The Future of Volunteering. How to provide support and care?

Section A

Background and rationale - Kindly describe in details why this challenge is relevant and where the need can be observed :


Across Europe and in the rest of the world volunteers play an important role in crisis management. Some volunteers are highly specialized and embedded in a strong organizational structure with planned shifts and clear roles. Other volunteers are deployed less frequently and may have a looser affiliation with the crisis management organization. Others again are “spontaneous” volunteers. They show up when a crisis occurs and offer their support on the spot.

Global policy and practice are developing to promote the well-being of staff and volunteers. For example, UN Resolution 70/129 (2015), ‘Integrating volunteering into peace and development: the plan of action for the next decade and beyond,’, recognizes the role that volunteers are playing in the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. As such, the resolution requests that Member States and the United Nations system work together with volunteer-based organizations to enhance the protection, security and well-being of volunteers.

The nature of volunteering is changing; communities are engaging with social, humanitarian, and development causes in new ways. People do not necessarily subscribe to the idea of life-long voluntary service for the same organization but rather see themselves as agents of change in relation to concrete causes and social movement. Spontaneous volunteers can offer their services to established crisis management organizations or self-organize in ad hoc groupings with no or little organizational support.

Lines between service users and volunteers are blurring. Volunteers are often members of the affected community, and thus likely to be personally affected by the crisis to which they are responding. In social work with vulnerable groups, people who belong – or have belonged – to the vulnerable group are often recruited as volunteers. This is sensible because as peers they have a deep understanding of the needs and culture of the service users. But they may also themselves be more vulnerable.

This affects the ways in which volunteers can and should be cared for: support systems should be flexible and able to address the needs of more fluid groups of volunteers.

Crisis management volunteers are often in the first line of events. They work under physically and mentally difficult - sometimes dangerous - circumstances. Volunteers regularly experience high levels of stress at work, which may cause an increase in sickness levels, risk-taking behavior or security incidents because of impaired judgment. Deploying crisis management organizations have both an organizational and a moral duty to care for their staff and volunteers, especially when they work in high-risk situations that have the potential to lead to distress.

Spontaneous volunteers can both be a great resource and a challenge in crisis management. They can provide much needed extra hands and skills. But the fact that they are not affiliated with an organization complicates matters such as assessing their skills, backgrounds, organizing them and providing appropriate support in return.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies represents the world’s largest network of volunteers. In 2011 the IFRC Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support released a tool kit for Caring for Volunteers and the centre has a strong focus on promoting awareness on the subject, building capacity in the field, high-level advocacy and research into supporting and promoting psychosocial well-being in volunteers. But as the nature of volunteering is changing, so should support systems. Crisis management organizations who are unable or unwilling to adapt to a future of volunteering where affiliations are fluctuating and loyalties follow causes rather than organizations will find it difficult to recruit and retain volunteers and risk not living up to their obligations of providing physically and emotionally safe working environments for all volunteers.

The challenge

The challenges in volunteer management are many. But one area that is largely overlooked, is the provision of support and care for spontaneous volunteers.

Questions about how to provide support and care to spontaneous volunteers include:

  • What are specific needs, concerns and stressors of new types of volunteers?
  • How are spontaneous volunteers included in existing support structures in the organization?
  • How can volunteers operating in ad hoc groupings access support and care?
  • How can established organizations work with ad hoc groupings to ensure high quality work and care for volunteers?
  • How can volunteer managers support volunteers who are not already part of a set structure?
  • Are crisis management organizations good enough at making sure that spontaneous volunteers work in physically and emotionally safe ways?

A working group consisting of representatives of European and International organizations working with and through volunteers in crisis management will be established to

  • narrow in on a specific challenge pertaining to caring and supporting spontaneous volunteers
  • Define gaps and challenges as well as lessons learned on support to new types of volunteers
  • Develop a position paper for care and support to volunteers with recommendations for the future
Aims and objectives - Kindly describe in details the aims and objectives of a working group for addressing this potential challenge - for example development of a new solution, change of political environment, etc. :


Supporting and organizing spontaneous and affiliated volunteers is a focus point in DRIVER+. Provision of psychosocial support to volunteers is an identified crisis management gap, and solutions will be tested in Trial 4, which will take place in Austria in September 2019.

In June 2019 an I4CM conference in Copenhagen, hosted by the Danish Red Cross, IFRC Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support, will focus on volunteers in crisis management. 

The Chair

The thematic area Volunteer Management is chaired by the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support (PS Centre). The Red Cross Red Crescent is the World’s largest humanitarian organization in the world. 17 million volunteers in 191 countries form the core of the organization which responds every day to crisis ranging from traffic accidents and house fires to large-scale natural disasters, armed conflicts, migration and social crisis.  

Among its networking and research activities the PS Centre

  • co-chairs the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Working Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergencies together with the World Health Organization
  • is represented on the boards of the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Network (, the European Network for Psychosocial Support
  • hosts the Red Cross Red Crescent Research Network for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support
  • partners (as Danish Red Cross) in the EU funded research projects DRIVER+, STRENGHTS, RE-DEFINE and CONTEXT and from 2019 will coordinate the H2020 project FOCUS.

Section B

Supporting documents (files, statistics, images etc.) :

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1 recommendation(s) found

    • Marijn Rijken
      Highly relevant challenge. You've got my vote!
      Marijn Rijken
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