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New report reveals significant economic benefit of volunteering to SA

23 May 2024

South Australians’ volunteering efforts reaped a net return on investment of $29.3 billion for the state last year – with every dollar invested through volunteering returning $5.20 to the community.

Volunteering equates to South Australia’s largest industry by labour force, ahead of healthcare, retail trade, and construction, with almost two-thirds of South Australian residents volunteering in some form.

The critical economic impact was revealed in South Australia’s first State of Volunteering report, released by Human Services Minister Nat Cook and Volunteering SA&NT’s CEO Hamilton Calder at the 2024 State Volunteering Conference this week.

Commissioned by Volunteering SA&NT and funded by $25,000 from the Department of Human Services, the new report found the costs of volunteering accrued by volunteers and volunteer-involving organisations achieved a 520% return on investment.

Direct costs of volunteering, such as volunteer expenses, and opportunity costs, such as volunteers’ time, totalled about $6.9 billion, while the value of volunteering to SA across the entire community, which included commercial, civic, and individual benefits, was $36.1 billion.

The report found that the top five motivations for volunteering were: to help others; for enjoyment; to use skills and experience; for social and community connection; and to be active.

The top five barriers to volunteering more for volunteers were: lack of time; costs; burnout/over-volunteering; health reasons; and not being interested in volunteering anymore.

The top five barriers to volunteering for non-volunteers were: lack of time; not knowing how or never being asked; lack of interest; lack of confidence; and health reasons.

The more hours a person worked for pay, the more likely they were to be a volunteer, the report found.

If a person had caring responsibilities at home, they were more likely to be a volunteer.

The State of Volunteering in South Australia report was produced from a general survey of 986 SA residents and a survey of 341 volunteer managers.

In 2023-24, DHS provided $718,000 to the volunteering sector through a range of grants, including for sector support and advocacy, community capacity programs and volunteer support and recognition.

The full report is available at:


Attributable to Nat Cook

This is the first time such a comprehensive analysis of the social and economic contribution of volunteering has been undertaken in South Australia.

The scale and impact of volunteering have been undervalued and under-recognised historically.

It’s incorrect to assume that volunteering comes free – volunteers and organisations spend significant time and money when they contribute to the volunteer workforce.

This report quantifies just how valuable that contribution is to our State.

Despite the ongoing challenges faced by many following the COVID-19 pandemic and the current cost of living crisis, we are seeing a strong response from South Australians wanting to give back to their community, with almost 1 million volunteers in our state during 2023.

Attributable to Hamilton Calder, CEO, Volunteering SA&NT

This report provides a framework to assist decision-makers in public, private and not-for-profit sectors to improve how volunteering is promoted and managed.

It's heartening to see the extent to which South Australians are giving back to their community.

However, the research shows that there is still plenty of room for growth and improvement in the volunteering sector.

Attributable to Briony Lia, Community Visitor Scheme volunteer

I’ve been volunteering with the Community Visitor Scheme (CVS) for three years, following a 25-year career as a mental health nurse and nursing lecturer.

When I was taking steps towards retirement, my plan was to do volunteer work and looking at my skills and knowledge the CVS was where I believed I could offer my time and be of benefit.

Volunteering gives me purpose, is good for my wellbeing and I can contribute to the community in the area my career spanned.

CVS is for a person who is compassionate about the welfare of people with disability and people receiving mental health care.

I find reward in being a trusted person for clients to communicate with and enjoy advocating on their behalf.

State of Volunteering in South Australia 2023 key statistics:

  • Total value of volunteering to SA (social and economic): $36.1 billion
  • Cost of volunteering (expenses and time): $6.9 billion
  • Net (or social) return on investment: $29.3 billion
  • Benefit-to-cost ratio: 520% or $5.20:$1
  • South Australians aged 15 and over who volunteer: 951,800
  • Average hours volunteered per month: 19.5 hours
  • Total hours volunteered: 223 million hours

Top 10 South Australian industries by employment, including volunteering:

  1. Volunteering
  2. Health care and social assistance
  3. Retail trade
  4. Construction
  5. Education and Training
  6. Manufacturing
  7. Professional, scientific and technical services
  8. Public Administration and safety
  9. Accommodation and Food Services
  10. Transport, Postal and Warehousing

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