The Foundation for Rural Regional Renewal (FRRR) has recently released their commissioned the Heartbeat of Rural Australia study, exploring how not-for-profits and community groups in remote, rural and regional Australia are faring in the wake of nearly two years of constant disruptions. The study was undertaken through The Xfactor Collective Foundation, by specialist member Survey Matters.

The aim of the research was to generate both qualitative and quantitative data to articulate the vital role that community organisations play in the social, economic, cultural, and environmental resilience and vitality of their communities and regions. The report also sought to understand the cumulative impacts of natural disasters, and COVID-19.

This research seeks to amplify and give greater authority and influence to these organisations in the design of policies, investments, and solutions for their communities’ sustainability and vitality.

Key findings:

  • Profile of not-for-profit community organisations in regional, remote, and rural Australia:
    • Over half of all community organisations have a turnover of less than $50,000, employ no paid staff and are run primarily by volunteers.
  • Reduction of volunteer hours:
    • Approximately a third of community organisations have either reduced volunteer hours, lost volunteers altogether to illness, isolation, relocation or caring responsibilities, or lost them due to a lack of need, as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Increased workloads for remaining volunteers:
    • Conversely, some report that volunteers are working more to deal with demand (22%), and that they are recruiting or trying to recruit more volunteers (25%). Most respondents who are trying to recruit volunteers are finding it more difficult now than prior to 2020, placing even greater strain on their existing volunteer workforce.
  • Difficulty recruiting and retaining volunteers:
    • Three-quarters of respondents who had tried to recruit new volunteers indicated that it has become more difficult over the last 18 months (75%).
    • Of those who indicated that their volunteer cohort has changed over the last 18 months, by far the biggest concern is that current volunteers were getting older and looking to retire. For some, this desire has been accelerated by COVID-19, with many feeling unsafe about returning to volunteering.
  • Impact of digital divide on volunteers:
    • Those with a lower turnover were far more likely to “struggle to meet operational costs, let alone have money to spend on technology”. They were more reliant on volunteers using their own devices to meet organisational needs, rather than funding it as a business.
    • In general, volunteer-only organisations were significantly less likely to be using most forms of digital technology than were their counterparts with paid employees, with the largest difference being in their use of video conferencing (41% vs. 83%).

To read more about the research or to access the full report, please visit the Heartbeat of Rural Australia study here.