The Power of Volunteering: History, Types, and Benefits

Volunteering image

Volunteering is a form of unpaid work that individuals freely undertake to serve others in their community.

It involves giving one's time and labor to various causes, such as medicine, education, emergency rescue, and more.

Volunteers can be trained professionals or individuals who offer their help in response to natural disasters or other urgent needs.

The act of volunteering has a long history, dating back to the 17th century, and has evolved significantly over time.

In this article, we will explore the etymology and history of volunteering, different types of volunteering, its benefits, and some criticisms associated with it.

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Etymology and History

The term "volunteer" originated from the Middle French word "voluntaire," meaning "one who offers himself for military service."

It was first recorded in 1755, but its non-military sense emerged in the 1630s.

The phrase "community service" became associated with volunteering in more recent times, particularly in the military context.

A volunteer army refers to a military body whose soldiers choose to enter service rather than being conscripted.

Such volunteers receive regular pay and do not work "for free."

In the 19th century, volunteering gained momentum during the Great Awakening in America.

People became aware of social injustices, leading to movements against slavery.

Organizations like the YMCA and YWCA were established to address social issues.

During the American Civil War, women volunteered their time to sew supplies for soldiers, and Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881, mobilizing volunteers for disaster relief operations.

The 20th and 21st centuries witnessed the rise of volunteer organizations such as Rotary International, Kiwanis International, and Lions Clubs International.

The Great Depression and World War II saw massive efforts to coordinate volunteering for specific needs, including collecting supplies and caring for the injured.

In the 1960s, the Peace Corps and other initiatives expanded volunteer opportunities further.

Today, finding volunteer work has become more accessible through the internet and organizations like JustServe and AmeriCorps.

Types of Volunteering

Volunteering takes various forms, each serving different purposes and utilizing different skills.

Let's explore some of the common types of volunteering:

Volunteering as Utilized by Service-Learning Programs

Many educational institutions offer service-learning programs that allow students to engage in community service while earning educational credits.

These programs promote the development of caring and responsible individuals while benefiting the community.

Service learning combines academic study and volunteer community service, fostering student development by capturing their interests and engaging their minds and hearts.

Skills-based Volunteering

Skills-based volunteering involves leveraging individuals' specialized skills and talents to strengthen the infrastructure of nonprofits.

Unlike traditional volunteering, which involves tasks unrelated to one's profession, skills-based volunteering allows professionals to contribute their expertise directly.

The value of skills-based volunteering is often higher due to the market value of the time and specialized skills being utilized.

Virtual Volunteering

Virtual volunteering, also known as e-volunteering or online volunteering, involves completing tasks remotely using internet-connected devices.

Volunteers can contribute their time and skills from home, school, or work.

Examples of virtual volunteering include contributing to free and open-source software projects or editing Wikipedia.

Micro-volunteering is a similar concept, where individuals perform small tasks in small increments of time using internet-connected devices.

Environmental Volunteering

Environmental volunteering focuses on activities that contribute to environmental management or conservation.

Volunteers engage in activities such as environmental monitoring, ecological restoration, protecting endangered animals, and educating others about the natural environment.

Environmental volunteering plays a crucial role in preserving natural resources and raising awareness about environmental issues.

Volunteering in an Emergency

Volunteering in emergency situations plays a pivotal role in disaster recovery efforts.

Volunteers mobilize to aid, and support affected communities after natural disasters like tsunamis, floods, droughts, hurricanes, and earthquakes.

The 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake in Japan and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami brought in a large number of volunteers worldwide to assist in rescue and relief operations.

Volunteer efforts during emergencies often involve providing immediate assistance, organizing resources, and aiding survivors.

Volunteering in Schools

Volunteering in schools is crucial, particularly in resource-poor schools that rely on government support or private donations to function effectively.

Volunteers contribute their time and effort to support educational activities, fill gaps in teaching, and provide additional guidance to students.

Volunteering in schools can also promote cultural and language exchange, providing valuable learning experiences for both students and volunteers.

Corporate Volunteering

Corporate volunteering refers to companies allowing their employees paid time off to volunteer at a charity or nonprofit organization.

Many Fortune 500 companies have formalized Employee Volunteering Programs (EVPs) as part of their sustainability and social responsibility efforts.

These programs provide employees with opportunities to give back to the community, enhance brand awareness and image, improve employee retention and productivity, and help achieve strategic goals.

