25 June 2010

American Volunteerism Series: Motivations

The American Volunteerism Series sets out to describe and understand the ways and the motivations for volunteers in America.  This will remain American-centric because of not wanting to generalize about other Western nations that I do not have direct experience.  Comments and additions are welcome.  I will make updates to posts based on comments.  In the second part of the series, I will examine the motivations for volunteering.  The goal will be to identify what gives people the urge to volunteer.

Why Volunteer?

  1. You have no choice (mandatory).
    • Whether it is because of a plea bargain or a school assignments, mandatory community service has become a way to punish an individual and/or foster a feeling of connection to the greater community.  Maybe a school will allow for its students to choose what kinds of volunteering they want to do, but the fact is that the main cause for the action is because of a graduation requirement.  Much like an avid reader would consume books at a high rate, the fact that he or she has to read something for class changes the way the book is viewed and in turn the experience of reading the book.
  2. It’ll look good on your resume (practical).
    • Let’s face it, employers and schools like to see that you have done some sort of sustained volunteering.  It is one factor, but something that can make a resume just a little bit better.  Volunteering tells an employer that an applicant is willing to go that extra mile and do more than (s)he is asked.  Is it mandatory?  Not really.  There is nothing that is making a person go out and volunteer on their own time, but it sure would help things out…
  3. It feels so good.
    • It might not be a major motivation, but it is a part of what gets some people to volunteer.  In doing interviews and speaking with other volunteers, one thing that almost always seems to come through is the gratification that is felt from doing work or service that creates a sense of fulfillment.  It is likely that many people would not (understandably) volunteer if they left with a sense of dejection and disappointment every day.  It is possible that this is a taught or learned feeling.  Christmas tells us that it is better to give than to receive (but who honestly does not like the receiving part to a certain extent?).  I see this extended towards volunteering.  There is no greater gift that of one self if we are to start with the idea of it being better to give.  We take joy in seeing people happy because of our actions and volunteering provides a way this can be accomplished (without spending a dime!).
  4. Morals
    • The Bible is oh so full of times where it speaks to the value of giving and tending to the needy.  Open to the New Testament, read a few pages and I am sure you will come across at least one example of this.  In some ways this motivation can be related to mandatory.  Individuals are taught and told to go and participate in acts of charity.  Implications of a saved sole can be made in explicit or implicit manners, but it is still not mandatory.  There is choice.  A person has to listen to a sermon and then decide how he or she would like act.  This covers a large area because someone might volunteer because she feels that it is the only way to reach salvation.  Another will do it because it is the morally right thing to do and he volunteers out of a sense of what is just.  In fact, the morality does not even have to come from a faith.  The connection is the belief that volunteering is just.
  5. Social (everyone else is doing it)
    • I knew people in High School and College who volunteered because of the group of people who were already involved with the program.  They signed up because of friends who were already doing it or wanted to meet new people.  When new to a place, joining clubs and organizations is a natural way to meet people with similar interests.  So, if you like gardening you might volunteer in a park clean up program.  It is possible that the reason for volunteering is not to clean up a park or improve the community, but to meet people who like the outdoors and might also be interested in planting tomatoes each year.  For the younger set, there is a bit of peer pressure that can go into it.  Maybe peer pressure is too negative for volunteering, but if friends or people a tween is hoping to associate with are doing an activity he will be sure to take part.
  6. Save the ___________
    • A few variants can be found here, but the basic idea is the motivation to save a noun of choice.  Some people want to save the planet, so they volunteer in order to do that.  Another example are drives for disease and individuals.  This can often be a strong motivator for young people.  A need is matched with a a task.  Volunteers can provide the labor to accomplish the need.
  7. You tell me!
    • Have any ideas other than mine as to what motivates us to volunteer?  Post them in the comments and I will be sure to add them for next week when examining further the motivations and what they can mean when actually volunteering.