The Free-Fall of Volunteer Leaders in Australian Grassroots Associations


Date of Publication: September 2022
Author: Christel Lorraine Mex
Published by: Volunteering Australia 

Society benefits significantly from small groups of volunteers who come together for leisure and social connectedness. Generally known as grassroot associations, it is estimated there are almost half a million of these groups operating in Australia today. These associations are small and are run solely by volunteer leaders without the benefit of paid staff. They are the backbone of society and crucial for community connectedness, especially in rural areas.  

Current availability of volunteer leaders for grassroot associations is declining. This study aimed to identify motivations and barriers to members of grass roots associations stepping up to leadership roles on committees and explore potential recruitment strategies  More investment is needed in training leaders to improve committees’ collective skills.  

A mixed-methods research approach was used, with focus groups, followed by a survey of association members in South Australia 

Regarding the motivations for joining committees, the focus group participants agreed the most significant reason was to have fun and meet new people. Enjoyment was followed closely by self-satisfaction. Several of the participants noted they could influence outcomes for the association by being on the committee and making things happen.  

The survey respondents had similar views, but 90% reported pursuing their interests and using their skills were the top reasons they joined committees, closely followed by being a crucial part of their social life and learning new things. Many also reported being on a committee gave them a sense of identity and helped them feel needed.  

In both the focus group and survey, regular members of associations were asked why they do not join committees, and committee members were questioned why they believed members did not participate. They reported that the primary barrier to joining committees was the misuse of power and internal politics, a lack of time, red tape, and a lack of self-confidence. 

The full paper is available from the Volunteering Strategy website.