Voluntary work in Germany – enjoying leisure time through community service

A group of young volunteers help build a house
© Getty Images/Hispanolistic

About 31 million people do voluntary work in Germany. They coach children in sports clubs, care for the sick and the elderly in nursing homes, and serve as volunteer firefighters or in aid organisations such as the German Red Cross – all without payment. Why do they do it? What role does voluntary work play in Germany? How can it help us adjust to future social change?

In Germany, the tradition of voluntary service goes back to the 19th century. Today, forty four per cent of all Germans over the age of 14 work on a volunteer basis for their communities. Their reasons for getting involved and the experiences they have are as varied as the tasks they take upon themselves.

Who are Germany's volunteers?

They teach children to swim, put out fires, distribute meals to the sick and the elderly, mediate in disputes and protect the environment. About 31 million Germans undertook voluntary work in 2014. The range of activities is vast. Anyone wishing to volunteer in Germany can choose from a wide variety of possibilities. In Germany, the oldest agency for volunteers is (that means 'the urge to act') in Munich, which currently places volunteers in some 430 institutions and projects, including foundations, educational centres, animal welfare societies and many others.

It is worth taking a glance at the statistics: over the last fifteen years, the rate of social engagement has risen by almost ten percentage points. This is mainly due to social changes. In the age groups 14 to 29 years and 30 to 49 years, according to the Volunteer Survey 2014, the proportions of those involved are highest. Many volunteers are middle class, employed and well educated. In addition, a particularly strong increase, namely by 17 percentage points, can be observed among schoolchildren.

What leads people to volunteer?

People's reasons for volunteering vary according to the individual and are quite personal, as would be expected. The latest survey of volunteers conducted by the in the year 2014 names a whole series of common motives Germans have for volunteering. Among these are primarily the pleasure afforded by a given activity and the opportunity to do something for the common good and change the world for the better, at least on a small scale. People also welcome the opportunity to expand their horizons and learn new skills. Young people, especially, often want to do something with other people and perhaps learn some useful skills in the process. Older people are more interested in passing on what they know to others, and also in doing something worthwhile when they retire.

Voluntary work in Germany: a pillar of support in German society

All of this underscores the importance of voluntary services in meeting the social challenges of the future both in Germany and in Europe as a whole. With society aging and the needs of growing numbers of older people having to be met by fewer young people, motivating people to get involved in voluntary work is particularly important. In the long run, our society will only be able to continue to enjoy a broad range of leisure and cultural activities and health care services if as many people as possible can be won over to the idea of taking on social support tasks on a volunteer basis.

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