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EACEA National Policies Platform


2. Voluntary Activities

2.1 General context

Last update: 5 February 2024
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  1. Historical developments
  2. Main concepts

Historical Development

Croatian society inherited a tradition of diverse volunteerism, initially linked to the Church in the early 20th century. During the period of socialism, volunteering was related to sports, culture, and notably, the traditional organisation of citizens in volunteer fire-fighting associations (Bežovan, 2004[1]). The historical development of volunteering in Croatia is a neglected research topic. This holds true for current research interest in volunteering as well, withregional and local  studies providing only a fragmented picture of the situation, dynamics, and aspects of volunteering. Notably, youth volunteering is marginally and insufficiently explored. Only in the past decade has national research specifically focused on young populations emerged, studying the prevalence and, in some instances, the types of volunteering.

According to the 2008 European Values Survey conducted among the general population in Croatia, only 8.8% of individuals engage in volunteering. The majority of volunteers are active in religious organisations (5.3%), educational and cultural activities (3.5%), and sports and recreational organisations (2.3%) (Bežovan and Matančević, 2011).

A significant decline in the number of volunteers is evident compared to 1999 when, according to the same survey, the percentage was 21.3%. The authors attributes this decline to factors such as the tradition of informal voluntary work, limited economic opportunities, lack of adequate information, and society’s still insufficiently supportive stance toward voluntary work (Bežovan and Matančević, 2011).

Individuals bear limited responsibility for the low volunteering rate. Civic virtues, expressed through voluntary work, should not exclusively target organisations with traditionally underdeveloped volunteer programmes. Furthermore, the economic crisis has led individuals to focus on engagement within their family and friends' circles (Bežovan, 2004). It can be assumed that the unsatisfactory functioning of certain institutions intended to care for and assist citizens in need contributes to this trend.

This situation is related to the overall dynamics of civil society, characterised by weak civil participation, a lack of trust among citizens, and, to some extent, inadequate relations between public institutions and civil society organisations (Zrinščak et al., 2012). However, Zrinščak et al. note that there has been evident development in volunteering over the last decade. The authors regard Croatia as more similar to Slovenia and the Czech Republic, aligning with the countries in the Central European circle characterised by more developed civil societies, as opposed to the underdeveloped ones like Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine.

Volunteering can have both the formal and informal features. Formal volunteering involves contractual relations within an organisational structure, embodying the authority of the organisation and, to some extent, professional knowledge. Informal volunteering, on the other hand, is less structured and carries a sense of responsibility linked to individual social roles, such as friends, neighbours, or citizens (Onyx and Leonard, 2002[2]). When it comes to informal forms of volunteering among young people in Croatia, though comprehensive and reliable data is lacking, certain recent studies, such as that by Ilišin et al. (2013), provide some insight.

Ilišin and Spajić-Vrkaš (2015) found that 60.2% of young people never volunteered, 32.0% volunteered sometimes, and 7.8% volunteered often. This suggests a relatively weak presence of volunteer activities among young people. According to the youth research data, 13% of respondents had the experience of volunteering during 2011 (Ilišin et al., 2013). The same source indicates a significant proportion of informally structured volunteer work. One-third of young volunteers helped people with special needs and the elderly and just over a quarter assisted schoolmates with their studies. A quarter were involved in organising cultural events and almost one-fifth organised sports events. Public works in local communities attracted less than a fifth of volunteers, and one in six engaged in religious activities. Although volunteering offers a chance to gain work experience, a relatively low percentage of volunteers have experienced work in the business sector (9.1%) and non-governmental organisations (6.9%).

Recent national research conducted in 2022 (Tonković et al., 2023), targeting young people aged 15 to 34 years old who participated in at least one volunteer activity in the last two years, reveals that most of the respondents (42.4%) engage in volunteer programmes and actions several times a year. About a quarter of respondents volunteer monthly (24.2%), while 17.8% do so weekly. Young volunteers more often participate in formal volunteer activities organised by civil organisations and institutions (68.8%), and somewhat less frequently in informal volunteer activities (49.0%). Additionally, just over a fifth of participants volunteer at the Croatian Red Cross. Regarding types of volunteer activities, young people are mainly oriented towards helping their peers (62.7%) and children (49.7%), as well as activities involving formal and non-formal education (29.9%) or environmental protection (29.3%). They also engage in activities supporting marginalised and vulnerable groups, including the elderly (25.2%) and individuals with disabilities and developmental difficulties (20.7%).

The statistical tracking of formal volunteering began with the introduction of legislative framework back in 2007 and the establishment of the National Committee for the Development of Volunteerism, an advisory body of the Government of the Republic of Croatia carrying out measures and activities in promotion and development of volunteering. In this regard, it can be said that in Croatia, the development of volunteering, along with the related tools for encouragement and monitoring, has not reached its full potential.


[1] Bežovan, G. (2004[1]). Civilno društvo. Zagreb: Nakladni zavod Globus.

[2] Onyx, J., & Leonard, R. (2002). The relationship between formal and informal volunteering: A social capital framework. In ISTR Fifth International Conference. Transforming Civil Society, Citizenship and Governance: The Third Sector in an Era of Global (Dis) Order.


Main Concepts

The basic characteristics of volunteering include voluntarism, that is performing activities without remuneration, and general usefulness.  These traits are evident in mutual support, the provision of services, and active inclusion in society (Barić, 2008[1]). The official definition of volunteering is outlined in of the Volunteering Act (Chapter 3, Paragraph 1). It prescribes volunteering as the ‘voluntary investment of personal time, effort, knowledge, and skills to perform services or activities for the benefit of another person or community, (…) without the existence of conditions for payment of a monetary reward or the pursuit of other material benefits for the performed volunteering’.


Volunteering varies in terms of its duration and frequency (Volunteering Act, Chapter 3, Paragraph 2, Paragraph 3). Long-term volunteering is performed regularly and continuously, at least twice a month for a period of three months without interruption. Short-term volunteering is a one-time or periodic commitment within a limited period.

The same Act (Chapter 5) specifies nine activities that do not qualify as volunteering:

  • performing services or activities that contravene the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, its laws and international obligations
  • performing services and activities that involve the payment of cash benefits or property gains without the establishment of employment
  • performing jobs for an employer that have the characteristics of employment-based relationship
  • professional training for work without the employment relationship established by special regulations
  • performing services or activities that are agreed upon by a contract between two parties (excluding a contract on volunteering)
  • performing services and activities that are considered binding between the two persons on the basis of laws or other regulations
  • executing services in accordance with court decisions and judgments
  • performing services or activities that are common in close relationships
  • internships and other forms of training for individuals employed for the first time in the profession for which they were educated, involving the acquisition of work experience as mandated by law or other regulations as a condition for performing the jobs of the profession for which they were trained


[1] Barić, S. (2008). Volonterstvo kao inherentno socijalno odgovorna djelatnost – pravni aspekti. In Socijalno odgovorno gospodarenje (pp. 213-238). Rijeka: TIM press i Pravni fakultet Sveučilišta u Rijeci.