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The changing face of volunteering

The Dunedin-Waitaki Manager for Volunteer South, Leisa de Klerk (centre), with two stalwarts from member organisations, Domi Angelo-Laloli (left), of OAR FM Dunedin, and Valerie Wilson of MS Otago

Increasing numbers of Kiwis have been signing up to volunteer since New Zealand’s Covid-19 lockdown almost a year ago.

Volunteer centres throughout the country have had 10 to 25 per cent increases in volunteers, says Leisa de Klerk, the Manager of Dunedin and Waitaki for Volunteer South, a charitable trust that connects volunteers with volunteering opportunities.

In Otago alone, 1500 people signed up during last year’s March 26 to May 13 Alert Level 4 and 3 nationwide quarantine. Most Kiwis were confined to their homes and people realised they had the time to volunteer, she says.

People are recognising that volunteering is something that’s really good for your mental well-being; it gets you connected.”


At the same time, the type of volunteer is changing.

Leisa notes a common perception is that volunteering is the realm of retired people. However, last year, women aged between 30 and 59 in full-time employment, were the most likely age group to volunteer.

In the Trust’s Southern region between August and November, about 45 per cent of volunteers were aged under 30; 45 per cent aged between 30 and 59; and seven per cent aged over 60.

This trend is ongoing. She presumes the significant decrease in new volunteers who are older is because they can be at more risk from the Covid-19 virus. In addition, while some seniors have offered their energy and time, they haven’t found a suitable role.

Leisa thinks the Covid-19 crisis is also responsible for significantly more youth wanting to volunteer. More experienced adults are getting jobs and younger people are missing out. As well as being keen to volunteer, they also understand that this may lead to a job.

Matching opportunities

Leisa says women aged between 30 and 59 are busy with full-time employment and family commitments.

Where, previously, retirees might volunteer for a decade or more, nowadays, six months might be the time a younger volunteer will give to one role. They also might want to try several different opportunities.

“The opportunities don’t necessarily match with the types of volunteers wanting to give their time.”

Volunteer South has been advocating for organisations to change to match the volunteers available.

Organisations might need to provide casual volunteering opportunities, allow people to commit for shorter times than in the past, and develop the ability for volunteers to train others.

“Love is spelled TIME” – a portion of a mural Dunedinites painted at Volunteer South during Mental Health Awareness Week

Becoming connected

Leisa says volunteering’s benefits involve connections.

Volunteers want to give back to their community yet, in so doing, may also improve their well-being, resilience and employment skills, plus make new friends.

“It all becomes a way of becoming more connected – to each other and in situations that none of us would like to find ourselves in.”

For instance, someone who has just had a stroke can connect with a volunteer, who then gains awareness of another’s situation and its challenges.

Jobs are another benefit. In Dunedin within the past year, three volunteers from three separate organisations have ended up being employed at these places.

At Volunteer South, its creation of two voluntary social media roles has been a “fantastic” experience.

One of these volunteers has now got a job at the Otago Polytechnic, using skills she developed at the trust, where she remains a volunteer.

“We’ve got living proof of how much of an impact they make,” Leisa says.

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For more information: 


  • Volunteer South has 413 member organisations in its Southern Region, stretching from Waitaki to Stewart Island.
  • Volunteering opportunities range from blacksmithing to looking after penguins, and from auto repair to helping with school holiday programmes.
  • Volunteer South was an Excellence in Not for Profit finalist at the 2020 Westpac Otago Business Awards, run by the Otago Chamber of Commerce.

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