Th Street, nw washington, dc, usa tel: (202) 467 6114 For a Seminar ‘The Third Sector: Beyond Government and the Market’

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Levels of Participation and Promotion of Volunteering Around the World

Dr Susan K.E. Saxon-Harrold

Vice President for Research


Suite 200, 1200 18th Street, NW

Washington, DC, USA

Tel: (202) 467 6114

For a Seminar ‘The Third Sector: Beyond Government and the Market’

Organized by Central Policy Unit,

The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

On July 25th 2000 at

The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

(This paper draws heavily on work submitted to the United Nations. INDEPENDENT SECTOR Research contributed and advised that initiative. I am in-debited to the National Centre for Volunteering in London, UK to be able to combine that work with INDEPENDENT SECTOR Research for this seminar. All information about trends and issues affecting Volunteering in the United States (see Power Point slides) are drawn from ‘Giving and Volunteering in the United States, 1999’ Saxon-Harrold, et al. published by INDEPENDENT SECTOR.

Volunteering plays a significant part in the welfare and progress of industrialized and developing countries and is the basis of much of the activity of voluntary organizations, professional associations, Trade Unions and decentralized government services. It is, moreover, a basic vehicle by which youth, older persons, disabled people, families and other social groups participate in the cultural, economic and social life of nations.
The extent and impact of voluntary action, however, goes largely unrecorded and the effect of policy measures on the willingness and ability of individuals to volunteer has, so far, been given limited consideration at both national and international level. By focusing on voluntary action, the international community has an opportunity to reinforce the means and capacities of people from all parts of society to engage in civic activities to the benefit of their nations, their communities and themselves.
Volunteering takes different forms and meanings in different settings and is strongly influenced by the history, politics, religion and culture of a region. It is not possible to put forward universal models for its development but it is possible to promote measures to strengthen it in a myriad of ways.
This presentation is divided into four sections:

  • Section 1 outlines the definition of volunteering and the various forms it takes in different regional and national contexts   from self help and participation to service provision and campaigning as a way of framing the discussion.

  • Section 2 examines the benefits of volunteering both for society at large and the individual volunteer.

  • Section 3 focuses on key trends and issues in volunteering in a global context, and includes information on key trends and issues in volunteering from an American perspective (see Power Point presentation)

  • Section 4 provides some suggestions on how government and business can strengthen and support volunteering.

Definitions and Forms of Volunteering
Volunteering takes different forms and meanings in different settings. It is strongly influenced by the history, politics, religion and culture of a region. What may be seen as volunteering in one country may be dismissed as low paid or labor intensive work in another. And yet, despite the wide variety of understandings, it is possible to identify some core characteristics of what constitutes a voluntary activity.
There are three key defining characteristics of volunteering. First the activity should not be undertaken primarily for financial reward, although the reimbursement of expenses and some token payment may be allowed. Second, the activity should be undertaken voluntarily, according to an individual's own free will, although there are ‘gray’ areas here too, such as school community service schemes which encourage, and sometimes require, students to get involved in voluntary work and Food for Work programs, where there is an explicit exchange between community involvement and food assistance. Third, the activity should be of benefit to someone other than the volunteer, or to society at large, although it is recognized that volunteering brings significant benefit to the volunteer as well.
Within this broad conceptual framework it is possible to identify at least four different types of volunteer activity: mutual aid; service to others; participation or civic engagement; and advocacy. Each of these types occurs in all parts of the world. However, the form each type takes and the balance or mix between different types differs markedly from country to country. Factors influencing the nature of volunteering include the economic, social and political make up of the country and its stage of development.

Mutual Aid
From small informal kinship and clan groupings to more formal rotating credit associations and welfare groups, volunteering as an expression of self help or mutual aid plays a primary role in the welfare of communities in many parts of the developing world. Self help also plays an important role in countries of the industrialized North, particularly in the health and social welfare field, where numerous organizations have been established to provide support and assistance to those in need, often organized around a particular disease or illness.

Service to Others
Service to others is distinguished from self help in that the primary recipient of the volunteering is not the individual, but an external third party, although most people would acknowledge that there is an element of self interest here. This type of volunteering takes place typically within voluntary organizations, although in certain countries there is a strong tradition of volunteering within the public sector and a growing interest in volunteering in the corporate sector.

