A reflection on the 2017 State Volunteering Conference


Volunteering Queensland's 2017 State Volunteering Conference was a resounding success, enabling volunteer-involving organisations to advance their cause, inspiring programs and people, and increasing overall knowledge and understanding of the volunteering industry.

On 8 and 9 June 2017, over 80 delegates from across Queensland came together for the inaugural State Volunteering Conference. The delegates were presented with a wealth of information, strategic and practical advice, support and encouragement through engaging presentations by renowned experts, panel discussions, interactive workshops and networking opportunities that prompted conversation on the volunteering climate. Many of the conference presenters travelled far and wide, from interstate or overseas, to share their knowledge and insights to better the future of volunteering throughout Queensland and the wider Australian community.

We would like to extend our gratitude to all of our wonderful and inspiring dignitaries, delegates, presenters, panel members, facilitators, board, staff and volunteers who made the conference such a huge triumph. And, a big thank you to our conference sponsor Queensland Fire and Emergency Services.

A special mention must also go to our steering committee of experienced representatives from across the industry, including professionals from the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, Volunteering Redlands, and Footprints In Brisbane Inc.

In collaboration, we designed the conference to:

  • Enable volunteer-involving organisations to better navigate the complexities of contemporary volunteering
  • Inspire industry to deliver adaptive, innovative, inclusive and impactful volunteer programs
  • Increase knowledge, influence and meaningful outcomes for the volunteering movement.

Here is some of the heart-warming feedback we received from our delegates:

"As we are in the process of implementing a volunteer program, it was great to interact with other volunteer managers to get their thoughts and ideas on what was most effective in their organisation. It was inspiring watching all of the presenters speak so passionately about volunteering."


"I had begun to feel quite isolated because of the busy nature of my job so it was great to speak to like minded people."


"I left the conference feeling reignited in terms of changing the culture in my workplace and organisation in regards to the mindset around volunteers....There are many thoughts and strategies forming as to how I can facilitate this change and as with anything I know the change will not come overnight. My eyes were also further opened as to the attitude higher management have to volunteering and how this is largely unconscious but it comes out in behaviours....I came to the conference hoping to have my passion stirred up again and I certainly got that, so thanks to everyone and I look forward to what you have planned next..."


Opening address: Hon Shannon Fentiman MP, Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Minister for Child Safety, and, Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence

Ross Morgan, President of Volunteering Queensland, was proud to introduce the Hon. Shannon Fentiman MP, Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Minister for Child Safety, and, Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, to open our inaugural State Volunteering Conference.

The Minister provided a heartfelt message that encouraged volunteer managers and volunteers to continue their incredible work in this sector, drawing upon her own first-hand experience of emergency volunteer efforts in the clean-up following ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie, in which her house was damaged and much of her local Logan community ravaged by the storm. The Minister also acknowledged the outstanding winners and finalists of our recent Queensland Volunteering Awards who are bringing about positive change within their communities.

The Volunteering Queensland team thank the Minister and the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services for continued support over the years. We are proud to work together to advance volunteering for Queensland's economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being.

Mike Wassing - Get Engaged: Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Volunteering Strategy

Mike Wassing, Deputy Commissioner for Emergency Management, Volunteerism and Community Resilience within Queensland Fire and Emergency Services - QFES (our brilliant conference sponsor) outlined the challenges volunteer-involving organisations face to stay focused on a common shared vision when they have multiple brands or branches, and expanded on the proposed Volunteerism Strategy discussion paper recently put forward by QFES. Their Volunteerism Strategy is hinged on four core principles: the provision of exceptional service delivery, enhancing internal and external partnerships, supporting volunteers, and investing in people's capability. The Deputy Commissioner highlighted the need to build resilience in their volunteer workforce by focusing on educating with conversation, sustained local leadership, empowering, and reconnecting with communities. This is important because areas with a strong community volunteerism culture can better prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from extreme events.

Highlights from the Deputy Commissioner:

  • Build resilience by encouraging local solutions to local problems
  • Support, invest in and empower volunteers 
  • Embrace challenging discussions that cover the grey areas

> Read through the QFES Volunteerism Strategy.

