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Strengthening our Approach to Volunteering: Executive Summary

The report is based on a DIA desk-top review of volunteering information from New Zealand and other countries.

New Zealand’s volunteering landscape is broad, but numbers are declining

New Zealand has a high volunteering participation rate, with 49.8% of the population volunteering with an organisation or directly in their communities. The economic value of volunteering is estimated at $4 billion a year. The statistically discernible positive impact of volunteering on wellbeing and social cohesion is equally important.

Women volunteer more than men and a small proportion of volunteers contribute well over half of total volunteer hours. While younger volunteers have stepped up during the COVID-19 response, the volunteer workforce is shrinking and ageing.

Volunteering provides cost benefits to approximately 115,000 not-for-profits, and government agencies in New Zealand whose work involves volunteering. Registered charities rely heavily on volunteers, especially those that are smaller and less well-resourced. Volunteering infrastructure (a system to support, manage and promote volunteers) is evident in the work of volunteering peak bodies and the 17 regional volunteer centres, and many volunteer-involving organisations.

Volunteer organisations contribute to the COVID-19 response while experiencing pressures

Volunteering has made a significant contribution to the COVID-19 response. However, increased community demand for services has exacerbated pressures on voluntary sector budgets and wellbeing, and volunteer numbers are reportedly falling. Even so, the voluntary sector has continued to deliver and has adapted to new ways of working.

A stocktake of government support to volunteering

At least 30 agencies have work underway that involves volunteering. DIA identified issues and gaps in all types of government support to volunteering based on our desktop study and sector reports.

Government lacks an overall strategic approach

Several government agencies have strategic initiatives that recognise volunteering. However, the government has no overall strategic approach to volunteering and no shared mechanisms to enable government agencies to understand the impact of their interventions.

Agencies with a volunteering workforce experience varying participation trends

Some government agencies sustain their own volunteering workforce. However, volunteer numbers vary over time, with some agencies experiencing a consistent decline.

The government could more efficiently fund volunteering infrastructure and diversity

Government funding to community organisations with a volunteer base is generally via grants or contracts for services. This funding tends to focus on delivering programmes or outcomes, and often excludes specific costs of volunteer infrastructure. There is limited data on overall government funding to these organisations.

While lottery grants and Crown funds administered by DIA are only part of overall funding, they are a significant investment in supporting volunteers to achieve their communities’ aspirations. Some Crown funds are over-subscribed, and the volunteering support needs of Māori, Pacific and ethnic communities are not well met. Broader concerns in the sector include that funding has not kept up with demand and is too short-term and competitive, creating pressure on volunteer wellbeing.

The sector sees some government regulation as a compliance burden

Government regulation is vital to the infrastructure that supports volunteers and helps to protect communities that use voluntary services. However, the sector sees some regulation as a compliance burden, such as the requirement for police vetting for each new voluntary engagement.

Improving recognition of volunteers could help address volunteering workforce issues

Attracting volunteers is one of the biggest challenges the sector faces, so it needs to find meaningful ways to attract and reward volunteers.

Government agencies recognise volunteers in a variety of ways, such as awards and reimbursing financial costs, and celebrating International Volunteer Day and Volunteer Awareness Week. Issues for the volunteer workforce that could be addressed by strengthening recognition include:

  • helping them feel that they are valued, and their wellbeing concerns are being heard
  • encouraging people to take up long-term commitments
  • improving diversity in the sector and meeting volunteers’ changing needs for support.

International data on volunteering

DIA reviewed data from Ireland, Scotland, the UK, Australia and Canada. These countries often approach volunteering similarly to the New Zealand government, but we can also learn from them:

  • Ireland, Australia and Scotland have a national strategy for volunteering.
  • All of the countries are addressing diversity issues by removing barriers for under-represented groups.
  • All five countries had some form of good practice guidance for volunteer management, and some identified that more government support was needed in this area.
  • All five countries supported the volunteer workforce, with many of them reimbursing expenses or acknowledging volunteer work through credentialing.

This report identifies opportunities to strengthen support for volunteering

This report, drawing on engagement with the voluntary sector and the international scan, identifies potential opportunities for the government to strengthen support to volunteering infrastructure and improve the diversity of volunteering. DIA could enact options 1-4 within current spending by reorganising some resources. Options 5-8 are for longer-term consideration and would require investment.

1. Champion the recognition of volunteering during Volunteering Week 2022

To strengthen recognition, we suggest that the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector champions volunteering, focusing on how volunteers contributed to the COVID-19 response. DIA could complement the sector-led programme of activities during National Volunteer Week 2022. This could also see introduction of a new high-profile Ministerial award for volunteering, such as a Prime Minister’s Volunteering award.

2. Support a refresh of Volunteering New Zealand’s ‘Best Practice in Volunteering’ document

DIA could support a volunteering infrastructure by providing immediate support to Volunteering New Zealand (VNZ) to refresh its good practice guidance document.

3. Encourage diverse volunteering with grants administered by DIA

DIA has completed a review of the Crown funds and is establishing a new Community and Volunteering Capability (CVC) Fund. This fund will prioritise volunteering, with a focus on supporting diversity (young volunteers and volunteering in Māori, Pacific and ethnic communities). DIA could also address inequity in the way that some funding is administered by reviewing the funding formula for volunteer centres in consultation with the sector.

4. Strengthen our strategic approach across government

Like other countries, New Zealand could develop a cross-government strategic approach. This would raise volunteering’s profile across government, promote shared understanding of sector demand, improve the quality of information, fill data gaps, and help solve infrastructure problems. A focus of the strategic approach is support to Māori volunteering and diverse understandings of volunteering.

5. Invest in volunteering infrastructure and encourage diversity

Investing in ongoing support to practical volunteer management initiatives across the country at grass-roots level would strengthen volunteering infrastructure. Targeting diverse forms of volunteering would strengthen volunteering infrastructure in Māori, Pacific, ethnic and youth communities.

6. Investigate reimbursing volunteers' out-of-pocket expenses

Working with the volunteering sector to understand how it approaches reimbursement would support voluntary organisations to make reimbursement more available. This would encourage consistent approaches, removing financial barriers to volunteering.

7. Investigate introducing credentialing for volunteers

Introducing credentialing processes to volunteering would help it become a feasible pathway to employment. This work could assist the Ministry for Ethnic Communities’ work on volunteering by new migrants under the Employment Action Plan.

8. Investigate creating a clearing house to connect online volunteering platforms

Supporting a sector-led project to develop a clearing house for online volunteering platforms would help stabilise the falling participation rate and connect with volunteers to meet rising demand. Connecting online could encourage volunteers to find opportunities that suit their aspirations, capabilities and lifestyle, including micro-volunteering and project volunteering.


We propose that the Government’s role is to coordinate efforts across the volunteering sector to strengthen recognition of volunteering. The Government already supports volunteering infrastructure, but strengthening support would enable the sector to thrive and address pressing, persistent issues for the volunteer workforce.