International Volunteer Day is on December 5 annually. It’s a day that recognizes the efforts of volunteers in transforming their societies, economies, and environment. On this day, members of the public focus on issues of concern in their communities. The goal is not just to get others to volunteer for one day but to change people’s mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors so they become agents of change and work as partners to build a better world. In this world, sustainable human development and a spirit of equity underpin all interactions between one another.
History of International Volunteer Day
The first instance of volunteerism dates back to medieval Europe, where religion and care for the sick went hand-in-hand. Hundreds of hospitals run by churches in countries like England tended to lepers and victims of the plague. By the 18th century, volunteering had more to do with military service than giving back to the community. Organized volunteering as we know it today began to take off in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Organizations like the Red Cross, Lions Club, Rotary Club, and the Y.M.C.A. started collecting donations, mobilizing volunteers, and doing charity work and community service.
In the U.S., volunteerism started during the Revolutionary Wars. It was more about ordinary people showing love for their country and supporting the war effort than the traditional faith-based charity work seen in other parts of the world. In the 1820s, the country experienced the Second Great Awakening, a rebirth of religion that inspired many ordinary Americans to take an active role in solving the issues around them. The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, and the United Way are some volunteer organizations that stepped up at this time. Following the Great Depression in the 1930s, homeless shelters and soup kitchens became a standard part of life in the U.S.
Since 1985, the United Nations Volunteers Programme has coordinated International Volunteer Day on December 5. They’ve worked with civil society groups, government agencies, corporate entities, non-profits, individuals, and academic institutions to recognize the importance of volunteering in community and nation-building. Volunteerism remains one of the essential tools for developing a peaceful and sustainable world. This holiday aims to get as many people as possible involved in community service and volunteer work.
International Volunteer Day timeline
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement emerge in Geneva, Switzerland.
The U.N. forms on October 24 in San Francisco, California.
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran reads a speech at Harvard University, proposing a global volunteer initiative.
The U.N. General Assembly establishes the U.N. Volunteers.
International Volunteer Day FAQs
Why do we celebrate International Volunteer Day?
To encourage others to get involved in problem-solving so that they can take action for the people and the planet right now.
Who started International Volunteer Day?
The U.N. General Assembly came up with International Volunteer Day in 1985.
What do U.N. volunteers do?
U.N. volunteers assist in running local and national elections and supporting humanitarian and peacekeeping projects worldwide.
How to Observe International Volunteer Day
Donate to a volunteer organization
Donations help volunteer organizations fund their operations. Donate money on International Volunteer Day to support vulnerable groups and frontline workers with essential services.
Get involved in volunteer work
Take an active role in volunteering in your community. Feel free to share pictures or videos of your efforts online with the hashtag #VolunteerNow to raise awareness and inspire others to do the same.
Read the World Volunteerism Report
The State of the World's Volunteerism Report (S.W.V.R.), published by the U.N., is produced every three years. It keeps track of volunteer efforts worldwide and the gains made from these contributions.
5 Facts About Volunteering
Volunteering eases stress
Volunteering connects you with others and builds a support base, which helps ward off depression and stress.
Volunteers are happier people
Volunteers have a higher chance of being very happy than people who never volunteered, going up by as much as 12% among people who volunteer every two to four weeks.
Reduced mortality rates
Volunteering, especially among the elderly, helps reduce mortality rates and helps people live longer, more fulfilled lives.
Chronic pain management
Clinical research shows that volunteering positively affects general health and chronic pain management.
Volunteers are more likely to find employment
Volunteers are 27% more likely to get a job after being out of work than those who don't volunteer, and volunteers without a high school diploma are 51% more likely to find employment than non-volunteers.
Why International Volunteer Day is Important
Creating a better future
Supporting a worthy cause you care about today helps build a better world for tomorrow. Taking care of the environment, building schools, and passing on valuable skills to youths help create a better future and set an example for future generations.
Lasting solutions to global problems
No one has all the answers to the world's problems, but when we face them together, we're more likely to come up with lasting solutions. When the public gets involved in solving problems around them, their answers are more likely to be feasible in the long term as they're more inclusive and people-centric.
Inspiring others to volunteer
When people see how much volunteerism impacts their society, economy, and environment, it encourages them to volunteer. By educating the public on issues of concern and showing them how the contributions of others have changed things for the better, ordinary people become inspired to join in on the efforts on International Volunteer Day.
International Volunteer Day dates