Volunteerism timeline

From the time it appeared as a noun in the 1600s to describe a Frenchman willing to serve in the military, the idea of volunteering has taken many forms through the centuries. Here’s a look back at the history of community service.


Ford Motor Company announced Chairman’s Sustainability Challenge, Ford Volunteer Corps’ Global Week of Caring expanded from one week to full month, Ford Better World launched


United Nations Youth Volunteers Programme launched; Habitat for Humanity 800,000th house, Atlanta


FEMA Corps launched


China Volunteers Association launched; Habitat for Humanity’s 500,000 house, Maai Mahui, Kenya


United Nations Volunteers programme, Armenia Ministry of Labour, Social Issues form Youth Vocational Centre


United Way of America, United Way International become United Way Worldwide


International Federation starts global accident insurance for National Society volunteers; International Volunteer HQ, travel organization, launched in New Zealand


European Volunteer Centre launches Manifesto on Volunteering in Europe; Micro-volunteering, microvolunteering used in UK blog post on mySociety; microvoluntarios registered web domain name in Spain, working online platform 2008


Asia Pacific volunteer development function based in Luala Lumpur; Ford Volunteer Corps launched


South American Volunteer Network established


President’s Volunteer Service Award created

2001 - 03

Africa volunteer development function based in Nairobi; United Nations proclaims 2001 International Year of the Volunteer


Federation Volunteering Policy adopted by General Assembly; The Points of Light Foundation partners with White House Office of National Service


Nevada Board of Tourism coins voluntourism to attract local residents to support remote rural tourism development; Japan’s NPO Law permits legal certification, incorporation of certain volunteer organizations as non-profit organizations


Kobe Earthquake catalyst for volunteering in Japan


Japanese International Cooperation Agency sponsored Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteer in Vietnam


The Points of Light Foundation’s Youth Outreach program develops Youth Engaged in Service Ambassadors, engaging Youth in community service, Points of Light Foundation merges with the National Volunteer Center


Points of Light Foundation creates independent, nonprofit organization to encourage and empower spirit of service; volunteer tourism research begins, expanding in the late 90’s and early ‘00s; United Nations Volunteers has representative office in Vietnam


United Nations Volunteers begin in Afghanistan; President H.W. Bush develops three-part strategy to make community services a national policy of highest priority, yields Points of Light Foundation; daily Points of Light Award established; Volunteer Center Development Project proposed by the National Volunteer Center, funded by W.K. Kellogg Foundation


New York City starts CityCares, young professionals involved in volunteer opportunities, became Hands on Network in 2004


Of 380 existing Volunteer Centers, 226 are members of the National Volunteer Center; 115 are internal divisions of United Way; 90 percent of all other Centers receive a portion of funding from United Way; 70 percent are independent; 20 percent operate as divisions or programs of a local United Way


More than 25 different names for Volunteer Centers used across the country, 380 Volunteer Centers in 94 of 100 largest metropolitan areas, together, they reach roughly 60 percent of the American population, referring or placing and estimated 500,000 volunteers per year. Volunteer Centers meet in 20 states on a regular basis. International Volunteer Centers are also expanding rapidly, including 84 in Canada, 290 in Great Britain, 200 in Holland, 35 in France and Centers in Hong Kong, Japan and Australia. 125 Volunteer Centers attend the annual National Conference. 150 Volunteer Centers are involved in special national demonstration projects, involving national grants from private foundations or government agencies


Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers founded in Ballarat, Victoria


Voluntary Service Overseas shifts to professional approach with qualified volunteers for two year stints


The Association for Administration of Volunteer Services changes its name to the Association for Volunteer Administration; The National Center for Voluntary Action merges with National Information Center on Volunteerism in Boulder, Colo., to become Volunteer: The National Center for Citizen Involvement.


Jimmy Carter establishes the Young Adult Conservation Corps. The Association of Voluntary Action Scholars and Association of Volunteer Bureaus hold the first collaborative conference. AAVS, ABV join AVAS as co-publishers of Volunteer Administration, forerunner of the Journal of Volunteer Administration.


National Center for Voluntary Action sponsors national Congress on Volunteerism and Citizenship in recognition of Bicentennial of the United States.


AAVSC changes name to Association for Administration of Volunteer Services.


National Volunteer Week in April established by President Richard Nixon executive order.


United Nations Volunteers programme began in Lesotho.


Earthwatch Institute implements paid-for volunteering placement.


