Leadership for Volunteering: The COVID-19 Experience


Disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have added significant strain to a host of human development challenges across the globe. These challenges attracted numerous innovative solutions from the volunteering community at all levels. Despite the vast experience that volunteer involving organizations (VIOs) have gained in the face of natural disasters, incidents of mass violence, and infectious disease outbreaks over many years, COVID-19 has exposed these organizations to a new and frightening set of realities on a global scale not previously experienced. How well volunteer effort responds to this pandemic is dependent on factors such as capacity, resourcing and relationships. In this context, national volunteering leadership organizations (VLOs) are an increasingly important asset in supporting and developing the global volunteer movement to meet current and future challenges. This new reality has raised several volunteer development and managerial questions about VLO interventions in the pandemic.

The research serves as a body of knowledge about the experience of VLOs in responding to the pandemic. It examines how COVID-19 has impacted the strategic leadership role of VLOs in advocacy, development and mobilization. It also considers what these findings means for them and the future of volunteering.


Key Findings

The evidence gathered from 70 respondents across 67 countries shows that across the globe the pandemic increased the complexity of the volunteering environment. On this basis we explore the implications for strategic leadership in VLOs that are navigating an unpredictable future.

Key Finding



COVID-19 highlighted the role of VLOs in creating an enabling environment for volunteering.

Key Finding


The Development Role of VLOs

COVID-19 opened up new opportunities and/or changed priorities for the capacity building work of VLOs.

Key Finding


Volunteer Mobilization

During COVID–19 VLOs continued and/or increased their support for volunteer mobilization.

Key Finding


The Strategic Role of VLOs in Response to COVID-19

COVID-19 produced a step change in volunteering and VLOs had to adapt strategically to deliver an effective response.

VLOs & the Future of Volunteering

Post COVID-19, VLOS must sustain and build their organizational resilience to be effective advocates for and supporters of volunteering as a catalyst for change in the world.

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Leadership for Volunteering:  The COVID-19 Experience

By Jacob Mwathi Mati, Cliff Allum and Helene Perold with Benjamin J Lough and Rebecca Tiessen