This definition was developed by Volunteering Australia to cover a range of activities that Australians take part in. The definition was expanded upon in a series of explanatory notes.
Volunteering covers a wide diversity of activities in Australian society and can be:
While the vast majority of volunteering is undertaken by individuals, entities also donate employee time and this is included within this definition of volunteering.
Volunteering should not be exploitative or be used to replace paid employment.
While volunteering provides substantial benefits to society, importantly it also provides significant benefits to the volunteers themselves. The personal benefits of volunteering need to be recognised and fostered.
Volunteers give their time without receiving wages or salaries. However, Volunteering Australia lists a few cases where volunteers may receive money as part of their volunteering role:
This definition aligns with the United Nations view that volunteering ‘should be for the common good. It should directly or indirectly benefit people outside the family or household or else benefit a cause, even though the person volunteering normally benefits as well.’1 Volunteering is often considered as contributing to community wellbeing and volunteering activities cover all sectors of society, leisure and hobby areas and include, but are not limited to:
Volunteering should benefit society or contribute to the wellbeing of community members. Volunteers shouldn’t profit financially from their work, nor should the work of volunteers be exploited for private profit.
This definition is aligned to the current United Nations position on volunteering that states: ‘When people participate in peaceful activism, for or against animal research or building of a dam, both sides seek what they consider to be beneficial outcomes. They are included in our definition. Activities involving or inciting violence that harm society and actions not corresponding to the values attributed to volunteerism are not included in our definition’.1
Volunteering can include the concept of reciprocity such as participating in groups where a reciprocal exchange of help/services is undertaken for the benefit of others as well as the volunteer.
Volunteers can receive many benefits from their participation, including benefits that have financial value. For example: a volunteer may perform yard work for a local community group and receive membership in community activities in return. In this case, both services benefit the community, so this is a volunteer role.
Volunteering Australia does not expand upon the meaning of the phrase ‘time willingly given’ in the definition. However, the key theme is that volunteers perform their roles by choice.
Volunteers may choose to give their time for personal reasons, like making friends and gaining experience, or to contribute to a cause or movement greater than themselves. Volunteers are free to leave their role at any time, however they may continue volunteering as long as it aligns with their values, beliefs and ability to contribute.
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The following areas are not considered to meet each of the core requirements of volunteering (‘without financial gain’, ‘willingly given’ and ‘for the common good’) and hence are not included in this definition of volunteering. It is acknowledged that many of these have a constructive, positive and vital role in society and may exist alongside volunteering and / or provide a pathway into volunteering. (Volunteering Australia)
Direct family responsibilities are excluded. It is recognised that direct familial relationships vary for different people and social groups and so this is open to individual interpretation. In addition, foster carers have many similarities with volunteers, but because of the family relationship, these are outside this definition of volunteering. (Volunteering Australia)
Everyone’s family is different, but in most cases, work done around the house is not included in the definition of volunteering. Examples of this type of work include doing domestic chores and caring for family members or other people in the same household. These activities are undertaken willingly and without financial reward, but they don’t directly benefit the broader community.
A number of programs are highly structured, with fixed requirements and provide options of volunteering type activities but with limited choice and/or varying types of in-built financial or reward outcomes. These vary widely and are excluded from this definition. Examples include:
Internships, accredited training and work experience are not considered to be volunteering. This is because they directly advance financial and reward-based outcomes.
Volunteering requires a donation of time. Other types of donating such as giving money or materials and donating blood are not considered volunteering, although it is acknowledged there is a time element required in these forms of donating. (Volunteering Australia)
Donating money or supplies isn’t included in the definition of volunteering. Donations are made for the common good and without financial gain, but they don’t involve the donor giving a significant amount of their time. However, volunteers may also donate to the causes they volunteer for. Also, a volunteer may incur expenses in the course of their volunteering work, which is spent to benefit the community.
Working as a contractor or employee does not count as volunteering unless the company has donated the worker’s time to benefit the community. This is because employees and contractors are paid for their work: they work for financial gain. For more information on these distinctions, please refer to this guide by Justice Connect
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Volunteering is of great benefit to volunteers, volunteer-involving organisations and the community at large.
