The pandemic has heightened social and economic inequalities and made disparities and power imbalance much more obvious for all to see. As we dust ourselves off and plan for the road ahead, we must look for ways to enable volunteers and community service organisations to once more act as key contributors to an economy of wellbeing. High volunteering participation is essential to sustaining our social fabric and nurturing our democratic institutions.
With volunteering participation dropping by half and volunteering hours declining by almost two-thirds over 2020 and 2021, the need for re-engaging volunteers has rarely been greater. Faced by this enormous challenge, Volunteering Victoria calls on the State Government to ensure place-based volunteer support services (VSS) receive sustainable funding that allows them to unlock their potential and that of the communities they serve.
Local solutions to local challenges and realities
Volunteering is a response to community needs; it is the provision of local solutions and support to local challenges and realities. Thanks to their invaluable knowledge, expertise, and capacity to engage with their local communities, VSSs must be part of the solution. VSSs are uniquely positioned to provide local, place-based volunteering support to volunteers and local volunteer involving organisations (VIOs). Yet, many VSSs operate with short-term and precarious funding.
In economic terms, investing in volunteering returns $3.70 for every $1. As impressive as this return is, the impact of volunteering goes far beyond its monetary value. Investment in local volunteer infrastructure, namely VSSs, have consistently contributed to the growth of thriving volunteer cultures and the establishment of volunteering as an activity of social and political importance. There is no doubt that long-term funding for VSSs will enable them to play a central role in re-engaging volunteers and the future success of the sector.
The Victorian Government has a critical role to play in ensuring that VSSs can continue to deliver invaluable place-based services that address local community needs and contribute to their long-term resilience and connectedness.
Seven Benefits of this Localised Infrastructure
Investment in place-based volunteer infrastructure holds a multitude of benefits for communities across the state, and directly supports the priorities of the Victorian Government:
- Improved community resilience through the ability to better coordinate local responses to disruptions and emergencies (such as bushfires and COVID-19).
- Promotion of volunteering that is inclusive of local, diverse communities including LGBTIQ+ communities, established and emerging CALD communities, senior Victorians, youth, and lower socio-economic communities.
- Timely investment in existing infrastructure to support COVID-19 community recovery.
- Improved alignment of place-based service delivery infrastructure to Victorian Government priorities.
- Equitable geographical service delivery coverage and increased support for disadvantaged communities.
- Ability to achieve broader scope and greater impact of the Victoria Volunteer Strategy.
- Vital support to assist with barriers linked to digital exclusion.
In its 2022-23 State Budget, the Victorian Government has an opportunity to commit to state-wide, place-based support for volunteers and VIOs via the established infrastructure of VSSs, which are embedded in local communities with strong networks of existing partnerships. Innovative investment in place-based volunteer infrastructure will support the Victorian Government to become a world-leader in developing an inclusive, local community volunteering culture.