Story: Voluntary welfare organisations

Page 8. Volunteers

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Numbers of not-for-profit organisations

A 2013 study by Statistics New Zealand found that there were 114,110 non-profit organisations in New Zealand, an increase of 17,000 since 2007. The largest group (44%) was in the areas of arts, culture, sport and recreation.

In the health area there were 3,010 non-profit institutions (2.6%). A further 7,960 (7%) came under ‘education and research’, and 14,801 (13%) were categorised as ‘social services’. There had been an increase in sporting organisations and a slight decline in religious organisations.

Paid staff and volunteers

According to the 2013 census, 1,229,054 people were involved in volunteering as an unpaid activity, including voluntary work for or through an organisation, group or marae. The average volunteer did 3 hours per week of formal unpaid work. More people were involved in voluntary work than in 2004, but the total number of hours spent in voluntary work had diminished. This was consistent with international trends in volunteering.

Working with volunteers

For some organisations, mixing paid staff and volunteers is challenging. The two groups may have different, even conflicting, perspectives. Paid staff may insist they are the professionals, and as a consequence volunteers may feel undervalued. Some organisations have found managing the two groups too difficult and have either avoided using volunteers or severed links with their volunteer supporters. ‘Managing volunteers’ is now seen as a distinct skill, involving careful screening, orientation, training and ongoing supervision.

A diminishing volunteer workforce?

The accountability requirements of government agencies such as the Health Funding Authority have put strain on some voluntary organisations. Professionals have to be paid to do this work, as volunteers cannot afford the training to become sufficiently qualified. In addition, some voluntary organisations have reported difficulty in recruiting new volunteers.

Research by Statistics New Zealand found that the number of waged and salary staff in not-for-profit organisations increased by 30% between 2004 and 2013. Paid staff were most frequently employed in social services, education and research organisations. However, 90% of not-for-profits employ no paid staff.

Where have the volunteers gone?

2001 was the International Year of the Volunteer, but organisations found helping hands hard to find. A Wellington Order of St John community manager, for example, claimed his region had only half the volunteers needed to cover sporting and cultural events. Suggested reasons for the volunteer shortage included seven-day shopping, a longer working week, new occupational safety and health requirements, and the alternative attractions of sport and entertainment. Another possible reason was the growing number of women in the paid workforce.

Who volunteers?


Traditionally, women dominated voluntary organisations, as this work was seen as an ideal adjunct to homemaking and childcare. Until the 1960s voluntary organisations provided an outlet for the energies and talents of women (particularly middle-class married women with children) who were unable to – or didn’t want to – enter the paid workforce full-time or at all. Volunteer work provided training and experience in skills such as running meetings, political lobbying, organising events and managing finance. For some women, learning these skills was a stepping stone into the paid workforce from the 1960s onwards.

‘Consumer choice’ organisations set up by groups such as women, Māori and disabled people from the 1970s attracted a more diverse range of volunteers. In 1978 the feminist magazine Broadsheet described women’s refuge workers as being from ‘every class and background, from students through to old-age pensioners; from solo mothers balancing the D.P.B. to retired professional women’. They were far from being housewives with nothing to do (a common stereotype of charity workers).

People of different ages

People aged 60 and over are visible in parts of the volunteer workforce, as retirement from paid work gives them more time to devote to community work.

Young volunteers are often students or people seeking paid work, for whom voluntary work is useful experience which they can add to their CVs. In 2016, 10% of Volunteer Wellington recruits were under 20 and 38% were in their twenties.


Recent immigrants also had a significant presence in voluntary organisations in the 21st century. For some it was a way of finding out about New Zealand culture, improving language skills and gaining New Zealand work experience.

The joy of volunteering

The benefits of volunteering include learning new skills, networking, having fun, having a positive effect on the lives of others and making a contribution to the community. In the words of one volunteer, ‘It’s interesting, varied, challenging and rewarding too. I’d recommend volunteering to anyone.’1

  1. ‘Man on a mission.’ Volunteer Wellington, (last accessed 5 July 2010). Back
How to cite this page:

Margaret Tennant, 'Voluntary welfare organisations - Volunteers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 4 December 2021)

Story by Margaret Tennant, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 18 Sep 2018