It’s been several years in the making and the time has now come. Volunteer support services as we know them will change from 1 July 2021 with state and territory peak bodies for volunteering taking on the responsibility for distributing Federal funding under new guidelines. With the transition period being condensed to a few months there is little expectation within the sector that this process will be seamless.
It is not yet clear how much this change will affect all organisations engaging with volunteers who rely on the infrastructure that has existed in some areas for decades, to support them in recruiting, training, managing and retaining volunteers. We understand the government’s priority for the redesigned program is that the majority of the program (recruitment, training, management of volunteers) will be conducted online.
To put this in some context, since 2018 Leep has supported over 200 volunteer involving organisations by: advertising and recruiting for over 400 volunteer opportunities in western Sydney and the Nepean, Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury regions; supporting and processing approximately 2,000 individual volunteer applications; training over 1,000 volunteers and facilitating professional development programs for approximately 250 volunteer managers.
The implications for volunteers or potential volunteers with the planned changes to an online model for delivering volunteer services, is that they will need digital skills to search, identify, apply for roles, attend training and engage with volunteer managers.
Included in the proposed changes post June 2021 will be a requirement from the peak bodies to develop diversity and inclusion strategies in partnership with local organisations with the aim to break down barriers to volunteering for priority groups. These groups include: Indigenous Australians, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, newly arrived migrants, unemployed Australians, and people with a disability. It is not clear what this will look like and if specialist organisations will be included however as the 2020 Australian Digital Inclusion Index notes, these priority groups along with older Australians are the very people who are most digitally excluded.
As the Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus says, “the only constant in life is change”. Whilst Leep looks forward to the opportunities this change provides we caution all concerned to allow due consideration for additional barriers to volunteering for those priority groups who are already experiencing exclusion due to a lack of digital skills and ensure they are not further disadvantaged by the changes being introduced.
Meanwhile in NSW the Centre for Volunteering, in partnership with the Department of Communities and Justice, is working on the inaugural NSW State of Volunteering report. In order for them to have an accurate understanding of the impact volunteering has in the state they are seeking input from every volunteer involving organisation in this survey by Friday 5 March.