The Volunteer Centers in Norway
article written by Ingelin Bergvall, Norges Friviligsentraler
In this article, you will learn about the volunteer centers in Norway, how they are organized and financed, and some key numbers for the volunteer sector.
In Norway, we have a strong willingness to contribute with volunteer work. The concept of “dugnadsånd” is a big part of the Norwegian culture, and it references the “cheerful willingness” to do volunteer work in the Norwegian population.
Norway has a relatively small population of 5,4 million people. In 2020 the amount of effort of volunteering work in Norway could fill about 142 000 full-time work positions. About 272,5 million hours were spent by volunteers contributing to different volunteer organizations. Around 55 % of the population over 15 years did some volunteer work in 2019. And the volunteer effort created values equalizing 7,8 billion euros in 2018. (SSBs satellite accounting for the voluntary sector 2020).
There are no exact numbers of how much of this volunteer work the centers generate, or exactly how many volunteers, but we roughly estimate that around 60 000 volunteers are connected to the volunteer centers, with an average of 120 volunteers per central.
The establishment of the volunteer centrals
The first volunteer center in Norway was established in 1991, as a result of a brainstorming project between the sitting government at the time, and the voluntary sector. The concept of the volunteer centers was, and is, one of several measures to stimulate more voluntary work within welfare production.
These goals were the foundation for the establishment of the volunteer centers:
- To find good methods for coordinating volunteer efforts in local communities.
- To find good methods for collaboration between organizations, municipalities, and others.
- To recruit more volunteers, and work to increase volunteerism in local communities.
The centers were first thought of as a project for three years, but a broad political coalition in the Norwegian Parliament safeguarded them, and the Parliament has continued to do so for 30 years. Soon we will have 500 volunteer centers in Norway, geographically spread over the entire country, and in almost every municipality.
This year (2022) we finally got a regulation that defines the center's purpose and sets the criteria for governmental funding. This has been a goal for NFS and the centers for quite some time. NFS is the interest organization and resource center for all Norwegian volunteer centers. Our motto is “meetings between people” and our vision is that we together create good and inclusive local communities.
NFS was founded in 2016 when the centers saw a need to organize, due to a weakening of government financing of the centers. As many as 97 % of the volunteer centers are members of NFS. The board of NFS is elected during the organization's congress every other year. Congress also decides NFS´ program of action, and consequently what the primary focus for the employees at NFS should be.
In the last years, the centers also have been organized in regional networks. Here they can meet to collaborate on activities or aid each other in writing applications for project funding, or exchange experiences relevant to the operation of a central. The network consists of the centers located in the different regions in Norway and is managed by one of the network-centers managers.
The operation of a central
Work model: The picture shows the work model of a volunteer central; who they cooperate with, what they create, and the overall goal, investment area, or national project which aligns with the goal of the activity.
Different from other countries that inspired the idea of the centers, in Norway, the volunteer centers have since their origin been focused on both running their own activities and services, with their own volunteers, and being a coordinating link between local needs for services and willing volunteers.
Over the years the coordinating function of the centers has increasingly been emphasized as important in political strategies for the volunteer centers and have been assigned important roles in the production of welfare through processes of co-production.
NFS´ definition of the volunteer centers is as follows: The volunteer centers are diverse social arenas, built on the principles of volunteering and local needs, maintained by employees in synergy with volunteers, teams, associations, businesses, and the municipality.”
Before the regulation was implemented, NFS has been operated with some standard recommendations for running a successful volunteer center. Most of these recommendations are now put into the regulation for how to qualify for governmental financing:
- The center has to have a manager in a 100 percent position as the main rule.
- There has to be a board consisting of relevant people and volunteer representatives who will help with the operation and strategy of the center.
- The center needs to allocate 40 % of the funding locally.
- The center needs to have access to suitable accommodations.
In addition, NFS recommends that the center write its own articles of association, have a collaboration agreement with the municipality, and focus on activities that are a supplement, not a replacement for public services.
Both the idealistic and the public sectors can establish and run a volunteer central, as long as it lives up to the mandate that the regulation defines. A little over half of the centers in Norway are publicly owned by the municipality in which it operates. The other half of the centers are owned by teams, associations, idealistic organizations, and foundations.
Financing of the volunteer centrals
The ministry of culture and equality administrates the main budget for the volunteer centers in Norway and the entire volunteer sector. The base foundation of the center's financing is that a center can get its share from the government budget if it can get local funding adding up to two-thirds of that sum.
These local funds can come from the municipality's budget in which the center is located, from the organization that is their owner, or from other forms of funding. The main point here is that to get local funding the center has to start a process of communication, collaboration, and often co-production in the local community. This is what makes for a successful center that creates good local communities.
NFS's main goal is to strengthen the unity, development, and quality of the volunteer centers. But the organization doesn't have any secure funding in the same way the centers have through our national budget. The membership income can only finance the role of the general secretary. So NFS is relying heavily on project funds from the different ministries in the government, to employ people to work towards our goals. The applications for the project funding focus on strengthening the centers in areas aligned with the governing goals.
Exemplified: In Norway, as in other countries, we have an increasingly elderly population. This group can both be new resources in the volunteer sector, but also the same group will need more welfare measures than the state can afford. So we have applied for project funding to strengthen the work done in the centers to recruit seniors and develop services for seniors. This is also a goal for the government.
NFS also has intention agreements with the directorate of health, the directorate for immigration and diversity, and the directorate for children, youth, and family affairs. The project funds we receive are based on these agreements. In the following picture, you can see how the different ministries and project funds directly employ the NFSs workforce.
In 2021 we applied for project funding for one competence advisor and one communications advisor, to strengthen these areas in both our and the center's operations. In short, we receive funding from these other ministries for our three investment/ focus areas:
1) The reform live your whole life, where the goal is to make the ever-increasing population of elderly find resources in themselves that can benefit the local community through volunteer work. Also, the goal is to develop activities within the voluntary sector that benefits this target group. We have one employee in NFS working with this.
2) “Every day” Integration - a Norwegian term that emphasizes the work done “every day” by private citizens and volunteers in local communities, to integrate immigrants. These funds are meant to help us, help the centers to stimulate volunteering and activities to facilitate for immigration and inclusion in local communities. NFS has two employees working in this field.
3) Our third investment area is The declaration of children's right to recreation and leisure. The funds here are meant to stimulate the centers to focus on activities and co-creation that benefits children in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 31. We have one employee working with the centers to achieve the goal of the declaration.
In summation, we can say that the network of volunteer centers in Norway is an esteemed institution in our voluntary sector. The regulation that came this year fortified the unique role of the centers in our local communities. The municipalities in Norway, our local democracies, and the local public sector are developing a new work model where they have an increasing focus on the co-creation of welfare measures. The volunteer center's coordinating role in developing volunteer measures for the good of the community will only increase in importance when more and more local governments adopt the new work model.
Our welfare state will be harder to finance in the future, due to the fact that our retired population will grow bigger than our working population. This will create difficulties in funding public welfare, and politicians are therefore positive to building the volunteer sector - through strategic cooperation, communication, and inclusion of the volunteer sector. The end goal is to ensure that we stimulate as much voluntary work as there are warm hands to lend, and distribute them where they are needed.
The role of NFS in the future will be to support the centers in this important task while making sure that the national and local government let the centers keep their autonomy, working based on the principles of volunteering, and is not forcibly made to solve welfare services that the public sector is responsible for.