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In the original sense, an honorary position is an engagement in public functions, legitimized by an election (for example in the association's executive committee , as a council member or as lay judge). The term is not clearly delimited in everyday language from civic engagement or volunteering. In general, it is understood as altruistic behavior in which an individual or a group does work voluntarily and unpaid. Voluntary work helps both the beneficiaries and the helpers.

The activity can be regular or sporadic, for example in disaster control . With the concept of volunteering ( English volunteering ) the services are voluntary social year (FSJ) in Ecological Volunteer Year (FÖJ) or in the Federal Voluntary Service (BFD) described. An expense allowance may be associated with voluntary work .

To highlight the importance of the almost 100 million volunteers in Europe in society, the Council of Europe has declared 2011 the European Year of Volunteering .

Examples of honorary positions

Honorary positions in the real sense are for example

Citizens can be legally obliged to take over the offices of honorary judges and election workers. You will then receive a statutory allowances and compulsory labor exemption .

Anyone who is appointed to the civil service to perform sovereign tasks on a voluntary basis (e.g. honorary mayors, executives of the voluntary fire brigades, commercial judges and election consuls) is an honorary officer .

Coastal cleaning in Galicia by volunteers after an oil spill

In the sense of civic engagement, volunteers work in the following areas:

The term in transition

The change in meaning and values associated with the term “honorary office” is illustrated very clearly by the relevant entry in the General Encyclopedia of Sciences and Arts from 1838:

“Voluntary post, different from honorary posts and a subtype of honorary posts, denotes such a public post that is associated with either no or only a low salary, also, according to its intention, not with the hope of obtaining a salary post. This definition needs the last addition in more recent times because there are now jobs in the state that do not have the character of honorary posts, which we will discuss in more detail later on, and to which the administrator submits for free. For these are those whose establishment it is immediately intended that they should be ambitious, especially by young people, in order to acquire the necessary skills for paid state offices and thus to get to them. We mean the offices of asculators, traineeships, auditors and unpaid assessors at regional colleges and other regional offices. That these offices are honorary positions cannot be doubted, only not honorary positions in the actual current meaning of the word. ... Honorary office is now called such an office preferably because there is nothing of the emoluments of public offices other than the dignity associated with every public office - honor the administrator of the same. "

- General Encyclopedia of Sciences and Arts, p. 426)


In the entire occidental tradition, be it from the point of view of classical antiquity or that of Christianity , the individual contribution to the general welfare is indispensable for a meaningful life. Even in the urban societies of ancient Greece it was up to every male citizen to be interested in the community, to get involved in its welfare and to discuss the interests of the city in the meetings. Since slaves (and women) did the productive work, the free male citizens had enough free time to do it (as in the Roman Empire , however, the rule was that workers were excluded from public life). Anyone who did not take part in such gatherings and refused to take part in the affairs of the community was an idiótes , i.e. a private person: "Whoever takes no part in the things of the city is not a quiet but a bad citizen," said the Athenian Pericles in the second half of the 5th century BC, praising the special achievements of Attic democracy . Generosity was considered one of those qualities that noble-minded men should cultivate. For Aristotle it was a form of generosity, the scope of which was in proportion to the effort made.

Also in the Roman Empire and later in the Italian city republics, which based their religion and morality on Greek philosophy , the virtue of active citizenship to get involved in the common good was required and strongly developed. This is how “ magistrature ” referred to the ordinary state honorary office awarded by popular elections in the comitia ( honos ; see also cursus honorum ) .

Another root of voluntary social commitment can be found in the Christian tradition in the Bible's love command. In the Middle Ages it was shown in the case of giving alms to the poor . It was an important concern of the Order of St. John , which was founded as an order of knights and had maintained a hospital for the poor, the elderly and the sick in Jerusalem since 1099, to uphold the Christian faith and to help those in need. The honorary positions in olden times actually justified claims with regard to honor and social respectability. Nobles, and later also citizens with a good education, social reputation and wealth, were able to increase their honor or (in the case of citizens) gain honor through the official clothing. The concept of the official nobility is connected with this .

During the early modern period , voluntary service to the community was formalized and institutionally anchored. The participation of the bourgeoisie was enshrined in the Prussian city order of 1808; it regulated local self-government and with it the importance of volunteering. The Prussian city ordinance also gave rise to the concept of voluntary work that is still used in Germany. Section 191 stipulated that citizens could be obliged to take over public city offices without claiming any remuneration. Honorary officials were in charge of the charitable work that women did.

