People volunteer for a variety of reasons, ranging from people wishing to develop skills and gain work experience, to those who want to meet people and socialise. This chapter briefly outlines some of the key issues relating to engaging volunteers in the activities of incorporated associations. 

Key points

  • Volunteers (either as members or non-members) can do and participate in a wide variety of roles within an incorporated association.
  • Incorporated associations should be aware of their rights and responsibilities when engaging volunteers.
  • Generally an incorporated association will be liable for anything a volunteer does in good faith when working for the association. 

Statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, revealed that in 2014 5.8million people (31%) in  Australia had undertaken voluntary work for organisations, including incorporated associations, in the previous 12 months. Many associations would not be able to function without the assistance of their volunteers.

Volunteering Western Australia

Volunteering Western Australia is the group that acts as the peak body for volunteering in this State. It supports and promotes the role of volunteers in organisations, and through its website and publications, provides both volunteers and organisations with a range of useful information on volunteering in general, volunteering opportunities, and the rights and responsibilities of both parties.

The content of this chapter draws heavily from the Volunteering Western Australia website.

Volunteer agencies will also find the Code of Practice a useful document. This can be downloaded from Volunteering Western Australia. 

Volunteering Western Australia:
City West Lotteries House
2 Delhi Street
West Perth WA 6005
Telephone:    (08) 9482 4333
Website: www.volunteeringwa.org.au

Principles of volunteering

Volunteering Western Australia describes a number of principles of volunteering, including:

  • volunteer work is unpaid;
  • volunteering is always a matter of choice;
  • volunteering is an activity performed in the not-for-profit sector only;
  • volunteers do not replace paid workers or constitute a threat to job security of paid workers; and
  • volunteering is a legitimate way in which citizens can participate in the activities of their community.

Role of volunteers

Volunteers (either as members or non-members of the incorporated association) can and do participate in a wide variety of roles within incorporated associations.

Examples include voluntary:

  • bookkeeping;
  • administrative support;
  • professional services (e.g. free legal or accounting advice);
  • participation on sub-committees;
  • participation in, or co-ordination of, activities and events run by the association;
  • maintenance services;
  • organisational advice;
  • direct service delivery;
  • fundraising; and
  • lobbying.

Rights and responsibilities of volunteers

Volunteering Western Australia has developed a list of volunteer rights and responsibilities which include:

Volunteers have a right to:

  • choose the types of activity in which they wish to be involved;
  • be adequately covered by insurance;
  • receive orientation, training and ongoing support;
  • receive reimbursement of authorised out-of-pocket expenses; and
  • say ‘no’ when they cannot commit to a task.

Volunteers have a responsibility to:

  • work in accordance with health and safety laws;
  • work in accordance with instructions and rules (of the association);
  • notify the association if they are unable to attend work;
  • be willing to undertake training and supervision;
  • maintain confidentiality and be non-judgemental; and
  • say 'no' when they cannot commit to a task.

Rights and responsibilities of incorporated associations

Volunteering Western Australia also sets out a list of rights of agencies (in this case, incorporated associations) engaging volunteers, which include the right to:

  • assess the volunteer's capabilities and allocate suitable tasks for them;
  • plan and facilitate volunteer training;
  • reassign volunteers to appropriate work;
  • supervise volunteers and give feedback; and
  • decline to use volunteers in certain capacities.
  • Similarly, a list of responsibilities of agencies/associations engaging volunteers includes the responsibility to:
  • empower volunteers to meet their own, as well as the association's, needs;
  • offer volunteers work opportunities that are appropriate to their skills, experience and aspirations;
  • provide volunteers with clear duty statements;
  • provide volunteers with orientation training;
  • offer volunteers training and support to meet their goals;
  • implement procedures to ensure volunteer safety and well-being;
  • offer reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses; and
  • recognise the value of contributions made by volunteers.

Recruiting volunteers

Many incorporated associations are run entirely by volunteers. Although volunteers are not paid and are not normally classified as employees for the purpose of employment and taxation laws, incorporated associations generally owe their volunteers a duty of care in relation to the work they undertake for the association. There are additional legal obligations imposed under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (Occupational Safety and Health and Workers’ Compensation).

It is important for incorporated associations that intend engaging volunteers to:

  • determine the association's volunteering needs;
  • determine how volunteers will fit within the association’s structure;
  • determine appropriate selection criteria and procedures in relation to the engagement and management of volunteers; and
  • provide a safe work environment, including the provision of appropriate support, training and supervision.
  • Some questions for incorporated associations to consider when deciding to engage volunteers:
  • What different roles will volunteers play in the association? How will the roles be documented?
  • What risk management and/or insurance issues need to be considered?
  • What expectations does the association have of volunteers?
  • How will volunteers be recruited and selected?
  • How will the volunteer arrangement between the association and its volunteers be documented, if at all?
  • How will volunteers be orientated and inducted into the association?
  • What will this induction include?
  • What policies and obligations do volunteers need to be aware of? (For example: anti-discrimination policies, conflict of interest policies, and occupational health and safety policies).
  • What resources will volunteers require?
  • How will tasks be assigned to volunteers? Who will supervise and direct their work?
  • What grievance procedures apply to volunteers?
  • What volunteer expenses will be reimbursed? How?
  • How (and when) will the association review its responsibilities in relation to volunteers?

Volunteer liability and insurance

In certain circumstances, the Volunteers and Food and other Donors (Protection from Liability) Act 2002 relieves volunteers of incorporated associations from civil liability for acts done in the course of their volunteer work, and transfers that liability to the incorporated association. Generally speaking, the incorporated association will be liable for anything a volunteer does in good faith when doing work organised by the association.

An association will generally not be liable for acts of volunteers where the volunteer:

  • acts outside the scope of the work organised by the association;
  • acts contrary to instructions given by the association; or
  • is unable to do their work in a proper manner because his or her actions were significantly impaired by alcohol or non-therapeutic drugs.

The potential liability of an incorporated association under this legislation highlights how important it is for associations to have, and implement, policies in relation to volunteer work and to provide volunteers with adequate training and supervision.