Volunteering is a precious free resource made available by generous people for the benefit of others, for the Church and our communities. Are we making the most of this resource, or can we do better?
Volunteering is giving one's time and personal resources in the service of others. In this it is close to the heart of the Scriptures, where service runs deeply through the history of God's relationship with his people. Wherever we pick up the Scriptures, we see that God sent someone, a leader (Abraham, Moses), a prophet (Isaiah, Elijah), a soldier (Gideon), or a king (David, Solomon), to serve his purpose or his people in some way. Finally he sent his Son, Jesus, whose whole life and death was one of service: Jesus was a volunteer, as were the apostles after him. Volunteers are in fine company!
However, volunteering is not always seen in such high regard. Some volunteers may see it as a way to fill in one's time, to relieve boredom, while a parish or social service agency might see in it the opportunity to engage people to help with ancillary services, without much regard for volunteers’ abilities. Alternatively, volunteering can be seen as a gift of oneself for the benefit of others, whereas a parish or service agency may see in it the potential to enhance program services made possible by generous, competent colleagues.
Unlike salaried work, volunteering is not limited to a contract of service attached to monetary exchange for labour. Volunteering is a peer relationship, where volunteer and organisation agree on the nature and extent of the service. Volunteering is limited only by imagination, generosity and ability, not by the salary budget.
The National Church Life Survey in 2011 noted that more than half (52%) of church attenders give time to community service, including local congregations, every month, and that church attenders are more likely to volunteer in local community groups (48%) than the wider population (38%) (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010).
The Victorian government estimated that Victorian volunteers provided a volume of work equivalent to 359,100 jobs in 2006. Excluding the cost of volunteer travel, organised voluntary work in Victoria was worth $4.9 billion, with the value of informal voluntary work estimated at a further $9 billion. (The Economic Value of Volunteering in Victoria, Department of Planning and Community Development, Ironmonger, 2012).
Why do people volunteer?
In 2006 the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) identified "helping others and the community" as the main reason for volunteering (57%), followed by "personal satisfaction" (44%), with "religious reasons" ranked at 15% (Voluntary Work Australia 4441-0).
The ABS, however, noted a decline in the overall rate of volunteering from 36% in 2010 to 31% in 2014. The survey noted a prevalent sense of people having less time for activities, which may have contributed to the decline (General Social Survey 4159-0).
How can we nurture and increase the volunteering 'resource'?
Those of us considering volunteering our services should reflect that every Christian, every person, is called to serve others, and that God himself chose to serve the human race in the person of his Son. For centuries people have provided services to their communities that would not have been possible without the dedicated service of volunteers. This remains true today. Without volunteers, the capacity of the Church and society to reach out to those in need would be greatly limited as the figures above illustrate.
If you have the time and capacity to volunteer your services, please prayerfully consider how you may be able to contribute. Many of us will find our own sense of purpose and worth in serving others. In considering where and how to volunteer, we should seek to use the talents we have been given, to serve in the most beneficial and personally satisfying way.
If we are working in parishes and social service agencies and seeking to engage volunteers, we should first ask ourselves, are our visions for our volunteers large enough? Volunteers offer the potential for us to do far more and to do far better than we could do without them. Jesus went looking for volunteers, and he chose 12. They would lead the Church for 2,000+ years (so far!).
People who offer their services to us are a precious resource. In our advertising for volunteers, we should describe the roles we are seeking to fill and the duties and skills required, much as we would for paid positions. If people offer their services, and we cannot use their services at the time, we should advise them of this. They will then be able to offer their services elsewhere. Nothing corrodes the desire to volunteer more than being put on a list and forgotten. If we meet people who we think would be suitable for other roles or organisations, we should draw this to their attention, and with their permission, also to those who may be able to offer them suitable roles. In this way we will make better use of the pool of potential volunteers, and help our colleagues find the right volunteers. We should regularly show our volunteers our appreciation of their services.
We should pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will send volunteers to help us gather in the harvest:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 3pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38)
For volunteer roles in Catholic social services in Victoria go to www.css.org.au/parishes, or call 9287 5566.
The author of this writing, Adrian Foley, volunteers with a range of faith-based and other community groups. One of his volunteer roles is as Program Leader of the Welcome the Asylum Seeker Parish Support Program at Catholic Social Services Victoria.
1] Shown as 38% in the ABS 2010 report.