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Ithaca influenza epidemic workers, July 1919, Queensland, Australia.
Volunteers sweep the boardwalk in Brooklyn after the 2012 Hurricane Sandy.

Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote goodness or improve human quality of life. In return, this activity can produce a feeling of self-worth and respect. There is no financial gain involved for the individual. Volunteering is also renowned for skill development, socialization, and fun. Volunteering may have positive benefits for the volunteer as well as for the person or community served.[1] It is also intended to make contacts for possible employment. It is helping, assisting, or serving another person or persons without pay. Many volunteers are specifically trained in the areas they work, such as medicine, education, or emergency rescue. Others serve on an as-needed basis, such as in response to a natural disaster.


  • Etymology and history 1
    • 19th century 1.1
    • 20th & 21st centuries 1.2
  • Types 2
    • Volunteering as Utilized by Service Learning Programs 2.1
    • Skills-based volunteering 2.2
    • Volunteering in developing countries 2.3
    • Virtual volunteering 2.4
    • Micro-volunteering 2.5
    • Environmental volunteering 2.6
    • Volunteering in an emergency 2.7
    • Volunteering in schools 2.8
    • Corporate volunteering 2.9
    • Community voluntary work 2.10
    • International work-camps 2.11
  • Political view 3
    • Difficulties in cross-national aid 3.1
  • Moral resources, political capital and civil society 4
  • Criticisms 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Etymology and history

The verb was first recorded in 1755. It was derived from the noun volunteer, in C.1600, "one who offers himself for military service," from the Middle French voluntaire.[2] In the non-military sense, the word was first recorded during the 1630s. The word volunteering has more recent usage—still predominantly military—coinciding with the phrase community service.[2][3] In a military context, a volunteer army is a military body whose soldiers chose to enter service, as opposed to having been conscripted. Such volunteers do not work "for free" and are given regular pay.

If a student is engaged in some sort of volunteer work, taking a gap year after high school or during college is also a form of volunteering. Career break is also considered to be a form of volunteering, until involved in a voluntary work.

19th century

During this time, America experienced the Great Awakening. People became aware of the disadvantaged and realized the cause for movement against slavery. Younger people started helping the needy in their communities. In 1851, the first YMCA in the United States was started, followed seven years later by the first YWCA. During the American Civil War, women volunteered their time to sew supplies for the soldiers and the “Angel of the Battlefield” Clara Barton and a team of volunteers began providing aid to servicemen. Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881 and began mobilizing volunteers for disaster relief operations,including relief for victims of the Johnstown Flood in 1889.

20th & 21st centuries

John F. Kennedy greets volunteers on August 28, 1961


External links

  • Georgeou, Nichole, Neoliberalism, Development, and Aid Volunteering, New York: Routledge, 2012. ISBN 9780415809153
  • Winfield, Mark. The Essential Volunteer Handbook. Friesen Press.  