Anna Lyons - Legal issues in managing volunteers

Anna Lyons (Justice Connect Not-For-Profit Law) posed some curly legal situations to volunteer managers, and helped to highlight the changing role of volunteers in organisations. It was a valuable lesson to remain in touch with the law regarding volunteers, and knowing where to turn if any legal issues should arise with your work. Anna touched on the difference between internships and volunteering, as well as some of the emerging issues in volunteering - which included micro volunteering and social media. 

Highlights from Anna Lyons:

  • Know your legal obligations when it comes to volunteers
  • Manage volunteers correctly, with valid agreements and clarity about their roles and responsibilities
  • Engaging volunteers does not constitute a ‘contract’ governed by industrial relations legislation; however, care should be taken in the management of volunteers including terminating their services. Seek legal advice if in doubt.

> Access the Not-for-Profit Law information hub or call 1800 NFP LAW.

Susan Pascoe AM - Strong boards make strong organisations

Susan Pascoe AM (Commissioner of Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission - ACNC) provided an overview of the role of the ACNC and explained the responsibilities of each organisation regarding the ACNC and reporting. With the right people, a strong board can offer immense value. The Commissioner highlighted the value of having suitable, knowledgeable, committed board members to lead and provide strategic orientation for volunteer-involving organisations; as well as ensuring that all processes are transparent, productive, and that good integrity systems are in place.

Top tips from the Commissioner:

  • The ACNC has a track record of working with our sector and providing resources and support; it’s not only about their regulatory role
  • Comply with laws, maintain accountability to members and the ACNC, and commit to good governance

> The ACNC website provides further advice on governance standards and offers a range of helpful guides.

Tobi Johnson - Focused, formidable and fearless: This is your leadership call to action

Our much anticipated keynote speaker, Tobi Johnson from Tobi Johnson & Associates in the USA, certainly delivered a challenge to volunteer managers and organisations present. Tobi began by highlighting the difficulties facing volunteer managers, noting that there are key failings raised within the data collected across the globe. Tobi also noted, though, that despite being overlooked and somewhat undervalued, many volunteer managers and volunteers will remain in the sector for years to come, often due to their strong beliefs.

Tobi proposed a hypothetical 'what if?' to highlight what could be possible if volunteer managers and volunteers were respected and enabled to do the best work they've ever done, to continue the uprising of positive social change. Referencing the "super chicken model," where emphasis is placed only on outstanding volunteers, Tobi noted that we need a more fair and equitable environment where volunteers of all skill-sets are able to thrive. This whole team approach will lead to better results for the organisation. She concluded her presentation by posing the question, what and who will we stand for in the future of volunteering?

Top tips from Tobi Johnson:

  • Know your strengths and those of your organisation and work with them
  • Work towards an impartial and equal environment where volunteers of all abilities can work together to achieve more
  • Stand up for your volunteers and be an advocate for the volunteering industry

> Read through Tobi's 2017 Volunteer Management Progress Report.

Assoc Prof Wendy Scaife – Messages about volunteering from Giving Australia 2016

Associate Professor Wendy Scaife (QUT) shared with us a 'beautiful set of numbers' - the Giving Australia survey - commissioned by the Department of Social Services in 2016. The survey found the key issues that organisations face right now are lack of funding and financial sustainability, recruiting challenges, competition between too many charities, red tape costs, and traditional attitudes deterring younger volunteers. Some highlights Wendy shared include:

  • Increased time spent volunteering over the last decade (2005 - 2016), from 836M hrs to 932M hrs
  • A desire from volunteers for recognition from government authorities regarding the importance of their roles and increased support for volunteers from low income backgrounds e.g. reimbursing out of pocket expenses
  • A need to think EAST - To grow volunteering we must make it as Easy, Accessible, Social and Timely as possible
  • Changing volunteer opportunities, including virtual volunteer roles. In fact, almost half of nonprofits surveyed offered some kind of virtual volunteering activities
  • Half with a volunteer program had employed a paid (23.8%) or unpaid (27%) manager/coordinator of volunteers 

Giving Australia will continue to present their findings around Australia via webinars, presentations and articles posted in the near future.

