Response to national public consultation on ABS statistics for volunteering & giving


The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have launched a national public consultation on statistics for volunteering and giving to clarify the data needs for information on volunteering and giving activity. The Australian Census has included an unchanged volunteering question in the past three Censuses. In light of this, the ABS is considering questions for Census 2021 and reviewing the questions accordingly.

Volunteering Australia appreciates the opportunity to provide a response on statistics for volunteering and giving activity. We would like to acknowledge the importance of volunteering to the Australian communities’ workforce participation, inclusion and social cohesion. There would be a gap in skills and services without Australia’s volunteering sector.

Reliable statistics are critical for ongoing policy development, future planning and long-term service delivery. Recent data indicates that formal volunteering is declining, while informal volunteering is increasing. These changes in data are pivotal in the way we plan and manage; keeping volunteering visible and giving value to the sector. The data is also important for workforce planning.

Volunteering continues to play a role central to our identity as a nation, with 5.8 million Australians or 31 per cent of the population volunteering, making an estimated annual contribution of $290 billion to our economic and social good. We define volunteering as “time willingly given, for the common good and without financial gain”; volunteers donate their time freely, but volunteering comes at a cost. The operational cost of delivering innovative and agile volunteering programs that respond to the needs of Australian society is increasing, and requires investment.

Volunteering Australia's summary of recommendations:

  • Capture data that delivers an understanding of the economic benefits provided by volunteering, the skills development, and how volunteering is a potential pathway to employment.
  • The comprehensive Volunteering Australia definition should be used by all Government Departments as the principal definition when referring to volunteering in Australia.
  • Volunteering Australia recommends clearly distinguishing between monetary giving and time-giving in all questions, to ensure accuracy of data capturing. This includes separating volunteering and giving, as charitable donations and fundraising do not constitute a form of volunteering according to Volunteering Australia’s definition.
  • Target questions to clearly identify who the target market is (including informal volunteers), as well as ascertaining barriers to participation.
  • Establish partnerships between the Australian Bureau of Statistics, other agencies and researchers to boost collaboration, foster new relationships, and disaggregated data collection in relation to volunteering.
  • Preserve the time series to enable comparisons of data to previous estimates, and supplement existing questions to increase the number of responses. This will allow widespread data capturing.
  • Recognise the diversity of volunteers and ensure gaps in digital access and equity are addressed.

Download: Response to national public consultation on ABS statistics for volunteering and giving