Volunteering in the Netherlands: What to expect
We all want to make a positive impact on our local communities, even when we are living far away from our homes. Gabriel Rodriguez from the international volunteer-support organisation Volunteer The Hague has written this article for anyone who wants to know more about volunteering in the Netherlands - and how it may differ from your own country.
As expats in a foreign country, it can often be challenging to figure out the best way to serve our new communities. Many of us have to navigate cultural differences and learn to adapt to different mindsets when volunteering our time for a cause.
Volunteering prevalence in the Netherlands
Volunteer statistics in the Netherlands are hard to pin down because of the ever-changing landscape of project-based service organisations, but the statistics that are out there show that the Netherlands is one of the most volunteer-oriented countries both in Europe and around the world.
In 2021, the Central Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS) in the Netherlands put out a comprehensive report on volunteer work nationally. This report showed that an average of 49 percent of the Dutch population aged 15 years or older self-indicated that they had volunteered for a service organisation at least once a year in the period between 2012 - 2019. Much of this volunteer work took place in care, philosophical (i.e. religious and political), sports, and youth organisations as well as in schools.
The value of volunteering
Interestingly, a quarter of volunteers in the same survey indicated that their employers positively take the volunteering activities of their employees into account. For example, many employees indicated that they are able to volunteer during working hours, and actually many private corporations organise volunteer activities for their employees. This acts as a way to give back to local communities and to encourage team-building in the workplace.
Private businesses in the Netherlands also donate a large share of funds and materials for service organisations and volunteering activities.
Volunteering among expats
Crucially, however, the statistics cited above leave out the Netherlands’ expat population, which according to the CBS makes up approximately 2,5 million of the 17,6 million people currently living in the Netherlands. But having worked with local expat volunteers for nearly a decade, it is apparent that a large share of expats also engage in volunteer activities for their local communities. This is only possible because many service organisations in the Netherlands are internationally-minded and actively seek to recruit foreign volunteers - even those who have limited Dutch-language skills.
Dutch volunteering culture
What accounts for the high rate of volunteerism in the Netherlands? There is an undeniable part of Dutch cultural mentality that speaks to an altruistic awareness; this can be seen by the fact that the Netherlands is often ranked number one among European countries in the amount of donations to charitable causes.
However, according to Lucas Meijs, professor of Strategic Philanthropy at the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University, there is a deeper sociocultural reason for the high rate of volunteerism in the Netherlands. He says that Dutch people see volunteering as a team effort and an opportunity to build connections within a group. It's not just about doing work; it's about being part of a community.”
The team-oriented mentality in Dutch volunteer culture can be seen in the fact that volunteers must often interview for positions at service organisations, which can often surprise and confuse expats who are new to the country.
Professor Meijs offered insight into this unique aspect of Dutch volunteering culture: “The difference with the Netherlands is that the main purpose of the interview is to assess if volunteers fit within the team.” In fact, once a part of the team, volunteers become valuable members who are often allowed to take up their own projects and help steer the course of the organisation.
The team-oriented nature of Dutch volunteerism lines up nicely with some of the most important benefits of volunteering. In addition to helping to expand your resume and learn new skills (or grow your existing skill set), volunteering can also be a very important tool for expats to use to meet new people and expand their social networks. After all, moving to a new country can be a lonely and alienating experience without a support network.
Beneficial for expats
Dutch volunteerism can be so beneficial for internationals who have just come to the Netherlands. Once part of the team, internationals will have a support system in which to thrive and from there it is often possible to interact with a diverse network that can lead to even more connections. This offers tremendous growth potential for an individual if they have backing from a supportive environment of people.
If you want to get involved with volunteering in your local community, visit the Volunteer The Hague website. You can sign up for a free account and explore the hundreds of volunteer opportunities in the Netherlands that are especially suited for internationals.