In Australia, as in the UK, the non-profit sector has acquired an increased strategic importance as a key partner in a new social coalition of interests. Yet despite the importance of the third sector to the institutional structure of Australian life, it has been neglected as an area of research study. More specifically, there has been a paucity of research into the phenomenon of voluntarism and the activity of volunteering itself. This article argues that there is an urgent need for further study in the area of volunteers and voluntarism in the Australian context, and more specifically a need for theoretically informed research that allows for deeper understandings of volunteering as a complex social phenomenon. The motivation of people to volunteer as social services become privatised; the relationship between volunteering and the concepts of social capital and civil society; and the relationship of volunteering to its institutional context - these are all issues that merit theorising and further empirical research.