Participation refers to the role played by individuals in the governance process, from representation on government consultation bodies to user involvement in local development projects. As a form of volunteering it is found in all countries, although it is most developed in countries with a strong tradition of civic engagement.

Advocacy or Campaigning
Advocacy or campaigning may be instigated and maintained by volunteers, sometimes described as activists, lobbying government for a change in legislation affecting the rights of disabled people or pushing for a worldwide ban on landmines. Volunteers have paved the way for the introduction of new welfare services in the field of HIV and AIDS, have raised public consciousness about environmental destruction, and democracy campaigns to name just a few initiatives around the world. Some campaigns are very localized others are global in their reach. The anti landmine campaign, for example, is estimated to have involved more than 300 million volunteers from over 100 countries.
Section 2: The Benefits of Volunteering
Volunteering brings benefits to both society at large and the individual volunteer.

First, volunteering makes an important economic contribution to society. In the few countries where volunteer work has been empirically studied, the contributions are estimated at between 8% and 14% of Gross Domestic Product. Given the impact of most legislation on the willingness and ability of individuals to volunteer their time (such as length of working week, school leaving and retirement age, and measures affecting women's participation in the labor force), there is clearly a case on economic grounds alone for factoring into government considerations measures conducive to promoting a favorable environment for volunteering in all sectors and by all citizens.

Second, participation has long been seen as an essential element of good governance and development. Volunteering is a key means by which individuals articulate their engagement as citizens, and by building trust and reciprocity among citizens volunteering contributes to a more cohesive, stable society. One much quoted observer, Robert Putnam, has concluded that variances in performance among different parts of countries can be accounted for largely by differences in what he terms "social capital" characterized by participation in voluntary associations, or horizontal "networks of civic engagement". Political stability and economic progress may be as much linked with social interaction as with human and physical capital. One manifestation of this is the growing body of evidence to show an inverse correlation between levels of communal strife and levels of cross cutting civic engagement.
Third, volunteering helps to integrate into society people who are excluded or marginalized. For example, for people with disabilities participating in volunteering challenges negative stereotypes of disabled people as passive recipients of care. Likewise volunteering for young people offers opportunities for self development and provides a valuable grounding in the practice of citizenship. For older people volunteering contributes positively to the process of 'active aging' by helping the newly retired adjust to life without the structure of the workplace and by improving physical and mental well being.
Fourth, volunteering has a role to play in promoting full employment by enhancing the employability of unemployed people. For those in search of paid employment, volunteering can boost self confidence, provide access to workplace networks and an opportunity for the development of specific marketable skills. Volunteering can also lead to the creation of new jobs by developing services that are later taken over by the state and market and turned into paid jobs. For example, the innovative response from volunteers worldwide to the HIV and AIDS epidemic has led to the creation of thousands of paid jobs in the public and private health sectors.
Despite these benefits, in many countries there is an inverse relationship between volunteering and social exclusion. The most marginalized groups in society are the least likely to participate. The barriers to participation are well documented: poverty, unemployment, and alienation, not being ‘asked’, poor organizational practice.

Section 3: Trends and Issues in Volunteering
(For information on The United States (see separate Power Point)
International Issues affecting Volunteering
Volunteering is under pressure from the forces of globalization. In the countries of the North there is concern that volunteering may be in decline, fuelled by a reduction in religious attachment, the break up of traditional communities, and an increase in individualism. In the developing world concern has been expressed that economic retrenchment and cuts in public services are placing an intolerable burden on volunteers in community groups and mutual aid associations. In many countries the entry of more women into the paid labor market threatens to reduce the availability of volunteers, particularly in the care field, while a decline in civic involvement among young people has raised fears for the very future of volunteering.
Not all trends, however, are working against volunteering. The aging of the population common to many parts of the world is increasing the burden on volunteer care services but it is also opening up new opportunities for voluntary work among increasingly active seniors. Although developments in communication technology run the risk of reducing social interaction, they also open up new opportunities for voluntary activity. The Internet has proved to be a powerful resource for community and campaigning groups in the spread of ideas and the mobilization of recruits. The spread of global information technology opens up new opportunities for home based involvement in volunteering for groups such as the disabled who were previously excluded from participation. It also provides an intergenerational bridge between youth and older people as mentoring programs on the part of youth towards their elders inverts the conventional learning paradigm.

