CEE/FSU Perspectives on Volunteering
last updated August 31, 2003


Volunteers are an integral part of the NGO community in CEE/FSU. In its "Clean Ukraine - Clean Earth" campaign, the Association of Ukranian Cities marshaled more than seventy-five thousand people to clean up over 150 cities and villages in nineteen regions of the Ukraine. Katherine Gaskin and Justin Davis Smith, in A New Civic Europe? A Study of the Extent and Role of Volunteering (1995), note that Bulgaria was home to the highest rates of volunteering in Europe's environmental and animal welfare community. At the same time, however, given unique history of volunteerism under communism, reaching and recruiting volunteers in CEE/FSU may require an understanding of the different ways in which individuals in the region become volunteers and the kind of volunteer work in which they engage.

 

Gaskin and Smith's study focused on the rates and methods of volunteerism in East Germany, Bulgaria and Slovakia. Among other things, they concluded that while overall volunteer rates are generally lower in these countries than in other parts of Europe, volunteerism is more often accessed through paid work and was more frequent in commercial settings. Gaskin and Smith also observe that overall, most volunteers focus on skill provision (teaching, training, advice), and are less active in the governance aspects of organizations (participation on board or committee, fundraising). Thus, recruiting volunteers through employers and placing them in roles that take advantage of their particular skills may be effective volunteer recruitment strategies.

A Mongolian advocate explained in an interview that volunteering is understood generally as a kind of charity that is based in altruism and selflessness, and that people may be uncomfortable with the idea that a volunteer should "benefit" from her work with an organization. One third of NGOs in Mongolia rely on volunteer contributions. Many individuals participate in organizations as members of the organization, and NGOs often regulate volunteer relationships in their by-laws. From The Advocates for Human Rights, Interview with Mongolian Advocate (November 2002).

Advocates are increasingly recognizing the need for greater public understanding of the role of volunteers and the nature of voluntary work. In Volunteerism in Slovakia, Nora Benakova discusses a 1999 campaign, called "Volunteer Week," that was organized by twenty NGOs in Bratislava. The campaign allowed NGOs to inform the public about volunteering and to promote their activities and recruit new volunteers.

Finally, the legal environment may also regulate the status of volunteers, as well as the organization's rights and responsibilities with respect to those volunteers. Advocates in CEE/FSU have been working to introduce provisions governing the status of volunteers. The Polish parliament, for example, recently passed the Law on Public Benefit Activity and Volunteerism that addresses the legal status and conditions of work of volunteers. USAID reported in its 2002 Sustainability Index that the law was still being debated in parliament. From USAID, 2002 NGO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia 130-131 (2002).