#Why Volunteer

Volunteer Family Connect logo
Image courtesy Volunteer Family Connect

Before I start to address the question around why volunteer I must declare an expression of heightened interest. After all you can’t hold the title of Volunteer Family Connect Champion without being a huge advocate for volunteering!

It is definitely through the experiences gained of being around Volunteer Family Connect that I can add some relevance to the question – Why Volunteer?

Firstly Volunteer Family Connect is a community-based early intervention program providing one-on-one emotional support to parents and carers in their home.

The broad objectives of the program are to:

  • Increase parents’ confidence in their parenting
  • Increase families’ connectedness to other parents and their local community networks

Key features of the program:

  • A universal, free service for parents and carers with babies or young children (0-5 years)
  • Families are linked to a trained volunteer (volunteers receive at least 30 hours of standardised training before they are matched with a family)
  • All volunteers undergo the relevant State and Federal working with children and police checks
  • The volunteer visits regularly to offer support and information usually for 2 hours each week for maximum up to a year (depending on need)
  • Volunteer visits and training are guided by a fully developed program manual and best-practice guidelines

A Program Coordinator (who is a trained Family Support Worker) recruits, trains, supports and supervises the Community Parent Volunteers.

Volunteer Family Connect is an extremely innovative joint alliance, randomized control trial and social return on investment (VFC/RCT/SROI). Now if this collective wasn’t already enough buzz-words appearing in a phrase let me add to the uniqueness of its structure. The joint alliance consists of three Not For Profit service delivery agents (Benevolent Society; Karitane; Save The Children) and two universities (Macquarie University; University of Western Sydney) and one of the BIG 4 (Ernst and Young). Most importantly this exciting project is a global first and the majority of the funding comes from a philanthropist.

As a collective the shared outcome is to provide and inform evidence of what works in regard to volunteering, what doesn’t and most importantly why volunteer. With a research period between 2015 and 2019 the early findings are clearly demonstrating the fulfillment of family needs particularly around social inclusion and an economic saving to government. The savings are inclusive of the prevention of costly tertiary services as well as a step down from tertiary services to ensure the cycle of deprivation does not repeat.

Most recently it was with much dismay that I read the possibility of the dismantling of volunteer funding across Australia. The article in Pro Bono 8 February 2017 identifies more than just the title shift in Federal Department of Social Services funding from Strengthening Communities grants to Strong and Resilient Communities grants. In my opinion the title for the grant can be whatever the flavour may be but the need for Volunteers funding support remains the same.

It appears that volunteer support services would be no longer eligible for the funds post the planned 2018 revision. Not only is this a step away from the prevention as being supported by the early findings within the VFC RCT/SROI (love my acronyms!) but it presents as a paradox and at odds with the discussions held in December 2016 with the Prime Ministers Community Business partnership (lead Rosie Batty) and the volunteer expert group which I attended.

In addition it was only in December – two months ago – that Giving Australia 2016 was launched revealing some comprehensive, up-to-date information from individuals, charitable organisations, philanthropists and businesses in Australia and provides critical information about giving and volunteering behaviours, attitudes and trends. One of the key findings was how more in dollar value is given from those that already volunteer.

The paradox for me is on one hand volunteering is noted for being two fold in results where on the other hand it is being totally blind sided with plans to reduce support for the very provision that is providing the two fold returns.

(putting my PhD theory into practice – this paradox is exactly why I have recommended that policy implementation be expanded to embrace non-traditional leadership governance approaches)

Over the period of the next year the VFC RCT/SROI will be able to articulate with evidence the return government is getting on this spend particularly for children and their families. In the mean time the joint alliance stands very strongly with Volunteering Australia in its advocacy of the importance of there being a framework to support organisations to recruit and retain the volunteer workforce.

Whilst the myriad of volunteers that work within the For Social Purpose sector provide their time voluntarily the co-ordination to ensure this support is safe productive and efficient comes with a cost – and one that is much lower than the gaps that will form without volunteering. The CEO of Volunteering Australia Adrienne Picone has clearly articulated and expressed concerns of being ignored and the ongoing consequences:

“The fact that volunteering contributes more value to the community than many other industries, which receive substantial funding from government, continues to be ignored”

For a very long time much of the funding support for volunteering has been unable to be robustly justified. It is through the application of a randomized control trial and social return on investment that the science behind what works within volunteering will be available. Most importantly the trial is a global first of this kind and one that is based on Australian practice.

Questioning the support of volunteering is the same as questioning the support for other infrastructure such as roads and hospitals – why is there even such question!

The intention and focus of the joint alliance has never been to have to use the findings to solely justify volunteering – more so to be clear on the most effective approaches to volunteering.

Further information on Volunteer Family Connect can be found at http://www.volunteerfamilyconnect.org.au/about-vfc/about-vfc

Or contact myself as the Volunteer Family Connect Champion (JMTinc) or any of the organisations that are proud to be a part of the Volunteer Family Connect joint alliance

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