How has volunteering evolved?

Volunteering has evolved over the last century

In pre-industrial societies – and in developing countries today – mutual self-help was and is vital to the survival of rural communities.

In contrast, organised group volunteering, in which a group of individuals engage in a charitable activity, can be dated back to the 19th more organised volunteering programmes have emerged to provide for those in need of assistance locally, nationally and internationally.

The most popular sectors for volunteering are teaching, sports and exercise, children’s activities, religion, the environment, animal conservation, healthcare, and local community.

Volunteering has evolved over the last century
Volunteering has evolved over the last century

Technology has made it a lot simpler to raise awareness and recruit volunteers. In tandem with this modern transport makes it easier and cheaper to travel, which plays a part in the modern day trend “voluntourism”. This is popular mostly amongst young people as they use the opportunities volunteering provides to travel.

Traditionally, volunteers were perceived to be made up of older or retired individuals, or non-working people, such as housewives, eager to fill up their spare time.

Nowadays, according to the Institute of Volunteering Research, 38% of volunteers are male, 42% female and 47% of ‘formal volunteers’ are aged between 35-49. This contrasts with younger volunteers who are more likely to volunteer informally. Overall this indicates the progressive evolution in volunteering in terms of age demographic in comparison to volunteers in the 19th century.

In the UK, 8,500 people volunteer with the national youth charity organisation the Army Cadet Force (ACF), working in local communities and in various roles to make a difference in young people’s lives.

National organisations, such as the ACF, and International organisations, such as Oxfam and UNICEF, enable volunteers to work outside their communities, travel further and help communities at home and abroad.

One of the growth sectors in volunteering relates to the environment and conservation work. Environmental issues are becoming more visible and films, such as “An Inconvenient truth”, illustrating these issues are one of the factors encouraging individuals to volunteer for green organisations.

More people are aware of their carbon foot print, more knowledgeable on how species of plants and animals are affected by global warming – thus creating the inclination to volunteer with a conservation organisation.

Overall, while there have been many changes over the years in volunteering the basics remain unchanged. At heart, volunteering is the concentrated effort of a number of individuals to have a positive impact.

Where this is and how it is organised may change, but the fundamental aspect of volunteering remains.


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