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EACEA National Policies Platform


2. Voluntary Activities

2.1 General context

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


Historical developments

The current concept of volunteering in Spain was created at the time of the Democratic regime instauration in 1978, given that, until then, volunteering had a charitable connotation, away from the current standards and the new social awareness of solidarity and integration.

From its origin volunteering was treated, for various reasons, with reservations and caution by the political power, social action professionals, trade unions, etc.  

During the early years of Democracy, the development of voluntary entities was scarce and poor. Many of social movement’s leaders became professional politicians and the aims and objectives of those movements seemed to have been somehow achieved. The newly created Democracy was born with a strong welfare and statist aspiration, denying or giving residual work to voluntary organizations (Casado, 1992).

The 80’s were of key importance in the development of volunteering in Spain, when voluntary activities especially focused on social volunteering were promoted and coordinated “from above”. In 1981, the General Directorate of Social Action created a working group on “Volunteering in Social Action” with representatives from the Administration and different voluntary organizations. In 1986 the Spanish Volunteer Platform (Plataforma de Voluntariado de España, PVE) is created with the aim of promoting volunteering and gather together the various organizations form the local and regional scope to establish common channels of thought and action. This organization has become the reference of systematization and coordination of voluntary action in Spain.

The major development of voluntary work happened during the 90’s. The voluntary organizations increased exponentially and so did their institutionalization and professionalization which meant an increase in the professionals and volunteers and the creation of platforms and federations at the State and regional level (Aranguren, 2001). As stated in the introduction, 1996 meant the creation of the first State Law 6/1996 with the purpose of promoting and facilitate the participation of society on volunteer actions within public or private non-profit organizations (Ley Estatal del Voluntariado 6/1996). Since then almost all Autonomous Regions have developed their own legislations recognizing the importance of voluntary activities as an expression of social participation in the political, economical and cultural development of Democracies.

According to the survey carried out in 2022 by the Spanish Volunteering Platform (Plataforma de Voluntariado de España), 8.2% of the population over 14 years of age in Spain reported volunteering.


Main concepts

Volunteering is vague concept subject to social and cultural evolution within different geographical scopes permanently. According to the Law 45/2015 of Volunteering (Ley 45/2015, del 14 de octubre de 2015) the concept of volunteering is defined as the ensemble of general interest activities developed by people as long as they meet the requirements of solidarity, willingness, free-of-charge and involvement with the volunteering entity and with a volunteering programme.

The Law 45/2015 also classifies voluntary work according to different action areas: social, international cooperation, environmental, cultural, sport, educational, socio-sanitary, communitarian, civil protection and emergency volunteering.

Other definitions of volunteering come from the Spanish Volunteer Platform (Plataforma de Voluntariado de España) that has produced the following definition of volunteer work: “That organised activity developed within a non-profit organisation by people who, out of altruism and solidarity, participate with people and social reality, facing situations of violation, deprivation or lack of rights or opportunities in order to achieve a better quality of life and a greater cohesion and social justice as an expression of organised active citizenship”.

The concept of volunteer organisations as such does not exist, but they are included in the NGOs (Non-profit Organisations) and are part of the so-called Third Sector. The new Law 45/2015 on Volunteering (Ley 45/2015 de Voluntariado) has extended the definition and so volunteering reaches now new fields.