In this episode of Executive with a Cause, host Tammy Ven Dange chats with Jean Giese, CEO of VolunteeringACT, about the rise of the informal volunteer, scaling up approaches and the benefits of combining a peak body and service delivery role.

Across Australia, volunteering trends that emerged before COVID have been accelerated, leading to the emergence of the ‘informal volunteer.’ As a peak body, we explore how VolunteeringACT is helping organisations adapt and accommodate those wanting more casual or local roles. As well as this, organisations are challenged by an overall decrease in volunteering numbers, compounded by rising demand for their services since COVID began.

We discussed the consideration of existing volunteers when paid roles arise, as they already hold the values and knowledge of the organisation. Next, Jean explains balancing peak body and service delivery roles and how avoiding delineation of the two has assisted their success in advocacy and government engagement. Finally, Jean outlines ACT’s role as a testing ground for new concepts and understanding how scaling requires sensitivity to each region’s unique challenges rather than a ‘cut and paste’ approach.

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IT in Plain English

Digital strategy is a hot topic, but what exactly is it, and how can you create one for your organisation? In this segment, Tammy outlines her suggested focus areas, including operations, data and innovation, and how every organisation’s first step should be to clearly identify its strategy’s objective.

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 Topics from this episode:

  • 0.00 | Introduction
  • 0.52 | VolunteeringACT
  • 2.18 | Entering the sector
  • 5.21 | Transitioning from deputy to CEO
  • 8.40 | Bringing in an interim CEO
  • 12.20 | Having remote leadership
  • 14.30 | Service delivery and advocacy
  • 17.28 | Benefits to funding
  • 22.42 | Partnering with other states
  • 30.00 | Working with Volunteering Australia
  • 32.05 | Shifting trends in volunteering
  • 39.10 | Tips for organisations responding to informal volunteers
  • 48.29 | Getting involved
  • 51.00 | IT in Plain English

Quotes from Jean in this episode:

“I had a personal experience being a young carer for my dad, and it was one of those key moments in my life where I thought, actually, I think my passion and my skills are better placed in helping others who are navigating a really difficult time in their lives.”

“I was with Carers ACT for many years and was given amazing opportunities to grow and to learn and my time was up. You know you get to a point in a job where you’ve done all you can do, and you’ve climbed the ladder, and I was just so grateful to that organisation for everything they had done to set me up.”

“I’d had interactions with staff from VolunteersACT in my work with Carers ACT and there were just a real chemistry and attraction to wanting to spread my wings and try something new.”

“You need to have lived through a few of those really key, difficult career points to know whether you want to do that on an ongoing process.”

“I think the two are really complementary, as when you’re undertaking peak body work you’re advocating on behalf of your members to the government about ways that things can be done better, and you’re collaborating with the government on a range of different projects and informing a range of different pieces of work. The service delivery arm gives you real power in saying, ‘well actually, we’ve tested and trialled this, and it doesn’t work, so for us, we have that benefit of being able to say, ‘well we did that, and it didn’t work, and here’s why’, and so we’ve never found it a real tension. We have different people and resources dedicated to those different parts of our business. But you can never truly separate them because advocacy and policy need to reflect what’s happening, and service delivery needs to reflect the policy and advocacy of the day if you want to be sustainable. So we’ve never clearly delineated them, but I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.”

“We often think stereotypically of volunteering as helping somebody living with a disability or helping in a soup kitchen. But volunteering is something that underpins the whole of government and the whole of community. So I think it’s a conversation you can have a little bit easier than some other peak bodies’ advocacy positions.”

“For us, it’s not a subcontracting relationship. Yes, we do all the reporting and have to keep an eye on the KPIs, but at the end of the day, we have set that system and structure up in terms of how we work together as three equal parties coming to the table, and working out how we can deliver that service better.”

“We never came with the arrogance that what works here could easily be duplicated and replicated in the other two jurisdictions. And, of course, Tasmania has its own discrete, very different set of needs and barriers that exists. As does New South Wales because of their geography. So we knew we had a model that works really well, but we’re going to have to work really closely and collaborate with you so that when we do that co-design piece to make that happen in other states, we’ll have to be ready that what we’ve done over a number of years may well not (work in other states).”

“The things I’m most proud of in my career have been times where I’ve been in a room with people, and we’ve been able to have a really open conversation about what each of our weaknesses are and what each of our strengths are and how we can pull that together. Because at the end of the day, in our sector, we are getting out of bed each day to make people’s lives better. And as soon as you take your eye off that prize, it’s all over.”

“I think that’s where the most significant impact was. People in our sector are used to dealing with crises, and they’re used to dealing with things that require us to address and make things better. But COVID was so unusual because it impacted every single person who was at home, with family, without family, isolation, and not having access to those markers of wellbeing. So it impacted the workforce, but also the people we were there to support. So we saw a significant decline in volunteers, and 70% of organisations found it too hard and closed their doors to volunteers at that time. Which was a really significant number, when volunteers make up around 80% of the sector workforce in terms of headcount.”

“So then when you take away older Australians who make up a huge part of our volunteer pool. You take away younger people who make up a huge portion of your pool. And then you take away women who by and large volunteer more than men; you’re in an even bigger predicament.”

“We need to get people back into volunteering because the sector is experiencing the highest demand that they have ever had for services and support. And at the same time, the largest portion of your workforce has been depleted. So how do we get that back to normal?”

“The other really interesting thing that had started before COVID but was accelerated by it was the real shift to informal volunteering…people are looking for more flexibility in their volunteering…and they are also looking for opportunities more connected to their community.”

“It’s really important to understand the drivers of that change…and as a peak body to question what our role is to assist people with the support and infrastructure required for people to be able to volunteer properly. The rise of informal volunteering is great because it means people want to give back more to their communities. But we need to provide that infrastructure to ensure that it’s one of the best way to support those volunteers.”

“It’s being able to adapt the way that you think of your volunteers and the way you think of your volunteering programs. And evolving that. And organisations need to respond to that, or they won’t have volunteers turning up. But they do need to consider each role and whether it is possible to be flexible or not.”

Links & Resources

Other Episodes Mentioned in this Show


Thanks to our Producer, Nick Whatman, and the entire team at Lonsdale St. Studio. Thanks also to our Digital Content Creator, Laura Kleinrahm.

Tammy Ven Dange is a former charity CEO, Not for Profit Board Member and IT Executive. Today she helps NFPs with strategic IT and data decisions with her business, Roundbox Consulting.


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