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Volunteering - A force for change

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What is volunteering?

Volunteering is an activity that someone performs, entirely at their own will, for other people or for a community without any expectation of monetary payment or any other direct return.

Volunteers - who they are and what motivates them

The European Year of Volunteering emphasises the relevance of volunteering for all nationalities and social groups. Data from both Eurobarometer 2010 and Eurofound’s European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) cast more light on the phenomenon of volunteering. The EQLS data indicate that, in general, people with higher incomes register a higher participation in volunteering, as do those with higher levels of educational attainment and better health. There is no strong association with gender but men in the EU15 tend to report higher levels of participation than women. While age is not a major factor, it does appear – in terms of broad age groups – that people aged between 35 and 64 are more likely to volunteer than those who are younger or older. The findings from Eurofound’s EQLS are in agreement with other sources, indicating that slightly more than 20% of people are involved in volunteering in Europe, although the figures differ substantially between countries.

Older people - staying involved and connected through volunteering

Older people have been active in volunteering, both in the informal sector – self-help and assisting neighbours – as well as formally, through organisations linked to charities, church organisations and local authorities. However, there are big differences between countries in terms of their traditions of volunteering, differences that are associated with levels of economic development and expenditure on social services. Future strategies and measures to promote volunteering will highlight the potential contribution that older people can make, rather than their limitations. New retirees will bring greater skills and expertise, but may also have other preferences regarding their tasks and how volunteering is organised; hence, it may be necessary to develop more flexible approaches to participation – for instance, shorter term or more specific tasks – to encourage involvement.

New Member States - a different approach to volunteering

The formerly communist countries of central and eastern Europe provide a good example of how strongly volunteering is influenced by political and social traditions. These countries’ communist legacy did not favour a culture of volunteering and influenced the emergence of such a culture after the collapse of the regimes. Nowadays, participation in voluntary and charitable activities in some of the new Member States (NMS) is above the EU average, as indicated by Eurofound’s European Quality Life Survey (EQLS) – albeit with large cross-country variations. For instance, in Estonia more than 30% of citizens participate, as against slightly fewer than 10% in Poland.

Companies - playing their part to facilitate volunteering

A company's contribution to a volunteering initiative can be financial or non-financial; non-financial contributions may include providing jobs, offering education and training measures, providing consultancy and technical assistance, and making available products and services. Private companies - and public-sector organisations and local authorities - may also encourage their employees to take part in volunteering as part of a drive towards corporate social responsibility (CSR). Volunteering efforts by employees tend to be focused on the local community, often being targeted at local schools in disadvantaged areas and socially excluded groups.

Page last updated: 18 June, 2012