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Volunteers in Sport

What is volunteering and its role in the sport sector

What is volunteering?

Volunteering Australia defines the act of volunteering as 'time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain'. The term 'volunteering' covers a diverse range of activities and includes formal volunteering (which takes place within organisations in a structured way); and informal volunteering (acts that take place outside the context of a formal organisation). While the vast majority of volunteering is undertaken by individuals, organisations also donate employee time, which is included within this definition of volunteering. Volunteering should not be exploitative, or be used to replace paid employment.

Volunteers can receive reimbursement for out of pocket expenses and can be rewarded and recognised as part of good practice. While this process may introduce an element of financial or material benefit to the volunteer, it is still considered volunteering. According to Australian Tax office rulings, volunteers can receive an honorarium, stipend, or similar payment as recognition for voluntary service or professional services voluntarily rendered.

Role of volunteering in the sport sector

Sport is part of the fabric of Australian life. It helps build strong, connected and socially cohesive communities and improves physical and psychological wellbeing. It can also help steer vulnerable young people away from crime and anti-social behaviour.

This important element of Australian life and culture is generally run by small, not-for-profit sports clubs.  These clubs are the backbone of many local communities and they are mostly run by volunteers.

In recent years, the role of volunteers and their contribution to the sport and active recreation sector has received much greater attention, with many new programs and strategies being developed to identify, attract, retain and recognise them.

Volunteers add great value to the sector by ensuring organised activities are affordable, well run and inclusive. The popularity of volunteering, particularly within the sport and active recreation sector, remains strong in Australian society.

Access to resources
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Additional resources

