4159.0.55.005 - Information Paper: Collection of Volunteering data in the ABS, March 2018  
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One of the key drivers behind the consultation was the introduction of a new definition of volunteering in 2015 by Volunteering Australia (VA), the national peak body for volunteering. Their previous definition (introduced in 1996) aligned closely with the current ABS standard definition of volunteering.

  • 1996 VA definition: "Formal volunteering is an activity that takes place in non-profit organisations or projects and is of benefit to the community and undertaken of the volunteer's own free will and without coercion; for no financial payment; and in designated volunteer positions only."
  • Current ABS standard definition of volunteering: "The provision of unpaid help willingly undertaken in the form of time, service or skills, to an organisation or group, excluding work done overseas."

By 2013, Volunteering Australia had deemed this definition to be too narrow to capture the breadth of volunteer practices undertaken in Australia, as it only recognises formal volunteering for not-for-profit organisations. They note that the term 'volunteering' covers a wide range of activities, including formal activities (which take place within organisations, institutions and agencies) and informal activities (which take place outside the context of a formal organisation and structured volunteering activities). Volunteering can also include activism, donated employee time, some concept of reciprocity (including reimbursement of out of pocket expenses), online volunteering, spontaneous volunteering (such as community response to an emergency), corporate volunteering and social enterprise.

The revised 2015 VA definition is much broader in scope: 'Volunteering is time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain.'

There was strong support in both the government and national consultations for the ABS to adopt this new definition of volunteering. While the new definition accounts for a broader range of volunteering activity, the notion of 'common good' could be difficult to capture in a data collection, as it would be difficult to measure or quantify such a subjective concept.

However, the ABS has responded to the changing VA definition and the community consultation by designing future GSS collections to capture a broader range of volunteering activity and characteristics.