Further reading

  • Geiser, Ch.; Okun, M. A.; Grano, C. (2014). "Who is motivated to volunteer? A latent profile analysis linking volunteer motivation to frequency of volunteering". Psychological Test and Assessment Modeling. 56(1). pp. 3-24.
  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "Etymology:VOLUNTEER". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2012-04-30. 
  3. ^ """The origin of the word "Volunteering. Retrieved 2012-04-30. 
  4. ^ a b c ISBN 1-86287-376-3, Volunteers and Volunteering, The Federation Press
  5. ^ a b "Medical Education at Harvard". Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Janet Eyler (1999), Where's the learning in service-learning?, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,  
  7. ^ "Need of skills based volunteering for Non-Profit activities". National Service Resources. 
  8. ^ Independent Sector "Skills based volunteering". Independent Sector. 
  9. ^ Gap-year 'voluntourists' told not to botherWorld Volunteer Web, 16 August 2007: Linked 2013-08-09
  10. ^ "The Biggest Problem with International Service & Voluntourism | Building a Better WorldBuilding a Better World". 2013-02-28. Retrieved 2013-09-17. 
  11. ^ "Online Volunteering". UN Volunteers. Retrieved 2012-04-30. 
  12. ^ "Virtual Volunteering". Service Leader. Retrieved 2012-04-30. 
  13. ^ "Micro-Volunteering via Mobile Phones - Using Spare Time to Micro-Volunteer". 
  14. ^ "Micro Volunteering - Changing The World In Just Your Pyjamas!". Retrieved 2013-09-17. 
  15. ^ "Environmental Volunteer Work". PeaceCorps. Retrieved 2012-04-30. 
  16. ^ "USGS Tsunami 2004 Summary". United States Geological Survey. 
  17. ^ "Emergency Volunteering Coverage in NatGeo.". National Geographic. 
  18. ^ "The Economy's Impact on Back to School". Great Schools. 2009-08-06. Retrieved 2009-11-20. 
  19. ^ a b "Volunteer teaching effort can help students to learn better in schools". School Mental Health Project. Retrieved 2011-12-14. 
  20. ^ "Mapping Success in Employee Volunteering - The Drivers of Effectiveness for Employee Volunteering and Giving Programs and Fortune 500 Performance (2009)". Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship 2009. Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  21. ^ "Fortune 500's monetary donation programs for voluntary service". Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  22. ^ "How companies benefit from EVP". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  23. ^|publisher=Picket News
  24. ^ Bush Announces Faith-Based Initiative
  25. ^ ISBN reference for Volunteering Visions, Publisher: The Federation Press, Edited by: Joy Noble and Fiona Johnston, ISBN 1-86287-404-2 ISBN 978-1862874046
  26. ^ "Aid, taxation, and development: analytical perspectives on aid effectiveness in Sub-Saharan Africa". World Bank. 1998-02-28. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  27. ^ Xu, Y; Ngai, N. P. (2011). "Moral Resources and Political Capital: Theorizing the Relationship Between Voluntary Service Organizations and the Development of Civil Society in China". Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 40(2). pp. 247–269. Retrieved April 17, 2011. 
  28. ^ Kant, I. (1998). Critique of pure reason (J. M. D. Meiklejohn, Trans.). Raleigh, NC: Alex Catalogue.
  29. ^ Adorno, T. (2000). Problems of moral philosophy (T. Schroder, Ed. & R. Livingstone, Trans.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  30. ^ Blau, P. M., & Duncan, O. D. (1967). The American occupational structure. New York: Wiley.
  31. ^ Xu, Y; Ngai, N. P. (2011). "Moral Resources and Political Capital: Theorizing the Relationship Between Voluntary Service Organizations and the Development of Civil Society in China". Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 40(2). p. 260. Retrieved April 17, 2011. 
  32. ^ Xu, Y.; Ngai, N. P. (2011). "Moral Resources and Political Capital: Theorizing the Relationship Between Voluntary Service Organizations and the Development of Civil Society in China". Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 40(2). pp. 247–269. Retrieved April 17, 2011. 
  33. ^ Bezruchka, S. (2000). Medical Tourism as Medical Harm to the Third World: Why? For Whom? Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 11, 77-78.
  34. ^ Roberts, M. (2006). Duffle Bag Medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association, 295, 1491-1492.
  35. ^ Pinto, A.D., & Upshur, R.E.G. (2009). Global Health Ethics for Students. Developing World Bioethics, 9, 1-10.


See also

The field of the medical tourism (referring to volunteers who travel overseas to deliver medical care) has recently attracted negative criticism when compared to the alternative notion of sustainable capacities, i.e., work done in the context of long-term, locally-run, and foreign-supported infrastructures. A preponderance of this criticism appears largely in scientific and peer-reviewed literature.[33][34][35] Recently, media outlets with more general readerships have published such criticisms as well.

In the 1960s, neoliberalism on international aid volunteering.


