Aristotle once said that the essence of life is, “to serve others and do good.” Volunteering enables us to help people in need, worthwhile causes, and the wider community.

Volunteering makes us happier with time spent dedicated to the common good increasing our overall life satisfaction. Research undertaken by Volunteering Australia (VA) shows that the global pandemic has impacted volunteering in many ways. This includes fewer opportunities for people to participate in their community, challenges for community-facing organisations reliant upon volunteers, and the risk that many of those who have stopped volunteering during the COVID-19 period will not return to voluntary work and at least some will be volunteering less. It is out of our research agenda that this strategic plan has been developed.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics one quarter (25%) of Australians aged 15 years and over participated in unpaid voluntary work through an organisation in 2020, lower than the 30% in 2019. Unpaid voluntary work through an organisation contributed 489.5 million hours to the community in 2020 and 596.2 million hours in 2019. The most common types of organisations for which people volunteered were those relating to sport and physical recreation (31% of volunteers), religious groups (23%) and education and training (19%).

It has been the culmination of hard work and collaboration between our Board, Leadership Team, and stakeholders, and will inform the direction of VA over the next three years. In that respect the following themes emerged:

• Volunteering provided extra meaning and social interaction for those who were able to volunteer during this most difficult of times.

• Strong and resilient communities are built on and sustained by participation. Now is the time to build on this ‘community spirit’, invest in the strategic adaptation of volunteering and ensure volunteering is effective, inclusive, and sustainable into the future. Volunteer involving organisations innovated to continue to meet community need but must continue to adapt to provide safe and supportive pathways to allow more Australians to volunteer.

• It is important for Governments, at all levels, to engage with the volunteering sector, to find ways to make volunteering easier and more accessible for time-poor or vulnerable Australians.

The strategic plan provides an overarching framework and set of priorities from which projects and budgets will be developed, implemented, and regularly reviewed by the Board and Leadership Team, with our priorities adjusted as necessary.

As the saying goes, ‘The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order’. Over the next three years, as Australia’s peak volunteering body, we must reflect thoughtfully on the challenges of living with COVID-19, act decisively and change our practices as circumstances dictate, and yet at the same time remain steadfast to the values that have made volunteering in Australia so great.