4159.0.55.005 - Information Paper: Collection of Volunteering data in the ABS, March 2018  
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The ABS received submissions from 32 representatives from government, community, private and not-for-profit organisations, as well as individuals in response to the Discussion Paper. Once again, the ABS would like to thank those people who gave their time to provide a submission and acknowledges the great depth of expertise and detail offered through this process.

There were more than twenty key topics of interest identified in the submissions received from the national consultation. Most related directly to current GSS volunteering data items, and some were similar to the topics raised by the federal agencies summarised in the Consultation chapter. There were also a number of new points of interest - for example, capturing data on social enterprise and how volunteering can be a pathway to employment, and improving the accessibility of giving data currently collected in ABS surveys.

The ABS has reviewed and prioritised each topic within the scope and capacity of the 2019 GSS survey instrument. It is important to note that with limited space to incorporate new and existing questions in the 2019 survey, prioritisation had to be fairly vigorous.

Thematic summaries of the submissions are provided below, with an ABS response to each.


The reasons why people choose to volunteer was the first of two leading topics of interest mentioned in the submissions, as this information is important for organisations and groups in improving strategies to attract and retain volunteers. Reasons for capturing this information varied by type of organisation: for example, there was interest in what motivates volunteers to offer their time and skills to emergency services, as this volunteering activity is viewed as an exceptional phenomenon because of the physical and psychological demands, the risk of potentially hazardous tasks, and the need for specialist skills that it involves. There was also interest in measuring how many people feel obligated to volunteer, in addition to capturing how much "spontaneous" volunteering occurs. For example, of those who would not normally offer their time and services, how many would volunteer in an emergency situation?

The question "What are your reasons for being a volunteer?" was initially flagged for removal from the GSS. However, given the strong support for this topic, it will be retained as part of the volunteering module in the 2019 GSS.

A new response category for the reasons people volunteer was suggested to reflect the increasing number of organisations who offer leave provisions for their staff to engage in volunteering activities. This suggestion could not be accommodated as part of the 2019 survey, however has been flagged for future iterations of the GSS.


Measuring the value and economic impact of volunteering was the second most prevalent topic of interest. There was strong support for retaining questions on the number of hours worked as a volunteer, as this is vital in measuring the economic impact of volunteering. One submission stressed the importance of developing an accurate measure of the significant economic contribution that volunteering makes to Australia, as it will help with understanding the consequences of not investing in and sustaining a thriving volunteering culture. The ABS publishes an Australian National Accounts: Non-Profit Institutions Satellite Account (cat. no. 5256.0) which highlights the sector's contributions to employment and the economy, as well as reporting on the number of hours worked by volunteers. There is strong support for the continued collection and release of this satellite account.

Other submissions noted the importance of developing measures to capture social and human capital contributions to complement our understanding of the economic value and impact of volunteering. They noted it is important to acknowledge the potential for future paid employment for volunteers, as they gain valuable skills and experience through their volunteering activities, and that the health and lifestyle benefits to volunteering could help inform an economic measure in the health sector. It was also noted that many sectors are reliant on volunteering activities and programs to sustain their activities.


Advice received through the consultation was that understanding the reasons why people do not volunteer is just as important as knowing the reasons why they do. This information is crucial for helping organisations understand why people are not engaging in their volunteering programs, and therefore inform their recruitment strategies. The question "What are all the reasons that you have not volunteered" will be collected again in the 2019 GSS with one minor amendment to the response categories: due to consistently low response rates for 'Don't know any groups' , this response category has been removed.

One submission noted a potential data gap in capturing information about people who have previously volunteered, but longer than 12 months ago, and why they stopped volunteering. For example, someone may have volunteered for 10 years, but would be missed if their volunteering activity occurred more than a year before the survey, as the GSS only collects volunteering activity in the past 12 months. While there is no capacity for these additional questions in the 2019 survey, the ABS will take this into consideration for future iterations.


In addition to being able to measure the economic impact of volunteering activity as noted above, understanding the time people spend volunteering and patterns of volunteering activity are critical for the ongoing management of the volunteering sector. The ABS will continue to collect information from volunteers on the frequency of their volunteering activities, the number of hours they spend volunteering, and when they first started volunteering.

