New trends and profiles of volunteers for the next decade

The debate started with the necessity of analysing the new trends in volunteering, as the Chairperson,  Mr. Mirko Schwaerzel (Head of the European Department of the German National Network for Civil Society, BBE) explained, in order to develop new strategies. So far, the new volunteering trends seem to be influenced by: a) fundamental social changes (effect of an ageing society; change in the relation between work and income; the role of employers and their support in terms of volunteering; b) effects of digitalization (how new initiatives use information technology); c) shift in political priorities (from long-term to mid and short-term, which means less public money available for the civil society sector; there is also a strong political focus on the promotion of social enterprises); d) the instrumentalization of the voluntary organizations and activities; and e) the profile of volunteers (there are changes in the motivation and interest towards volunteering activities: observed trends emphasize short term commitment, micro-volunteering and motivation connected to a personal gain). The challenge for Civil Society is to identify the meaning and application of these trends and emphasize the sharing of basic values, mission and visions, to promote volunteering as an expression of active citizenship, based on values such as solidarity and democracy.

Regarding the effects of digitalisation Mr. Anton Alsander (Project Leader at the Forum for Voluntary Organizations, Sweden) stated that one of the most important trends in Sweden is the effect of digitalization on the new online forums for organizing volunteering. With the 2015 Refugee Crisis, Civil society in Sweden had a very important role in welcoming refugees and a lot of the initiatives observed were formed on social media, since it is a tool that is highly adaptive, effective in communication, especially for short term initiatives needing speedy responses and is driven by passion and personal interests. From the point of established organizations it was noted that this was a challenge, since the guidelines and responsibilities were different. In order to be more efficient, it is expected that volunteer organizations increasingly use digital means to meet the needs of the modern type of volunteer and that the short term engagement evolves into a longer term perspective.

Ms. Lejla Šehić Relić (Board Member of the Croatian Volunteer Centre Network. Vice-president of the European Volunteer Centre) highlighted the relation between ideology and volunteering trends in the post communist countries: as opposed to the massive and collective volunteering actions controlled by the State, now the emphasis is on individual and proactive activism, with advocacy work towards the development of volunteering at local and regional level. She stressed that there should be a redefinition of the role of values in volunteering and that Civil Society must be a leader of this modernization of volunteering trends.

For Ms. Elsbeth Fischer-Roth (Project Staff Member at Benovol Switzerland) volunteering trends in recent years appear to be connected with four elements: i) online volunteering actions; ii) skills-based type of volunteering (especially young volunteers); iii) spontaneous commitment and proactive behavior; iv) punctual engagement. Civil society organizations must, therefore, rethink their offers and attempt to respond to the trends efficiently.

Finally, attention was paid to the crisis-response aspect of volunteering notable witnessed during the so-called ‘refugee crisis’. Ms. Nicole Sonnleitner (Head of the Independent Volunteering Centre, Upper Austria) stated that there is a need to develop better volunteering infrastructures in order to be able to be more co-ordinated and ensure a greater impact. It was highlighted that the main challenges include language barriers, but emphasis on cultural acceptance is key when developing better volunteering infrastructures and that it is very relevant for volunteer centres to have an open mindset and be inter-culturally open.