We encourage you to access this important data which will prove useful for and provide credibility to your submissions and proposals.

> Read through Giving Australia's background paper, literature review, fact sheets and report.

Ros Bates MP, Shadow Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Child Safety, and the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence and Shadow Minister for Disability Services and Seniors

Ms Bates inspiring speech to our delegates implored them to continue in their work and reminded them their valuable contributions are highly regarded.

The Shadow Minister talked about her vast work consulting with and providing support to volunteer-involving organisations and volunteers across the state, particularly within her local area of Mudgeeraba.

Gigi Lacey – Welcoming ALL volunteers (Breakout session)

Gigi Lacey (GL Community Consultancies) raised the challenge for our delegates to consider any bias and prejudicial attitudes they may be taking into their workplaces. She sought to encourage us all to open our eyes, minds and hearts and know our blind spots when it comes to recruiting and working with volunteers. To be curious about diverse values, cultures, and ways of doing things and willing to have an open conversation about any differences that emerge.

Top tips from Gigi Lacey:

  • Rather than striving to be ‘culturally competent’, work on your ‘cultural humility’. This is about acknowledging that everyone has their own unique individual ‘culture’ and the best way to learn what that is, is through ‘polite curiosity’
  • Remember, “humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less”
  • The simplest way of practicing cultural humility is to keep reminding yourself “not wrong, just different”

Gavin Deadman & Robert Rudd – Insurance and risk made easy (Breakout session)

Gavin Deadman and Robert Rudd (Aon) took it in turns to do exactly what their session stated: make insurance and risk easy. Taking questions from the floor, both men presented some clear steps and direction for our delegates to take back to their organisations and volunteers.

Top tips from Gavin and Robert:

  • Insurance is but one element in an overall risk management strategy. Get the risk management right and insurance becomes less critical and less costly
  • Know what you are insured for and what you are not. Read the policies carefully
  • Understand the limitations of policy coverage, especially the Volunteers Accident coverage, e.g. check age and benefit limitations
  • Be aware of increased threat of cyber-attacks and plan, and insure, as needed

> Take a look at Aon's NFP Insurance Puzzle Solver.

Cassandra Roland – Brand Ambassadors: Volunteers do impact your reputation (Breakout session)

Cassandra Roland (Creative Management Consultancies) took delegates through the finer details of brand management, including the definition of a brand, how to define your particular brand, how your brand is relevant to your volunteers, as well as briefly touching on reputation management and the importance of maintaining the integrity of your brand.

Top tips from Cassandra Roland:

  • Don't be blinded by what you think (or wish) your brand is, learn what volunteers really think of it. The best way is to ask them via a brand survey
  • Getting your branding on point can differentiate you when it comes to attracting new volunteers to your cause
  • Volunteers who have a positive experience with you are the best brand evangelists you can have!

> Watch this recommended video which explains what "brand" really means.

Amanda Lamont – Spontaneous Volunteering: Definitely an asset if managed well (Breakout session)

Amanda Lamont (Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience - AIDR) took our delegates through the progress of the Spontaneous Volunteer Management Handbook, currently being developed by AIDR. This handbook is drawing on and will complement current and ongoing activity in spontaneous volunteer management, and build on the capability and knowledge of organisations and individuals across the disaster resilience sector in Australia and internationally. Amanda explained the national spontaneous volunteer principles, where AIDR is up to and briefly touched on their national discussion paper and its outcomes.

> Read more about the Spontaneous Volunteer Management Handbook.

Tobi Johnson – Leading from the inside out (workshop)

Day 1 of the conference ended with Tobi (Tobi Johnson & Associates USA) following up on her initial call-to-action with an interactive, practical workshop for volunteer managers. Through the workshop, Tobi outlined how to shift your mindset, clarify goals, build authority and influence for your requests to get traction, gain buy-in from key decision makers, use change management and adaptive leadership tactics, and build core skills to increase impact and effectiveness. Tobi provided a plan for each individual to follow clear, concise steps.

