Volunteering is a very significant activity in Australia with over 6 million people volunteering in 2010. Volunteers are the backbone of society, playing crucial roles in many areas including health, welfare, sports and recreation, education, training and youth development, housing and environmental programs.
In this thesis I explore how managers and governments accommodate the vested interests of the local community in the management of natural and cultural resources particularly in protected areas. I examine in particular the role of volunteers, focussing on volunteer programs in the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) Great Sandy Management District (GSMD).
To do this I examined a variety of case studies from the literature and from my own experiences. I also surveyed volunteers and their supervisors in the GSMD on their experience and expectations and analysed the results against the literature.
My results showed that the typical GSMD volunteer is
• From the major population centres of the Great Sandy area
•Volunteering regularly and often
• From the 55 to 64 age group
• Volunteering as individuals, couples or families
• Employed either full time or part time
GSMD volunteers are involved in a wide variety of programs and they donate a significant amount of time to this role. The typical volunteer thoroughly enjoys the experience and is motivated primarily by helping to look after the environment or seeking to gain experience for future employment. GSMD volunteers appreciate good management by local QPWS staff but do not appreciate excessive red tape or internal volunteer politics.
Supervisors of volunteers in the GSMD are also involved in a wide range of programs and have typically been involved for significant periods with the average being over 10 years. They also donate a significant amount of time to this role. Supervisors appreciate the extra resources and enthusiasm that volunteers bring to the workplace. They enjoy working with volunteers but don’t enjoy what is perceived to be excessive approval processes and red tape to engage volunteers. Overall they do not feel programs are being well managed by the relevant authority. Both volunteers and their supervisors felt that programs needed to be better resourced with consistent funding.
The results also show an apparent disconnect between the responses of the volunteers, their supervisors and the literature in the three key areas of gender, age and employment status. This was of particular interest and in some instances concern particularly given that one of the key findings of my research is that the relationship between supervisors and volunteers is critical to the success of programs. There is a danger that this disconnect could result in supervisors not knowing their clients. If they are designing programs based on a perception that the majority of their volunteers are young male students who are looking to gain experience for employment, and what they really have is middle aged, employed, women, there is likely to be a mis-match between volunteer work offered and volunteer expectations and even abilities to undertake work.
Successful volunteer programs need to be carefully designed and implemented.
They need to have clear policies, procedures, and goals as volunteers want to know where their project is going and what it is aiming to achieve. They also need to be aligned with agency priorities and goals to ensure consistent support and resourcing.
This ensures that the time, skills, experience and commitment of volunteers are put to the best possible use, that organisational goals are achieved, and that everyone enjoys the experience. If volunteers or supervisors do not enjoy the experience and do not feel appreciated, they will either cease to volunteer, cease to supervise adequately, or if they continue with the program they will not be productive and could potentially be disruptive.
Given the enormous benefits to all sectors of society from volunteering, much more can be done to encourage and support it and to recognise and celebrate its achievements.
Overall however, in GSMD, the majority of participants both volunteers and their supervisors found the volunteer experience a positive one with one supervisor making the comment that “volunteer programs work for both sides”.