Voluntary Service: A Year in Review and Reflection

Story by Liz Corrigan, Public Inquiry Associate, Washington, DC

While Voluntary Service may seem like the most straight forward of the Red Cross Seven Fundamental Principles, this year the American Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) took a closer look at what it means for our national society and the network as a whole. 

American Red Cross

As a part of our Volunteer Growth Strategy, we asked chapter offices across the country to take a closer look at their volunteer resources, needs and strategy for the coming years.  The idea being, that in order to achieve the goals of the Volunteer Growth Strategy, regions need to understand their current service delivery, additional demand for Red Cross services, and ability to deliver those services to the communities served by the region.        

Volunteer Growth Strategy seeks to:

  • Drive More Mission by Increasing Volunteer Presence
  • Invest more in Volunteers – Increase Resources
  • Improve Volunteer Satisfaction
  • Engage Volunteers in Fundraising

While chapter staff, leadership and volunteers met across the country to develop their volunteer strategy, National Headquarters staff did the same.  In International Services, all 15 units met with their staff to assess volunteer needs. 

This resulted in an additional 6,522 volunteer openings for International Services (6,500 of them belonging to online digital mapping volunteers).  Volunteers are especially crucial for International Services due to our smaller staff presence in the chapter network.  Restoring Family Links for example, depends heavily on volunteers to deliver casework services and conduct outreach to thousands of clients every year.  We could never reconnect this many families without the dedication and hard work of volunteers across the country.          

Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

Outside of the American Red Cross, Voluntary Service has always been at the heart of the Red Cross movement.  The official principle of “Red Cross as a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain” began as far back as Henry Dunant at the Battle of Solferino.  During the battle Henry recruited people from the local area to meet community needs and acted as what today would be called a volunteer manager. 

This year, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies conducted a global review on volunteering. The Global Review on Volunteering was the largest and most thorough review of Red Cross/Red Crescent Volunteering ever undertaken.  600 experts, staff and volunteers were interview or surveyed across 160 countries. 

Today, Red Cross volunteers have moved beyond the battlefield where Solferino began and work in a variety of sectors across the movement and around the world.  Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers serve in health, education and prevention (37 %); disaster response, management and preparedness (26 %); social inclusion (12 %); and general support, e.g. being part of the local branch governance, logistics, administration, communication, IT, Fund-raising, management consultancy and strategic planning (25 %).  

Globally, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has more than 17 million volunteers.  While this is an extremely large number, unfortunately the volunteers are concentrated in just a few national societies.  100 out of 198 national societies have just 1% of all volunteers and 11% of the world’s population.  In comparison, 10 National Societies have more than 75% of the volunteers and 50% of the world’s population.  While many National Societies are struggling with volunteerism, In Burundi, 1 in 22 people volunteer with the Red Cross.  If this was replicated in every country, the world would have 320 million Red Cross volunteers. 

The work of the Red Cross Red Crescent would be impossible without the dedication of our volunteers. Learn how you can join our movement by clicking here