With the rise of the capitalist economic system and the property bourgeoisie in the course of the industrial revolution , there was a reassessment of useful work in the service of society: the dynamics of productivity and work faded the earlier ideal of the common good. “A moral and virtuous person was no longer defined by his public activity, which stood up for the common good, but determined by his economic activity. During this time, civil societies began to see themselves more and more as pure interest-based societies in which the original political concept of freedom was reduced to the freedom to assert one's own economic interests. "

In contrast, in the middle to the end of the 18th century, official and organized systems of poor relief and poor relief with voluntary helpers emerged, which can be considered the first origins of modern social work. This is how the “Hamburg poor system” came into being in Hamburg in 1788: The city was divided into 60 districts, each with three voluntary poor carers, an early form of voluntary social work that can be found today in various areas. In the second half of the 19th century, communal poor relief was further developed by volunteers; they thereby created the basis for modern organized social work. In this context, one should mention Johann Hinrich Wichern , who called for social responsibility on the part of the state and, with his reform homes, became the founder of diakonia . On July 9, 1852, the city of Elberfeld issued a new poor order - as the " Elberfeld System ", the future model for poor relief throughout the German Empire. The city was divided into 26 districts and these in turn were divided into quarters, with a volunteer poor carer responsible for each quarter. The emerging women's movement also gained importance for the diversity of voluntary activities.

After the voluntary work had to be carried out for the "good of the people as a whole" during the National Socialist era, the meaning, purpose and areas of application of voluntary work were to be redefined in the post-war period. In 1957, during a special conference on the subject of advertising and ethics, the campaign for community spirit was founded in the Evangelical Academy in Bad Boll to promote voluntary work in the Federal Republic of Germany based on the US model.

Extent of honorary office in Germany


Every third person in Germany is involved in voluntary work (see results of the volunteer survey or the study commission on civic engagement). However, volunteering is at least as difficult to define as work , the results of data surveys on volunteering therefore depend on the respective definition and the information on the number of people doing voluntary work in Germany varies depending on the source. The Federal Ministry of Finance states for 2004 that 70 percent of all people over the age of 14 did voluntary work. The German Red Cross assumes 17 million volunteers and volunteers. According to the Allensbacher Markt- und Werbeträger-Analyze (AWA), there were 15.98 million people in Germany in 2018 who did voluntary work. A study by the Internet portal betterplace.org on behalf of the ING-DiBa AG bank found over 23 million people; According to the study, a total of 24 million people would be willing to do voluntary work.


Many areas of public and social life would hardly exist without volunteers. In addition to caring for children, the sick and the elderly, these include: Services in youth organizations, in nature and environmental protection, in Agenda 21 projects, in animal welfare, in mountain huts or hiking clubs, in probation services , telephone counseling , in Caritas or Diakonie , in Aid organizations, free shops , with homework tutoring, as helpers like green ladies and gentlemen in many hospitals, in care for the elderly and in facilities for the disabled , in sports, cultural and other associations. The volunteer fire brigades , the most important pillar of active hazard prevention in Germany, have mostly voluntary members in addition to a few full-time employees (e.g. as equipment control, in the rescue service or on permanently manned guards). The disaster control of the Federal Republic of Germany is largely provided by volunteers.

The year 2001 was the international year of the volunteers with numerous actions at federal and state level. The federal government, the federal states, but also local authorities are trying in a variety of ways to strengthen volunteer work. Volunteer agencies are used to search for and mediate placement.

Political volunteer

Even if, in addition to the loss of the respective salary, there may be costs such as training to become a rescue worker at aid organizations, offices are still operated over a longer period of time, in some cases even made a life's work. In Germany, long-term commitments to volunteer positions are common, compared to the USA, where volunteers can mainly be found for certain projects (e.g. renovating schools). However, the concentration of voluntary work, as is common in trade unions, associations and churches, is tending to decrease. An exception, however, are the parishes, where volunteers are more involved than before due to the lack of priests, and short-term campaigns such as the “Frankfurt Volunteer Day ”. The definition of volunteering can also include unpaid family work, but also participation in a voluntary social year . In Germany, the volunteers receive accommodation, food and pocket money, insurance costs and, if applicable, child benefit.

Volunteering and profession

It is possible to exercise an honorary position in addition to the job, but may require approval or notification. In principle, the exercise of an honorary position in Germany is protected by the basic right to free development of the personality on the basis of Article 2, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law and the general freedom of action derived from it, as well as by the basic right to freedom of occupation according to Article 12, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law ( see on this : Article Secondary Employment, Sections “Labor Law” and “Service Law”).

When looking for a job, in the résumé and in job interviews, volunteering was previously welcome because it gave an applicant social skills. With some employers it is now undesirable because it no longer fits into their modern personnel policy: The applicant could neglect his working hours and work force. That is why many employees keep silent about their voluntary activities for fear of losing their jobs.