Relations with the State
Theories of market or government failure suggest that volunteers will step in to fill any gaps left by the withdrawal of business or the state. This has raised the concern that governments might be tempted to cut back on public spending in the knowledge that volunteers will pick up the pieces. Volunteers have long played a role in developing new services in response to human need   the hospice movement and the development of services for those with HIV and AIDS   being two recent examples. But there is little evidence to support the notion that volunteering will thrive in the absence of the state. Volunteering benefits from a healthy public sector. Rather than substituting for public services, volunteering is a complimentary activity.
Volunteering is a cost effective way of providing a range of social and welfare services. But it is not cost free. To flourish it requires an effective infrastructure, both at national and local level, to help mobilize support and match volunteers to appropriate organizations and tasks. Governments have a role to play in funding this infrastructure and in ensuring the requisite legal and fiscal framework is in place.
Relations with the Market
In recent years the private sector has begun to take an interest in volunteering. Both as part of a broader community investment strategy and as a means of staff development, businesses have been developing schemes to support their staff in voluntary activities in the community. Such schemes take on a variety of forms. Some employers provide time off with pay for their staff to volunteer; others provide financial support or assistance in kind. Some employers organize company-volunteering schemes; others prefer to recognize and support existing staff involvement with voluntary organizations. Whatever the precise model, evidence suggests that employer supported volunteering increases staff skills, morale and loyalty towards the company and it also enhances the standing of business within the local community.
Section 4: Government Support for Volunteering
Given the diversity of volunteering it is not possible to put forward universal models for its development. What works in one country may not work in another with very different cultures and traditions. Volunteering is a product of its environment and a government scheme for promoting volunteering in Western Europe or North America may not be appropriate for Latin America or southern Africa. However, lessons can be learned and practice exchanged. Countries in the North may well hold lessons for the countries of the South keen to develop more institutionalized forms of volunteering. Similarly, models of mutual aid and community development originating in the developing world may well hold lessons for the developed world.
The government, voluntary and private sectors could act together to stimulate volunteering by supporting it the following ways: being strategic; increasing public awareness; promoting youth volunteering; establishing an enabling environment; promoting private sector support; and influencing international organizations. Examples of concrete action that a government could take under each of these headings are given below.
All such action should be based on the following core principles:
• a government should develop policies to support volunteering which are appropriate to the nature of volunteering in their particular country

• during the policy development stage, a government needs to work in partnership with key stakeholders, including the voluntary and private sectors

• any government should avoid the temptation to try and direct volunteering to meet their own ends and should recognize the essential independence of volunteer action.

Being Strategic
In some countries governments have developed an overall, integrated strategy for promoting volunteering, in partnership with other key stakeholders from the voluntary and business sectors such as in Great Britain, Canada and to an extent in the United States. The elements of such a strategy will differ from country to country but might include:
• Establishing a dedicated Unit within government for coordinating policies on volunteering and liaising with the voluntary sector and private sector as applicable

• establishing a budget within government for funding volunteering initiatives

• promoting the increased involvement of volunteers within the public sector

• creating opportunities for civil servants to be seconded to voluntary organizations

• funding an effective infrastructure within the voluntary sector at national and local level to facilitate the involvement of volunteers.
Raising Public Awareness
Governments can help raise public awareness about the value of volunteering and the opportunities to volunteer by, for example:
• carrying out or funding basic research on the level of volunteering and its contribution to society in social and economic terms

• working with the media to promote a positive image of volunteering and the opportunities for involvement

• harnessing the power of information technology to direct people to available volunteering opportunities

• recognizing the contribution of volunteers through an awards system applicable to the society concerned

• organizing high profile events or 'days' to publicize the work of volunteers.

Involving Young People in Volunteering
Demographic changes in some regions are resulting in an alienation of young people with concomitant social problems. On the other hand, volunteering is vehicle for youth to acquire both technical and life skills. Moreover, evidence suggests that people who start to volunteer at a young age continue to do so throughout their lives. In some countries participation by young people appears to have declined while in others it has increased. In most cases there has been a shift away from more traditional forms of volunteering towards 'newer' more dynamic forms of activity, such as environmental protection. Governments have a role to play in promoting volunteering among young people by, for example:
• Promoting volunteering within the education and youth services

• Developing specific programs to encourage youth volunteering

• Developing systems to recognize and accredit volunteering

• Working with the media and other stakeholders to present a more attractive, up to date image of volunteering.

