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EACEA National Policies Platform: Youthwiki


2. Voluntary Activities

2.1 General context

On this page
  1. Historical developments
  2. Main concepts

Historical developments


The historical foundations and voluntary organisations date back to the 14th-15th century in Hungary. At the time, the early form of volunteer work took place in secular hospitals and shelters, which accepted private donations.

'A first law regulating foundations was enacted in 1723, giving the King the right to control the activities and the financial accounts of the foundations. Volunteering mostly related to carrying out social services; political rights advocacy of voluntary associations emerged in the 19th century.' (Study on Volunteering in the European Union Country Report Hungary)

At the beginning of the 20th century scouting was the primary field of youth work. The Hungarian Scouting Association (Magyar Cserkészszövetség) was founded in 1912, whose main task was not only to promote leisure time activities but to promote a religious approach as well. Hungary organised the World Scout Jamboree in 1933.

Communist regime

'The communist regime that took over Hungary in 1947 halted the development of the voluntary sector. Most voluntary associations were banned and what remained was nationalised and brought under state control.' (Study on Volunteering in the European Union Country Report Hungary p. 1.)

During the socialist era, scouting was replaced by the pioneer movement - as the ideological background of youth work - which targeted children and young people from 2nd grade at primary school.

Regime change

'In the running up to the regime change, the voluntary organisations in Hungary again became an important political vehicle (…) The United Nations ''International Year of Volunteers'' in 2001 was an important catalyst for the development of the sector as it increased cooperation between the various ministries and the NGOs and paved the way for a law on volunteering as well as the creation of the National Volunteer Centre Foundation (Önkéntes Központ Alapítvány).' (Study on Volunteering in the European Union Country Report Hungary p. 1.)

The government in power since 2010 considers youth volunteering as a priority, which attitude is exemplified by the introduction of community service as well. The financial support targets more community projects and less the ones with civil aspects. One of the main goals of School Community Service (hereinafter referred to as IKSZ) is to strengthen local communities, but its pedagogical goals also include developing active citizenship. (For more information about IKSZ see sub-chapter 2.4 Youth Volunteering at national level)

Since 2016, in order to receive a high school diploma, students are required to do a 50-hour long community service which

'means social and environmental protection activity, as well as its educational processing, carried out individually or in group for the advantage of the local community of the student, which is carried out within organised framework and is independent of financial interests.' [Act CXC of 2011 on National Public Education (2011. évi CXC. törvény a nemzeti köznevelésről)]


Main concepts


Definitions of the Hungarian non-profit sector

'The everyday definitions of the Hungarian non-profit sector are influenced by the pre-war traditions, the State socialist experience, and the American and Western European models, producing a mix of terminologies. Expressions such as ''NGOs'', ''CSOs'', ''foundations'', or simply ''associations'' and ''non-profit sector'' are commonly used to refer to the voluntary sector. Volunteering is intertwined with what is called the ''civil sector'' and is rarely dealt with on its own. […]'

Volunteer Activities - Act of 2005

The most important official document on volunteering is the Act LXXXVIII. of 2005 on Public Interest Volunteer Activities, which defines volunteering as

'activities based on solidarity among members of society that express volunteer action of citizens and are pursued by individuals and communities without remuneration and for the benefit of others.'

Volunteer Activities - National Volunteer Strategy

The other key document is the National Volunteer Strategy 2012-2020 (Nemzeti Önkéntes Stratégia 2012-2020) [Government Decision no. 1068/2012 (III. 20.) (hereinafter referred to as NVS)], which provides a more detailed definition of volunteering.

'Volunteering is an activity carried out by somebody from their own free will, by their own decision and motivation, without any intention of gaining a financial profit for themselves, for the benefit of another person or other persons, or for the community at large. It comes together with its own particular set of values, which distinguishes it from paid work.'

With the expiration of the validity period of the National Voluntary Strategy 2012-2020, governmental actors, in cooperation with civil organisations, started to work on the creation of the new voluntary strategy in 2020. (For more information see chapter 2.3 National strategy on youth volunteering)

It is important to emphasise that the 'Voluntarism in Hungary 2018' (Önkéntesség Magyarországon 2018) research, required by the Strategy, excludes the favours done for family or friends from the definition of volunteering.

School community service

Although the school community service is closely related to volunteering, it is a separate notion which, as mentioned above, entails

'social and environmental protection activity, as well as its educational processing, carried out individually or in a group for the advantage of the local community of the student, which is carried out within organised framework and is independent of financial interests'. [School Community Service (Közösségi Szolgálat Portál)]

Community service vs. volunteering

The NVS interprets the similarities and differences between the two concepts as follows:

'Community service can be regarded as the starting point, and the introductory step in the direction of carrying out true voluntary work, and the role this can play should not be underestimated.

This Strategy is intended to draw attention to the fact that educators, mentors and social workers involved in the coordination of community service in secondary educational institutions need to be aware of the difference between the two concepts and activities, and should also draw the attention of their environment to these differences.

The concepts of community service and voluntary work, however, do have certain things in common, in that they are both generally intended to serve the public good, they both bring benefits and greater value to the people carrying them out and to their environment - as by doing these activities, everybody acquires values which can reinforce awareness of community commitment and a sense of responsibility - and additionally they can both bring advantages in later life or when looking for employment.' (NVS, 2012 p. 3.)

Statistical data on volunteering

The Hungarian Central Statistical Office regularly collects data in connection with volunteer activities. It collected additional data regarding the research on workforce and in line with the requirements of the volunteer strategy. The young volunteers were not highlighted though in the public report. [The characteristics of volunteer work (Az önkéntes munka jellemzői)].

Though the terminology (volunteer work) is different from that of the Strategy (volunteerism), the definition of volunteering is basically the same. According to the Statistical Office, volunteers are

'those who carried out an activity within the last 12 months before they were interviewed:

a) directly, or through an organisation

b) voluntarily, for free, without remuneration or compensation,

c) for the benefit of others, who live outside their households or for the benefit of the society (a group, a wider community, animals or the environment etc.).

The 3 conditions must be met all at once. The help provided for parents, children or relatives living in another household was counted as volunteer work as well.' [The characteristics of volunteer work (Az önkéntes munka jellemzői)].

Moreover, the National Volunteer Strategy calls for research on volunteering, the first phase was carried out in 2013, the second in 2018.