Why Do Volunteers Volunteer?
A few years ago, psychologists began to wonder why some people liked to volunteer, and others didn't. They also wondered what this meant for volunteer-based organizations such as ours. So they carried out studies, interviewing many thousands of volunteers and non-volunteers. This is what they discovered:-
People volunteer for the following reasons (in decending order of importance):
1. Values: a belief in the importance of helping others.
2. Reciprocity: a belief that ‘what goes around comes around’ – that is, that helping others also helps themselves.
3. Recognition: a desire to be recognised for their skills and contribution.
4. Understanding: a desire to learn more about the world through their volunteering experience – or to exercise skills that are unused.
5. Self-Esteem: a desire to increase their own feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.
6. Reactivity: a need to ‘heal’ and address their own past or current issues.
7. Social: a desire to conform to normative influences of significant others (e.g. friends or family). That is, a desire to ‘fit in’ with the expectations of friends etc.
8. Protective: a desire to reduce negative feelings about themselves, e.g. guilt – or to address personal problems.
9. Social Interaction: a desire to build social networks and to enjoy working with others.
10. Career Development: a desire to make useful career connections, and/or gain useful skills and experience with a view to future employment.
These are the ten top motivations, and on average, they apply in this order. That is, most people (but not everybody!) volunteer primarily for the first reason – namely, because they believe helping others is important. Most also volunteer for other reasons as well, but these other reasons are of lesser importance.
Overall, the first three reasons dominate in the thinking of most volunteers: they want to know that the volunteer work that they are doing or thinking of doing is truly worthwhile; that it will be rewarded in some way (e.g. learning, making friends, etc); and that it is important, and that their efforts are/will be highly valued. All our publicity to volunteers (potential and current) should focus on these three issues. Plus, of course, we have to make sure that the promised rewards are actually delivered.
(The importance of this ranking is as follows: in ‘bulk publicity’ – e.g. publicity to 'everyone' - posters and mass emails – we should try to mention as many different benefits as possible. When talking to just one volunteer, we need to talk about their personal No. One issue, whatever it may be. For these people, this list can be useful in helping to identify their main reason for volunteering.)
By contrast, what about non-volunteers? Their key reasons for not volunteering are:
1. Doubts about whether the volunteer task is really worthwhile; and
2. Doubts as to whether they have enough time to do it – which usually translates as: will the job take up more time than as advertised, or, will the job tie me down too much.Accordingly, publicity to potential volunteers should stress the importance of the job, and either the the flexibility as to time, or that time demands will not be exceeded.
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