Obviously, “Moral resource-I itself contains the self-determination that gives participants confidence in the ethical beliefs they have chosen”,[31] almost any organizations may have Moral Resource-I, while not all of them have the societal recognized Moral Resource-II. However, the voluntary service organizations predominantly occupy Moral Resource-II because a sense of moral superiority makes it possible that for parties with different values, goals and cultures to work together in promoting the promotion of volunteering. Thus the voluntary service organizations are likely to win the trust and support of the masses as well as the government more easily than will the organizations whose morals are not accepted by mainstream society. In other words, Moral Resource II helps the grassroots organizations with little Political Capital I to win Political Capital-II, which is a crucial factor for their survival and growth in developing countries such as China. Therefore, the voluntary service realm could be an enclave of the development of civil society in the developing nations.[32]

  1. Political Capital-I refers to the political capital mainly ascribed to the status that the NGO inherited throughout history (e.g., the CYL).
  2. Political Capital-II refers to the Political Capital that the NGOs earned through their hard efforts.[30]

Thanks to the intellectual heritage of Blau and Duncan (1967), two types of political capital were identified:

  1. Moral Resource I: Inspired by Immanuel Kant’s (1998 [1787]) argument of “What ought I to do,” Moral Resource-I will encourage the NGOs’ confidence and then have the courage to act and conquer difficulties by way of answering and confirming the question of “What ought I to do.”[28]
  2. Moral Resource II: given that Adorno (2000) recognizes that moral or immoral tropes are socially determined, Moral Resource-II refers to the morals that are well accepted by the given society.[29]

Moreover Xu and Ngai (2011) distinguished two types of Moral Resources: Moral Resource-I and Moral Resource-II (ibid).

Based on a case study in China, Xu and Ngai (2011) revealed that the developing grassroots volunteerism can be an enclave among various organizations and may be able to work toward the development of civil society in the developing countries. The researchers developed a “Moral Resources and Political Capital” approach to examine the contributions of volunteerism in promoting the civil society. Moral resource means the available morals could be chosen by NGOs. Political capital means the capital that will improve or enhance the NGOs’ status, possession or access in the existing political system.[27]

Moral resources, political capital and civil society

Indeed, some offers of aid have distorted the general spirit of volunteering, treating local voluntary action as contributions in kind, i.e., existing conditions requiring the modification of local people’s behavior in order for them to earn the right to donors’ charity. This can be seen as patronizing and offensive to the recipients because the aid expressly serves the policy aims of the donors rather than the needs of the recipients.

[26] Many low-income countries’ economies suffer from industrialization without prosperity and investment without growth. One reason for this is that development assistance guides many Third World governments to pursue development policies that have been wasteful, ill-conceived, or unproductive; some of these policies have been so destructive that the economies could not have been sustained without outside support.[25] Some international volunteer organizations define their primary mission as being altruistic: to fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in the developing world, (e.g.

  1. Financial accountability: Transparency in funding management to ensure that what is done by the volunteers is properly targeted
  2. Policy reform: Governmental request that developing countries adopt certain social, economic, or environmental policies; often, the most controversial relate to the privatization of services traditionally offered by the state
  3. Development objectives: Asking developing countries to adjust specific time-bound economic objectives

Difficulties in the cross-national aid model of volunteering can arise when it is applied across national borders. The presence of volunteers who are sent from one state to another can be viewed as a breach of sovereignty and showing a lack of respect towards the national government of the proposed recipients. Thus, motivations are important when states negotiate offers to send aid and when these proposals are accepted, particularly if donors may postpone assistance or stop it altogether. Three types of conditionality have evolved:

Volunteers fit new windows at the Sumac Centre in Nottingham, UK.

Difficulties in cross-national aid

Volunteering that benefits the state but challenges paid counterparts angers labor unions that represent those who are paid for their volunteer work; this is particularly seen in combination departments, such as volunteer fire departments.