In Germany, the Job-AQTIV Act in Section 119 (2) SGB ​​III stipulates that unemployed people are not fundamentally excluded from voluntary work, provided that vocational integration is not impaired and is provided free of charge. Recipients of unemployment benefit are, however, required by the ordinance on voluntary work for the unemployed (EhrBetätV) to notify the Employment Agency immediately of any voluntary work lasting at least 15 hours per week ( Section 2 sentence 2 EhrBetätV).

Promotion of voluntary work

The state promotes voluntary work in different ways. One example is the Berlin Youth Welfare Implementation Act : It stipulates that public employees are to be given a few hours off a week for youth work; if these hours are bundled, the group of people can e.g. B. also look after summer camps in the special leave framework.

Tax incentives

Volunteers can receive expense allowances. These are tax-free within certain limits, for example: flat rate for trainers and honorary work .

social insurance

With a fundamental decision, the Federal Social Court ruled that honorary positions in the statutory social insurance are basically free of charge, even if an appropriate lump-sum allowance is granted for this.

Accident and liability insurance

In many cases, clubs, large welfare organizations and institutions insure the volunteers against accident and liability claims. The federal states of Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Berlin and Brandenburg also offer insurance cover for those who would otherwise not have any in their voluntary work.

For the insurance of voluntary workers, it applies that damage caused by negligent misconduct on the part of an organ (full-time employees, volunteers) or caused by a third party can be compensated by means of association or company liability insurance. The insurance does not cover damage caused by deliberate action.

The statutory accident insurance , which was classified as the Seventh Book of the Social Code (SGB VII) in 1996 and amended in January 2005 ( Section 2 (1) No. 9, 10 SGB VII), is of great importance for civic engagement .

In addition, the legislature has insured those volunteers who work for certain public institutions or in the interest of the general public. Only these are under this special insurance protection, other committed people do not enjoy this accident protection. These groups include:

  • volunteers in rescue companies,
  • Volunteers in public institutions, their associations and working groups as well as in religious communities under public law and in the education system,
  • Volunteers in welfare work,
  • Volunteers in institutions promoting agriculture,
  • Volunteers who work like employees (e.g. a club member who volunteers to build a new clubhouse),
  • People who volunteer in clubs or associations on behalf of or with the consent of municipalities. The volunteers work on behalf of the community if it is a project of its own, e.g. B. School clubs take on the renovation of classrooms or residents build a children's playground.
  • Elected honorary officers in non-profit organizations: Non-profit associations can represent their elected board members, treasurers or similar. take out accident insurance on a voluntary basis.
  • Volunteers who do voluntary work in committees of employers and employees.

The determination of which insurance company is responsible for certain areas of voluntary work is generally based on the type of area of ​​responsibility and the organizational / legal form of the organization concerned. For volunteers who work in the municipality, either the Federal and Railway Accident Insurance , the respective state accident insurance fund or the relevant municipal accident insurance association is responsible.

In the case of private sponsorship, a commercial trade association is usually responsible. For volunteers, these are in particular the professional association for health and welfare services and the administrative professional association. Organizations register the number of volunteers in their organization with the respective professional association.

Some federal states have taken measures beyond their legal obligation to protect volunteers. For example, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Saarland have concluded collective insurance contracts through which volunteers are insured against accidents and / or liability under certain circumstances in the context of activities aimed at the common good.

However, some forms of voluntary work remain unaffected by the statutory accident insurance. Should volunteers or organizations find that their volunteer employees are not protected by statutory accident insurance, they can also achieve this by taking out group insurance with private insurance providers. In the case of clubs that belong to the German Sports Confederation, this is generally the case for all members. Other organizations offer this insurance cover for committed people who take on particularly endangered tasks, for example in the field of environmental and nature protection. However, there is no obligation for an organization or its sponsor to insure those volunteering for them.

If the statutory or private insurance coverage through the provider is insufficient or perhaps not available at all, volunteers should make private provision. In this case, you can take out private accident insurance individually . Their protection also extends to voluntary work.

Compensation for loss of earnings

Laws on volunteering in youth work make it possible in some federal states of the Federal Republic of Germany to receive compensation for the loss of earnings of the volunteer. In Hesse, for example, the “Law to Merge and Change Regulations for Child and Youth Welfare” in the version dated December 18, 2006 grants a right to exemption from the employer and continued wages through the provision of budget funds in the state budget. The employer will be reimbursed for the costs incurred from the state budget. This is to end the dispute with employers about who will provide the financial means for continued wages.

According to the nationwide law on technical aid organizations, people who have voluntarily committed to voluntary service in the technical aid organization have a right to exemption from work with compensation; Something similar is stipulated in state laws, for example for volunteers in the voluntary fire brigade. In March 2017, the Bavarian State Parliament agreed on a more far-reaching draft law which, more generally, in the event of an operation that is preceded by an official alerting of the helpers, grants all affected volunteer workers from aid organizations a right to full salary time off.


