Community and voluntary groups in NZ

Created: July 23, 2013 at 9:21 AM | Updated: August 10, 2020 | By Community Resource Kit


In 2018 there were around 115,770 non-government organisations (NGOs) in New Zealand, from registered incorporated societies and charitable trusts to informal groups. 45 percent are engaged in arts, cultural or sporting activity, followed by social services (12 percent), religion (9 percent), and development and housing (8 percent).

The majority of New Zealand non-profit organisations rely heavily  on volunteer labour. In 2013 volunteers contributed an estimated 158 hours of formal unpaid work for not for profits in New Zealand. By 2018 this had increased to an estimated 159 million hours of voluntary work.  The same year, the number of salary and wage earners in NGOs was 150,630 staff.

For the size of its population, New Zealand has one of the largest non-profit sectors in the world representing $NZ18.11 billion annually. (Statistics NZ 2020)

Source:  Statistics New Zealand (2020). Non-profit institutions satellite account: 2018. 

An infographic of the contribution of non-profit institutions can be found here.

Words Used

Community groups or NGOs (non-governmental organisations), not-for-profit or non-profit organisations can be sports clubs, social service organisations, social clubs, marae committees, environmental lobby groups and charitable trusts.

Community groups have five distinguishing features:

  • they have some organisational structure
  • they are non-profit
  • they are independent of government, although they might get funds from government
  • they are self-governing, and
  • they are non-compulsory.

Terms such as government, private, community and voluntary and household might not align with the kin-based structures of whānau, hapu and iwi or possibly to other ethnic groups in New Zealand.

Culture and Values

Community sector organisations have some distinguishing characteristics.

Community groups almost always:

  • are values-focused and mission-focused with core beliefs reflected in their purpose, programmes and activities
  • take into account ambiguous ownership with multiple interest groups and stake-holders
  • are voluntary
  • have group values consistent with the values of the individuals within the group
  • are indirectly funded, and
  • are interdependent.

Community groups and organisations also:

  • are often flexible and innovative
  • promote volunteer citizen participation
  • contribute to building strong communities, and
  • meet needs not met by government.

Historical background

Society in pre-European New Zealand was organised in well-defined structures of whānau and hapū. Participation by Māori, in Māori or iwi-based organisations, is not generally seen as a voluntary activity. It is a manifestation of a set of cultural obligations that are required to maintain cultural values and reflect priorities established at a group level.

European society maintained a distinction between government, private (or market), community and household sectors. European settlement brought church-related community organisations, including in the late 19th century, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (1885), which lobbied for women's suffrage. National welfare, health and disability organisations founded at this time include The Jubilee Institute for the Blind (now the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind), and the Plunket Society. These organisations entered into funding arrangements with government as separate institutions.

Voluntary welfare services continued to advocate for and provide services to the people they represented, funded by a mix of private donations, fundraising activities and government subsidies.  The late 1930s to the early 1980s saw social and workplace reform and a broadening of New Zealand's social security system. Voluntary organisations continued to complement government services as government provided health and welfare services. Most state funding for community groups was done through a system of grants and subsidies not usually attached to specific services.

A number of prominent social support organisations, such as the New Zealand Playcentre Federation, Family Planning, Crippled Children Society (later CCS Disability Action), Intellectually Handicapped Children's Parents' Association (later IHC New Zealand) and the Cancer Society of New Zealand were established and received the bulk of government funding for community groups. In the late 20th century new local community groups and national organisations included a range of women's groups, providing support and consciousness-raising as well as some services. Other political and activist groups focussed on the environment, nuclear testing, apartheid and sporting tours, domestic racism and sexism.

At a national level, the New Zealand Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations (NZFVWO) was established in 1969 and the New Zealand Council of Social Services (NZCOSS) in 1975. Both organisations provided national leadership on common issues while retaining and extending links to local networks of community organisations involved in a wide range of social service provision and advocacy.

Māori community organisations

A number of cross-iwi movements, most aiming to promote Māori identity, were developed in response to European colonisation. These groups included Māori clubs, councils, welfare committees and wardens, youth and church groups. The Māori Women's Welfare League was established at a national level in 1951 and has been a significant community organisation ever since. The Māori Community Development Act 1962 established a range of Māori associations - the New Zealand Māori Council, district Māori councils, Māori committees and Māori wardens, statutory organisations with some delegated statutory powers, making a significant contribution to the Māori community sector.


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