Statistics on volunteer work

The contribution of volunteers to the well-being of individuals and communities has long been recognized. It plays an important role in keeping people and communities together, building social cohesion and meeting the needs of many groups in the face of poverty or during times of crisis. Recognizing this, the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda calls on governments to work closely with volunteer groups on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Indicators on volunteer work offer valuable information on the number and characteristics of the persons willingly working without pay to support others. They can also be used to identify the areas where many people rely on others’ help. Such information can help target better economic and social policies.

Currently, national statistical offices produce statistics on volunteer work using a variety of approaches and tools. As such, direct cross-country comparisons are not recommended. 

Table of contents

Featured publication

Volunteer work measurement guide

The guide provides survey designers with the latest ILO tools and recommendations to produce statistics on volunteer work in line with the current international standards.


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Measurement tools

The 2011 Manual on the measurement of volunteer work was developed to support the systematic production of comparable data on a form of work that is rarely measured by official statistics, despite its important contribution to well-being and development. The manual introduced the first international definition of volunteer work for statistical purposes and recommended a labour force survey (LFS) add-on module.

Since its publication, the manual inspired the development of many national survey tools across the world. An ILO review conducted in 2018 showed that the number of measurements using modules attached to household surveys, particularly to a LFS, increased significantly after 2013. This evolution was also partially influenced by the adoption of the new standards on statistics of work by the 19th ICLS. As part of national efforts to implement the standards, many countries turned to recommendations offered in the manual to measure volunteer work. However, it became evident that the module needed improvement. 

To answer this need, in 2017, the ILO established a partnership with the UNV to update the existing measurement guidance. Results of the 2018 review were used to develop alternative measurement approaches. Their efficiency was assessed through a two-stage testing process implemented in partnership with the national statistical offices of Ukraine and Senegal. Results of tests informed the development of a new LFS add-on module.

The PAPI version of the new LFS add-on module is available in the Volunteer work measurement guide and from the LFS Resources page. Click here to try the module and see how it works. 

A CAPI version will be developed in 2021 as an optional module to the core LFS CAPI tool.

To support the measurement of volunteer work in Population and Housing Censuses, a model question incorporating the key elements used by the new LFS add-on module to identify volunteers was developed. It is available on the Census Resources page

Short modules to collect data on volunteer work performed in relation to the COVID-19 crisis were published as part of the ILO guidance on capturing impacts on employment and unpaid work using Rapid Surveys.


Database description: Work Statistics - 19th ICLS (WORK)

This database description provides a concise overview of concepts and definitions, uses, sources and limitations for indicators based on the 19th ICLS, including paid and unpaid work.

Measuring volunteer work self-learning course

In this self-paced course, also available in French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian, you will learn about the latest international standards on the statistical measurement of volunteer work; and how to apply the ILO survey tools to generate headline indicators on volunteer work. If it is the first time you access the ITC eCampus platform, click on CREATE NEW ACCOUNT and follow the instructions.

Volunteer work measurement guide

The guide provides survey designers with the latest ILO tools and recommendations to produce statistics on volunteer work in line with the current international standards.

ILO Model question on volunteer work for Population and Housing Censuses

ILO Model question on volunteer work for Population and Housing Censuses

This model question is suitable for inclusion in a census form to capture participation in volunteer work, aligned with the latest standards adopted by the ICLS.

Resolution concerning statistics on work relationships

Adopted by the 20th ICLS (2018), the standards set by this resolution guide countries in updating, harmonizing and further developing their statistical programmes that include information on work relationships. Statistics on work relationships are concerned with: (a) the authority relationships between persons who work and the economic units in which or for which the work is performed; and (b) the economic risks that follow from the contractual or other conditions under which the work is performed. These statistics can relate to all forms of work, including own-use production work, employment, unpaid trainee work, volunteer work and other forms of work.

National practices in measuring volunteer work: A critical review

National practices in measuring volunteer work: A critical review

This report presents the results of a global review of national practices in measuring volunteer work, between 2007 and 2017, undertaken by the Statistics Department of the ILO. The review was conducted under the framework of the ILO-UN Volunteers (UNV) partnership established to promote and facilitate the regular measurement of volunteer work by the National Statistical Offices.

Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization

Adopted by the 19th ICLS (2013), this resolution sets standards for work statistics to guide countries in updating and integrating their existing statistical programmes in this field. It defines the statistical concept of work for reference purposes and provides operational concepts, definitions and guidelines for: (a) distinct subsets of work activities, referred to as forms of work; (b) related classifications of the population according to their labour force status and main form of work; (c) measures of labour underutilization.


In November 2017 ILO established a partnership with the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme to advance survey methods for producing statistics on volunteer work. Volunteers contribute their time and skills to help others, through organizations such as NGOs, or directly in their communities.

Between 2018 and 2021 the ILO and UNV will partner with interested national statistical offices to test a module on volunteer work suitable for attachment to national labour force surveys, release updated practical guidance, and support countries to include the module in their national LFS.

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