Volunteers make a valuable contribution to society in both economic and social terms. They provide services which may otherwise have to be paid for or left undone. This allows organisations to allocate their often limited finances elsewhere. The value of the work contributed by volunteers to non-profit institutions in 2006–2007 was estimated to be $14.6 billion (ABS, 2009b).
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) defines a volunteer as ‘someone who willingly gives unpaid help, in the form of time, service or skills, through an organisation or group’ (ABS, 2006a). The focus on 'help willingly given’ is a key feature of this definition. It excludes activities done: to qualify for government benefits; under a Community Service Order; as part of a student placement; or as emergency work during an industrial dispute. It also excludes any activity which is done as part of paid employment or for a family business. This definition of a volunteer includes a wide range of people who provide unpaid help through organisations in their community, but excludes ‘direct volunteering’ where people willingly provide help, but not through an organisation (e.g. helping a neighbour move house).
In 2006, the ABS collected information on voluntary work in the Census of Population and Housing and three sample surveys: the General Social Survey (GSS), the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALLS) and the Time Use Survey (TUS). These surveys collected information on voluntary work undertaken within Australia for an organisation such as a community service provider, charity, sporting club or school. Each of the collections had a different purpose and used somewhat different methods to collect volunteer information. Despite these differences, the three surveys provided fairly similar estimates of the participation of adults aged 18 years and over in voluntary work activities, at around 35% (excluding adults in very remote areas). In contrast, the Census estimate for the same population was much lower at just over 20%.
The GSS is the primary source of detailed information on voluntary work in Australia. Because of this, and because it has the largest sample size of all sample surveys which collected information on volunteering in 2006, the GSS was chosen to compare to the Census in order to investigate reasons why the Census estimate differs considerably from the survey estimates.
This paper investigates the disparity in results from the two collections, what the socio-demographic characteristics associated with volunteering are, and how Census data on volunteering can be used for small area estimates. To do this, the paper briefly reviews literature on volunteering, describes differences in the collection methodology between the GSS and Census and presents findings of statistical analysis. The analysis comprises descriptive univariate statistics on the characteristics of volunteers, small areas analysis, and the results of a multivariate logistic regression.