A submission was also received seeking data on what days and times people were volunteering. There is no capacity to add questions on this issue for the 2019 GSS, however it will be considered for future collection.

Another submission expressed interest in capturing the time spent by volunteers in travelling to and from their volunteering activities, perhaps using an app which volunteers could use to log their travel time, together with the time spent on the actual volunteering activity.


As with the government consultation, a strong theme of the national consultation submissions was that statistics on informal volunteering are a critical data gap. In the absence of being able to quantify both formal and informal volunteering, it is not possible to understand the true amount of voluntary activity that people engage in.

Informal volunteering can be defined as time, skills or services offered outside a formal organisation or group: for example, providing assistance to a family member outside of your household with domestic chores such as gardening, cleaning, or grocery shopping: unpaid child care for a friend or neighbour; coaching; or providing emotional support and personal care. Unpaid work undertaken for anyone who lives in a person's own household falls outside the scope of informal volunteering.

The ABS has reviewed its volunteering data question set for the 2019 GSS to capture both formal and informal volunteering. Extensively modifying and adding to the existing 'unpaid help' questions, informal volunteering data in the 2019 GSS will be captured as follows:

    • Whether undertook informal voluntary work in last 12 months
    • Type of informal voluntary activity
    • Who was assisted through this activity (e.g. family, friends, neighbours, community)
    • Frequency of informal volunteering (e.g. once a week)

It is expected this new module will contribute to a broader understanding of total volunteering activity, and assist with future reviews of the ABS volunteering standard.


A number of submissions noted an interest in collecting the non-economic benefits of volunteering, such as the positive effect that volunteering may have on a person's health and wellbeing. While no questions have been included in current or future surveys to date to specifically measure the health and wellbeing benefits of volunteering, there is data on health collected in the GSS that can be analysed in conjunction with volunteering data. For example, comparing life satisfaction or self-assessed health status of volunteers and non-volunteers. A detailed list of available health and volunteering data can be found in the 2014 General Social Survey Data Item List, General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2014 (cat. no. 4159.0). Data users can also create their own customised GSS datasets through the Tablebuilder product.


Out of pocket expenses for volunteers was noted as a topic of interest, and has traditionally been captured in each cycle of the GSS. Ultimately after a lengthy review of the consultation outcomes, this topic was determined to be a low priority item and will not be collected in the 2019 survey. However, the ABS will continue to monitor data needs and engage with stakeholders for its potential future collection, pending future GSS design and scope.


A few submissions raised the value of measuring whether the type of volunteering activity requires skilled or unskilled work, particularly in capturing whether professionals are volunteering their professional skill set (e.g. doctors volunteering their services for Doctors Without Borders). This type of information could further inform the economic contribution of volunteers, and assist organisations in evaluating the economic value of their volunteering programs and activities. Other stakeholders reported on an emerging form of volunteering known as "citizen science", where people engage in activities such as bird or frog counts through mobile apps. There are also instances of volunteering activity where the individual may not recognise that they are volunteering their time and skills (e.g. parents who help out at their childrens' sporting or school events).

Some consultation also noted the need for clearer question response categories: for instance, changing the 'Environmental Protection' response category in the 'What volunteering activities do you do with the organisation?' question to 'Environment/conservation/animal welfare' This type of feedback is very welcomed by the ABS as it enables better data to be collected.

How people volunteer has been captured in a cyclical module in the GSS, with a question asking respondents what type of volunteering activity they did for the organisation. This question module was last asked in the 2014 GSS, and is not scheduled to be asked again until 2022. The ABS will continue to review this data need and consider when this question can next be included in the collection (with new response categories to capture new types of activity).


There is growing interest in capturing information on digital or online volunteering. A new question has been added to the Formal Voluntary Work module for the 2019 GSS to capture mode of volunteering:
    • In the field or in person
    • At home over the internet
    • At home over the phone
    • Other

    A few submissions expressed interest in improved accessibility to ABS data on donations so that researchers might be able to assess the feasibility of utilising it as an official measure of giving in Australia. This information is collected in the GSS and currently only available through TableBuilder (paid product), or a paid information consultancy. The ABS will consider publishing this data with the summary 2019 GSS results.