Volunteering is all about making a difference in your community; it also benefits you personally as it offers the chance to:
Many not-for-profits can be comprised entirely of volunteers, and many services wouldn’t be able to be provided if it wasn’t for the important, vital contribution they provide. Volunteer efforts help:
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You and the organisation you volunteer with are responsible for making sure you’re safe & happy in your role
Volunteer-involving organisations have a duty of care to ensure a safe environment for employees, volunteers & clients.
Volunteer-involving organisations (VIOs) have legal obligations to protect the health and safety of their service users, visitors, volunteers and members of the public. These are especially important when working with vulnerable people such as children, older people and people with disabilities protecting them from harm or abuse.
To manage risks VIOs may establish or undertake:
Background checks required for volunteers may vary depending the services the VIO provides and the type of work a volunteer is required to undertake. Background checks should be completed by the VIO prior to the volunteer commencing.
It is a requirement of all volunteer-involving organisations that work with the elderly to provide a national police certificate for volunteers and employees who have contact with clients and in some cases, all volunteers and employees must undergo one.
For a VIO to conduct national police check, the volunteer is required to complete a form, provide proof if identification and consent to the police check. National police certificates, issued within a few days, outline pending charges and unspent convictions, or findings of guilt. Spent convictions may also be included if a VIO has an exemption to request them. The certificates only show past criminal history, so a new certificate is required every three years at a minimum.
In some circumstances, such as if you have lived overseas since turning 16 years of age, you may also need to complete a Statutory Declaration stating you do not have an overseas criminal history. A Statutory Declaration is a form that must be witnessed by a Justice of the Peace or Commissioner for Declaration and is a legal promise, similar to taking an oath as a witness in court. It is a criminal offence to make a false Statutory Declaration.
For more information on police checks see the police certificate guidelines for the Federal Department of Health.
*Members of Volunteering Queensland are eligible for discounted police checks (link to Membership benefits) for volunteers and staff.
Cost $0 for volunteers
A blue card is required in Queensland to volunteer with an organisation that works with children.* The blue card screening conducts a working with children criminal history check, specifically looking at charges and spent convictions of offences that may pose a threat to children.
Blue cards are generally approved within six weeks, except when additional information is requested.*
It is a requirement of holding a blue card that you register your involvement with the volunteer-involving organisation you are engaged by so they are informed of changes in your criminal history.
A blue card can only be applied for once your volunteer-involving organisation requests that you complete a blue card application form and provide supporting documentation. The VIO will lodge the application on your behalf. If you already have a blue card your VIO can confirm that it is current, to do this, you will be asked to complete an authorisation form to link the VIO.
Blue cards must be renewed every three years. Renewals should be lodged four weeks prior to expiry and new authority to link a card holder to new organisations are required each time.
Volunteers are responsible for informing Blue Card Services and linked organisations of relevant changes to ther criminal history or contact details.
For more information regarding Blue Cards, contact Blue Card Services on 1800 113 611.
*Volunteers may be exempt from applying for a Blue Card if they have are a serving Police Officer or have a current Teacher Registration.
** It is an offence to apply for a blue card if you are disqualified or otherwise ineligible.
If you volunteer with adults with a disability in Queensland for an organisation funded by NDIS or the Department of Seniors, Disability, Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, you will need to apply for a Yellow Card (through your organisation), which conducts a criminal history screening similar to the Blue Card process. Like the Blue Card, the Yellow Card is also free for volunteers and must be received prior to commencement of the volunteer role. If you have a current Blue Card, you do not need to apply for a Yellow Card, but will need to complete an application for an exemption notice.
For more information, see the Department of Seniors, Disability, Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships website.
Fee $159.50 (for one year)
Organisations engaging volunteer drivers who are providing public passenger transport service are required to ensure their drivers obtain the appropriate driver authorisation. The authorisation includes a criminal and traffic history checks, and require the volunteer to obtain a medical certificate demonstrating they are fit to drive.
For more information about these requirements, see the Department of Transport and Main Roads website.
Volunteers who are only using the authorisation as part of their volunteering duties, should request that the VIO covers the cost.
This information is intended as a guide only and should not replace professional legal advice. Readers are encouraged to contact the relevant authorities for more detailed advice relating to their personal circumstances.
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