Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.
Skip to main content
European Commission logo
EACEA National Policies Platform


2. Voluntary Activities

2.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
On this page
  1. Historical developments
  2. Main concepts

Historical developments

This section provides a brief historical overview of the development of voluntary work.

The Danish constitution of 1849 (Danmarks Riges Grundlov, Lov nr. 169 af 05/06/1953) established freedom of association and freedom of assembly for Danish citizens. Citizens were now able to form associations for any lawful purpose without the approval of the monarch. Associations rapidly grew in number and were seen in almost every sphere of society: political party associations, interest organisations, trade unions, economic associations (savings banks, health insurance societies, co-operatives), philanthropic associations, temperance and religious associations (Inner Mission), sport associations, etc. As a result, the history of the voluntary sector in Denmark is also the history of associations.

Associations were dependent largely upon voluntary work, which is why they still have a small number of paid staff (Elmose-Østerlund, K. et al., 2016).

Historically, core areas of activity in the Danish voluntary sector have been culture, leisure, and sport, unlike other Western societies, where there is a greater focus on social service, health, and education. This reflects the historic compromise between associations and the emerging Danish welfare state, which gradually took responsibility for the social security and well-being of its citizens.

From early on, the state has funded two types of activity:

  • Non-formal General Education (folkeoplysning) and sports associations
  • Voluntary social work

Non-formal General Education (Folkeoplysning):

From 1861, it was possible for sports clubs to receive funding from the Finance Act (Finansloven) on an ad hoc basis. In addition, in 1895 evening schools were included in the Finance Act.

In 1930, the parliament passed the first act on evening and youth schools. The act was the basis for public funding of evening schools (aftenskole) and youth schools (ungdomsskole): Every evening and youth school could receive funding from state, counties, and municipality and the municipalities were obliged to provide facilities.

In 1948, the parliament passed an Act on Receipts from the State Football Pools (Tipsmidlerne –today known as Udlodningsloven). Receipts from the state football pools financially supported national sports federations (as opposed to local clubs).

In 1969, the two sectors (i.e. sports clubs and evening/youth schools) merged in an act on leisure life, and in 1990 it was replaced with The Act on Non-Formal General Adult Education (Folkeoplysningsloven, LBK nr 1115 af 31/08/2018).

The Act on Non-formal General Adult Education established broad objectives and purposes, and the municipalities were free to decide how much of their budget to allocate for evenings schools, youth clubs, and associations. The act also tightened up previous municipal obligations to fund facilities for associations. The municipalities receive block grants from the state to finance the Act on Non-formal General Adult Education.


Voluntary social work

Before the Danish welfare state emerged in the first half of the 20th century, few social policy laws and regulations existed. Following the Danish Constitution of 1849, poverty relief was a constitutional right, but recipients lost all their rights.

The religious revivals of the Grundtvigian movement and Evangelical movement/Inner Mission, the temperance movement and the bourgeois philanthropic movement sought to alleviate the poverty and destitution of the population in the growing cities. Voluntary social work became crucial to the socially marginalised people, since the degrading poverty relief was a last resort.

Gradually, politicians and social experts began to realise that sickness, accidents, and poverty were rarely self-inflicted. At the end of the 19th century, the Danish parliament passed insurance-based laws in order to protect citizens from poverty, sickness, accidents, and old age. In the first half of the 20th century, the state gradually took over the responsibility of the social services and the voluntary social work became a supplement. From 1933, the majority of beneficiaries of public support did not lose their rights, and in 1956 the parliament passed the first Danish universal welfare benefit: old age pensions (Petersen, 2011).

Today, voluntary social work can receive funding from the municipalities and from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Senior Citizens (see below).


The character of Danes’ voluntary activities is slowly changing

Traditionally, Danes volunteer in associations and organisations in which they are members. This is still the most common way to volunteer. 62% of voluntary activities take place in associations, but an increasing number of Danes tend to volunteer with a looser attachment to associations.

In 2004, 79% of Danes volunteered in associations, but in 2012 this figure was 70%. Today, some are recruited by municipalities or by local volunteer centres. Furthermore, more volunteers are organised in temporary projects (plug-in volunteering) and in online volunteering (e.g. online homework assistance or counselling).

On average, volunteers spent 14 hours a month on volunteering in 2019. This is a drop from 2004, where volunteers spent 17 hours a month. This is a drop from 2012, where volunteers spent 16 hours a month.


Voluntary activities can be financially supported by the state and municipalities

Associational life and voluntary social work receive public funding through:

Act on Non-formal General Adult Education

The Act obliges municipalities to support especially two types of associations:

  • Associations that offer general adult education (exam free, non-formal learning)
  • Associations that offer voluntary general education (sports clubs, political, and religious youth organisations, civic associations, scout associations, etc.)

As a general rule, associations receiving funding through the act must:

  • Be democratic (i.e. with a board that is elected by the members)
  • Have statutes
  • Be open to all who approve the objectives of the association

Municipalities must provide a policy on the distribution of funding. The municipalities are obliged to provide financial support for activities for youth under the age of 25 years and must provide free facilities including electricity, heating, and cleaning.

From 2017, municipalities can no longer support associations that undermine the basic principles of the democratic society of Denmark. See section 4.5 “key initiatives to safeguard democracy”


Act on receipts from the national lottery and football pools in Denmark

The receipts from the national lottery and football pools is allocated among five ministries:

  • The Ministry of Culture
  • The Ministry of Social Affairs and Senior Citizens
  • The Ministry of Health
  • The Ministry of Environment and Food
  • The Ministry of Children and Education

The Ministry of Higher Education and Science no longer allocate money from the pools.

In 2022, the surplus amounted to about DKK 1.5 billion

The surplus funds nationwide associations, elite sport organisations, voluntary activity and culture and sports, leisure activities, voluntary social work, humanitarian work, youth, education, general adult education, voluntary work, and projects for the common good.


Act on Social Services in Denmark

Following the 2007 structural reform, municipalities are responsible for social service measures, including the support of voluntary social work. Section 18 of the Act on Social Services (Lov om social service,  LBK nr 170 af 24/01/2022 ) obliges municipalities to cooperate with the voluntary social organisations and societies and to financially support voluntary social work. The municipalities are financially compensated for this in the form of an extra general grant (block grant) from the government.

In 2015, a report on the municipal funding of voluntary social work shows that 69% of the municipalities supplement the § 18 funding of voluntary social work with other regulations. Furthermore, 90% of the municipalities provide support in other ways, such as facilities, secretariat support, consultancy support, advertising, etc.

Main concepts

Definition of voluntary work in Denmark

Voluntary or non-obligatory, i.e. undertaken freely without physical force, legal coercion, or financial pressure, and without the threat of financial or social sanctions (e.g. stopping social security benefits or being cut off from a social network) if the volunteer no longer wishes to continue the work. In order to be included in this definition of voluntary work, the work must have the following characteristics:

  • It must be unpaid. However, this does not mean that the volunteer cannot be reimbursed for expenses incurred while carrying out the activities, such as travel and telephone expenses, or the receipt of a payment of a symbolic amount as compensation for the voluntary work.
  • Carried out for persons other than the volunteer’s own family and relatives. This distinguishes voluntary work from ordinary domestic activities and the informal care of family members.
  • For the benefit of other people than the volunteer and his or her family. The value that the work has for others makes it voluntary work. This precludes participation in, for instance, self-help groups or participation as a mere member of a sport clubs from being voluntary work.
  • Formally organised – mostly in an association, although this need not be the case. However, ordinary helpfulness or spontaneous acts are not voluntary work.