Volunteering in Australia
WATCH: Numbers that matter information session recording

Below is a snapshot of the Volunteering section from the Census 2021: Numbers that matter report – you can read more about the report and its authors below this story, as well as explore the other core themes covered by the report.

Every five years there’s great excitement about what the latest Australian Census will say about our nation. It is a snapshot in time that provides important data points; but insights can only be drawn when that data is mixed with the experiences of people closely in touch with our communities.  Lindsay Dawson from Perpetual provides that invaluable community voice in the story below.

Read more about the lived experiences and voices of community in the full Census 2021: Numbers that matter report.  Delivered by Perpetual Philanthropy and Not-for-profit in conjunction with Seer Data & Analytics.


The volunteering rate in Australia has decreased 26% from 19% in 2016 to 14.1% in 2021.

Volunteering for an organisation or group by age range

From 2016 to 2021, rates of volunteering have fallen across all age ranges, most significantly among people aged 35-44 years. The rate of volunteering in that group has fallen from around 21% in 2016 to 14% in 2021.

Volunteering in Australia

Who is volunteering?

  • Around one in eight (12.6%) Baby Boomers report caring for other peoples’ children – especially grandchildren. Of these, two thirds are female. They are also the generation most likely to volunteer and provide unpaid assistance to others.
  • Females volunteer at a higher rate than males in every age group under 75 years of age. The difference between female and male volunteering rates peaks in the 35-44 years age range, with females volunteering at a rate of 16.6% in 2021 compared to males who volunteered at a rate of 12.2%.

Community voice: Not putting their hands up

by Lindsay Dawson, Perpetual

Volunteering is a glue that binds our society together. Volunteers are crucial to charities and the social sector – according to Australia giving trends, 60% of charity workers say their organisation relies on volunteers. We know they play an important role in education and policy in professional bodies, that they’re the bedrock of community sport, constantly there for fundraising and extracurricular activities at schools.

Unfortunately, volunteering rates have decreased from 19.0% in 2016 to 14.1% in 2021 – that’s a decline of 26%. And that decline occurs across all age ranges – a huge concern for the community sector and anyone who cares about how our society breathes.

Why the fall?

Financial stress is a factor. According to the Census, the number of mortgages with payments exceeding $5,000 a month increased 60% since 2016. Pressures on the home balance sheet mean more people are working full-time however research tells us that it is women working part-time who do a vast amount of volunteering.

Rates of volunteering have fallen most significantly in the 35-54 age range. These are the people most likely to volunteer but they’re also the “sandwich generation,” responsible for their children and caring for their ageing parents. Because people have children later in life – and our parents live longer – the sandwich generation sees the demands on their time both increased and extended.

Why people volunteer?

COVID-19 has obviously played a role here. With most sport and extracurricular activities cancelled over the past two years, are volunteers still anxious about the impact of COVID-19? Or have we lost that sense of community and fallen out of the good habit – and it is a habit – of giving up our time to share our unpaid ‘work’ with and for others?

I volunteer at Bondi Icebergs Club, manage my boys’ rugby team and supervise 18 kids on the weekend at Nippers. It’s a fantastic part of my life but in 2022 it’s a constant struggle to find volunteers to help. So what can be done?

First we need to remember – and celebrate – how crucial volunteers are in everything from sport to the arts to life-saving and life-altering social services. We need to help people move sensibly past the fear of COVID-19. As we re-open up our communities in a post COVID-19 world we need to to remind people that governments can’t do everything and that being part of your community through volunteering is what makes our society better. Whether you’re a not-for-profit, philanthropist or a government agency, helping to revive our volunteer culture should be part of your mission.


With thanks to our community voice for this story:

Lindsay Dawson is Philanthropy Research & Insights Manager at Perpetual. She oversees $120 million in annual distributions from Perpetual clients back into the sector. Lindsay is the Perpetual Philanthropy team’s data and insights expert and drives outcomes for clients utilising data to help them make better decisions.

Census 2021: Numbers that matter – Learn more

About the report and its authors

Census 2021: Numbers that matter, a strategic compendium for Australia’s for-purpose leaders, boards and philanthropists, which asks and answers the big questions about how to make our society better for all. The above story is a snapshot of the introduction only, with an additional seven core themes curated in the report, where experts from Perpetual and other social sector organisations reflect on some of the big issues facing our communities, by exploring a series of data insights drawn largely (but not completely) from the 2021 Census.

About Perpetual

Perpetual’s Philanthropy and Not-for-Profit team is one of Australia’s largest advisory teams working with philanthropic individuals, families and for-purpose organisations, helping them have an impact with their giving, investments and communities. For not-for-profits they provide governance, investment management and spending policy advice. They work with philanthropists to develop their giving strategies, set up the most appropriate giving approach for their circumstances and help them assess, choose and support the organisations and causes that matter to them. They work to bring these two groups together and to support them with thought leadership and analysis that helps them achieve more for their communities.

Report Authors

Caitriona Fay, Managing Partner, Community and Social Investment, Perpetual Private
Jane Magor, National Manager, Philanthropy & Non Profit Services, Perpetual Private

Get in touch with the Perpetual and Seer Data & Analytics team with any feedback or questions:

The next steps

EXPLORE the Census 2021 data assets, including insights, an interactive dashboard, and new insight builder tool coming soon.

DOWNLOAD the full report including on the ground insights behind the numbers contributed by community sector leaders.

WATCH Census 2021: Numbers that matter information session recording, where report authors expand on the topics in the report.