In the very considerable body of literature on volunteers that has developed in the last decade (elsewhere than in Australia) the focus is seldom on why people volunteer, what they do, or where it fits into our welfare politics, but rather it works from the assumption that volunteer work is good, that there should be more of it, and that the key issues are those of providing support and training for and co-ordination of volunteer activities. This working paper reports some Australian data on volunteers and offers some tentative explanations for the widespread phenomenon of volunteering in our society. The survey on which these data are based was conducted in order to arrive at a broad classification and description of Non Government Welfare Organisations (NGWOs). The prime aim was not to gather data on volunteers, and in fact material on volunteers was oriented, not to individual characteristics, but rather to organisational characteristics. In other words the respondents were not individual volunteers, but organisations which use volunteers. The data therefore are not specific but represent a useful starting point in estimating the total number of volunteers in NGWOs in Australia, in describing the welfare areas in which they work, the average number of hours worked per week, changes in numbers over the last ten years, training, the relationship between numbers of volunteers and numbers of paid staff, the activities of the volunteers within organisations, the relative proportion of men and women volunteers, the sex representation of volunteers, paid staff, management committee and membership of the organisation. There is no detailed information on the characteristics of volunteers (apart from their sex) i.e. the age, socioeconomic status, or participation in the paid labour force. Nor is there information on why people volunteer, or on the nature of the specific tasks which they undertake. Collection of this material would require a much more extensive survey aimed specifically at the volunteers themselves, and will form the basis of the next step in this project.