Qualification or training is not required by law in many areas of voluntary work or other voluntary work. Further training costs for (unpaid) voluntary work are also not tax-deductible for the volunteer. In youth welfare, however, according to Section 73 of Book VIII of the Social Code , volunteers should be “instructed, advised and supported in their work”. Some volunteer agencies and organizations offer free qualification and advanced training events. In addition, there may be group meetings for the exchange of experiences and case discussions. These offers, which can be a mandatory prerequisite for carrying out voluntary work for the organization concerned, contribute to quality assurance.

No protection against dismissal

Volunteers generally have no right to special protection against dismissal in their main office, unless this is regulated by a legal basis (e.g. in Hesse for community representatives according to Section 35a of the Hessian Municipal Code (HGO)).

In any case, there is no protection against dismissal with regard to the voluntary work itself. Voluntary work is not an employment relationship, the Federal Labor Court ruled in April 2013.

Recognition of experience gained, awards

Awarding of the honorary prizes “KölnEngagiert 2012” by the Cologne mayor and honorary sponsor Annette Frier
Fritz Schramma , then Lord Mayor of Cologne, gives laudatory speech on Cologne Volunteer Day 2007.

Competences acquired outside of the job can be incorporated into professional aptitude diagnostics with the instrument for recording key competencies (IESKO) . This tool can be used in career guidance to provide job seekers with a fuller picture of their own skills, or it can be used for help in human resources.

In the school, not only should special achievements and special personal commitment in the school itself be encouraged, the special commitment of students in extracurricular voluntary activities should also be recognized in the certificate. For this purpose, according to Section 49 of the North Rhine-Westphalia Schooling Act, “extracurricular activities, especially voluntary activities” are documented and recognized in certificates and certificates about the school career.

When it comes to the award criteria for orders of merit and awards, voluntary work usually plays a major role (see also above on the history of voluntary work). Several federal states and cities issue volunteer passes or so-called " honorary office cards" (e-cards) to document performance, skills and training and as recognition for the work done. The “volunteer cards” distinguish people who volunteer under various criteria and offer the holders a range of benefits. Examples are the Bremen volunteer card and the Lower Saxony volunteer card.

The "Proof of Voluntary Competency" from the State of Hesse and the "Frankfurt Proof of Civic Commitment" from the City of Frankfurt am Main, on the other hand, are open to all people who volunteer at least 80 hours a year. They serve as evidence of skills and knowledge carried out and acquired in voluntary work and can be presented to potential employers (see above, however, on the role of voluntary work in Germany).

Especially for volunteers in the field of youth work, there is also the youth leader card (Juleica) nationwide . This is not only a form of recognition, but also proof of the qualification completed (youth leader training) and serves as legitimation, for example to authorities.

Recognition systems for voluntary work

In Scotland, Young Scot Youth Information Center developed a system to encourage volunteering. Teenagers get points for various activities, then against "Rewards" ( English reward , remuneration 'reward ) can be redeemed.

The Austrian city of Bregenz has had a similar system with the “Bre! Ak” project since 2004. Young people are involved in this project in various institutions in the city and receive points for their work, which they can exchange for admission tickets or ski passes, for example.

The ideas of Bre! Ak and Young Scots were taken up by the Vorarlberg Youth Information Center and implemented for the Austrian state of Vorarlberg . The starting point for considering a recognition system for voluntarily committed young people was a study by the Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences in 2014 on the topic of “Civic engagement and social capital in Vorarlberg 2014”. As a result, the aha plus recognition system was developed in a participatory process with over 40 organizations and young people . Together with a core team - consisting of organizational representatives and young people - the project was developed and implemented for all of Vorarlberg.

Just like the role models from Scotland and Bregenz, young people between 12 and 24 years of age can collect points with aha plus in so-called quests , i.e. voluntary activities, and exchange them for so-called rewards . The aim of all these projects is to strengthen the voluntary commitment of young people and thus to increase the quality of life for everyone. Since June 2019, young people have been able to download the aha plus engagement certificate for applications and thus provide evidence of their voluntary activities.

Volunteering in other countries

The status of volunteering in a country depends on several factors, such as history, tradition and the status of the public welfare system.


Somewhat comparable figures on the proportion of the adult population in European countries who do voluntary work can be found on the website of the European non-governmental organization CEV ( Center Européen du Volontariat / The European Volunteer Center , see web links) in Brussels, which is available for various EU countries Makes studies of the status of volunteering. The definitions used for voluntary work are, however, inconsistent and come from national sources. After all, it seems plausible that the UK would be at the top of the big EU countries, followed by Germany, France and Poland. The added value through social work in Germany amounts to more than 75 billion euros; in France this corresponds to around 750,000 and in Italy 300,000 full-time and full-time jobs; there are over 200,000 known charitable organizations in the UK.