Top tips from Tobi Johnson's workshop:

  • Lead not from your position but from your competence, effectiveness, relationships, excellence, innovation and ethics
  • Get everyone involved in change from grassroots to grasstops
  • Shift your limiting beliefs to enabling beliefs
  • Make sure you are asking the right (important) questions - for example "What are new and innovative ways to partner with volunteers to improve our collective intellectual and social capital?"

> For more food for thought, take a look at Tobi Johnson & Associate's blog.

Cocktail Reception

After an information-packed day, delegates, presenters, Volunteering Queensland board members, staff and volunteers took the chance to network and relax at Mercure's Chelsea Lane. Over a few drinks and some delicious canapés, conference attendees had the chance to quiz the day's presenters, create new connections and continue conversations vital to the future of Queensland's volunteering industry. 


Michael Hogan, Director-General, Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services – Walking Together

Day 2 began with Volunteering Queensland's Vice President, Damien Edmonds, introducing Michael Hogan, Director-General of the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services. The Director-General highlighted and paid tribute to the incredible work of the volunteering sector. Mr Hogan touched on the development of the state's volunteering strategy, along with his department's commitment and willingness to work more closely with volunteer-involving organisations and to be supportive and open with our industry. 

Kylee Bates & Adrienne Picone – Leadership for volunteering: national and international perspectives (Panel)

Facilitated by Brett Williamson OAM (Volunteering Queensland Board Director), Kylee Bates (World President, International Association for Volunteer Effort - IAVE) and Adrienne Picone (CEO, Volunteering Australia) delivered a riveting discussion panel on leadership for volunteering, and addressed some of the key leadership challenges that occur on a national and international scale, as well as what our delegates could do within their local community and organisations to foster change in leadership in this sector.

> Read through IAVE's National Leadership for Volunteering Report.

> Take a look at Volunteering Australia's recent Tower of Strength advocacy campaign.

Assoc Prof Kirsten Holmes & Assoc Prof Leonie Lockstone-Binney – How to identify potential new volunteers

Associate Professor Kirsten Holmes (Curtin University) and Associate Professor Leonie Lockstone-Binney (William Angliss Institute) shared an innovative tool designed to test the potential suitability and level of commitment of volunteers, through a new questionnaire design. This pertinent tool is a positive step forward and strives to address the uncertainty of volunteerism in an ever-changing societal context.

Kirsten and Leonie also unpacked some of their research into volunteers and, more importantly, non-volunteers; looking at why people volunteer (willingness, capability and availability), why volunteering appears to be in decline in Australia, and what were some of the key indicators of non-volunteers. 

Key points from Kirsten and Leonie:

  • Four variables (giving behaviour, benevolence, skills, stimulation) are statistically significant in distinguishing between volunteers and non-volunteers
  • The Volunteer Convertibility Calculator can be used in recruiting or screening potential new volunteers, but it should complement, not replace existing recruitment practices 

> Access Kirsten and Leonie's Volunteer Convertibility Calculator.

Tina Davey – Economic realities and volunteering

Tina Davey (KPMG's Health, Ageing and Human Services) looked at some of the specific economic and social challenges facing the volunteering sector, including (but not limited to) housing affordability, financial stress, growing underemployment and the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Each factor impacts upon an individual’s willingness and ability to volunteer as we all get busier, older and demand for volunteer services increases while funding decreases.

Tina also touched on emerging robotic technology and the impact that this may have on volunteering in the future, particularly in certain areas of the volunteering industry. Robots could be used as companions in aged care, as guides or in place of visitor information booths in tourism, for information or tours in art galleries and numerous other scenarios. Each of these cases would heavily impact upon volunteering as robotic technology could complement or enhance the role of human volunteers in each sector.

Key takeaways from Tina Davey:

  • There are many factors impacting an individual's willingness to volunteer - and most are beyond our control
  • Robotic technology is providing an exciting, but thought-provoking, new path for volunteering in the future

> Watch an example of emerging robotic technology: Nadine.

