What is “International Volunteer Day”?

I once read that volunteering allows you to age with grace.

For me, the actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn is a prime example of that statement. If volunteering provides me with a fraction of her grace then I will consider myself truly blessed. Ms Hepburn said, “Giving is living. If you stop wanting to give, there’s nothing more to live for.”

I recently wrote an essay about my volunteering journey for the #MyGivingStory as part of the #GivingTuesday global initiative. I believe it is important for anyone wanting to get into volunteering to know that there isn’t a prescribed type of person who does this work, sometimes it’s not about what you want to do but more about what good you need in your life.

International Volunteering Day (IVD)

There are many benefits to being a volunteer; I will get to those later as I do want to give you a very quick overview of what the significance of 5 December is. You will have noticed an increase in ‘volunteering’ posts and threads on social media today; that is because today is International Volunteer Day. IVD, mandated by the UN General Assembly, is held each year on 5 December (since 1985). It is a unique chance for volunteers and organisations to celebrate their efforts, to share their values, and to promote their work among their communities, non-governmental and non-profit organisations, United Nations agencies, government authorities as well as the private sector to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.The day is marked by many nongovernmental organisations, including Red Cross, Scouts and others. It is also marked and supported by United Nations Volunteers.

Apart from mobilising thousands of volunteers every year, the United Nations Volunteers programme contributes to peace and development by advocating for recognition of volunteers and working with partners to integrate volunteerism into development programming. IVD was originally and is still known as International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development.

2017 Theme: Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere.

IVD 2017’s theme #VolunteersActFirst. Here. Everywhere. recognises the contributions of volunteers as first responders in times of crisis. This is significant because of the understated importance and responsibility of first responders the world over. First responders are those who protect life, evidence, property or the environment during the early stages of an emergency.  First responders typically include police officers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, rescuers, and others who have joined voluntary organisations connected with this type of work. Any emergency or crisis situation is unnerving and unsettling, first responders have to stay calm and be cognisant of their personal safety as they go about their duties.

Volunteers are present, all around us, answering calls in times of need, helping save lives today, and supporting those who want to continue living their lives with dignity tomorrow. Risking their lives every day to care for people affected by conflict, violence and humanitarian crises, volunteers brave many dangers to help others, driven by the want to make a difference in the face of human suffering. This year, IVD promotes the contributions of such volunteers at the local, national and international level. – UN 2017

But, volunteering isn’t just a ‘feel good’ exercise, nor is it simply about personal redemption.

Andrew Haldane delivered a speech to the London Society of Business Economists in 2014 entitled “The Social Value of Volunteering”; the question he was trying to answer was “In giving, how much do we receive?”. The Chief Economist for The Bank of England was attempting to put a monetary value on volunteering to show how much the willingness to do unpaid work benefits Britain. Big numbers were revealed: Nearly 15 million people volunteer regularly in Britain, collectively putting in over 2 billion hours a year for formal volunteering programs. It is estimated that the same amount of time is spent on informal volunteering.

[bctt tweet=”Mr Haldane said that the economic value of volunteering in Britain could exceed £50bn a year – which would make it as big as the energy sector. “The Social Value of Volunteering” 2014″ username=”MelanieMinnaar”]

The 2006/7 Helping Out Survey reported getting satisfaction from results, enjoyment from the act of volunteering and providing a sense of personal achievement as the top 3 benefits derived from volunteering. Perhaps people who haven’t yet volunteered just don’t know how much fun they will have doing it?

Who are these people?

  • Women tend to volunteer more than men.
  • 35 – 50 years age group volunteer the most.
  • Millennials volunteer the least which is very surprising considering how civic-minded and socially aware all accounts of them are.

“Volunteering in the United States” report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (February 2016)

[bctt tweet=”Ironically, volunteering is one of the best things you can do for yourself. When you care for others, you also care for yourself and your immediate community.” username=”MelanieMinnaar”]

I have met so many new people through volunteering, and yes, my professional network has grown because of it too. This is useful because sometimes you just have to face facts and admit that you don’t work with the best bunch of people; but the need for social interaction remains – volunteering can address that void if you let it.

There are other benefits to volunteering; in the same way that any addiction recovery program advocates ‘getting together’ by attending meetings if you feel lonely, volunteering has the same effect as going to a meeting to rally around a common cause. This non-intimidating ‘social’ can help to cut anxiety and depression because the focus is taken off the person and put onto the common cause instead. Further, purpose and self-esteem are issues that the youth of today seem to be struggling with. Volunteering can instil a sense of self-confidence and self-worth.



[bctt tweet=”Depression, PTSD, low self-esteem, and even Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have all been helped by volunteering. When people with these conditions volunteer, they feel more connected to others and they have an increased sense of purpose. ” username=”MelanieMinnaar”]


Voluntary engagement more often than not goes unnoticed to the rest of the world, but every act of doing counts an enormous amount to the people and communities that benefit from your commitment, dedication and generosity. I like to think of volunteering in the same way I think of Forgiveness; you offer Forgiveness for your own peace of mind and sanity, not for the endorsement of others.

If you are ready to make friends, improve your mental and physical health, and maybe develop new skills along the way, start volunteering. You can change your life and the lives of others when you do.

Here are some links to volunteering sites offering opportunities for you to get involved in South Africa (and beyond):


3 Replies to “What is “International Volunteer Day”?”

  1. So exactly right! This describes exactly what the benefits of volunteering are and how it feels – doesn’t have to be a big deal, just a Little Love can go a long way.

    1. “The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mole, but true beauty in a Woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she knows.” – Audrey Hepburn

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