United States

The USA is an example of a high level of voluntary participation by the population. The first settlers were very dependent on mutual private help. The predominant religions in the US rarely offer charity from monasteries or other religious institutions. Democracy is relatively old and the public welfare system is less developed than in Europe.

During the Civil War, women sewed clothing for the soldiers. Clara Barton began providing medical aid to the soldiers with a group of volunteers. In 1881 she founded the American Red Cross and began to mobilize volunteers for disaster relief. Closely linked to this is the work of American Women's Voluntary Services (AWVS), founded in 1940 , a voluntary military service in which American women were used in various activities.

Motives of volunteers

Volunteers collect rubbish in East Timor

Voluntary work is the most widespread and everyday form of prosocial action , although it was discovered as such relatively late by social psychology (Penner, 2002). However, voluntary work, which is usually preceded by a long-term planning process, is rarely exclusively prosocial or altruistic. A functional approach assumes that volunteering for different people fulfills diverse functions (Fitch, 1987; Snyder, 1993) and that the motivation to help behavior can change over time. Clary and Snyder (Clary and Snyder, 1990/1991; Clary et al., 1992) took the classic theories of attitude research as a starting point in order to survey empirical research on voluntary engagement from an explicitly functional perspective, and a set of six functions, the voluntary Commitment, derived from:

  • Social responsibility ( values ): Voluntary work as an opportunity to express altruistic or humanistic motives (e.g. "I can contribute something to something that is important to me"),
  • Self-awareness ( understanding ): Volunteering to enable new learning experiences (e.g. "I learn a lot through volunteering and can gain practical experience"),
  • Social connection ( social ): Voluntary work as an adaptation to the social environment and the opportunity to make new social contacts (e.g. "People who are close to me ask me to volunteer"),
  • Career ( career ): (. "Try volunteering allows me to various professional fields of activity" for example) volunteering as a way to acquire career-related skills and the ability to work socialize,
  • Protective function ( protective ): volunteering as an opportunity to reduce feelings of guilt or one's own problems (e.g. "volunteering offers the opportunity to escape my own problems"),
  • Self-esteem ( enhancement ): Voluntary work to improve self-esteem and personal growth (e.g. "I feel valuable through volunteering").

A supplement to this compilation is from Bierhoff et al. (2007):

  • political responsibility (e.g. hoping to bring about political change).
  • personal experience area (e.g. personal use of such an organization in the past).

The motive of voluntary engagement most frequently mentioned in surveys is the need of citizens to help shape society, at least or especially on a small scale. In addition, there is the desire for social contacts and social inclusion. Altruistic motives to have fun and to come into contact with sympathetic people are in the foreground of the concrete expectations of the voluntary activity. “For three quarters [...] it is also important to expand knowledge and experience. A possible professional benefit, however, is only for a subgroup of approx. 20% of importance ”(Rosenbladt / Picot 1999). In 2004, not much has changed in the situation. However, the so-called “interest orientation” (own interests and problems as well as the professional benefit as the background of the commitment) is increasing significantly among young people and the unemployed (taken from the article on volunteer survey ).

Many volunteers compensate for the demands of paid employment with their commitment: For example, those who work in bookkeeping want to do voluntary work with people. Activities are also chosen in which one can apply technical skills and knowledge that are not used in “normal life” or in order to have a meaningful job at all in the event of unemployment . The CEV (see web links) found the pursuit of “ lifelong learning ” ( a Lifelong Learning Policy ) and the hope of a way (back) into (full) employment ( volunteering as a route (back) to employment ) as additional reasons . Often times, volunteers initially pursue specific development goals (e.g. acquisition of skills, personal development). In the long term, however, it is more the fulfillment of general, social needs (e.g. a sense of belonging, recognition ) and the realization of personal values ​​(e.g. a meaningful life, need for help) that bind . Satisfactory and fulfilling voluntary work requires space and opportunities to realize a variety of motifs (Wenzel / Beerlage / Springer 2012).

Studies show that job characteristics of voluntary engagement, such as autonomy, feedback or the importance of the task, have an influence on the satisfaction of the volunteers. Satisfaction, in turn, is correlated with the intention to continue and the current fluctuation behavior. According to a study from 2012, more than a third of the reasons for ending volunteering can be traced back to inadequate framework conditions in organization, team and leadership. The design of engagement-friendly structures is therefore of great importance.

