The Future of Volunteerism in the Age of the Coronavirus

Adem Başpınar
Prof., Kırklareli University, Department of Sociology
Murat Şentürk
Assoc. Prof., İstanbul University, Department of Sociology

We humans establish sophisticated connections with each other in terms of being social beings. With billions of people having become isolated due to the coronavirus, some of us have started to create new volunteer opportunities using innovative methods: masked volunteers. Some of us supplied food to our elderly neighbors, some of us provided pilates lessons remotely, some of us performed virtual concerts as well. Despite the coronavirus, people continue to find and develop new ways for spending their efforts and time within the scope of volunteering and having interactions.

The United Nations estimates that 1 billion people annually devote time nationally or internationally to volunteering. The pandemic process has led to an increase in volunteering at the local level. A variety of new volunteer methods and headings have emerged, from meeting the needs of people isolated in their homes to taking care of the pets of healthcare workers struggling on the frontlines of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has posed significant challenges in the activities and approaches of international volunteer activities. Traveling to another country, living and working there with local communities, building mutual trust by establishing relations with them and capacity building with respect to local needs is now much more difficult to achieve. The need exists more than ever for innovative ideas to tackle these challenges. This new situation has prompted international volunteer communities to think about designing new models and developing new work methods. Online volunteerism, while not a new practice, has become the focus of volunteer activities at both the local and transnational level during this new situation.

Some common explanations are encountered when examining the reasons for volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic. Feeling like you are doing something in times of crisis or dealing with the sad news heard daily in the media, being a volunteer1 while thinking you may catch the virus and need help in the future, and creating a sense of solidarity being involved with others while working for a common goal2 can be counted among the things people who’ve previously received support from volunteers due to an illness want to pay/give back.

Aside from its relaxing function, volunteering in the current COVID-19 crisis can help people overcome feelings of lethargy and helplessness. One research addressing the reasons for volunteering in crisis and emergency situations revealed that engaging in a cause may be a key motivation and can be seen to function as an emotional catharsis when one is affected personally and that collaborating with others for the same goal will provide comfort.3

Developments Across the World

The source of the most fundamental development in 2020 regarding volunteering around the world has been the pandemic, which has affected all personal and social life. According to research conducted in the US by Fidelity Charitable, 66%4 of volunteers had either reduced the time they contributed to volunteering or quit volunteering together due to the pandemic. Other reports, however, stated that volunteering had increased during the pandemic.5 In particular, activities such as distributing supplies to the elderly and those working at the forefront during the pandemic and having their health checks done, visiting elderly neighbors, and establishing virtual friendships with those who are isolated or quarantined on their own are reported to be emphasized in this period.

The pandemic process has also caused significant changes in how volunteering is conducted. According to the same research, 65% of those who continued their volunteering during the pandemic have carried out their activities virtually or remotely. Only 19% of volunteers continued their work virtually before the pandemic. However, 64% of the participants in the research are understood to have significantly hampered the continuation of volunteering activities they had performed due to not knowing where to apply for virtual volunteering during the pandemic. The fact that 73% of the participants stated that they would return to their pre-pandemic volunteering practices once conditions are safe can be considered a promising result. However, developing new models related to volunteering was emphasized to likely be necessary as when the pandemic conditions will end is not predictable.6

UN volunteers have tried to offer new solutions for the problems experienced during the pandemic when health systems and basic public service all over the world are under pressure. The program announced that it had 600,000 registered volunteers ready to operate online during this period.7 On 2020 International Volunteer Day, the UN discussed the contributions volunteerism can and do provide to societies during the epidemic, which had turned into a global crisis, by holding social media activities in all regions of the world for the purpose of recognizing the efforts of the millions of volunteers who’ve contribute to overcoming the challenges COVID-19 has posed.8

In 2020, the European Union announced a novel major volunteer program that would cover 2021-2027. Significant developments have taken place for youths in Europe and beyond with this program, which has a budget of over 1 billion Euros. In addition to offering higher quality activities and better conditions for volunteers, the program also announces plans for including people with limited opportunities in volunteer activities. The report also includes improved financial opportunities for those who will volunteer in the field of humanitarian aid.9

In addition to countries like New Zealand and Australia having reports addressing 2020, these reports present an overall picture of before the pandemic.10 The need for completing national and local reports is seen for coming up with reports that evaluate the 2020 process on a global scale. 