  • Volunteering Australia Response on a National Sports Plan, Volunteering Australia, (July 2017). The National Sports Plan aims to guide the future priorities and approaches of the Australian sporting sector for the long term. Volunteering Australia believes that a National Sport Plan needs to acknowledge volunteering as a key pillar for sporting activity in Australia, and develop mechanisms to facilitate and enhance its contribution. They also emphasised that volunteering must be considered in policy development and workforce planning. The response also highlights the need for a sustained investment into the volunteering sector by the Australian Government to ensure long term benefits.
  • Volunteering: Building Stronger Communities, Discussion PaperGovernment of Western Australia, Department for Communities, (2010). Volunteers are an invaluable resource to the social, economic, environmental and cultural strength of Western Australia. Active volunteers and well-supported community groups build connected communities by strengthening the ties between people, encouraging participation and responding to the changing needs of the community.
  • Volunteers: the "heartbeat" of Olympic legacy, International Olympic Committee, (6 December 2019). Volunteers are often hailed for being the “lifeblood” of the Olympic Games, working tirelessly to ensure their success, but since their introduction at the Olympic Games London 1948, volunteer programs have contributed to much more than delivery of the Games. Volunteers have gained lifetime skills and unique experiences, promoted the Olympic spirit and created new volunteer cultures and legacies which continue to benefit their countries to this day. More than 200,000 applications to volunteer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were submitted, a number which reflects the unprecedented enthusiasm for the Games across Japan.
  • Contribution of the Not-for-Profit SectorAustralian Government, Productivity Commission, research report, (2010). This report provides information on: (1) improving the measurement of the sector's contributions, and (2) promoting productivity and social innovation. The report highlights in many different sections the economic and social benefits that volunteering has on the not-for-profit sector generally.
  • The economic contribution of sport to AustraliaFrontier Economics report to the Australian Sports Commission, (2010). There are three main ways in which sport delivers economic benefits to society: (1) promotion of physical activity for public health benefit delivers an estimated saving of $12 billion in health care costs, (2) labour input of volunteers is valued at around $4 billion, and (3) the international success of elite Australian sportspeople is one of the most significant measurable positive impacts on social well-being; with a value that is likely to exceed the current annual budget for elite sports.
  • Economic Value of Volunteering in Victoria, Duncan Ironmonger, University of Melbourne, Victorian Government, Department of Planning and Community Development, (December 2012). Although anecdotal evidence suggests that the economic contribution of volunteering is great, there are limited reliable figures on the exact monetary value. While we have various official statistics about participation rates, there are no readily available official statistics to show the important contribution volunteering makes to the Victorian economy. This report estimated that by adding the value of organised, unorganised and travel together, volunteering was worth about $7.1 billion to the Victorian economy in 1992, growing to $16.4 billion in 2006. Volunteers also provided a volume of work equivalent to 260,500 jobs in 1992 rising to 359,100 in 2006. This is equivalent to an additional 13.4 per cent of the paid number of people employed in Victoria 1992 and 14.2 per cent in 2006.
  • The Future of Sport in Australia, Crawford M, Australian Government, Independent Sport Panel (2009). The report of the Independent Sport Panel, commonly known as the ‘Crawford Report’, noted the critical importance of volunteers to Australian sport. The report noted that, "The Australian Government should develop and fund a national volunteer program for sporting and physical activity organisations that aims to attract and retain volunteers to sport through education, accreditation and recognition, and in particular takes account of the potential offered by the growing number of older Australians to become volunteers".
  • Hidden diamonds: Uncovering the true value of sport volunteersJoin in, (2014). Going beyond traditional valuation methods, which use the cost-replacement model, the research investigated the true value of sports volunteering to personal wellbeing and happiness of the volunteers themselves, plus the wider benefit to their communities.
  • Intergenerational review of Australian sport 2017Boston Consulting Group (BCG) for the Australian Sports Commission, (2017). This review focused on the overall sports sector, with a particular emphasis on participation in sport and community level sport. While the synergies between participation and high performance sporting outcomes are recognised as being important to any discussion about the value of sport, the ASC’s high performance strategy is reviewed as part of the Olympic cycle. A separate, deeper analysis of the high performance sports system, including the AIS strategy and future direction of the AIS campus, commenced prior to the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games. This analysis includes an evaluation of the ability of individual sports to contribute to high performance outcomes. The outcomes of this analysis will complement this review.
  • Sport and physical recreation volunteersAustralian Bureau of Statistics (Perspectives on Sport series), Catalogue Number 4156.0.55.001, (October 2008). Voluntary work enables many sporting clubs to deliver community services. Volunteering helps to develop and reinforce social networks and cohesion within communities. Sports and physical recreation organisations attracted the largest number and proportion of volunteers, 1.7 million people or 11.1% of the population.
  • Sport and Social Capital, Australia, 2010Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4917.0, (March 2012) Final. This report examines the relationship between participation in sport and physical recreation and social wellbeing using a range of indicators from the 2010 General Social Survey (GSS). This report shows the associations between participation and a range of social indicators that may be used to assess social capital and wellbeing. Literature suggests that volunteering in the community is an important contributor to the development and maintenance of social capital (Nicholson & Hoye 2008). Data from the GSS show that sport participants are an important source of volunteers in the community. Over three quarters of those who volunteered their time and services to an organisation also participated in some sport or recreational activity during that same time period. The participation rate for non-volunteers was much lower.
  • Sport’s unsung heroes: Involvement in non-playing rolesAustralian Bureau of Statistics (Perspectives on Sport series), Catalogue Number 4156.0.55.001, (June 2011). Many local sporting clubs rely on volunteers to fill diverse roles; such as coaches, referees, committee members, groundskeepers and canteen workers; many local sporting clubs rely on volunteers to fill these roles. The time commitment involved, and in some cases the need for specialised skills and knowledge, makes the people who occupy these non-playing roles a valuable community resource. This article looks at the characteristics of people in non-playing roles in the sport and active recreation sector.
  • State of Volunteering in Australia reportVolunteering Australia/PWC, (April 2016). The State of Volunteering in Australia report details the trends, demographics, challenges and successes in the volunteering sector in Australia. Volunteering Australia and PwC have conducted a survey to analyse the current state of volunteering in Australia, and to identify opportunities to maximise the potential of the volunteer workforce. The report investigates the following headline question: Are the current volunteer engagement and management practices appropriate for the future? Is there alignment between the types of roles volunteers want to undertake, the sectors they are interested in volunteering in, and the needs of volunteer involving organisations? What is the appropriate framework to support informal volunteering? What are the necessary steps that need to be taken to future proof volunteering? Sport is included as one of the industries/areas of volunteer participation investigated.
  • Value of Sport, Australia, 2013Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 5156.0.55.002, (2013) Final. This publication collates ABS data related to the value of sport. The chapter on volunteers includes information on the number of volunteers by age and sex, family and household type, and their contribution to the labour force. Sport and physical recreation organisations attracted the largest number of volunteers as a sector, 14% of the adult population contribute in some voluntary capacity.
  • Value of SportSport NZ, (17 March 2018). A study exploring the value of sport to New Zealanders, their communities and our country. The Value of Sport is based on extensive research, including a survey of around 2,000 New Zealanders and a review of previous studies from here and around the world. Active NZ in 2013/14 estimated that 28.1% of adults had volunteered at least once over the previous year, and these volunteers contributed 67.7 million hours of volunteered time over 12 months with an estimated market value of NZ$1.031b. 35% of volunteers state that their reason for volunteering is to contribute to their community. 25% of volunteers are also motivated by the opportunity to gain new skills (and improve employment opportunities).
  • Voluntary Work, Australia, 2010Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4441.0, (2011). About 34% of Australians, 6.1 million people, participate in voluntary work. The types of organisations that volunteers gave most time to were sport and physical recreation (37% of all voluntary work hours), religious (22%). community and welfare (21.5%), and education and training (17.5%) organisations.
  • Volunteers in VictoriaState of Victoria, Ministerial Council for Volunteers, (June 2017). This report was developed to provide a contemporary narrative for volunteering. It also provides a summary of the known social benefits, economic value and current trends. Findings from this report highlight key trends, challenges and opportunities for volunteering and have informed the development of strategic priorities to strengthen and support the volunteer sector in Victoria.
  • Characteristics of voluntary sports clubs management: A sociological perspective, Theil A and Mayer J, European Sport Management Quarterly, Volume 9(1), pp.81-98, (2009). The aim of this paper is to discuss the general characteristics of voluntary sports club management. The analysis shows the following: the absence of explicit organizational objectives makes it very difficult to validate successful development. The incongruity of power and professional competence and the ambiguous distribution of tasks hampers well-grounded decision making. Furthermore, recruiting managerial staff from within the club is a major factor that prevents organisational change. Consequently, specific management concepts for voluntary sports clubs need to be developed. In doing so, blindly transferring economic concepts must be avoided in order to ensure that public utility is not jeopardized in the long run.
  • The National Standards for Volunteer InvolvementVolunteering Australia, (2015). The National Standards for Volunteer Involvement (the National Standards) replace the National Standards for Involving Volunteers in Not-for-Profit Organisations. The National Standards have been developed in consultation with the volunteering sector to support the involvement of volunteers and act as a resource for organisations in which volunteers are involved. They provide a framework for organisations to consider the role of volunteers within the organisation and the impact effective volunteer involvement can have on achieving the strategic goals and aims of the organisation.

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