See also: purpose and aim of the work

Special aspects of voluntary work


Various clubs and associations have formed networks in order to improve the possibilities and the legal framework for voluntary work. They also offer platforms for communication and the exchange of information and integrate science and research that deals with framework conditions and changes in volunteering in the third sector and has meanwhile also produced extensive literature on the topic. Furthermore, were founded more recently project offices and local networks that also offers counseling for volunteers hold (z. B. the Hessian Landesehrenpreis Office Agency ). There are also various competitions that are aimed at social projects and clubs and support them with coaching and / or prize money (e.g. Startsocial and the Doing Good Challenge). A variant of volunteering is, for example, working in self-help groups - at the same time more of a case of mutual help (what goes into the difficult definition of who helps whom, what is friendship, what is volunteer work). In other German-speaking countries there are also other forms of such self-help groups, cf. about this, for example, the establishment of a time bank organization in the South Tyrolean town of Tramin .


A longer voluntary activity with a non-profit organization or an association can be assessed as a special integration achievement by the nationality authority in the context of a discretionary decision for naturalization in Germany .

Internet and new media

The work of many open source and open content projects, such as Wikipedia, or volunteer computing , is largely done on a voluntary basis and thus represents a form of civic engagement. Here, too, arise in the form of free software and free content goods made available to the public. In addition, the use of the Internet is increasingly establishing itself in traditionally organized voluntary work. The internet is often used by those involved, especially when it comes to sporadic, project-related involvement and when performing organizational tasks. Online volunteering is the equivalent of online volunteering in the Anglo-American language area.

The United Nations Volunteer Program (UNV) mobilizes professionals with professional experience for assignments in development cooperation. In addition, through its online volunteering service, the organization networks development organizations with volunteers who take on services such as creating websites, translating texts or planning fundraising campaigns from their home countries.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), consisting of representatives from industry such as Microsoft , IBM , Apple , Adobe and Sun , is a voluntary consortium that develops standards for the Internet such as its accessibility .

Pro bono

Pro bono is a form of volunteering in which the pro bono workers contribute specific knowledge and skills. The commitment takes place for a limited time, voluntarily and without payment or for a payment that is well below the market price. Pro bono missions are widespread in medicine, for example (see, for example, the way in which Medinetz organizations work ). In initiatives such as startsocial , a business plan competition for social initiatives, volunteers from the business world use their specialist knowledge to coach social projects.

Time donation and monetary donation

A study by the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB) came to the conclusion that someone who does an honorary position also tends to be more generous financially. The framework of the study is provided by a project funded by the Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth ; the first partial results were available at the end of 2005 (specialist conference on the structure of national donation reporting).

For up-to-date and differentiated information on donations, constant donation reporting is required, as in the USA, Great Britain or Canada, with reliable information on donations and names of the donors themselves.

Increased civic engagement can lead to the strengthening of the dwindling social capital , to the empowerment of the individual and to a new, politically colored culture of "getting involved" and shaping society, culture and the environment (see also participatory democracy ), which arose with the promise of comprehensive state care Counteracts consumer and high demands and their consequences.

Value of volunteer work

Calculation approaches

There is a social discussion about the value of voluntary work. Volunteering studies attempt to calculate the value of volunteer work for a city, country, or state. In doing so, one usually starts from the opportunity proceeds , resulting from the consideration of what it would cost if this work were done by paid workers (alternative cost consideration). In the scientific discussion, there is no uniform position as to whether such calculations actually reflect the financial value of voluntary work.

There are indications that when the opportunity proceeds are used, the value of voluntary or pro bono activities for the recipient is overestimated and at the same time the value of the service is underestimated for the provider of the service himself and for society as a whole. An overvaluation arises from the fact that the opportunity proceeds do not show whether there is any willingness to buy a corresponding service at this price, since it is only accepted under the condition of free or at least far below the market price payment. Conversely, there is an undervaluation z. B. insofar as the person performing the work could instead pursue a paid job and donate the earnings thus generated, but he prefers the time donation, which is consequently worth more in his view. In addition to the amount of earnings that can be earned during this time (the opportunity costs ), it also comes into play here how the voluntary work is rated in comparison to paid work with regard to autonomy, participation, social exchange, stimulation, effort, etc. ( see also: Section "Motives for volunteers" ).

It has been suggested to differentiate between informal (not centrally organized) and formal (organized within the framework of an organization) volunteering with regard to the assessment and estimation of the volume of voluntary work.

Concrete effects

Beyond depictions aimed at capturing the value of voluntary work in relation to a society or parts of it, in the practical work of social organizations the value of voluntary work plays a role in two cases:

  1. Consideration of voluntary work as own resources in applications for public funding: The perspective that is taken for applications (e.g. for foundations) and for funding (e.g. for some EU programs) with regard to voluntary work is a business management one . In such cases, the applicant declares that he would like to provide a certain share of the total costs of a measure or project with the help of voluntary work. The line of argument is that of a certain amount X (for example 100,000 €), a certain portion Y (for example 20,000 €) is provided with the help of voluntary work and therefore the funding does not cover the total costs of the project, the sum X (100,000 € ), but only the sum X - Y (e.g. € 100,000 - € 20,000 = € 80,000). The costs that would have arisen if the organization had to buy the services on the market and these had not been saved through voluntary work are to be included.
  2. Assessment in external reporting: The presentation of the value of voluntary work in annual reports takes an economic perspective. Voluntary work is classified here in the social context and viewed in relation to the entire added value in society. The starting point is again the costs that an external company would charge (gross employer's wage).

