In 2020 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the lowest numbers on record of Australian volunteers, a worrying trend that has since been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting restrictions.
Surf Life Saving, ranked amongst the most trusted and valuable Australian charities, has been particularly impacted, the limitations placed on the number of people allowed on premises during the pandemic, depleting volunteer numbers.
While Australia still has a strong volunteer mentality, with some of the highest global rates of volunteer participation, this steady decline, and a growing tendency for volunteers to away from longer-term commitments, has left non-profits competing for resources.
Century-old Bellambi Surf Lifesaving Club is one SLSC going against the trend with a whopping 40 per cent increase in volunteer membership ahead of the patrol season. It is a huge turn around for the club, which was facing closure only a year ago, due to a dwindling number of volunteers and a worrying reduction in active members.
Research undertaken by Volunteering Australia in 2021, showed that many Australians who had stopped volunteering during the pandemic have not returned since lockdowns and restrictions eased, leaving non-profit organisations, many of which are front line emergency responders, scrambling to access and retain enough trained, and committed, volunteer staff to continue essential works in the community.
Dr Vivien Forner, a psychology researcher and expert in volunteer retention at the University of Wollongong, has been working with several emergency service and non-profits, including Surf Life Saving NSW, on inclusive and sustainable volunteer recruitment and retention strategies.