Volunteer work

Volunteer work refers to activities performed willingly and without pay to produce goods or provide services for others outside the volunteer’s household or family. Volunteer work plays an important role in countries, contributing to production and to economic output, particularly in the non-profit sector, and also to community development, social cohesion and civic participation.

Persons in volunteer work
are defined as all those of working age who during a short reference period, performed any unpaid, non-compulsory activity to produce goods or provide services for others; that is for economic units outside the volunteer’s household or family.

For analytical and policy purposes two kinds of volunteer work can be separately identified:
  • Organization-based volunteering –that is, volunteer work performed for, or through organizations
  • Direct volunteering –that is, volunteer work performed directly for other households, excluding the household of the volunteer or of family members living in other households
While a main aspect of volunteer work is that it is performed without an expectation of payment, volunteers may nonetheless receive some small form support or stipend for out of pocket expenses, or to cover living expenses while engaged in the voluntary activity. They may also receive meals and transport or symbolic gifts in recognition for their contribution.

Another important aspect of volunteer work is that it is done on a voluntary basis, that is, without any civil, legal or administrative requirement. This is an important element that distinguishes volunteer work from other work activities that are unpaid and performed for others, but that are done on a compulsory basis, such as court-mandated community service, mandatory national service related to a military draft or service required as part of an education programme or to acquire certification in a given profession.

Current international guidelines

The latest international recommendations on the measurement of employment are contained in the Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization adopted by the 19th ICLS in 2013. This resolution provides reference concepts, operational definitions and guidelines to support countries in establishing a comprehensive system of statistics on work, including volunteer work.

More detailed guidance for the collection of statistics on volunteer work, in particular through household surveys, is provided in the ILO Manual on the measurement of volunteer work (2011).