"Dance in harness" a snapshot of the Hungarian volunteer sub-sector illustrated in the studies and case studies of the Volunteering Review (2021-2023)

Anna Mária Bartal – László Dorner – Hajnalka Fényes – Réka Nagy – Éva Perpék

DOI: https://doi.org/10.53585/OnkSzem.2024.1.3-30


Volunteering as a social phenomenon is in a constant state of flux, and it is one of the most sensitive litmus papers of social and economic change. During the last four years, Hungarian society and economy had to face three major challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of the Russian-Ukrainian war, and an incipient economic crisis. These crises and their consequences - through their social and economic embeddedness - also impacted the Hungarian nonprofit sector and the volunteer sub-sector. Based on the studies and case studies published in the Volunteering Review between 2021 and 2023, the aim of our study was to review the situation of the Hungarian volunteer sub-sector in the face of the various crises and the responses of the civil nonprofit organisations employing volunteers. We also invstigated the general and concrete lessons learned from these crises in terms of the economic importance of volunteering, the importance of episodic volunteering, and the rise of online volunteering. Our analysis has shown that the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Hungarian volunteer sub-sector in 2020 as it had already been descending, and case studies show that the civil non-profit organisations employing volunteers found themselves in a disadvantaged position during the pandemic. Statistical data show that by 2022, the volunteer sub-sector had bounced back to a higher level in terms of the number of organisations, the number of hours worked by volunteers, and the estimated value of volunteer work. Among the organisations employing volunteers, the ones that were able to respond in a resilient manner in terms of service change, online migration, and episodic volunteering emerged as 'winners' from the crisis. In addition the Hungarian volunteer sub-sector is strained by internal structural and institutional challenges and a lack of resources, which have been exacerbated by the war and economic crisis. This is further compounded by the fact that the academic and public policy reputation of Hungarian nonprofit and volunteer research has declined significantly over the past decade, and – as a consequence – the availability of funding and other research resources has also been significantly reduced.

Keywords: voluntary sub-sector, volunteering, crisis phenomena, COVID-19 epidemic, episodic volunteering, online volunteering