Informal Recipients

8 April 2020 by


Disaster Management 

In Australia, research shows that in times of disaster, impact is felt by everyone, not just those immediately affected. As well as all the services that are involved in response and recovery operations, ordinary people respond overwhelmingly with offers of help, donations, and goods, even converging on sites when it is unsafe to do so.  

Volunteering responses have been aided by the involvement of spontaneous volunteers. It is now acknowledged that community participation is a valuable resource in all stages of disaster response and recovery that plays an important part with emergency services and government authorities in helping recipients’ recovery and beyond the event. 

Who are informal recipients? 

Informal recipients may be homeowners like you, who may need help with clean-up activities on their property or any other type of help following a disaster. Individuals in your local community who are not linked to any formal organisations may come forward and offer this help and are called informal volunteers. 

As a recipient of informal volunteering, you choose what, where, when, who, and how you want help from informal volunteers. This may be in addition to any formal support you receive from emergency agencies and local authorities. 

Some benefits of receiving help from informal volunteers include: 

  • Local helpers for local recipients = strengthening your local community  
  • You may trust informal volunteers from your community because they are local too 
  • Getting to know your neighbours and what can be offered may mean they can help immediately 
  • People may have skills and abilities to share and be available after work hours or on weekends when help is really needed 
  • You do not have to accept ongoing support, just what you need today  
  • People may be feeling sympathy and empathy reactions for people affected by a disaster which may motivate them to help. 

Importantly, you don’t have to accept help if you don’t want to.  


What is informal volunteering and how can it help? 

Informal volunteers usually come from the local community (friends, or neighbours for example), and may include anyone who wants to give their time willingly to help others or their environment, and without financial gain, or links to any formal organisations.  

In response to disasters, people may experience feelings of sympathy and empathy for those affected which will motivate them to offer their assistance and will typically be offered in the immediate to short-term following a disaster event. It is at these times when they will step forward to assist to help people and places back on their feet.  

Recovery can also take a long time and people affected by disaster often need help long after the disaster event has passed.  

Some of the ways people may help you following a disaster include gardening, clearing allocated rubbish, sweeping paths, picking up groceries, securing outside fixtures such as play equipment, moving small items, taking time to chat with you. 


Before you accept help: 

Always keep safe and look after yourself first, then consider offers of help from those around you.  

Let people know who you are. 

Ask for the informal volunteer’s credentials (e.g., driver’s license) for re-assurance the person is genuine 

Inform people on what you need, ensure they listen well. 

Ask them to come back another day if they are not needed today or on a particular day. 


What information do you need to accept help from others? 

You have rights when accepting help from informal volunteers, including: 

  • protecting your personal privacy – only share minimal information about yourself 
  • be clear about what you need and don’t need in the way of help 
  • expect respect 
  • the ability to say no. It is ok to say no (if it feels wrong, it probably is)
  • the ability to ask a person to leave your property if you’re unsure or it doesn’t feel right
  • report inappropriate behaviours or actions to you / actions you may witness.

You also have responsibilities as a recipient, please: 

  • remember safety first, for you and the informal volunteer  
  • respect the informal volunteer 
  • provide clear instructions and information about what you need and do not need to do, where the person can go, and where is out of bounds (e.g., inside your property), BEFORE starting any volunteering 
  • advise what you will provide e.g., access to a toilet
  • let the informal volunteer know what they need to bring e.g., drinks, food, equipment, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) etc. 
  • ask for credentials to prove the person’s ID (e.g., license) 
  • do not ask unnecessary or personal questions 
  • do not allow photos or liberties at your expense 
  • identify/reduce hazards where possible, let the person know if there are any problems 
  • ask the person to stop helping and to leave the property when requested if you come across any problems 
  • thank the informal volunteer before they leave, but no gifts are necessary 


Other questions you may have… 

  • Insurance – what happens in case of an accident? Informal volunteers are not covered by Volunteer Insurance when working alone. You may be covered by your home insurance if you have it. You need to decide if this is ok for you. 
  • How can I find the right person in my area? Contact your local council or Neighborhood and Community Centre, ask neighbours and friends for contacts they may know. 
  • What are the responsibilities of informal volunteers – will they know what to do, what not to do? Always let the volunteer know what is needed and all details about volunteering for you and on your property BEFORE they start any helping. 
  • What if something goes wrong? Stop the informal volunteer help and seek advice. 
  • Can I register with an organisation too? Yes, this may suit your needs better.  
  • What do I need to do to accept an informal volunteer? How do I know if they are genuine?
    Sample questions to ask and suggested details to provide:
    How can you help me today?
    Can I please see some ID from you?
    Are you ok with doing this type of work?
    How long do you estimate it will take?
    I will provide……, you need to provide…….  OK?
    This is what I require to be done…
    Let’s stop after XX hours and see how it is all going.
    Thank you for your help. 

Volunteering Queensland has more information about volunteering in times of disaster