Assoc Prof Kirsten Holmes, Assoc Prof Leonie Lockstone-Binney & Alan Noble – The volunteering legacy of major events (Panel)

Associate Professors Kirsten Holmes (Curtin University), Leonie Lockstone-Binney (William Angliss Institute) and Alan Noble (Manager, GC2018 Commonwealth Games Volunteer Program) tackled the big questions surrounding major event volunteering, including the substantial drain such events have on the local volunteering sector, whether these events actually bring more volunteers to grassroots organisations post-event, and the myth or reality surrounding the volunteering legacy of these events. Kirsten and Leonie spoke from their research following the Sydney and London Olympic games, while Alan brought a unique, present-day perspective regarding the upcoming Commonwealth Games. The panel was facilitated by Volunteering Queensland CEO, Mara Basanovic.

Key points from Kirsten, Leonie and Alan:

  • The legacy of major event volunteering is not entirely a myth, but there are serious questions that need to be addressed regarding the benefits
  • Major events often take volunteers away from grassroots organisations
  • Research from Sydney and London showed that the legacy of major events is often untapped and underplanned
  • The information collected on volunteer databases for major events - and what to do with the data once the event is over, particularly concerning these volunteers going on to other community roles - raises many privacy issues and questions
  • Volunteers often experience many benefits from being involved including training, being equipped with employable skills, personal satisfaction, and prestige

> For more thoughts on major event volunteering, read through Leonie Lockstone-Binney's article.

Dr Peter Devereux – Volunteering and the SDGs: enabling and inspiring volunteer action that improves knowledge and outcomes at all levels

Peter Devereux (Curtin University) drew upon the presentations of both days of the conference, as he outlined the links between the Sustainable Development Goals and volunteering. With a show of hands, Peter was able to demonstrate that many of our delegates were addressing at least one of the SDGs within their work, sometimes without even realising it! Peter emphasised that working the SDGs into volunteer work is not an onerous task, rather, it’s imperative that we as a local and wider global community start addressing these mandates to effect powerful, positive change for the future. 

Some of the SDGs link in with promoting and advancing women's health (goals 3 and 5), raising awareness of and addressing climate change (goal 13), eradicating hunger, poverty and gender equality (goals 1, 2, 5 and 10). With each of the SDGs, volunteers and volunteerism can play a vital role in meeting each objective, as volunteers enhance awareness, develop skills and can catalyze change. 

Top tips from Peter Devereux:

  • Many volunteer managers and organisations are already incorporating SDGs into their work
  • In order to meet our agreed goals, we all need to work together and raise awareness of the SDGs

> Check out Volunteering for the Sustainable Development Goals.

> Get active with the UN Volunteers Toolkit!

Mair Brooks, Natasha Doherty, Tobi Johnson, Rebekah Oldfield & Ashul Shah – A case for corporate engagement in volunteering (Panel)

Mair Brooks (EY), Natasha Doherty (Deloitte), Tobi Johnson (Tobi Johnson & Associates USA), Rebekah Oldfield (Allens Law) and Ashul Shah (Eduka) tackled some of the challenges facing corporate engagement in volunteering, while also providing our delegates with valuable insights into how to get corporations on board with your organisation’s work. Facilitated by Brett Johnson (Volunteering Queensland Board Director), each of the panelists had experience delivering employee volunteering programs and were able to answer questions from the floor with firsthand knowledge and expertise.

Some statistics around corporate volunteering from Giving Australia: 

  • Just under half of Australian large businesses managed a formal workplace volunteering program (46%)
  • In large businesses that provided formal workplace volunteering, about one-fifth of their workforce (21%) were involved in their program
  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) of large businesses provided paid time away from the workplace for their employees to volunteer

Key points from Mair, Natasha, Tobi, Rebekah and Ashul:

  • Before approaching corporations, look at how your strategic direction links with the vision, mission and values of the corporation you're seeking support from, and show these alignments clearly so you can better position yourself for their support
  • Be specific about what you're looking for or expecting when approaching corporations for sponsorship or help
  • Consider recruiting a volunteer from a corporation to assist you to develop sponsorship proposals that have more chance of success
  • Be consistent and persistent - if you get knocked back, get up and try again
  • Think outside of volunteering - or manpower - as corporations can provide in-kind resources, office space, and capacity building programs where your staff and volunteers can learn from corporate expertise  

> Contact us - we can help you with your employee volunteering program.