When determining the amount of this gross employer's wage, the qualifications of the person who did the work must now also be taken into account. In Germany, the rule applies that people are only considered qualified if they have been formally trained for the job they carry out. If they carry out activities for which they have not received regular training, but have acquired the knowledge in the course of their lives, they are considered to be auxiliary workers. The employer's gross wage is thus determined according to the qualifications of the volunteer in relation to his or her voluntary work and the formal qualifications that the volunteer has accumulated in the course of his or her life. Wherever a person who is a doctor also works as a doctor on a voluntary basis, his voluntary work also has the value of the work of a doctor. If the same person who is trained as a doctor works as a volunteer accountant, his or her activity is only to be assessed as an auxiliary activity, because although he brings life experience to this activity (running and accounting of his own practice), he has no formal training as an accountant owns.

Volunteering and social responsibility of the state

According to the most comprehensive study to date on a connection between welfare state activities and the willingness to do voluntary work personally ( Robert D. Putnam (Ed.): Society and Common Mind. Social Capital in International Comparison. Bertelsmann Foundation, Gütersloh 2001), there is one direct relationship between them. This case study, carried out from the 1960s to the turn of the century in Great Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Spain as well as the USA, Japan and Australia, took into account the different variants and forms of both the welfare system and that of personal commitment in it Countries.

It was found that the two countries with the highest values ​​for state social responsibility and welfare policy, the Netherlands and Sweden, also have the highest values ​​for unpaid civic engagement. In France, there was a direct connection between the curves of political decisions relating to the welfare state and those of the developments in the club sector: the top and bottom values ​​correspond to one another. Similar trends were found in the US, Sweden, and Australia.

Related forms of voluntary work

There are commercial agencies that offer applicants short programs for voluntary work abroad, for which the participants make a payment, similar to a package holiday. Such a mediated activity, called “ voluntourism ”, occupies a middle position between vacation travel and voluntary service.


Ambiguity in state funding

The importance of voluntary work in today's social situation is to be viewed critically, as this is characterized by increasing public debt and rising costs in the social and health sector. It stands to reason that unpaid work is supposed to take over some of the no longer paid for by the state, which in the last few decades fell into the realm of state welfare.

If, on the other hand, a state withdraws from its social responsibility, as can be observed in the USA and Germany, for example, the willingness to do voluntary work decreases. Wolfgang Engler quotes in his book Citizens, Without Work, the research of the Bertelsmann Foundation and concludes from this: “ Social capital is formed in the lifeworld, remains tied to social, legal, infrastructural framework conditions […] Where the state disarms, abdicates, removes and if people become alienated from one another, [...] their social meaning falls irrevocably asleep. "And according to observations of various volunteer agencies," the awareness of the problem is growing among the new volunteers that voluntary work could replace paid work in the important tasks that the state actually finances Has."

In England, for example, social benefits for cognitively impaired people have been massively cut on the grounds that care would be organized more cheaply and independently through volunteer work. However, not all social tasks can be organized on a voluntary basis, which has been shown in this case.

Under this aspect, criticism is directed against the promotion of voluntary engagement by the state, insofar as it only wants to relieve its budget: Volunteers as welcome "milking cows", in connection with criticism of the financing of the household (e.g. too low taxation of the rich) or the use of budget funds (e.g. excessive expenditure on military armaments). In her book Freiwillig zu Diensten , Claudia Pinl establishes a connection between “broken down” municipalities, cuts in the social network, the concentration of wealth among the few and the appeals to everyone to do voluntary work, and proposes that volunteers get low wages expand the sector and de-qualify the work of full-time employees. They plug holes that have torn political decisions in social affairs, education and infrastructure. The wage pressure on professionals and possibly their displacement from the labor market is problematic as with subsidized activities, e.g. B. for work opportunities with additional expense allowance , the so-called "1 euro jobs", or for community service providers. Therefore, voluntary activities are now heavily affected by criticism. Because of these aspects, the flat rate for trainers is also criticized.

While considerations about volunteering as prosocial behavior receive a lot of attention, this applies only to a limited extent to considering volunteering as a voluntary work , i.e. as an activity. "Voluntary non-profit work is work in the sense that this work could also be paid under other circumstances." If you consider how many voluntary activities could be paid work without problems in terms of their structure and organization, the term work appears in to be quite appropriate in many cases.