National Center for Voluntary Action established from OVA survey, Henry Ford II chairs the first board of directors, President Nixon honorary chair; NCVA launches major nationwide program to foster development of Voluntary Action Centers, as local leadership organizations to help people meet local needs through voluntary efforts; The Volunteer Bureau changes to Voluntary Action Center nationally


Cabinet Committee of Voluntary Action formed, led by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, George Romney. The committee’s service arm, The Office of Voluntary Action conducts nationwide study of volunteer resources and potential. Conclusion: national, non-governmental structure needed for volunteering. By decade’s end state-level offices emerged with Washington establishing first Governor’s Office of Volunteerism; Michigan, Illinois follow soon after.


Michigan Governor George Romney meets with Michigan State University Jim Tanck Campus Program, sees volunteering potential.


Volunteers in Service to America to fight poverty. the Job Corps, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, College Work Study Program.


Peace Corps The Minneapolis Bureau of Volunteer Service hosts convention of the National Association of Volunteer Bureaus.


The American Association for Volunteer Services Coordinators formed.


VSO created by Alec Dickson, wife Mora, suggesting organization to support Commonwealth countries’ urgent appeals for assistance while providing educational experiences for school-level boys, offering unskilled help in exchange for basic accommodation, pocket money the year before university.


International Voluntary Services - Mennonite, Brethren, Quaker churches (dissolved 2002).


Australian Volunteers International, originally Volunteer Graduate Scheme, founded by Herb Feith in Indonesia. Skilled professionals work with partners in Asia, the Pacific, Africa, Middle East.


National Association of Volunteer Bureaus formed, creating network of volunteer bureaus, offers training in volunteer management, develops standards of excellence for volunteer programs and promotes volunteering in local communities, first national meeting of Volunteer Bureaus held in Atlantic City.


Far North Viet Nam 215 youth founded a volunteer organization, main purpose to serve army


Volunteer Bureaus in 81 cities across U.S., Canada


Office of Civilian Defense disbanded. The Advisory Committee on Citizen Participation is formed by Community Chests and Councils of America with National Social Welfare Assembly


August Revolution in Viet Nam, a nationwide revolutionary movement named “anti-famine, anti-illiteracy, and anti-foreign conflicts”


>4,300 civil defense volunteer offices operate nationwide to recruit volunteers for defense-related activities


Office of Civilian Defense formed to organize civilian support for World War II efforts. National Committee on Volunteers suspends operations due to World War II. Defense Councils combines with Volunteer Bureaus in 50 cities to help organize, recruit, train volunteers for wartime programs, including Rationing, Recruiting Offices, USO, Hostesses, War Emergency, Nursery Schools and War Savings.


"March of the Volunteers" lyrics composed by Tian Han, formally known as the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China. Originally translated as “Volunteers Marching On” the English name references the several volunteer armies that opposed Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in the 1930s


Civilian Conservation Corps created by Franklin D. Roosevelt to plant about 3 billion trees, employing millions of young males


National Committee on Volunteers formed, year later becomes associate group of the National Conference of Social Work. Volunteer Bureaus created in 28 cities, including St. Louis, Boston, Indianapolis by end of decade


Volunteer-based activities, including soup kitchens and bread lines, created during Great Depression


Community Chest established in Cape Town, South Africa was first United Way outside North America.


First Bureau of Volunteer Services in Minneapolis, Minn.


Association of Junior Leagues International formed by American Association for Community Organizations, preceded national United Way


Native Americans, tho not U.S. citizens, volunteer for WW I


Kiwanis (Club) International, Lions Clubs (Club) International founded


Rotary (Club) International founded


British Red Cross creates Voluntary Air Detachment in Europe, Middle East World War I battlefields


Volunteers of America founded by Commander and Mrs. Ballington Booth, part of quasi-military, religious, philanthropic group


First Jewish federation founded, Boston


Johnstown Flood


First United Way organization founded, Denver


American Red Cross founded. Clara Barton and a team of volunteers provide aid to servicemen.

1861 - 65

Ladies’ Aid Societies of Civil War make bandages, shirts, towels, bedclothes, uniforms, tents.


YWCA started in U.S.


YMCA started in London, university-based YMCA at University of Michigan


First YMCA started in U.S.


Great Awakening students in a variety of religious groups work within community

1775 - 83

Boycotts of British products organized in United States by Revolutionary War volunteers, who collected funds for war


First use as a verb. from noun volunteer


Benjamin Franklin gets about 30 males forms Union Fire Company in Philadelphia, they brought their own equipment to each fire


Used as an adjective


First non-military use


First appearance as a noun, "one who offers himself for military service" from Middle French voluntaire