Skip to content
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 (ATO), 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 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
Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

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 Paper, Government 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 Sector, Australian 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 Australia, Frontier 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’, highlighted 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".
  • General Social Survey, Australian Bureau of Statistics, (September 2020), latest release. This report provides a breakdown of the volunteer characteristics and hours which indicate that Australians had volunteered for 596.2 million hours in the previous 12 months. Almost one third (29.5%) of the Australian population aged 15 years and over participated in unpaid voluntary work through an organisation in the 12 months prior to the survey. Volunteering rates for males and females were similar at 30.7% and 28.5 % (Table 3). The most common types of organisations for which people volunteered were those relating to sport and physical recreation (39.1% of volunteers), religious groups (23.3%) and education and training (21.8%) (Table 8).
  • Hidden diamonds: Uncovering the true value of sport volunteers, Join 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. sport is the single biggest sector of volunteering in the UK. More than one fifth of the 15 million people who volunteer regularly spend their time volunteering in sport – 3.2 million people in total.Combining the emerging science of the economics of wellbeing with traditional approaches and wider industry research, we can value the contribution
    of volunteering in sport to society by adding the following factors: 1. The economic value of the time given by the volunteer; 2. The value of the personal wellbeing, mental and physical benefits to the volunteer; and 3. The participation capacity and benefits that every volunteer enables. If we accept the not unreasonable assumption that these benefits are all separate and additional to each other, then we arrive at a figure that suggests every individual volunteer in sport produces over £16,032 worth of social value to communities in the UK. This is over 30 times the old value under simple cost replacement. And with each volunteer in sport staying involved for 6.2 years on average, the profit of volunteering in sport is truly astonishing.
  • Intergenerational review of Australian sport 2017, Boston 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. In regards to volunteering the report calculates that the sector employs over 220,000 people, with a further 1.8 million committed volunteers
    donating 158 million hours to sport each year – equivalent in time to nearly 90,000 additional full-time jobs and $3 billion in
    economic value.
  • Sport and Social Capital, Australia, 2010, Australian Bureau of Statistics, (March 2012) Final report (ceased). 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). Literature suggests that volunteering in the community is an important contributor to the development and maintenance of social capital (Nicholson and 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 roles, Australian 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. 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 report, Volunteering 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 questions: 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, Sport 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).
  • Volunteers in Victoria, State 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.
  • The National Standards for Volunteer Involvement, Volunteering Australia, (2015). The National Standards for Volunteer Involvement (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.

Is this information complete?

The Clearinghouse for Sport is a sector-wide knowledge sharing initiative, and as such your contributions are encouraged and appreciated. If you would like to suggest a resource, submit a publication, or provide feedback on this topic, please contact us.

Alternatively, if you would like to be kept up to date with research and information published about this topic, please request a research profile setup.

Return to top