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Invictus Australia: A thriving ecosystem empowers veterans and redefines participation

02 May 2024

A ‘top-down, bottom-up’ approach is vital to foster a thriving volunteer program in Australian sport according to Invictus Australia CEO, Michael Hartung OAM.

Invictus Australia CEO, Michael Hartung OAM (second from left) implores everyone in the sport sector to take responsibility for supporting the volunteer pathway
Invictus Australia CEO, Michael Hartung OAM (second from left) implores everyone in the sport sector to take responsibility for supporting the volunteer pathway.

This seemingly simple philosophy tackles a nationwide concern: retaining the vital volunteer workforce that underpins our sporting world.

In the lead-up to National Volunteer Week 2024, Mr. Hartung discussed his blueprint for building a sustainable volunteer force and the power of sport in supporting veterans.

The secret lies in creating a volunteer ecosystem – a ‘three-level’ approach where national leadership, state federations and local groups all play a crucial role in empowering, supporting and celebrating volunteers – and in turn, redefining what sports participation means.

"Everyone has a role to play in supporting the volunteer pathway," Hartung explains.

This message is echoed in Volunteering Australia’s 2024 National Volunteer Week theme: 'Something for Everyone'.

Held from 20 to 26 May, National Volunteer Week is Australia's largest annual celebration of volunteering.

The Sport Volunteer Coalition uses the week as a platform to empower and celebrate the backbone of our sporting world. There's a place for everyone to contribute, and it is everyone’s responsibility to champion sport volunteer opportunities.

"National federations are in a great position. They can look across the entire system and see those great examples where volunteering and participation are working successfully," Hartung said.

This knowledge can then be shared with other groups to improve their volunteer engagement strategies, ultimately leading to a higher retention rate and attracting a wider pool of volunteers.

Invictus Australia's approach also challenges the conventional understanding of participation in sport.

Hartung says it's time to adopt a broader perspective: "Participation in sport also includes volunteering."

Traditionally, participation has been limited to athletes competing or individuals joining social sporting leagues. Invictus Australia, and the ASC, expand this definition to encompass the crucial role volunteers play in making sporting events and programs a reality.

The focus on volunteerism is particularly impactful for veterans transitioning from military service. Invictus Australia's volunteer ecosystem provides a bridge during this challenging transition, allowing veterans to continue serving others – a core value instilled during their military service.

“One of the most significant challenges we have in Australia for Defence men and women is the transition process when they leave service. It can be really hard," Hartung said.

“Veterans leave a highly structured environment filled with meaning and purpose, often driven by a strong desire to serve.

“For Invictus Australia, volunteering is a real priority because sporting communities give so much back to individuals, and we think veterans and their families give so much to sporting communities.”

This reframing of volunteering as a form of participation and the ‘top-down, bottom-up’ approach not only benefits Invictus Australia and the veterans they serve but can also aid other organisations seeking to leverage the power of volunteers to achieve their mission. The results speak for themselves.

For more information on how you, and your sporting club can support volunteers, please visit the Sport Volunteer Resource Hub.

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