On the other hand, volunteer work that is provided for the benefit of those who benefit directly from it is to be welcomed or even necessary if such work would otherwise be omitted because it is unaffordable. The fact that there are “indirect” profits, for example when the wealthy do not particularly participate, be it through foundations or other material benefits (besides taxes) - such questions of justice are no reasons against state funding for voluntary work. In addition, it must be taken into account that appropriate political action can also aim to strengthen subsidiarity .

Problems of definition and social recognition

The term volunteering has advantages over other terms. Voluntary work is honorable, social enhances it, instead of monetary remuneration it allows social recognition to be earned, which, however, does not take place in the same way with all voluntary work and services in society; Honorary positions also differ greatly with regard to expense allowances. Only institutionalized honorary offices offer discounts such as fare or reduced admission to museums. Equal commitment “in the dark” is often not noticed: While volunteer work is usually highly praised, housework, nursing and raising children, which are also free services for society, usually receive less recognition.

The terms “civic engagement” and “civil society engagement” or “volunteer work” as a substitute for “honorary office” have not been able to remove the notorious blurring of what was actually meant. In addition, the question arose whether civic and civil society engagement are synonyms or not. If one speaks of engagement in a civil society or civil society, the synonymous use seems justified. On the other hand, commitment to civil society or civil society , for example in the sense of more civil society or civil society or of improving corresponding social life, cannot be equated without further ado, since these terms come from different traditions of political thought.

While “voluntary engagement” has the character of donating time, “civil society” or “civic engagement” are more comprehensive terms that also include engagement through financial donations .

See also


  • Karin Beher, Reinhard Liebig, Thomas Rauschenbach: Structural change in voluntary work. Orientation to the common good in the modernization process. Juventa, Weinheim / Munich 2000, ISBN 3-7799-1406-9 .
  • Dieter Hanhard: Volunteer work. A manual; a guide from observer practice. The Swiss Observer , Glattbrugg 2000, ISBN 3-85569-199-1 .
  • Arno Heimgartner: Voluntary or voluntary work in institutions of social work. (= European university publications. Series 11 Pedagogy. Volume 916). Peter Lang, Berlin / Bern / Frankfurt am Main / Vienna 2004, ISBN 3-631-52789-6 . ( Dissertation University of Graz)
  • Bettina Hollstein: Understanding volunteering. An Action Theory Analysis Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2015, ISBN 978-3-593-50466-7 . ( Habilitation thesis University of Erfurt, 2014)
  • Gerhard Igl , Monika Jachmann, Eberhard Eichenhofer : Volunteer work and civic engagement in law - a guide. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2002, ISBN 3-8100-3575-0 .
  • Ernst Kistler, Heinz-Herbert Noll, Eckhard Priller (eds.): Perspectives of social cohesion. Empirical findings, practical experience, measurement concepts. Edition Sigma, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-89404-459-4 .
  • Harald A. Mieg, Theo Wehner: Freelance work: An analysis from the point of view of work and organizational psychology. (= Harburg contributions to the psychology and sociology of work. No. 33). Hamburg University of Technology , Ergonomics, 2002 ( PDF ; 582 kB)
  • Claudia Pinl: Voluntarily at your service? About the exploitation of volunteer work and free work. Nomen, Frankfurt am Main 2013, ISBN 978-3-939816-18-8 .
  • Robert D. Putnam (Ed.): Society and common sense. International comparison of social capital. Bertelsmann Foundation, Gütersloh 2001, ISBN 3-89204-840-1 .
  • Doris Rosenkranz, Angelika Weber (ed.): Voluntary work. Juventa, Weinheim / Munich 2002, ISBN 3-7799-0732-1 .
  • Rainer A. Roth: The honorary office. Voluntary unpaid civic engagement in a pluralistic society. Bavarian State Center for Political Education , Munich 1997, DNB 952062488 .
  • Andrea Schumacher: In the call of the good. On the value orientation of people in church volunteering. Institute for the Promotion of the Doctrine of Faith, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-936909-99-7 .
  • Peter Schüll: Motives for volunteers. A sociological study on volunteering in selected areas of volunteering. Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-86573-022-1 .
  • Christina Stecker: Remunerated solidarity and solidarity remuneration. To promote voluntary work and commitment by the welfare state. (= Civic engagement and nonprofit sector. Volume 8). Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2002, ISBN 3-8100-3484-3 .
  • Michaela Walchshofer-Pecka: Individual and social status of volunteering in the social field. Diploma thesis University of Vienna , 2002. ( online ; PDF, two parts, 1 MB each)
  • David Wenzel, Irmtraud Beerlage, Silke Springer: Motivation and retention in voluntary work: The importance of organizational characteristics for commitment, well-being and staying in the volunteer fire brigade and THW . Centaurus, Freiburg im Breisgau 2012, ISBN 978-3-86226-123-9 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Voluntary work  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: voluntary  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Volunteering  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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