Friday 30 September 2016

What Motivates you to volunteer?

[This post appeared on Linkedin on 18 October 2016]

A post by Mandy Turner, an Australian Public Servant, fulltime student, volunteer at a variety of associations, and advocate of diversity and inclusion.

Do you volunteer your time, skills, and resources to assist others either in an informal ad hoc way or via a more formalised group or association? Have you stopped to think what motivates you to do so? I volunteer in both informal ad hoc capacities as well as in a more formal framework in associations. I have reflected on why I volunteer and found I do so for several reasons. As part of my reflection I decided to read research journal articles to find out more about volunteering motivators.
According to an article, written over 38 years ago, people volunteer for a psychological pay off. The person expects to receive something in return for contributing as a volunteer (Anderson and Moore, 1978). They may for example expect to develop skills, meet new people, obtain a career advantage, or to feel a sense of self-worth as they have done something to help others.  
Cary and Snyder (1999) found six main functions served by volunteering which equate with the findings of Anderson and Moore (1978). The six functions were listed as values, understanding, enhancement, career, social and protective. A person may volunteer because they feel it is important to help others or to participate in their community. Some volunteers may be motivated to understand more about their community or learn through hands-on experience. Others may volunteer as they feel the work will develop or enhance them as a person and help them to feel better about themselves.  Some people may volunteer as it they feel it will assist them to gain the career or promotion they desire. People may volunteer for social reasons, they may wish to network with people who share common goals or gain new friends. Lastly people may volunteer to help protect themselves by reducing their own negative feelings or to have temporary escape from their own problems (Cary and Snyder, 1999).
More recent research groups these motivations into two main areas, whereby people volunteer because of a symbolic sociological reason and/or a functional psychological reason (Wilson, 2000). A sociologic motivation may inspire people with strong values and beliefs to give their time and resources free to assist others, whereas a functional psychological motivation relates to a person’s psychological needs being met by volunteering.
A study by Thoits and Hewitt (2001) found that volunteering contributes to improved well-being including better self-esteem, psychological health, and happiness. Given the assertions of Anderson and Moore (1978) that people volunteer for a psychological pay off are these factors discussed by Thoits and Hewitt (2001) also motivators to volunteer or are they serendipitous byproducts of volunteering and not part of the initiating motivators?
I volunteer in a variety of areas in an informal manner and also in more formalised positions. I volunteer in areas that I firmly believe in; in associations and for causes that I feel give value to the community. I am motivated by a desire to give back to the community, to use my skills, to meet with like-minded people, and to have fun in doing so! The serendipitous byproduct of volunteering for me is that I have met people who have become friends, I have developed as a person, improved my by default low self esteem and learned new skills. I also have had some amazing opportunities because of being a volunteer that I would not normally have had.
Do your motivations for volunteering equate to any or all of these? Do you have different views on what motivates you to volunteer? What are your experiences with volunteering?
Anderson, J. C., & Moore, L. F. (1978). The motivation to volunteer.Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly7(3), 120-129.
Clary, E. G., & Snyder, M. (1999). The motivations to volunteer theoretical and practical considerations. Current directions in psychological science,8(5), 156-159.
Thoits, P. A., & Hewitt, L. N. (2001). Volunteer work and well-being. Journal of health and social behavior, 115-131.
Wilson, J. (2000). Volunteering. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 215-40.

 This post has been created by Amanda-Jane Turner on behalf of AWSN. 

(c) AWSN 2016