Community Volunteer Work

Community volunteer work encompasses various activities focused on improving local communities.

It involves individuals and organizations coming together to address social issues and provide support to those in need.

Community volunteer work can be organized by not-for-profit organizations, local governments, churches, and even informal groups such as recreational sports teams.

It plays a vital role in enhancing community well-being and fostering social cohesion.

Social Volunteering or Welfare Volunteering

Social volunteering or welfare volunteering refers to volunteer work that supports institutions such as hospitals, schools, memorial sites, and welfare organizations.

In some European countries, strict regulations govern social volunteering, ensuring that governmental and non-governmental organizations engage volunteers appropriately.

Volunteers often receive limited pocket money from the government for their work.

These volunteer positions contribute to the development of civil society in developing countries by providing essential services and support.

Volunteering at Major Sporting Events

Volunteering at major sporting events, such as the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup, plays a crucial role in their success.

Thousands of volunteers are mobilized to assist with various tasks, including meeting guests, organizing ceremonies, managing food outlets, and ensuring a smooth experience for participants and spectators.

Volunteers contribute their time and energy to create memorable and well-organized events.

Medical Volunteering

Medical volunteering involves providing medical care in underserved areas, often in developing countries or regions affected by natural disasters or violence.

Medical volunteers, including physicians, nurses, and dental professionals, offer their services in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities.

These volunteers play a crucial role in addressing healthcare gaps and improving the well-being of communities in need.

Volunteer Days, Weeks, and Years

To encourage volunteering and community service, many countries observe designated days, weeks, or years dedicated to volunteerism.

These initiatives aim to raise awareness, inspire individuals to engage in volunteer work and recognize the contributions of volunteers.

These designated periods provide an opportunity for individuals and organizations to come together, plan and execute various volunteering activities, and make a positive impact on their communities.

Political View

Volunteering is deeply connected to political and societal views.

Modern societies value the idea of people helping each other, and volunteer acts not only benefit others but also contribute to the personal growth and well-being of volunteers themselves.

However, tensions can arise between volunteers and state-provided services, as some view volunteering as a replacement for paid positions.

Labor unions, for example, may argue that long-term volunteering is a form of exploitation, used by charities to avoid minimum wage legislation.

Striking a balance between volunteerism and paid employment is essential to ensure fair labor practices and promote social mobility.

Difficulties in Cross-National Aid

Volunteering across national borders can be challenging due to issues of sovereignty and respect for national governments.

Some international volunteer organizations have been criticized for pursuing their own policy aims rather than focusing on poverty alleviation and the needs of the recipients.

The presence of volunteers from one state in another can be seen as a breach of sovereignty.

To address these concerns, three types of conditionality have evolved as follows:

  1. Financial Accountability
  2. Policy reform
  3. Development objectives

These conditions aim to ensure transparency in funding management, encourage policy changes in developing countries, and align development goals between donor and recipient nations.

Moral Resources, Political Capital, and Civil Society

Volunteering plays a vital role in the development of civil society, particularly in developing countries.

The availability of moral resources and political capital helps grassroots organizations gain trust and support from society and the government.

Moral resources refer to the ethics and values chosen by NGOs, while political capital refers to the status and influence, they hold within the political system.

The interplay between moral resources and political capital contributes to the survival and growth of voluntary service organizations, making them enclaves of civil society development.

Potential Benefits of Volunteering

Volunteering offers numerous benefits to individuals and communities alike.

Academic studies have shown that participating in community service programs improves students' attitudes toward self, school, and learning, enhances civic engagement and social skills, and positively impacts academic performance.

Volunteering has also been linked to improved physical and mental health, reduced mortality risk, and increased levels of happiness.

It provides individuals with a sense of purpose and fulfillment, promotes social connections, and contributes to the overall well-being of volunteers and the communities they serve.


Volunteering is a powerful act of selflessness and service to others.

Its roots can be traced back centuries, and it has evolved into various forms to address the changing needs of society.

From service-learning programs in educational institutions to corporate volunteering initiatives, volunteers play a crucial role in addressing social issues, supporting communities, and promoting well-being.

While there may be criticisms and challenges associated with volunteering, its potential benefits for individuals, communities, and civil society cannot be overlooked.

By giving their time and skills, volunteers make a positive impact and contribute to a better world.

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