An Enabling Legal and Fiscal Environment
A government can support volunteering by establishing an enabling legal, fiscal, and policy environment. This might include:

  • Legal provision to ensure due protection for individuals who wish to volunteer their time as is the case for paid labor.

  • Tax incentives to encourage the setting up and funding of volunteer schemes in all sectors of society

  • Increasing citizen participation in all aspects of public administration, from planning and policy making to service delivery, monitoring and evaluation.

Involving the Private Sector
A government can encourage the private sector to support volunteering by:
• Developing public/private partnerships that promote using volunteers

• Offering tax and other incentives for companies to support their staff in volunteering schemes

Promotion of Volunteering Worldwide
The following information provides an overview of some of the key initiatives to promote volunteerism in the United States and Canada. There are a myriad of other initiatives in the UK, European Union, Australia, and South Korea.
The Give Five Campaign
Give Five began in 1987 to encourage people to give five hours a week and 5% of their income to the causes and charities of their choice – through voluntary organizations, religious institutions, or simply by helping a neighbor or friend in need. Initiated by INDEPENDENT SECTOR, Give five has spread its message over the years through a series of public service announcements on television and radio, billboard displays, and magazine and radio advertisements. Today, give Five seeks to motivate people to give five or increase their giving to whatever cause they support.
The biennial Giving and Volunteering in the United States Survey.
The biennial Giving and Volunteering Survey in the United States provides national information on the size and scope of giving money and volunteering time. The survey first began in 1988 and is used widely by the media, researchers, nonprofits, government officials and companies to track trends in volunteering. Survey findings are used to inform the Give Five campaign.
The International Tool-Kit Research Project

(part of the International Year of the Volunteer in 2001)
The goal of the “International Toolkit” is to encourage countries worldwide to undertake measurement studies on national, regional, or local volunteering. The “International Toolkit” will be structured to facilitate the measurement of volunteering by providing a friendly guidebook filled with useful background and knowledge necessary to successfully complete a large scale measurement study yielding usable data for baseline analysis.
The International Year of the Volunteer is 2001. To develop a “Toolkit” that will be useful during the International Year of the Volunteer, an International Toolkit Development Committee must be assembled. This committee will serve as an expert advisory board for the content, format, and dissemination of the “Toolkit”. The committee will consist of international researchers with experience in measuring volunteering. Efforts will be made to include researches from countries that have previously conducted volunteering studies and researchers from countries that are in the planning and developing stages of conducting a volunteering study.

Currently, the “Toolkit” will consist of four chapters that will cover the following major subject headings: Background on Volunteering, Phases of Volunteering Assessment, Review and Critique of Past Efforts, and Resource Appendix.

Helping.Org is an easy to use, one stop online resource center for people looking for giving and volunteering opportunities in their own communities and beyond. The database contains more than 600,000 nonprofits. was developed by the AOL Foundation and its nonprofit partners which include INDEPENDENT SECTOR. Visit it at

There are many other initiatives from organizations such as the Points of Light Foundation, America’s Promise, Connect America, the Commission for National Service, local volunteer centers and many more.
Government of Canada
Partnership Initiative: Canadian government and Nonprofit sector
The government’s Voluntary Sector Initiative proposes in 2000 a partnership between the government and the entire voluntary sector. Its objectives are: “to increase the capacity of the sector to meet the demands Canadian society places on it, and to improve the government’s policies, programs and services to Canadians, leading to increased public confidence.”
Development of a Proposal for a National Volunteerism Initiative
Its purpose is to “expand volunteer effort and promote volunteering through a social marketing campaign, enhance the capacity of the voluntary sector to better manage its volunteers and provide beneficial experiences to them.”
The initiative will be designed to provide benefit to community as well as national voluntary sector organizations and will involve the development of an Accord between government and voluntary sector to provide visible and concrete recognition of the importance of the new relationship:

      • state a clear vision for a collaborative relationship

      • articulate principles to shape and guide the relationship

      • clearly articulate the mutual obligations and benefits of both parties

      • moral rather than legal basis

      • developed in consultation with volunteers and voluntary organizations at all geographic levels

Other initiatives include:

Support for the Celebration of the International Year of the Volunteer
Capacity-Building Measures involve the recruitment and skills development for the Sector
Conducting a National Survey of Giving and Volunteering every 3 years starting in

the fall of 2000.
Increasing Awareness of the Sector and Mobilizing Support for It
In total, $94.6 million has been committed by the government for this Initiative.
Within that amount:

Accord -- $10 million

Strengthening capacity of volunteer sector -- $25 million

International Year of the Volunteer activities -- $10 million

Sector involvement in development of policy/programs -- $30 million.
Broad Conclusion: The Government of Canada hopes to encourage increased volunteering and giving among Canadians by providing comprehensive support to the entire voluntary sector.
2. “VolNet”

  • initiated in 1998, a program with the goal of offering Internet connectivity, including computer equipment, network support and Internet skills development, to 10,000 organizations by March 31, 2001. Follows the strategy of increasing volunteerism and giving by supporting the entire voluntary sector.

