The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound implications for the volunteering ecosystem, which faces ongoing challenges as the nation progresses to the next phase of its response to COVID-19. We have witnessed a dramatic decline in much volunteering as many of us have endured extended lockdowns. Whilst this data is without doubt cause for concern, it is not the full story.
Volunteering Australia’s COVID-19 impact research program aims to understand how COVID-19 is affecting volunteering and to provide evidence for our Reinvigorating Volunteering advocacy campaign. The latest research paper ‘Continuity and change: volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic’ aims to provide a more detailed portrayal of the volunteering experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is more to the experience of volunteers during the pandemic than figures alone can capture.
Millions of people have continued to volunteer since the pandemic hit our shores early in 2020 and this new research shares their story. Using data from the Life in Australia™ survey Wave 48, this paper presents insights from over 800 responses from volunteers asked to describe how volunteering during the pandemic impacted their life in general. Responses illustrate the diversity of experience, highlighting wellbeing benefits of volunteering during the pandemic, the advantages and challenges of remote volunteering, the difficulties and hazards of providing voluntary support during the disaster, and the ongoing shifts in volunteer engagement which may remain significant as the pandemic response progresses.
- Based on analysis of over 800 responses from volunteers, this report presents the main themes which characterised the experience of volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic, revealing its striking diversity and resilience.
- The experiences of volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic were diverse, with responses highlighting the benefits of volunteering to wellbeing during the pandemic, the advantages and challenges of remote volunteering, the difficulties and hazards of providing voluntary support during the disaster, and ongoing shifts in volunteer engagement.
- People who volunteered at the same frequency or more often in the 12 months prior to April 2021 than they had before were more likely to report positive experiences of volunteering, while those who volunteered less were more likely to report negative experiences.
- Many volunteers had positive experiences, reporting that their voluntary work helped them maintain a connection with others, kept them active and busy, and gave them a sense of purpose. Volunteers also emphasised the benefits of using or gaining new skills, the opportunity to understand others, and the sense that volunteering became more accessible.
- Those who volunteered less during the pandemic also reported benefits, but often indicated that public health restrictions reduced their satisfaction with volunteering, reporting a loss of connection and less sense of making a difference.
- For some, volunteering during the pandemic had negative impacts, with many reporting increased workloads and heightened concern over the risks to themselves and others.
- Some types of volunteering, such as environmental volunteering and remote roles like committee work or board membership, were largely unaffected by the pandemic, or adapted in response to public health restrictions.
The volunteering experience
Analysis of the responses revealed 21 themes, which address an array of aspects of the volunteering experience. Themes are broadly categorised as positive, negative, neutral, or indicating no or little change in the experience of volunteering. Positive responses represent the largest category, most of which discussed the benefits of volunteering to life satisfaction and wellbeing. Other respondents addressed the impacts of the pandemic on their volunteering activity, describing a sense of frustration and reduced satisfaction. Another group expressed negative aspects of the volunteering experience, reporting more onerous workloads, technostress, and heightened concern for others. Finally, many responses indicated little change in their volunteering, highlighting the continuity and resilience of volunteering during the pandemic.
Volunteer engagement has changed drastically in recent years, and especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As academic research and official data demonstrate, a stark decline in the rate of formal volunteering is a defining aspect of this change. But despite this alarming trend, millions of people in Australia continued to volunteer during the pandemic. This study presents the main themes which characterised the experience of volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic, revealing its striking diversity and resilience.
The key finding was the diversity of the volunteering experience during the pandemic, with responses highlighting the wellbeing benefits of volunteering, the advantages and challenges of remote volunteering, the difficulties and hazards of providing voluntary support during the disaster, and the ongoing shifts in volunteer engagement.
Taken together, these descriptions illustrate the diversity of the volunteering experience, highlighting both the benefits and challenges of volunteering, and the ongoing shifts in volunteer engagement which may remain significant as the pandemic response progresses. These insights will be crucial to understanding the changes in volunteering in the future, and in planning to support a more dynamic, accessible, and resilient volunteering ecosystem.