This article looks at the social and economic benefits of volunteering and at how governments can support it. First, four core characteristics of volunteering are defined, and on this basis four broad types of volunteering are identified: mutual aid, philanthropy, participation and advocacy. The main benefits of volunteering are then enumerated: it contributes to the national economy, helps to create a stable, cohesive society and brings personal benefits to the volunteers themselves. Volunteering currently faces challenges from economic retrenchment and adverse demographic trends - but advances in IT and the growing number of older people represent promising opportunities. Governments can help to support volunteering by recognising its contribution, by creating a favourable legal and fiscal environment and by funding its infrastructure and promoting it through national campaigns.