Canadian Centre for Philanthropy
Involvement with the Government of Canada
The Centre is very involved with the major initiative being launched by the Canadian government to increase giving and volunteering in Canada. They have been participating in the discussions for development of this initiative, major aspects of which include capacity-building, the National Volunteerism Initiative, and the social marketing campaign, all of which are described above. This initiative is just beginning to be designed, so there is very little specific information about how these programs will be implemented.
Imagine Campaign
Imagine is a “national program encouraging individuals and businesses to give more of their resources and time to Canada’s charities and nonprofit organizations.”

The initiative, begun by the Centre, is targeted more toward corporate giving and volunteering and corporate/community partnerships than individual action). There are two programs:

  1. Caring Companies where over 400 businesses participate who employ about 1.5 million Canadians. These businesses commit to donating a minimum of 1% of their pretax profits to community organizations and encourage employee volunteering. Businesses are encouraged to become active participants in charitable works, rather than simply writing a check to an organization.

  2. Community Partners where over 1200 community partners (voluntary and charitable organizations) participate. Imagine helps them acquire knowledge and tools necessary to build partnerships with businesses and engage the public.

3. Awards Programs

    1. “A New Spirit of Community” Recognition Program: media and public attention is focused on participating companies and community partners.

    2. “A New Spirit of Community” Partnership Awards: annual award given to outstanding examples of business/voluntary sector partnerships.

  1. Employee Voluntarism

    1. Imagine provides aid to businesses interested in promoting employee voluntarism by providing resources and information

Broad Conclusion: Imagine is a program that provides support and information to businesses and community organizations to encourage partnerships between them and encourage business-sponsored donation and volunteering.

Volunteer Canada

Canada’s national center for volunteerism; has provincial and local volunteers centers throughout the country. It has two major goals: the recruitment and referral of volunteers and secondly the promotion of volunteerism. “Volunteers are truly Canada’s finest natural resource.” Activities to promote volunteering include:

National Volunteer Week
Volunteer Canada’s most important project to promote volunteerism. It helps “to raise awareness about the vital contribution volunteers have made and continue to make to Canadian communities and to society as a whole” and “to thank and honor Canada’s past and present volunteers.” It helps many agencies to recruit new volunteers and to retain those already involved. Over 5000 local community agencies and volunteer centers in Canada participate in the Week every year. They organize events in their own areas using the Activity Guide put out by Volunteer Canada. More and more agencies get involved in this every year and the media in Canada is “highly interested in National Volunteer Week,” providing local print/broadcast coverage. Many members of the media work as volunteers, too.
The Volunteer Opportunities Exchange
An Internet tool set up by Volunteer Canada to help connect agencies that are looking for volunteers and to help place interested volunteers into agencies relating to their interests.
Broad Conclusion: Volunteer Canada works to increase volunteerism and awareness in all the provinces of Canada.

United Nations
Special Session of the General Assembly, called “The World Summit for Social

Development and Beyond: Achieving Social Development For All in a Globalizing

World” held in June 2000 in Geneva, Switzerland. Its purpose

    • to reaffirm the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action – The World Summit for Social Development was held in Copenhagen in 1995 March, “…part of a series of global conferences convened by the U.N. with the objective of enriching the international agenda and to raise awareness on the major issues and concerns of the time…” Identified 10 commitments for action in the area of social development.

    • to identify progress made and constraints encountered in the Programme of Action

    • “to recommend concrete actions and initiatives to further efforts toward full and effective implementation of the agreements reached at the Summit.”

Broad Conclusion: Although volunteering was not specifically mentioned among the commitments made at the Copenhagen Summit, it was referred to, and will be discussed more in-depth at the 2000 summit. Most of what will be discussed relates to recommendations to governments on how to strengthen and support volunteering.

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