The year 2011 was declared the ‘European Year of Volunteering’ to recognise the contribution volunteers make to society. Such cross-national events reflect the high profile of volunteering and political imperatives to promote it. The purpose of this review is to provide a comprehensive review of current knowledge (articles published between 2005 and 2011) regarding the role of volunteering in improving older people's quality of life (QoL) and to identify areas requiring further research. Volunteering was defined as an activity that is freely chosen, does not involve remuneration and helps or benefits those beyond an individual's immediate family. Our search identified 22 studies and 5 review articles that addressed the benefits of volunteering on older people's quality of life. Most of the research had been conducted in the United States, Canada and Australia using data from longitudinal studies. The majority of the studies concluded that there is a positive association between older people's quality of life and engagement in volunteering. Due to the study designs and the heterogeneity of the research, causality is difficult to demonstrate and the knowledge the studies bring to the subject is variable. This review shows that volunteering may help to maintain and possibly improve some older adults’ quality of life. However, there are still major gaps in our understanding of who actually benefits, the social and cultural context of volunteering and its role in reducing health and social inequalities.