It’s official – volunteering is good for your health. A recent review of more than 150 international studies found that volunteers enjoy improved life satisfaction, increased happiness and reduced symptoms of depression. Most of us who volunteer our time for community organisations don’t think deeply about the personal wellbeing benefits. Still, it’s great to know that doing good for others is also doing good for ourselves.
Volunteering through the pandemic
But what happens when volunteering becomes a potential health risk? That was the situation faced by community organisations throughout Victoria a year ago when COVID-19 kept volunteers at home. According to Volunteering Australia, at the height of the pandemic, an estimated two out of three volunteers stopped volunteering – a loss of more than 12 million hours of volunteer time each week.
And things still haven’t returned to normal. A recent survey of more than 600 community organisations showed 56% were looking for more volunteers. Demand for community organisation services were up 43%, and that meant the loss of volunteers was impacting services – even despite a 25% increase in remote volunteering.
The road to normal
So how do we return to past levels of volunteering? A new Volunteering Australia report, Re-engaging Volunteers and COVID-19, sets out a strategy for boosting volunteer confidence and numbers. One priority is to assist community organisations develop and promote COVID safe volunteer policies and procedures. We also need to adapting past volunteer approaches to new formats, like virtual or remote volunteering. Volunteering Australia also has an excellent information hub with advice for community organisations and potential volunteers.
At a local government level, many councils are providing additional training and resources for community organisations seeking volunteers. Booroondara Council’s Volunteer Resource Centre is an example of the positive approach to encouraging volunteers following the impact of COVID. The Centre has a number of activities underway including a planned Volunteer Leaders’ Forum. The aim is to assist community organisations create and communicate a COVID safe volunteer program and manage risk assessment.
As we emerge from COVID there will be many volunteering opportunities. If you have the time and interest for volunteering, check with your local council or community organisations.