Volunteerism in Turkey in 2020

The developments experienced in Turkey in 2020 in the volunteer field display parallels with general trends in the world. The NGO Capacity Development Training Curriculum Development Project (STK-MGP) led by the Turkey NGOs Child and Youth Platform (TGSP) is an education curriculum development project aimed at certain competencies being acquired by people working as volunteers or professionals in non-governmental organizations that have attained a scale large enough to be accepted as a third sector today. A science-based curriculum has been developed through the program that can be used by non-governmental organizations as a model. In this way, it is considered to be able to provide a healthier contribution to implementing education programs already carried out by different non-governmental organizations in a scattered irregular way disconnected from one another. NGO volunteers and employees involved in training programs to be organized in the framework of this developed curriculum are expected to proceed with a structuring and show activities appropriate to what is aimed by constantly analyzing themselves without deviating from their own institution’s goals.

The goals have been identified with STK-MGP developing the curriculum for the trainings required by individuals who will work as professionals or volunteers in NGOs; of presenting to all public institutions, non-governmental organizations, and private sector real and legal persons related to the field an education curriculum developed with the scientific methods, interdisciplinary integrity, and focus on skills that can be used in their education programs; and of contributing to the effective, efficient, and productive use of resources that are limited by nature by developing an inclusive and consistent NGO capacity-building education curriculum. The following fields have been determined for volunteers in STK-MGP that covers the broadest range of content realized to date in Turkey and offers a modular structure: “Information Technology Management, Law, Operations Management, Communication Management and Skills, Fundraising, Project Management and Proposals, Advocacy and Engagement, Social Transformation, NGO-101. Human Resource Management, and Informal Education.”

The Gönüllü Hizmetler Derneği [Volunteer Services Association] has similarly established a Volunteer School within the scope of capacity building. The school has a 10-week training program that includes 1.5 hours of online education each week. The trainings provided within the scope of the program include subjects such as management in non-governmental organizations, fundraising, planning, coordination, social impact measurement, and accounting.11

Also, in this context, the Akdeniz Gençlik Derneği [Mediterranean Youth Association] introduced the Digital Transformation Capacity Building Support Program to create infrastructure and provide consultancy to NGOs and civil initiatives that carry out rights-based activities and wish to digititalize.12

The matter of volunteer rights, which can be considered an extension of capacity-building processes, was the subject of some reports in 2020. The meeting outcomes from the activities realized in the scope of the Universus Social Research Center were published as the Monitoring Report of Volunteer and Employee Workers’ Rights in Turkey’s Civil Society. The report involves the recruitment processes in NGOs, volunteer and paid employees’ networking regarding in-house participation, their expectations from the civilian area, and their needs and contains solution suggestions and good examples. This effort should be considered a significant step in terms of the volunteer and paid employees’ problems gaining visibility in order to empower the human rights-based approach in organizational culture.13 Again in accordance with the themes of working together and institutional cooperation as important elements of capacity building, the Grant Scheme for Public and Civil Society Organizations completed its studies aimed at supporting partnerships and networks to be developed by NGOs with the financial and administrative strength and project experience, strengthening collaborations between public institutions and NGOs through these partnerships and networks, and developing NGOs’ capacities. Ten NGOs supported within the scope of the grant program were entitled to receive a grant of approximately 4.3 million Euros over the two-year process; these studies were carried out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Directorate for EU Affairs.

Both the pandemic and the natural disasters that took place in Turkey in 2020 have set the scene for developments that remind us of the importance of volunteering. Volunteers and volunteer activities once again were noted in the Elazığ earthquake on January 24, as well as the flooding experienced in Giresun on August 22 and the İzmir earthquake on October 30.

According to data from the Turkish Red Crescent, 103,074 Red Crescent volunteers took part in humanitarian relief efforts in 2020, especially during disasters. Due to the developed peer-training model, despite the pandemic significant progress has been observed in volunteer participation in community-based volunteer movements. With the structuring of the Turkish Red Crescent women’s organization model, family- and social service-oriented studies have been conducted in all provinces on the topic of women’s participation in voluntary activities. Corporate volunteerism, neighborhood voluntary disaster teams, and university communities have developed national and international models with organizational models such as Red Crescent Youth, Red Crescent Woman, and No Barriers Club in provinces and districts. The volunteer centers project was initiated in Turkey for the first time and free education was provided to people of all ages in volunteer centers in 15 provinces. Support is also provided in regard to volunteer project development. 

Two headings came forth in Turkey as in the rest of the world in 2020 in the field of civil society: volunteerism during the pandemic and the importance of volunteer activities sustainable development goals. The global effects of NGOs and volunteer activities and the role of civil society also come to the fore in both issues.

