The service, started this summer after the abolition of the old conscription system, now has more than 21,000 members, an increase of 4,000 since July. But a new investigation shows the organization has a long way to go before it is viewed as an attractive option for potential volunteers.
Exact numbers of how many available volunteer places have been filled by BFD members are not yet available. But it is clear that many young people continue to prefer more established opportunities – such as year-long volunteer programmes sponsored by individual states – because they offer more benefits and have better reputations.
Under many of the more established programmes, placements are determined more quickly and participants occasionally enjoy perks, like discounts at cinemas and swimming pools, that BFD participants don't.
Participation in the BFD scheme varies wildly by state. While Bavarian charities say almost all their volunteer spots have been filled, the BFD has barely begun placing people in Hesse.
But non-profit groups say that they are seeing more volunteers coming on board after the BFD ramped up its advertising and outreach campaigns.
Paul Herholt, of the Red Cross in Schleswig-Holstein, said the group has received more potential volunteers after a “problematic start.”
The Johanniter Unfallhilfe organization, which provides ambulance services, also said recruitment was improving, though it added that poor planning by the government and unclear volunteer contract terms have hampered recruiting.
Nationwide, there are 230 federal volunteers for Johanniter Unfallhilfe, in comparison to the 910 it used to have under the compulsory scheme.
Most non-profit groups agreed the new programme has not adequately replaced the Zivildienst system and has led to large gaps.