Research shows how to retain volunteers

New Victorian research reveals that better training and support for managers of volunteers could lead to more volunteers being retained long-term, including in hospital and community health settings.

La Trobe University researchers, in collaboration with researchers from Northeast Health Wangaratta, Bendigo Health and Austin Health, surveyed 270 volunteers about their intention to continue volunteering in the health sector.

Volunteers reported the more satisfied they were with their managers, and the more they felt the organisation was committed to its volunteers, the greater their intention to continue volunteering.

Senior Research Fellow at La Trobe University’s John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research, Dr Rachel Winterton, said given falling rates of volunteering across all community sectors, understanding what motivates volunteers is vital.

“We’ve seen rates of volunteering in Australia fall by 20 per cent since 2014*, meaning it’s a really challenging time to keep volunteers engaged and contributing,” Dr Winterton said.

“If we can better train and support managers of volunteers, so they can provide a positive experience for volunteers, as a community we’re more likely to reap the social and economic benefits of volunteering.”

As part of the research, La Trobe University academics also consulted with 120 managers of volunteers across Australia on the challenges of their role.

Dr Winterton said managers of volunteers require broad-ranging skills and expertise that may not be fully understood and supported by organisations.

“Manager of volunteers have to be across a wide range of business functions – human resources, OH&S, and community engagement – as well as the specialised field in which their volunteers are working,” Dr Winterton said.

“Their feedback through this study underpins a new framework that will help organisations recognise these challenges, and support managers of volunteers to be the best they can be.”

Based on the research, researchers developed a competency framework, which was recently launched by the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, The Hon. Luke Donnellan MP.

Developed in collaboration with the Leaders of Health Volunteer Engagement (LOHVE) Network, the framework is the first in the world to focus on volunteer management in the health sector.

Both studies and the development of the framework were funded by the Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.

LOHVE Network research lead and Northeast Health Wangaratta volunteer manager, Ms Kerryn Mitchell, said that the framework will be critical to future recruitment and support of managers of volunteers in the health sector.

“Volunteers are critical to us providing positive patient experiences in our hospitals, and are an integral part of the health workforce,” Ms Mitchell said.

“They need to be supported by managers of volunteers with the right skills and experience; this framework will provide much needed guidance to health organisations in managing and supporting their volunteer workforce.”

Dr Winterton said the findings could have implications for other community sectors that rely on volunteers, including education, arts, environment, emergency services and sport and recreation.

Minister Donnellan said that the research would help shape Victoria’s new volunteer strategy.

“These insights along with extensive consultation across the Victorian community will inform our Victorian Volunteer Strategy and help us to build a roadmap of practical improvements to strengthen volunteering into the future,” Minister Donnellan said.

“Every day across Victoria people donate their time and effort to make life better for others and it’s important that we build a strategy that enables our vibrant culture of volunteering to continue to thrive.”

According to Volunteering Australia, rates of volunteering for people aged 18 years and over have declined from 36.2 per cent in 2010 to 28.8 per cent in 2019. Volunteers contributed 596.2 million hours to the Australian community in 2019.*

Both studies and the framework can be accessed on La Trobe University’s website here.

Media contact: Kate O’Connor – k.o’, 0436 189 629