Michelle Lindley – Ignite: Sharing strategies and good practice stories (Breakout session)

Michelle Lindley (Volunteering Queensland's Sector Development Manager) unquestionably stirred up the room and engaged our volunteer managers and organisations in positive, encouraging conversations in world café style. Amongst the chocolate and toy food was an atmosphere of respect and caring where delegates were able to laugh and share their personal experiences. Their boisterous, meaningful discussions covered “Where to from here for your volunteer-involving organisation?”, “What is the magic in your volunteer program?” and the sharing of good news stories. This session enabled them to hear fresh ideas, be inspired and also to have their work validated by their peers.

Delegates took from this:

  • They are not alone with the issues they face
  • There are other volunteer-involving organisations willing to support and assist them
  • But most importantly they know they are making a difference.

Some key thoughts from Michelle Lindley's workshop:

Sabina Nowak – Increase impact: enhance the experience of volunteers (Breakout session)

Sabina Nowak (Volunteering Queensland's new Volunteer Services Manager) outlined the importance of understanding your volunteer’s motives for choosing your particular organisation, the value in creating mutually beneficial relationships, and some keys to effective volunteer engagement. Sabina had our delegates considering their own personal volunteer journey and experiences, and how these could inform their current practice.

Top tips from Sabina Nowak:

  • When developing roles, consider how it fits with your organisation's mission and strategic direction, who it would appeal to, if it can be divided into smaller projects/tasks, and what elements of the role the volunteer can shape for themselves
  • Your orientation process should provide you with the opportunity to develop a personal connection with your new volunteer and learn more about their preferences, emphasise your mission and values, and clarify any limits of the role (and why)
  • Consider what rewards or recognition an individual may prefer - public/private, symbolic/tangible, community/solo, internal/external, information/thanks

Dr Megan Paull – Are we valuing our volunteer managers?

Speaking from her own research, Megan Paull (Murdoch University) ended Day 2 of the conference with an engaging and interactive workshop that talked about what organisations are doing (or not doing) to value their volunteer managers. While unpacking some of the data that had been collected, Megan gave our delegates the space to reflect upon their own experiences, challenges, needs and desires within their work.

Key points from Megan Paull's session:

  • Volunteer management is often not well-understood by other areas of an organisation. Volunteer managers need to advocate their contribution and its value
  • Volunteer managers often work hours far beyond their contracts or requirements, and often feel like they are juggling a lot on their plate. It's important for them to take steps for self-care and to look after their own well-being

Megan will be providing a synopsis of her session based on what attendees wrote, drew and discussed. This will be emailed to attendees shortly.

Through our delegate survey, we continue to receive fabulous feedback and an overwhelming response to the conference, from the professionalism of the event, to the presenters and the relevant topics.

Delegates have also kindly shared many helpful ideas on how we can improve for our next event. Recommendations include:

  • Provide a greater balance between macro level concepts and practical "how to" topics that relate to the every day life of volunteer managers. Including recruiting, retaining and rewarding reliable volunteers, screening and engagement practices, volunteer sustainability, online training for volunteers, more innovation and more best practices.
  • Offer breakout streams that are targeted at different types of organisations, for example talks tailored for smaller groups who are beginning their volunteer programs and different content for large established volunteering programs. Plus, cater more to varying levels of volunteer management experience and sector knowledge.
  • Offer experiential activities between presentations to allow time to digest learnings, ask questions of one another and to help retain key information.
  • Longer break times to allow for more networking.
  • Share more inspiring stories that get attendees thinking about their own stories and what they can do better / what they already do well.

Our State Volunteering Conference will be held biannually, with the next one to be held in 2019. This event will continue to unite, promote, build knowledge and motivate industry to better navigate the complexities of contemporary volunteering. If you have any recommendations for topics or presenters, please let us know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

We would like to conclude by highlighting Volunteering Australia's next National Volunteering Conference. It will be held from 20 - 22 June 2018 at the International Convention Centre in Sydney.

An exciting program is currently being put together, with a call for abstracts and registrations opening later this year in October.

Don't miss out, this is an exceptional professional development opportunity.