Those who have been unable to transform a significant part of the work NGOs conducted in Turkey during the pandemic “until the world returns to normal” due to the nature of the work (e.g., working in schools, progressing through face-to-face meetings) they do (mostly performed on digital platforms) give importance to focusing on in-house studies that they hadn’t been able to find the time for until now. A significant number of NGOs in this process have begun to use technology more and transformed their ways of working within this framework. When evaluated in terms of the digitalization of civil society, however, the learning process continues for access to the infrastructure many NGOs require, implementation of the privacy and security rules, and digitizing content; many shortcomings have been revealed to exist in this area. In this context, the Civil Society Support Foundation stated it will create all grant programs in 2021 in consideration of NGOs institutional needs.14 In relation to this, the Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TÜSEV)  also performed the study “COVID-19 Pandemic’s Effects on Civil Society Organizations Operating in Turkey Survey” for being able to analyze whatever effects and dimension the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the studies and sustainability of civil society organizations operating in Turkey.15

Also, in regard to the pandemic, the Quality in Social Responsibility Association began preparations for “Civil Society Organizational Procedures in Times of Crisis” under the special support of “Things Connect Us,” Yaşar University’s Share the Future Civil Initiative and EU Think Civil Program.16 Together, with advertisements published through the Youth Volunteers Platform within the Youth Centers of the Ministry of Youth and Sports and with volunteers who took charge during the pandemic, over a million masks and visors were made and distributed to healthcare professionals and various segments of society.17 Using a similar motive, the “One Neighbor Platform” organized an aid campaign to pay the bills of people who had lost their income due to the pandemic.18

Apart from research and activities conducted regarding the pandemic, it is also possible to mention prominent activities regarding volunteerism. 

Emre Erdoğan et al. (İstanbul Bilgi University Volunteerism Studies Group) published a study titled ‘Türkiye’de Gönüllülük: Deneyimler, Sınırlıklar ve Yeni Açılımlar’ [Volunteerism in Turkey: Experiences, Limitations, and New Initiatives], which included the results of a study titled ‘Türkiye’de Gönüllülük Araştırması’ [Research on Volunteerism in Turkey] conducted in 2019. The open access book offers a broad framework of the volunteer profile in Turkey.19 

Results of the last piece of research by TÜSEV, which was made in regular intervals throughout the past 10 years, was shared with the general public in 2020 with a report titled ‘Türkiye’de Bireysel Bağışcılık ve Hayırseverlik Raporu’ [Individual Donations and Philanthropy in Turkey.’ Conducted in Turkey with the participation of 2,502 people across 67 provinces, under the headlines ‘Social Capital and Civil Society,’ ‘Individual Donations in Turkey’ and ‘Incentives for Donations,’ the report details data on assistance made directly to those in need, donations made to civil society organizations, incentives for making donations by participating in activities and the preferred methods of making donations. 

Various events took place in Turkey on December 5, International Volunteer Day. The Sports and Volunteerism Symposium was organized in partnership with Haliç University School of Physical Education and Sports and the Youth and Sports Volunteers Association. The symposium was home to discussions on volunteerism from many aspects including but not limited to universities, institutions, local governments, sports organizations and federations.21 With financial support from the GIZ Turkey Office, various activities were carried out in cooperation with the National Volunteering Committee and the United Nations Volunteers Programme in Turkey. Many presentations were made at the event under headings including “Volunteering in Disaster Management,” “Sustainability in Volunteering,” Volunteering in Universities,” “Volunteering in the Digital World,” and “Art and Volunteering.”22

During the 13th ‘Gönülden Ödüller’ [Awards from the Heart] ceremony organized by the Private Sector Volunteers Association, where employee volunteering and private sector companies engaged in volunteerism are rewarded, awards were distributed under headings such as ‘Most Successful Volunteering Project,’ ‘Most Creative Volunteering Project,’ and the ‘Most Successful e-Volunteering Project.’23

Developed by the Turkish Red Crescent and made public on December 5, ‘’ is a good example for presenting volunteering activities with a well-designed information technology infrastructure. The digital system, where all units of the Turkish Red Crescent will manage volunteer processes under a single system, will also function as a social communication network. The system is a social meeting point where people who want to volunteer can register, receive orientation and training for the volunteering areas they choose, participate in volunteering activities suitable for the region they live in, their interests and qualifications and a platform where individuals can share their experiences or thoughts about these activities.



3. Dunn, J., Chambers, S.K. & Hyde, M.K. (2016). Systematic Review of Motives for Episodic Volunteering. Voluntas, 27, 425–464.

Avustralya özelinde hazırlanmış bazı raporlarda da gönüllü çalışma sürelerinin azaldığı belirtilmektedir. bk.

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