Volunteering article

Volunteer Work in Care Services: Prevalence, Forms, Interaction with Staff, and Future Potential


Project Summary

The Volunteer Project was carried out between 2013 and 2018. The primary objective of the project was to gather knowledge about voluntary, unpaid contributions within Norwegian municipal care services. The research focused on examining the prevalence, forms, collaboration, and future potential of volunteer work. The study also encompassed informal care provided to individuals outside one's own household or family and care for close family members.


In 2014, we collected nationally representative population data concerning volunteer work within the care sector. In 2015, we conducted a survey of volunteer activities in nursing homes and home care services in a representative sample of 50 municipalities. In 2016, we conducted qualitative interviews with 24 individuals involved in coordinating volunteer activities in nursing homes and home-based services. Over several years, a qualitative study on informal care gathered data on nine elderly service recipients, focusing on the interaction between relatives and personnel in municipal care services.


The population study revealed that in 2014, only 4.4 percent of the population engaged in voluntary activities in the field of care. Additionally, 20.1 percent provided help or care to family or friends with special care needs. When converted to full-time equivalents, this corresponded to 8,500 full-time equivalent volunteer positions and 153,000 full-time equivalent positions from informal caregivers. Women were more likely to contribute to care work than men, and participation in voluntary care work was most common among the elderly.

The municipal survey showed that 83 percent of the units had one or more activities involving volunteer work. Seventy-nine percent included cultural or social activities, 29 percent involved exercise or physical activities, 27 percent provided practical help or transportation, while a smaller percentage included other activities. In terms of hours, cultural and social activities accounted for three-quarters of the volunteer activities. Volunteer activities were more widespread in nursing homes than in home care services; only 7 percent of nursing homes reported having no volunteer activities, while the number was 30 percent for home care services.

Interviews with representatives from volunteer organizations and municipal care services revealed that the effective use of volunteers was hampered by coordination challenges between volunteers and professionals. Care services often formulated practical and professional requirements for volunteer activities and wanted to maintain oversight of the volunteers' contributions, attendance, competence, and suitability. Some activities required coordination, resulting in friction due to unclear divisions of labor, increased workload for staff, or poor communication between staff and volunteers. Clarifying expectations was considered important for retaining volunteers.

We also found that even though contact information for the nearest relatives was recorded, there were few established routines for contact and collaboration with relatives, unless they or the service recipient initiated it, or the care recipient lacked decision-making capacity. The legislation aims to protect the autonomy and self-determination of service recipients and shield families from responsibility. However, these barriers could result in contact between services and service recipients being established only when a problem had arisen. Good working relationships occurred more frequently when the parties were familiar with and trusted each other. The study showed that staff, in general, desired more contact with relatives, without implying that they wanted relatives to take on more practical caregiving tasks. Informal helpers, in general, desired more information, both about the service offerings and observations and assessments from staff.


Andfossen, N. B. (2020) Co-production between long-term care units and voluntary organizations in Norwegian municipalities: a theoretical discussion and empirical analysis. Primary Health Care Research and Development 2020 (1463-4236) Vol. 21, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1463423620000341

Skinner, M. S., Lorentzen, H., Tingvold, L., Sortland, O. E., Andfossen, N. B. & Jegermalm, M. (2020). Volunteers and informal carers’ contributions and collaboration with staff in Norwegian long-term care. Journal of Aging and Social Policy, 1-26. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/08959420.2020.1745988

Sortland, O. (2020). Allocation of Gifts and Tasks. A Praxeological Study of Help and Exchange Practices among Older People with Assistance Needs, Families, and Staff in Municipal Elderly Care (PhD), University of Bergen, Bergen.

Andfossen, N. B. (2019). Different Types of Volunteers in Care Services – Coordinated Efforts or Diverse Challenges? Journal of Welfare Research, 22(1), 25-42. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18261/issn.2464-3076-2019-01-02

Lorentzen, H. & Skinner, M. S. (2019). Volunteers in the Care Sector – Opportunities and Barriers. Journal of Welfare Research, 22(1), 4-24. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18261/issn.2464-3076-2019-01-01

Tingvold, L. & Skinner, M. S. (2019). Challenges in the coordination of voluntary activities in long-term care services. International Journal of Care and Caring, 3(3), 339-358. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1332/239788219X15473078841850

Jegermalm, M., Hermansen, J. & Fladmoe, A. (2018). Beyond voluntary organizations and the welfare state: Patterns of informal helping in the Scandinavian countries. In L. S. Henriksen, K. Strømsnes & L. Svedberg (Eds.), Civic Engagement in Scandinavia: Volunteering, Informal Help, and Giving in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (pp. 95-11). Cham: Springer.

Lorentzen, H. & Tingvold, L. (2018). Volunteer Efforts: Barriers in the Care Sector. Journal of Care Research, 4(2), 120-131. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18261/ISSN.2387-5984-2018-02-08

Skinner, M. S. (2018). Volunteer Activities in Care Services: Scope, Types, and Organization. Journal of Care Research, 4(2), 184-185. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18261/ISSN.2387-5984-2018-02-16

Skinner, M. S., Sogstad, M. K. R. & Tingvold, L. (2018). Voluntary Work in the Norwegian Long-Term Care Sector: Complementing or Substituting Formal Services? European Journal of Social Work, 22(6), 999-1011. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13691457.2018.1462767

Tingvold, L. & Olsvold, N. (2018). Not Just "Sweet Old Ladies" – Challenges in Volunteer Work in the Municipal Long-Term Care Services. Nordic Journal of Social Research, 9, 31-47. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7577/njsr.2174

Andfossen, N. B. (2016). The potential for collaborative innovation between public services and volunteers in the long-term care sector. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 21(3), 1-21.

Andfossen, N. B. & Skinner, M. S. (2016). Volunteer Efforts in the Care Sector. Journal of Care Research, 2(1), 59.


Contact Person

Marianne Sundlisæter Skinner, Associate Professor

Centre for Care Research, East

Phone: 61135430

Email: marianne.skinner@ntnu.no



Norwegian Research Council


Reference Group:

Bjørg Dale, Professor, Centre for Care Research, South Torunn Hamran, Professor, Centre for Care Research, North Ingela Enmarker, Professor, Centre for Care Research, Central Frode Fadnes Jacobsen, Professor, Centre for Care Research, West Aud Obstfelder, Professor, Centre for Care Research, East