Volunteering: stories and opportunities

Explore more resources in the 
Volunteering Collection

Through professional development and scholarship programs, AIDR works to challenge assumptions and build knowledge and practice for volunteers at all stages. 

Volunteer Leadership Program

Leadership demands innovation, creativity, negotiation, improvisation and strategic vision. The Volunteer Leadership Program (VLP) enhances volunteer skills in leadership and organisational management. The program builds individual and organisational capability and promotes collaboration and innovation in our organisations.

Upcoming locations: Albury NSW / Burnie TAS

Roger's story: I was empowered

"I've been with the Australian Red Cross as an emergency services volunteer since 2006. I retired in 2003 after 25 years with the Northern Territory Police. 

"I've done a lot of training with the Australian Red Cross, and I've been deployed to the Bundaberg floods. When I was deployed to the floods I noticed people there in leadership roles who probably shouldn't have been. It wasn't their fault; they were just thrown into those roles but it created problems in the organisation they were with at the time. I thought it would be good to go along to a Volunteer Leadership Program to update my skills and make sure I wasn't getting left behind; and to share with others what I'd done and observed."

"The world is changing all the time – you have to keep up to date with progress and make sure your education stays abreast of all the changes."

"The program was really enjoyable. There was a diverse group, both in age and occupation. Because I'm at the older end of the spectrum, it was helpful to have the young people come on board and share some of the skills they had. You need to be aware of how people think and feel differently.

"What I learnt at the VLP was useful. I used to work long hours as a police officer and I knew the effect that had on my body, but the course taught me more about the different effects of adrenalin and cortisol. I also learnt about Tuckman's stages of group development. I recognised them because I'd been in those situations. 

"When I saw it written down on paper, it was enlightening. I knew the process but I didn't know somebody had mapped it out."

"Some of the skills I have now will hopefully come into practice in the future. At the moment I'm all trained up with nowhere to go. But when the time does come, you'll need your training."

"Volunteer leadership is something that needs to be addressed, and I'm glad somebody's doing something about it.”

"If you don't recognise the situation you're in, and you haven't been put in that situation before because you haven't had the training, you are at a disadvantage." 

Emergency Management Volunteer Scholarships 

The Australian Government has established a million-dollar scholarship fund to equip volunteers with the skills and leadership required in the emergency and disaster management sector. Volunteers may be eligible for financial support to access accredited vocational and higher education qualifications in emergency and disaster management fields.

Round Four applications open 3 September 2018 and close 15 October 2018.
Outcomes will be advised 26 November 2018

Willow's story: Combining private sector experience with volunteering and study

Willow had been working in the private sector for more than 30 years when change beckoned. "I worked at very senior levels in companies for a very long time around major business transformation and strategic planning."

"I look at the long-term but also operationalise it and make it happen."

"The thing that concerned me was that there was such robust change happening that my understanding of some of the practical issues around sustainability was not as deep as it needed to be. I was too grounded in past practice and living in the business world rather than stepping out and understanding the role of the government sector as well as the private sector in disaster risk reduction and sustainable development."

A career break and a chance encounter at a community forum led her to enrol in a Master of Disaster Resilience and Sustainable Development at the University of Newcastle. “I was sitting with a friend in a community forum, and an ad came up that ran through the [UN-certified] course at the University of Newcastle. That appealed to me as it reflects the view of what is one of the most respected and far-reaching bodies looking at these issues globally. I signed up straight away and three weeks later I started the course.”

Surf Life Saving NSW volunteer Willow Forsyth, with her daughter

As a volunteer with Surf Life Saving Australia, Willow was eligible to apply for funding through the Emergency Management Volunteer Scholarships, administered by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience. A successful recipient, Willow is putting her masters into practice at Stockton Surf Life Saving Club, integrated with her private sector experience.

"You can build community resilience through linking social capital."

“At my local surf club, I’m rolling out strategic transformation because the club didn’t have any of the capability to deliver on that, in terms of a community resilience perspective. It’s about building stronger ties between various organisations within your society from government, through to private sector to community bodies. That’s important in time of disaster, both for preparation and recovery. Communities that have strong social capital have a much better chance at recovery.”

Willow's study is also opening doors to new career opportunities in local government. “With my previous background, that wouldn’t have been available to me. I’m interested in working with local government which has the responsibility for disaster risk management but can be constrained by state government governance around disaster risk. With my degree, it opens up a space for me to contribute meaningfully to local organisations.”

"This study has given me a strong foundation and the confidence for which I could say look, this is what the research says, this is what practice says...that means you can influence people and get action and engagement much faster.”

Willow is enthusiastic about the growing synergies between her study, volunteering and career. “The past two years have been an extraordinary process of learning and grappling with a huge amount of research and practice."  

More about Willow:

University of Newcastle: A sustainable career change for disaster resilience graduate


Kath's story: Volunteering is part of a well-balanced life

Kath Cooney has been a volunteer with the Australian Red Cross since 2006. For her, volunteering is just part of a "healthy, well-balanced life." As a trainer for the Red Cross in Victoria, she's also been involved with several activations – from outreach after Black Saturday to supporting visitors with psychological first aid after the Bourke Street tragedy.

"It's great to be able to have a way of responding to disasters. Instead of saying ‘That’s terrible, I wish I could do something’ and only being able to give money, I can actually get involved. I feel very grateful.” 

Her real joy lies in supporting other volunteers with world-class training.


"I really enjoy working with other volunteers especially the rural and regional people. They’re so grateful that people are coming in offering them high quality training and they’re all very serious about their volunteer work, so it’s great to be able to support them."


With her interest in emergency management and strong volunteering background, Cooney applied for a volunteer scholarship with AIDR in 2017. She’s now completing a Master of Emergency Management at Charles Sturt University, via distance education.

Red Cross volunteers

"I've been very interested in emergency management for a long time. I'm 61 – although I won't use this in a future career, I still see myself volunteering when I'm retired. I'm going to grow up to be an eighty-year-old Divisional Operations Officer with Red Cross!"

What Cooney wanted out of her study was a broad background in the sector that could further support her volunteer work. “I’m really interested in spontaneous volunteers and diverse models of volunteering. I now feel like I’m getting a good understanding of that to be able to help Red Cross do even better with it.”

The study has also brought increased confidence, and a greater passion for emergency management work. "With the knowledge I'm gaining, I can bring a greater depth of understanding to my volunteer role...I feel much more confident that I am up to date with the latest research and trends.

"You can read and research autonomously, but with formal study, you're directed through to the latest developments with the industry."

As for managing full-time work, part-time study and her current volunteer work, Cooney says she has no regrets. “I’m studying because it’s fabulous, and I’m interested in it. How that fits with my career and volunteer role, I can figure out later."

"I'd advise any other volunteers that this is a great opportunity, jump in and have a look at it. Studying adds a lot to your life and that's part of a well-balanced life too! I feel very lucky."