Fair dinkum, we need volunteers

By Vanessa Wiltshire

COMING together and lending a hand, in good times and bad, is what it means to be Australian. Nowhere is this truer than in our small townships.

For 200 years (and more), people have come together and pitched in to provide essential support and services to their communities.

In recent decades, examples include Apex, Lions, CFA, SES, Country Women’s Association, Royal Flying Doctors Service, Rural Ambulance Service and more.

Then there are the clubs, associations and institutions, too numerous to name, that have provided social and spiritual connection to people who would otherwise be isolated.

All have played important roles in enabling a town or community to not just survive but thrive. They connect people. They foster meaningful face-to-face relationships and provide a sense of cohesion, a feeling of belonging. It’s so important.

But things are changing. Technological and social transformation is redefining what it means to live in community and be connected.

While the impact is less seen in cities, it is felt acutely in small towns like Heathcote. In recent months many organisations and clubs have shared their struggles with the McIvor Times. Increasingly they find it difficult to recruit – and retain — new volunteers and members.

In some cases, the need is becoming dire.

Volunteers are hard to find because our population is ageing. People are time poor. In families of two parents, both generally work full time. Single parent families; the challenge is intensified. It’s not uncommon to hear of mums and dads working more than 40 hours a week – even juggling two or three jobs – just to make ends meet.

With 60-plus community groups and organisations, Heathcote has a rich and diverse community. From the hospital to the community house, hundreds of volunteers give their time and energy each week. But increasingly we are hearing that a volunteer shortage is proving overwhelming and creating burn out.

Volunteering in Australia

Did you know that volunteers contribute $29.3 billion to the Australian economy each year? More than six million people dedicate their time and energy to 750 million hours of unpaid work each year.

The challenge in Heathcote, as in many places, is an ageing population and time pressures.

But it’s not all bad news. Just because people are busy does not mean they do not seek meaningful social connection.

It’s crucial for humans to feel as if they are part of something greater than themselves.

This sense of giving back and finding a sense of belonging is critical for well-being.

These deep-seated needs present a huge opportunity to organisations seeking to attract new volunteers and members.

The problem is that it’s 2019. The younger generations live through their smart phones and it’s tough to get messages across.

But it’s not impossible. Part of the solution may be to reconsider the way we present opportunity. Stories are especially powerful.

Change isn’t easy. But if we think about it, it’s the only thing that is constant. The groups that move successfully into the future will embrace the unknown. They will think differently and work together. They will come up with new ways to ensure that the old traditions continue.

There are more questions than answers. But isn’t it worth starting the conversation.