The volunteering charity TimeBank has called on future governments to "stop reinventing the wheel" on volunteering.
In its election manifesto, published yesterday, the charity says there have been too many "ill-thought out initiatives calling for more people to volunteer without acknowledging the numbers that already do".
The manifesto says that volunteering is "consistently and systematically undervalued – by organisations, policy-makers and wider society", and it calls on the next government to promote the value of volunteering and encourage a climate in which it flourishes.
It says that government must recognise that volunteering is not free.
"Organisations invest substantial resources in volunteering – and this at a time when the voluntary sector is being called upon to do a great deal more with a great deal less," it says.
"The existing national volunteering infrastructure must be recognised and supported by government if it is to deliver its full potential."
The manifesto says that terms used to describe volunteering such as "active citizenship", "citizen service" or "community benefit work placement" have led to confusion and a perception that volunteering could be a compulsory activity.
"The government should clearly advocate that volunteering involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or communities," it says.
"It is freely given and not for financial gain, incentive or obligation. The principle of non-payment of volunteers is central to society’s understanding of volunteering."
Helen Walker, chief executive of TimeBank, said: "We want the new government to work much more closely with existing volunteering organisations to draw on their skills and experience, to promote the value of volunteering and encourage a climate in which it flourishes."