Australian Volunteering

This Fact Sheet has been prepared to provide a greater understanding of the impact of the community sector in Australia. Other Fact Sheets can be found at the Media Centre at

Many people choose to donate gifts of time rather than money. In Australia, gifts of time are estimated as being more than twice as valuable as monetary donations to the sector as a whole. While there have been concerns over a perceived decline in the number of volunteers and members of community groups, the most recent data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests that volunteer rates have in fact been on the rise for many years.

Key Statistics

  • How many people volunteer? According to a 2001 ABS study, 5.2 million people aged 18 years and over participated in voluntary work at least once in the previous 12 months. Of these, 3.1 million (21% of the population aged 18 years and over) were volunteers who worked at least once per fortnight for one or more organisations.
    • This figure represented an increase over those in 2000, where 4,395,600 people over the age of 18 volunteered, representing 32% of the population. In fact, the proportion of the population who volunteered at least once in a 12 month period has increased from 24% in 1995 to 32% in 2000 and 34% in 2006. This increase occurred for both men and women across most age groups.
  • How often do they volunteer? In 2006, volunteers contributed 713 million hours of voluntary work, up from 704.1 million hours in 2000 and 511.7 million hours in 1995. However, while the total annual hours contributed by volunteers has increased dramatically between 1995 and 2006, the amount of time each volunteer gave has actually decreased. The median annual hours contributed by volunteers has fallen from 74 hours per person in 1995 to 56 hours per person in 2006 - a reflection perhaps of the fact that more Australians are volunteering now than a decade ago.
  • Where do they volunteer? In 2006, 62% of volunteers worked with one organisation only, 25% with two, 8% with three and 4% with more than three organisations. The main recipients of volunteers' work were sport and recreation organisations (more than 23%) and education and training groups (18%) - in fact, these two sectors, along with community/welfare and religious groups, accounted for 74% of volunteering involvements.
  • Where do the different genders volunteer? Women constituted the majority of volunteers in community services, education, training and youth services, and health. By contrast, men dominated the composition of volunteers in sport and recreational activities and in emergency services volunteers.
  • Who volunteers the most? Women volunteer more commonly than men (36% compared to 32%), but among full-time workers, men were more likely to volunteer (34%) than women (33%). However, 55% of employed women worked part-time, and among these women, 47% were doing voluntary work.
  • Does employment matter? Employed people, either in full-time (34%) or part-time work (44%), had a higher volunteer rate than those who were unemployed (26%) or not in the labour force (30%).
  • How many hours a week do they volunteer? Employed men gave an average 2.2 hours a week to voluntary work, while unemployed men did 3.4 hours of voluntary work a week, and retired men did 5.9 hours. Similarly, retired women did more weekly hours of voluntary work, 3.5 hours, than other women not in the labour force (2.4 hours), and than those who worked part-time (2.3 hours), full-time (2.1 hours) or were unemployed (2 hours)
  • What age group is most likely to volunteer? People aged 35-44 years were in the age group are most likely to volunteer their time.
  • Why do they decide to volunteer? In a Volunteering Australia report 80% of respondents chose 'knowing that my contribution would make a difference' as the most important factor in their decision to volunteer. The next most popular reason was 'personal belief for a cause.'
  • Why do they volunteer? Helping others or the community was acknowledged as a current reason for volunteering by 57% of volunteers. More than 50% of both male and female volunteers over all age groups and in all labour force status groups gave 'helping others or helping the community' as a reason for being a volunteer. However, volunteers also identified benefits to themselves with 44% reporting 'personal satisfaction' and 36% 'to do something worthwhile'.
  • What is the best method of recognition for volunteers? According to a Volunteering Australia report 'being accepted as a valuable team member', 'personal thank you' and 'feedback about my contribution' are the most appreciated methods of recognition as selected by volunteers.

Value of Volunteers

Understanding the value of your volunteers is important, but is not an easy task. To better understand what your volunteers are actually worth head to our 'Valuing Volunteers' page.


ABS, (2009) Average Weekly Earnings, Australia, Aug 2009. Available here.

ABS, (2008) Australian Social Trends. Available here.

ABS, (2006) Voluntary Work, Australia. Available here.

FAHCSIA (2005) Giving Australia. Available here.

Lyons, M. (2001) Third Sector: The Contribution of Nonprofit and Co-operative Enterprises in Australia(Allen and Unwin, Sydney)

Lyons, M (1999) Australia's Nonprofit Sector, in Year Book Australia 1999, ABS Catalogue No. 1301.01.

Salamon, Anheier and Associates (1999), The Emerging Sector Revisted. John Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, Phase II,(The John Hopkins University, Baltimore).