Taking part in an anti-war march is just as valuable as serving as a school governor, according to the NCVO.
A new report on active citizenship by the umbrella body said government should respect the autonomy of civil society activity.
The report argued civil activism is important in its own right, whether it leads to political engagement or not.
Speaking at the launch of Civil Renewal and Active Citizenship, co-author Karl Wilding said the Government wanted to encourage civic participation, such as volunteering as a school governor or on a local strategic partnership. But civil participation "not directly related to the aims of the state", such as participation in anti-war marches, was in danger of being overlooked.
One respondent to an NCVO survey described active citizenship as "not just about volunteering and being nice".
The report has highlighted concerns that the Government has an "instrumentalist" view of the sector and only a narrow interest in its potential role in delivering public services.
It has called for a "broad agenda" for civil renewal: "Strengthening civil society must be an end in itself."
But Wilding added that voluntary organisations had identified some internal barriers to contributing to civil renewal. These included "negative aspects of professionalisation and performance management", and the risk-averse nature of some organisations.