    Broadly speaking, a 'social enterprise' can be defined as any business that trades with the deliberate intention of tackling social problems, improving communities, providing people with access to employment training opportunities, or to help the environment. This is an area of global growth, and one submission raised a number of pertinent research questions on the topic. For example, do social enterprises attract a different type of volunteer? Are they more skilled or from a particular demographic? How do their motivations differ from those who volunteer for organisations? How valuable are volunteers in this type of organisational model?

    Currently there is no scope in the 2019 GSS to capture information on social enterprises, however it has been noted as a topic of interest for future iterations, and the questions noted above will help inform development of any collection of this topic.


    Both the government and national consultations raised concerns about the under-representation of particular groups of people, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The concept of volunteering and giving mean different things across cultures, so there is a risk of under-reporting of rates for these activities. The ABS notes that this topic requires further development and research,however any collection of data for these communities would require additional funded sample, as the current sample size of the GSS is not large enough to represent characteristics of smaller populations. The ABS will continue to monitor this area of interest, and assess how volunteering rates for culturally and linguistically diverse and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations can best be captured.


    A few submissions highlighted interest in volunteering rates and activity in smaller geographical areas. The current sample size of the GSS does not allow for robust data at geographies below State and Territory level. The Census of Population and Housing can provide volunteering rates at smaller geographical areas, however the information on volunteers is limited only to whether a person volunteered or not in the 12 months leading up to Census night.


    One submission asked whether it would be possible to measure the level of legal protection and injury support available to volunteers. As this could be very organisation-specific, the GSS may not be the most appropriate instrument for collecting such information, however the Department of Social Services funded Giving Australia 2016 survey collects information from specific non-profit organisations (NPOs) who recruit volunteers, and may have the potential to include a question on provision of health, safety and legal protections in NPOs.


    There is increasing evidence of some organisations introducing paid leave provisions for their staff to engage in volunteering activities, either on or off company time. While this was raised as a topic of interest in both consultations, there is no scope for the 2019 GSS to capture this type of information, though there is potential to output it as a motivation for volunteering in future collections. The ABS will continue to monitor data needs for this topic.


    There was interest in measuring volunteering activity as a pathway to future employment for a number of reasons, including understanding the personal benefits of volunteering, and understanding the economic impact of the training provided by the volunteering sector on the employment sector, to encourage continued Government support for the volunteering sector.

    The ABS appreciates the increasing interest and value in capturing this information, particularly the link between volunteering and employment, and will continue to engage with stakeholders and assess how this data may best be captured in future iterations of the GSS.


    There was very strong support for data linkage and data integration in both the government and national consultations. Many stakeholders value the potential of data linking and integration to create larger, more information rich data sources, and expressed their interest in collaborating with the ABS on data integration/linkage projects specifically relating to existing data collections on volunteers and volunteering activity.

    The ABS is committed to informing important decisions through extracting the greatest value from Australia's statistical assets, and is supporting the delivery of the best policies and services for all Australians. The ABS will achieve this by working as a partner with all those who need better quality information to inform important decisions.

    Data integration projects are only agreed to when there is public benefit in doing so. Any request to bring data together must be supported by strong justification and undergo a rigorous assessment and approval process to ensure the project provides a significant public benefit and safeguards privacy. Furthermore, any data integration project must adhere to the following set of Commonwealth endorsed High Level Principles:
    1. Strategic resource - Responsible agencies should treat data as a strategic resource, and design and manage administrative data to support their wider statistical and research use
    2. Custodian's responsibility - Agencies responsible for source data used in statistical data integration remain individually accountable for their security and confidentiality
    3. Integrator's accountability - A responsible 'Integrating Authority' (e.g. the ABS) will be nominated for each statistical data integration proposal
    4. Public benefit - Statistical integration should only occur where it provides significant overall benefit to the public
    5. Statistical and research purposes - Statistical data integration must be used for statistical and research purposes only
    6. Preserving privacy and confidentiality - Policies and procedures used in data integration must minimise any potential impact on privacy and confidentiality
    7. Transparency - Statistical data integration will always be conducted in an open and accountable way so anyone can see how their data is being used
    All ABS data integration projects can be found on the ABS Data Integration Projects page or the Commonwealth Data Integration Project Public Register page on the National Statistical Service website.