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EACEA National Policies Platform


2. Voluntary Activities

2.1 General context

Last update: 21 January 2021
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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 Sociological Research Centre (CIS) study "Attitudes of youth in Spain towards participation and volunteering” (Actitudes de la juventud en España hacia la participación y el voluntariado) in 2014 25.1% of youth population in Spain, between 15 and 29 years of age, carries or have carried out volunteering activities regularly.

On a European scale, Spain is the sixth country in the EU concerning volunteer participation, taking into account the increase of social awareness in society that has taken place in the last few years.

Although it does not rely on an old tradition, youth volunteering in Spain has eceeded the 25.1% mark of young respondents registered in 2014 according to the CIS (2014) to reach 27% of youth respondents in 2017 according to the Flash Eurobarometer 455.


Table1. Belonging and Participation of the population higher than 18 years

Nº Barometer

B. 3114




B. 3195


Cultural or leisure group




Sport group




Social or Human Rights support group




Other volunteer organization




Youth or student organization




Source: CIS Barometre, 31143156, 3195.

*In the Barometer of 2017 there was a change of answer: "Social and Human Rights support group split up as "Ecologist groups" and "Pacifist, Human Rights and fair trade support groups".


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.