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EACEA National Policies Platform


2. Voluntary Activities

2.1 General context

Last update: 24 March 2024
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Historical developments

Historical foundations and voluntary organisations date back to the 14th-15th centuries in Hungary. At that time, the early form of volunteering took place in secular hospitals and homes that 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 most important area of youth work. The Hungarian Scout Association (Magyar Cserkészszövetség) was founded in 1912, whose main task was not only to promote recreational activities but also to promote a religious approach. 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)

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. However, its leadership was also based on voluntary work.

In addition, non-ideological voluntary organisations (e.g. local voluntary fire brigades, Hungarian Red Cross) were allowed to continue to operate.

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)

The government in power since 2010 considers youth volunteering a priority, which is also reflected in the introduction of the school community service as well. Financial support targets more community projects and less the ones with civilian aspects. One of the main objectives of school community service (in Hungarian 'iskolai közösségi szolgálat', referred hereinafter to as IKSZ) is to strengthen local communities, but its pedagogical goals also include developing active citizenship. (For more information on the school community service, see sub-chapter 9.4 Raising awareness about global issues)

As part of the service, since 2016, in order to graduate from high school, students must complete 50-hours long community service that

'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. […]'' (Study on Volunteering in the European Union Country Report Hungary)

Definitions of volunteer activities
Act of 2005

The most important official document on volunteering is the Act LXXXVIII. of 2005 on Public Interest Volunteer Activities (2005. évi LXXXVIII. törvény a közérdekű önkéntes tevékenységről), 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.'

National Volunteer Strategy 2012-2020

Another key document is the National Volunteer Strategy 2012-2020 (Nemzeti Önkéntes Stratégia 2012-2020) (referred hereinafter 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 expiry of the National Volunteer Strategy 2012-2020, the state actors, in cooperation with civil society organisations, started to elaborate the new volunteer strategy in 2020. (For more information see sub-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 concept, as mentioned above. The Educational Authority (Oktatási Hivatal) published the official definition of the IKSZ:

'An individual or group activity that is independent of financial interests, organised for the benefit of the learner's local community, and includes its pedagogical processing in the eight areas defined by law.'

(For more information on the school community service, see sub-chapter 9.4 Raising awareness about global issues)

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 aims 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 make their environment aware of these differences.

However, the concepts of community service and volunteering have some things in common, because both generally serve the public good, both bring benefits and greater value to the people who do them and to those around them - because by doing them, everyone acquires values that can increase awareness of community involvement and a sense of responsibility - and, moreover, both can bring benefits later in life or when looking for work.'

Statistical data on volunteering

The Hungarian Central Statistical Office regularly collects data related to voluntary activities. It collected additional data in relation to labour research and in line with the requirements of the Volunteer Strategy. However, young volunteers were not highlighted in the public report.

Although 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

'persons who carried out an activity in the last 12 months preceding the survey:

a) directly, or through an organisation
b) voluntarily, unpaid, without remuneration or compensation,
c) for the benefit of others, outside their households or for the benefit of society (a group, a wider community, animals or the environment etc.).

The three conditions must be met all at once. Helping parents, children or relatives living in another household was also counted as volunteer work.' (HCSO, 2016)

Moreover, the National Volunteer Strategy calls for research on volunteering, the first phase was carried out in 2013, and the second in 2018. The new strategy is under preparation. Besides that, there was a focus group research in 2023 based on the strategy, but the results are not published yet.