the tasks included reading and writing, communication, mobility, meal preparation, self-care and household chores, among other things.

There is an endless amount of reasons as to why people volunteer and there are quite a few theories which summarise the most prominent motivations. The Volunteer Functions Inventory or VFI was developed from a conceptual analysis of prominent psychological and social functions. Of these functions the following became the basis of VFI:

  • Values – this represents a motivation based on an altruistic view, being the will to help others.
  • Understanding - wanting to increase knowledge or personal skill and abilities.
  • Enhancement – to increase self-esteem or to feel needed.
  • Career – to volunteer for the experience which may lead to future job prospects.
  • Social – people use volunteering as a way to get out into the communities and build relationships. Most people with friends, family or a partner that volunteers are more likely to also volunteer to strengthen those relationships.
  • Protective – using volunteering as a way to feel less guilty about being more fortunate than others or just as a “good escape”.

While this motivational model is quite prominent when looking at motivational theories, there are a number of other theories. Wuthnow’s Four Frameworks of Volunteer Motivations is another similar model which is outlined as follows:

  • Humanitarism – similar to Values in VFI.
  • Happiness – similar to Enhancements in that it makes oneself feel better about themselves.
  • Reciprocity – based on a ‘pay it forward’ type of notion.
  • Self-realisation – a combination of both Career and Understanding in VFI.

Looking at these two theories they seem extremely similar, however Wuthnow’s sociological model is interpreted in the context of an individual’s social setting. Meaning, depending on what is happening in an individual’s life will determine which factors are the most prevalent and important for that individual.

When analysing or comparing these two theories, it becomes clear there are many different and also similar types of motivations and these can be classified or analysed in many different and similar ways according to the volunteer participants and the type of volunteering undertaken.

Volunteering can be beneficial for all involved, including the volunteer, the organisation and the community. A simple act or service can provide a meaningful contribution to others. Volunteering in a broader sense provides a significant contribution through social & economic capital. Social capital as defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) means “networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation within or among groups” (Keeley, B., 2007). Individuals volunteering in the community create and reinforce meaningful connections with others and through that individuals are more likely to return to volunteer. Economic capital in comparison, seeks to determine the financial contribution that volunteers have. There are a number of ways to estimate dollar value however Dr Lisel O’Dwyer based her 2011 estimate on the average hours worked in 2006 and 2010 multiplied by the average wage rate at the time. This value was determined to be $99,946 million which included travel time & inputs. Dr O’Dwyer has since adjusted the total value to be approximately $200 billion. The reason for this adjustment being that multiple entities would be benefiting from one individual’s contribution. Dr O’Dwyer then multiplied the wage rate by 25% and took that amount and multiplied it by four (benefitting entities). This represents a major and significant contribution to the community as a whole and organisations alike.

Looking specifically at volunteering with the elderly however, there are also a number of ways the individual volunteer can have an impact. For example, residents within aged care facilities or even just living at home by themselves can be extremely lonely. Volunteers, by providing their time to engage with the elderly are providing much-needed human contact, connection and companionship. This engagement between visitors/volunteers and the elderly is very important in keeping aged care residents and those at home, active and healthy both mentally and physically.

Unfortunately, despite all the benefits & huge contributions volunteering has, there are also a significant number of issues facing both volunteering as a whole and the aged care sector more specifically.

Some of the main issues or barriers facing volunteering are; many people would prefer to donate money rather than time; they feel they cannot commit the time to volunteer; and the expenses involved were too high.

A major issue in the aged care sector is elder abuse which is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person” (WHO, 2016). According to WHO, rates of elderly abuse in high to middle income countries can be seen in anywhere from 2% to 14% of aged people.

This type of abuse can be not only physical abuse but also in the form of psychological and sexual abuse, neglect and the most common form, financial, which can range from 1% to 9.2% (AIHW, 2017). With the population of people aged over 65 expected to increase to 8.8 million by 2057, this issue has become increasingly more important in terms of establishing laws and safeguards to protect the elderly. An independent Royal Commission has been established in October 2018 into Aged Care Quality and Safety due to a number of reported instances of neglect and abuse by actual sector workforce members.

When handed down the investigation findings may have outcomes of increased Aged Care Sector regulation which may affect the numbers of volunteers as tighter controls and police checks may need to be undertaken to ensure quality and safety of elderly people. However, in turn the report findings may also support the need for greater volunteer participation to enhance the ratio of people required to assist in the care of the elderly in the future.

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Quantifying the overall benefits of volunteering can be difficult however two main aspects are the societal and economic benefits. While I have discussed these benefits to volunteering there are also many issues and barriers involved including issues surrounding time, money and commitment. Several different theories exist to analyse the many different reasons people might volunteer, whether these be altruistic or egoistic motivations, including Volunteer Functions Inventory and Wuthnow’s Four Frameworks of Volunteer Motivations. With Australia’s growing aged population, there is an increasing need for volunteers in the aged care sector as volunteers form a necessary part of the elderly support network.    

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

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Benefits And Trends In Volunteering. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 21, 2023, from
“Benefits And Trends In Volunteering.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
Benefits And Trends In Volunteering. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Sept. 2023].
Benefits And Trends In Volunteering [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Feb 10 [cited 2023 Sept 21]. Available from:
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