Modern societies share a common value of people helping each other; not only do volunteer acts assist others, but they also benefit the volunteering individual on a personal level.[23] Despite having similar objectives, tension can arise between volunteers and state-provided services. In order to curtail this tension, most countries develop policies and enact legislation to clarify the roles and relationships among governmental stakeholders and their voluntary counterparts; this regulation identifies and allocates the necessary legal, social, administrative, and financial support of each party. This is particularly necessary when some voluntary activities are seen as a challenge to the authority of the state(e.g., on January 29, 2001, President Bush cautioned that volunteer groups should supplement—not replace—government agencies’ work).[24]

Political view

International work-camp volunteering can be divided into the short term voluntary projects (STV) and long- or middle-term voluntary projects (LMTV). STV projects are international workcamps for less than two months, while LMTV projects are those lasting two months or more. The most common international workcamp lasts for two weeks with a group of 10-20 overseas and local work-camp participants.

An international work-camp is an international voluntary project in which participants from different countries can meet, live, work, learn, and exchange with local people concerning issues about environmental conservation, cultural heritage, social justice, rural and human development, etc. Groups including CCIVS, NVDA, Group Work Foundation, and Service Civil International (SCI) are a few providing International work camps.

International work-camps

Community volunteering refers to the volunteers who work to improve their surrounding community. Neighborhood, religious, and civic groups may promote community volunteering in furtherance of shared goals. Community volunteer work can also be defined as volunteerism that requires a certain number of people, however they are organized, to bring about the desired results.

Leaders welcome a boy into scouting, March 2010, Mexico City, Mexico.

Community voluntary work

According to the information from VolunteerMatch, a service that provides Employee Volunteering Program solutions, the key drivers for companies that produce and manage EVPs are building brand awareness and affinity, strengthening trust and loyalty among consumers, enhancing corporate image and reputation, improving employee retention, increasing employee productivity and loyalty, and providing an effective vehicle to reach strategic goals.[22]

A majority of the companies at the Fortune 500 allow their employees to volunteer during work hours. These formalized Employee Volunteering Programs (EVPs), also called Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV), are regarded as a part of the companies' sustainability efforts and their social responsibility activities.[20] About 40% of Fortune 500 companies provide monetary donations, also known as volunteer grants, to nonprofits as a way to recognize employees who dedicate significant amounts of time to volunteering in the community.[21]

Corporate volunteering

Volunteering in schools can be an additional teaching guide for the students and help to fill the gap of local teachers. Cultural and language exchange during teaching and other school activities can be the most essential learning experience for both students and volunteers.[19]

Much like the benefits of any type of volunteering there are great rewards for the volunteer, student, and school. In addition to intangible rewards, volunteers can add relevant experience to their resumes. Volunteers who travel to assist may learn foreign culture and language.

Resource poor schools around the world rely on government support or on efforts from volunteers and private donations, in order to run effectively. In some countries, whenever the economy is down, the need for volunteers and resources increases greatly.[18] There are many opportunities available in school systems for volunteers. Yet, there are not many requirements in order to volunteer in a school system. Whether one is a high school or TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language graduate or college student, most schools require just voluntary and selfless effort.[19]

Volunteering in schools

During the 2012 hurricane Sandy emergeny, mutualism at work, pooling resources and assistance and leveraging social media.

Volunteering often plays a pivotal role in the recovery effort following natural disasters, such as tsunamis, floods, droughts, hurricanes, and earthquakes. For example, the United Nations.[16][17]

Volunteers assist survivors at the Houston Astrodome following Hurricane Katrina.

Volunteering in an emergency

The Giant Panda Conservation program in Xi'an and Sichuan, China, is a famous endangered animals protection program. Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries conservation program attracts huge foreign support and volunteers.

