Volunteering in Europe
Definition of volunteering
According to the European Youth Forum an activity can only be defined as volunteering if it is:
- undertaken of a person’s own free will and involves the commitment of time and energy to actions that benefit others and society as a whole
- unpaid (although it can involve reimbursement of expenses directly related to the activity)
- for a non-profit cause, primarily undertaken within a nongovernmental organisation, and thus clearly isn't motivated by material or financial gain
- not used to substitute or replace paid employment.
Volunteering and the EU
The history of volunteering in Europe differs from country to country. While some countries have longstanding volunteering traditions, in others the voluntary sector is still poorly developed or has yet to emerge. According to a 2007 Eurobarometer survey, three out of ten Europeans say they take part in voluntary activities. Some estimates place the total number of EU volunteers at 92 to 94 million adults (23% of all Europeans over 15). There has been a general increase in the number of active volunteers and voluntary organisations in the EU over the past ten years.
In 2011, the European Commission launched the European Year of Volunteering to celebrate the efforts of the estimated 100 million Europeans who take part in voluntary activities. The year also aimed at making volunteering easier for people and improving the quality of volunteering in Europe.
The Commission is also working to improve and promote volunteering among young people, particularly to encourage volunteering across borders. The European Voluntary Service is the best known programme helping young people to volunteer abroad.
Young people volunteering
In 2007, there were 96 million young people aged between 15 and 29 in the EU. However, these numbers are not distributed evenly between all countries. The nations with the youngest populations included Ireland, Cyprus, Slovakia and Poland, while Denmark, Germany and Italy had the fewest youngsters.
These differences also reflect in volunteering. Volunteering amongst young people and young adults is most common in Eastern European countries (such as Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) and Spain. In Slovakia, for instance, 70% of all volunteers are under the age of 30, and in Poland the number of young volunteers tripled between 2001 and 2005. In Western European countries, volunteering levels are similar across all age groups.
We know that volunteering is strongly influenced by the history, politics and culture of a community and a country, but you can help change the tradition and boost volunteering in Europe. You might even be taking part in voluntary activities without even realising it: lending a hand at your local sports club, helping out an elderly member of your community or picking up litter in the forest or on the beach. In fact, sports and outdoor activities are the main volunteering sectors in Europe, followed by education, arts and music or cultural associations.
Contact the Swiss National Agency of the Youth in Action programme, if you want to know more about the European Voluntary Service.
The Swiss umbrella association for youth exchange Intermundo helps you in finding other volunteering opportunities.