vitamin B: «The New Volunteers» study

Cover page of the study «The New Volunteers»

Traditional voluntary work is becoming less and less of a priority in society. What does this mean for civil society? «The New Volunteers» study goes into this question in depth.

It is becoming ever more difficult to find volunteer helpers. Someone willing to commit these days does not want to enter into long-term obligations, but rather prefers to give rapid and targeted assistance to a project. Instead of hierarchical assignment of duties, the need in future will be for latitude and participation. What this means for society and what opportunities are arising out of this is the subject of a new study which was presented on 28 May 2018 at the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute (GDI) in Rüschlikon. With it, Migros Culture Percentage launched a discussion on the future of voluntary work in Switzerland.

Voluntary work today and in the future

Fewer Swiss nationals are committing to voluntary work year-on-year: music associations are missing their secretary, local councils their chairperson, and fire brigades their auxiliary helpers. That not only weakens the associations and other institutions, but it also threatens social cohesion. «The New Volunteers» study fathoms out the causes and consequences of this. It also describes the key framework conditions for future civic engagement.

Traditional volunteer work is declining in popularity

At the heart of the GDI study is the thesis that a paradigm shift is taking place. In a multi-option society, it argues, regular obligations will become ever more unpopular. And, together with the phenomenon of increasing individualisation, this is leading to a decline in traditional voluntary work. Conversely, short-term and project-based commitments are on the increase. These include, for example:

  • taking part in an exchange platform
  • leading a choir involving refugees as a one-off project
  • helping out in a community garden
  • compiling entries for Wikipedia

Instead of duties, people are increasingly looking for opportunities to create something.

New forms of volunteer work are called for

In order to move across successfully to this new form of voluntary activity, various prerequisites have to be fulfilled. The new breed of volunteers no longer just want to carry out duties and act as unpaid workers, but want to help shape and decide on the path taken by the organisation. Digitalisation is helpful here, making it easier to exchange views with the potential team members. Projects can, by and large, be discussed and developed without the complications that hierarchies bring. In this way, individualism can sit alongside common purpose and at the same time bolster social cohesion.

Migros Culture Percentage is promoting this debate

The Directorate of Culture and Social Affairs at the Federation of Migros Cooperatives has responsibility for the national strategy for Migros Cultural Percentage. It monitors social and socio-political developments and, alongside its project work, lays the foundations for further work to be done on pertinent issues in society. The Social Affairs department is promoting the debate on the future of voluntary work in an age of mobility, increasing flexibility and individualisation.

The study «The New Volunteers», published in 2018, maps out the status of voluntary work in Switzerland and takes a look into the future.

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