The History of Volunteering at a Glance

By Aviv Hochbaum on 13/12/2015

It is easy to assume that ever since human interaction formed into small groups, we were socially conscious enough to care for others who belonged to our group and, in turn, help them out in times of need. When these small groups grew and evolved, communal life became routine, languages were formed, and basic codes of conduct were established to differ right from wrong, good from bad.

Most societies, across the globe, openly promote and socialize beings to give and help others, without necessitating that this exchange always be reciprocated. This, in fact, is volunteering at its core.

Today, we have come to know volunteering as this greatly organized form of “giving”- but how did it all start? When did it turn from a simple act of kindness to such a widely accepted activity all over the world?

Let’s start at the beginning.

Closely associated to religion, acts of volunteering are traceable in Britain all the way back to medieval times urging to aid the poor and sick. It is estimated that there were at least 500 voluntary hospitals in England during the 12th and 13th centuries!

The power of language.

The actual term “to volunteer” was supposedly first used in 1755 in direct connection to “offering oneself for military service”, and is derived from the French volontaire. The constant need for protection from various outside dangers invited the use of this word and helped spread it, although still closely relating to military aid.

Taking a big leap forward, it wasn’t until the 19th century that we began seeing examples of organized volunteering, such as the YMCA which first opened its doors in London in 1844 and has since engaged in a wide variety of charitable activities, including providing athletic facilities, holding classes for a wide variety of skills, proselytizing Christianity, and humanitarian work.

Another prime example of volunteering of that time is Clara Barton’s tremendous help during the Civil War, and her efforts afterwards in what eventually became the Red Cross.

The 20th century was marked with the establishment of more voluntary organizations. Two examples are the Rotary Club, which formed as a place for individuals from different backgrounds to meet and exchange valuable ideas, create friendships and together lead to change; and the Lions Club which also centered on successful men joining together for the greater good of the community.

The end of WWII brought yet another shift in volunteering as efforts were, for the first time, focused overseas. The Peace Corps (1960) is a prime example of these globally-minded volunteer efforts.

The biggest influence yet.

These volunteer developments should not be underestimated for their great influence, but the most influential player to have brought on the greatest change in the volunteer industry is no other than…the World Wide Web, to be formal.

Connecting individuals from all around the world, the ability to spread volunteering efforts and causes without being limited by physical boundaries marks the biggest leap in volunteering yet, and it wasn’t long before more and more people began tapping into this quickly growing industry.

Online listings and indexes were launched to help Organizations further their reach to interested volunteers. From there…it was history! Just like the good old snowball effect – more helpful platforms engaged with more interested volunteers, more volunteers continued to bring on the need for more platforms. Of course, just like in any field, the volunteering platforms vary in that each one takes on the challenge from a different angle.

GivingWay believes in providing a more direct and accessible bridge by allowing direct engagement between grassroots organizations and volunteers. The platform is there as the bridge – loaded with different tools and features to help make the journey from one side to the other just a little bit smoother.

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