Environmental volunteering refers to the volunteers who contribute towards environmental management or conservation. Volunteers conduct a range of activities including environmental monitoring, ecological restoration such as re-vegetation and weed removal, protecting endangered animals, and educating others about the natural environment.[15]

Environmental volunteering

Micro-volunteering is an unpaid task that is operated via an internet-connected device and completed in small increments of time. It is distinct from virtual volunteering in that it typically does not require an application process or a training period.[13][14]


Also called e-volunteering or online volunteering, virtual volunteering is a term that describes a volunteer who completes tasks, in whole or in part, offsite from the organization being assisted. They use the Internet and a home, school, telecenter or work computer, or other Internet-connected device, such as a PDA or smartphone. Virtual volunteering is also known as cyber service, telementoring, and teletutoring, as well as various other names. Virtual volunteering is similar to telecommuting, except that instead of online employees who are paid, these are online volunteers who are not paid.[11][12]

Virtual volunteering

An increasingly popular form of volunteering among young people, particularly gap year students, is to travel to communities in the developing world to work on projects. Activities include teaching English, working in orphanages, conservation, and so on. International volunteering is said to give participants valuable skills, knowledge, and the experience of a lifetime. However, "voluntourism" has been criticized by some as being paternalistic and reinforcing historic power imbalances. Some critics argue that in many cases, voluntourism does more harm to communities than good.[9][10]

Laura Bush poses with Peace Corps volunteers

Volunteering in developing countries

Skills-based volunteering is leveraging the specialized skills and the talents of individuals to strengthen the infrastructure of nonprofits, helping them build and sustain their capacity to successfully achieve their missions.[7] This is in contrast to traditional volunteering, where specific training is not required. The average hour of traditional volunteering is valued by the Independent Sector at between $18–20 an hour. Skills-based volunteering is valued at $40–500 an hour, depending on the market value of the time.[8] Skill based volunteering include medical internship, dental elective, teaching English etc.

Skills-based volunteering

Many schools on all education levels offer service-learning, which allow the student to serve a group through volunteering while earning educational credit.[5] According to Alexander Astin in the forward to Where's the Learning in ServiceLearning? by Janet Eyler and Dwight E. Giles, Jr.,"...we promote more wide-spread adoption of service-learning in higher education because we see it as a powerful means of preparing students to become more caring and responsible parents and citizens and of helping colleges and universities to make good on their pledge to 'serve society.'"[6]When describing service learning, the Medical Education at Harvard says, "Service learning unites academic study and volunteer community service in mutually reinforcing ways. ...service learning is characterized by a relationship of partnership: the student learns from the service agency and from the community and, in return,gives energy, intelligence, commitment, time and skills to address human and community needs."[5] Volunteering in service learning seems to have the result of engaging both mind and heart, thus providing a more powerful learning experience; according to Janet Eyler and Dwight E. Giles,it succeeds by the fact that it "...fosters student development by capturing student interest..."[6]:1-2,8 While not recognized by everyone as a legitimate approach, research on the efficacy of service learning has grown.[6]:xv-xvii. Janet Eyler and Dwight E. Giles conducted a national study of American college students to ascertain the significance of service learning programs,[6]:xvi According to Eyler and Giles,"These surveys, conducted before and after a semester of community service, examine the impact of service-learning on students."[6]:xvi They describe their experience with students involved in service-learning in this way: "Students like service-learning. When we sit down with a group of students to discuss service-learning experiences, their enthusiasm is unmistakable. is clear that [the students]believe that what they gain from service-learning differs qualitatively from what they often derive from more traditional instruction."[6]:1-2

Volunteering as Utilized by Service Learning Programs


After World War II, people shifted the focus of their altruistic passions to other areas, including helping the poor and volunteering overseas. A major development was the Peace Corps in the United States in 1960. When President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War on Poverty in 1964, volunteer opportunities started to expand and continued into the next few decades. The process for finding volunteer work became more formalized, with more volunteer centers forming and new ways to find work appearing on the World Wide Web.[4]

The Great Depression saw one of the first large-scale, nation-wide efforts to coordinate volunteering for a specific need. During World War II, thousands of volunteer offices supervised the volunteers who helped with the many needs of the military and the home front, including collecting supplies, entertaining soldiers on leave, and caring for the injured.[4]

In the first few decades of the 20th century, several volunteer organizations were founded, including the Rotary International, Kiwanis International, Association of Junior Leagues International, and Lions Clubs International.

Prior to the 19th century, few formal charitable organizations existed to assist people in need. [4]

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