The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission reports that there are 54,000 charities in Australia. The work that charities do to address a range of social, political, health and environmental problems occurs alongside similar efforts by Australian volunteers. Social workers often work in tandem with charities and volunteers because they share a similar focus on marginalised or disadvantaged populations. However, most social workers are private professionals, and their career is a strictly regulated one with standardised entry requirements.
The Australian charity sector responds to a wide variety of social causes. According to the ACNPC, ‘nearly half (43%) of registered charities have social and community welfare as their main purpose, with religious charities making up about 22% of these’. Not-for-profit organisations are also critical to community art initiatives, nature conservation efforts, animal welfare, mental health advocacy, aged care and more.
Volunteering Australia reports that the highest proportion of Australian volunteers (37%) contribute to sports and recreation organisations, with other popular causes including welfare and the community (22%), religion (22%), and parenting, children and youth (16%).
The actual work of being in a charity or not-for-profit organisation varies widely. You may provide support to the homeless as a volunteer, or oversee the social media strategy of a not-for-profit organisation as a full-time employee. Established charities and not-for-profit organisations are complex entities that often require the same skills as similarly large private businesses – from legal advice to marketing coordination. The Australian social work profession is broad and diverse, bringing together people from a range of backgrounds to focus on a spectrum of social issues. Social workers may find themselves involved in casework, counselling, advocacy, and various forms of community engagement. Social workers often dedicate themselves to particular social challenges or marginalised populations. As such, many end up specialising in social work related to children, the disabled, the mentally ill, and so on.
Social workers say the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW), ‘also work in areas such as policy development, education and research particularly around issues of social justice, disadvantage and the marginalisation of people in their communities or in society’.
Often, the most effective charities and volunteer organisations are those which are willing to go where others won’t. Couple this with the universal desire to give back, and it’s no surprise to learn that – and this is no exaggeration – members of the charities and volunteer organisations are found virtually everywhere. Whether they are assisting the urban homeless in Australia or coordinating famine relief efforts abroad, people in this sector find themselves in a diverse range of settings.
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission reports that within Australia, the highest concentration of charity organisations is in New South Wales (34%), Victoria (24%), and Queensland (18%), with the remaining quarter spread across the other states. The distribution of volunteer organisations, says Volunteering Australia follows similar patterns, though it is interesting to note a revealing statistic: the adult volunteer rate is 34% in capital cities (3.7 million people) and 41% outside capital cities (2.4 million people).
The AASW says social workers work in all parts of the community, in both regional and rural areas, and in various settings. These include hospitals, community health services, state and federal government departments, local councils, non-government organisations, educational institutions, and international aid and advocacy bodies. The Australian Government’s Job Outlook for social workers notes that the majority of social workers are employed in New South Wales (29%), which is followed by Victoria (28%), Queensland (14.9%), and Western Australia (11.9%). The remaining states have more or less equal proportions.
The chances are that you have ‘entered’ the volunteering sector before – as a volunteer. You may even have supported a charity initiative like the World’s Greatest Shave or Daffodil Day. A career in the sector is oriented towards the same social outcomes but involves a full-time time commitment. These roles can take many forms, from performing administrative services and planning events to working with disadvantaged populations and coordinating community art projects.
Social workers assume an enormous amount of responsibility in the community, and, as such, work within a well-regulated profession. It is necessary to complete an accredited Bachelor of Social Work, which is a four-year degree. Alternatively, they may complete a Masters of Social Work, which is a two-year postgraduate degree available to people from certain three-year bachelor degrees. These degrees emphasise both practical experience and a thorough knowledge of the theory of social work.
There are many roles within this sector, offering you the opportunity to progress upwards in your chosen organisation or move laterally as you apply your skills to different causes. Encouragingly, the number of volunteer and charity organisations continues to grow. For example, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission notes that 70% of charities have been active for over ten years – the rest are relatively new. Social workers often pursue senior positions in many of the settings listed above. As community workers, they are in increasingly high demand. This is especially true as the average age of Australia’s population continues to increase. The Australian Treasury predicts that the proportion of the population aged over 65 years will almost double to around 25 per cent by 2042.
Salaries vary widely in the charity and not-for-profit sector, in large part because they are determined by the board of each individual organisation. Many choose to offer competitive salaries designed to attract people with the skills and experience necessary to help the charity achieve its goals. In addition, registered charities and not-for-profit organisations are entitled to offer perks such as ‘salary packaging’, which allows employees to access their pre-tax salary on things such as cars, computers, and superannuation.
Most social workers are paid in accordance with a professional award rate. This ranges from around $60,000 per annum for graduate employees to $148,000 for level eight employees (those with significant experience).
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