Volunteers are the lifeblood of the nonprofit community. Without someone to serve a meal, treat a sick person, or clean a stray animal’s cage, the vast majority of nonprofit organization would be unable to function. However, volunteers are unpaid people who seek in furthering the cause of an organization, although, they are not part of an organizations paid workforce and therefore are not motivated by its bureaucratic incentives (Ashcraft & Kedrowicz, 2002).The initial motivation for these and the many others acts preformed by the volunteer community is a motivation and desire to help those persons or those societal issues or causes that cannot help or resolve themselves. These individuals’ motivations are primarily rooted in unselfish giving, a term often referred to altruistic giving (Mowen & Sujan, 2005).
However, to the volunteer manager and the organizations that rely on volunteers, motivation is a finite resource that can easily be taken for granted. The challenge to the volunteer manager and the nonprofit organization is to try and understand what would inspire a person to volunteer and then keep coming back and donating their time and energy to an organization (Millette &Gagne, 2008). Because, when a person chooses to volunteer, they are exchanging their time for personal satisfaction over materialistic gratification (MacNeela , 2008; Mowen & Sujan, 2005).
Research into the motivation of what drives a person to volunteer to motivate has resulted in mixed results. There is no clear answer, as each volunteer is motivated by a different set of circumstances and personal agenda’s (Nassar-Mcmillan, S. C., Lambert, R. 2003) . Therefore , this literature review will discuss the common shared motivations of volunteers, the differences among volunteers as individuals and the factors that will influence the volunteer and methodologies for researching motivation. In doing so, the reader of this literature review will have a more developed knowledge base to understand that not all volunteers are created equal, and that by working to understand the volunteers external and internal motives, the volunteer manager will empower both the volunteer and the nonprofit organization.
Any nonprofit organization which suffers a high volunteer attrition rate will find itself in a challenging position where accomplishing the organization’s mission and goals will be difficult to accomplish (Tang, Morrow-Howell, & Hong, 2009). Despite this challenge, volunteer and nonprofit relationships are generally defined with high levels of ambiguity and uncertainty in the volunteer’s role within the organization ( Ashcraft & Kedrowicz, 2002). To the volunteer manager, understanding why a person volunteers and what his or her motivation allow’s the manager to better serve the volunteer and their organization, while conversely failing to understand these motivations can have a profound negative impact on organizational effectiveness. What motivates a person to volunteer? People volunteer in order to fulfill personal intrinsic or extrinsic personal needs (Ozorak, E. W., 2003, Celdrán, & Villar, 2007, Baytiyeh & Pfaffman, 2010 ). These needs are not monetary in nature, and instead feed into developing ones character. Researchers have uncovered a variety of factors that include but are not limited to the following motives:
1. Knowledge Sharing- These persons are volunteering in an effort to take advantage of an opportunity to increase their self knowledge. By these persons volunteering with an organization they gain or to enhance certain personal skill sets and experience levels. (Liu & Fang, 2010, Baytiyeh & Pfaffman, 2010 ). Studies have found that many young people’s motivation to volunteer is employment related as these persons work to enhance their skill sets ( Shields, 2009). While, conversely, studies have found the interest among older volunteers is a desire to share their personal knowledge and keep themselves mentally active within societies frameworks (Sloane, et. al., 2008).
2. Mandatory volunteering- A rising number of educational establishments are implementing mandatory volunteering, often referred to as marginal volunteering or service contracts. This mandatory philosophy is embraced as opposed to inspiring the voluntary service among their student populations. Some institutions have gone as far to make volunteering a requirement for graduation. Here the volunteer is under some form of external coercion to perform within the volunteer community ( Stebbins, 2009; Schondel & Boehm, 2000) . Researchers have also found a correlation among college students with the highest GPA’s and their individual rates of volunteering were higher than those with lower GPA’s (Shields, 2009). Further research needs to be done among these student volunteers to determine if they felt an obligation towards volunteering as part of their collegiate experience and how the higher GPA relates to their desire to volunteers However, the predictable outcome of these marginal volunteers is they are less likely to continue their volunteer efforts once the external pressure to volunteer has been lifted (Stebbins, 2009).
3. Organizational Commitment- The experience and pride of being a member and belonging to the volunteer organization and the respect derived from being a member of the volunteer organization are the elementary motivations that encourage long term commitment among the volunteer staff ( Boezman & Ellemers,2008; Chacón, Vecina, & Davila , 2007).
While multiple factors will influence the volunteer to join and participate, for the volunteer manager, it is important to understand the underlying motivational factors that influence a volunteer and why they are attracted to a certain organization and its mission. Understanding these motivations will assist in future recruitment and retention and allow for more effective use of the volunteer’s efforts during their duration of service to the nonprofit organization.
The definitions of volunteering and volunteer have seen their definitions being redefined in recent years as the current use of the terms has shifted from the professional definitions and use of the terms ( Stebbins, 2009). With the evolution of the terminology defining volunteers changing, volunteers are being redefined into categories of volunteers who can be defined as either serving in a “traditional volunteering” model or a “modern volunteering” model (Rehberg, 2005).
1. “Traditional volunteering”- The traditional volunteer’s concept centers on religious or membership centered involvement, with a close focus on the volunteer’s immediate community (Rehberg, 2005). The motivation of the volunteer is based on an altruistic mindset. In general, research has found that among older volunteers they are motivated by social responsibility and a desire to give back service to their immediate community ( Shields, 2009). Not surprisingly, research has found that churches are the foremost source of volunteers who fall within this definition (Ozorak, E. W., 2003) .
2. “Modern volunteering”- The modern volunteering model represents another mindset among its practitioners. Its practitioners while no less important than the traditional volunteers, have the ability to choose among a variety of projects that do not affect their immediate communities and choose to engage in projects that have a direct quantifiable return on their investment of time and energy (Rehberg, 2005). Simply put, these volunteers are looking for a level recognition and often are comprised of the younger volunteer population ( Shields, 2009; Schondel & Boehm, 2000 ). Two areas of volunteering that provide an opportunity to volunteer in this capacity and that have seen a rise in popularity is in “volunteer tourism” and “Participatory Environmental Research Tourism”, which has been made more accessible due to the internet and easy access to international travel (Ooi & Laing, 2009; Ellis, 2003).Furthermore, United States tax laws allow such foreign travel to be tax deductible which provides for a unique method to combine foreign travel with service, further enticing the volunteer’s participation (Ellis, 2003).
Age and gender variables in motivation
As the first wave of the 77 million baby boomers enter into retirement, nonprofit organizations are presented the opportunity to harness an amazing resource of personnel. Statistics have demonstrated that those persons that are age 65 and older will contribute an average of 104 hours of time versus the median of 52 hours annually for all other age groups combined ( Tang, Morrow-Howell, & Hong, 2009). A study among retiring physicians found interest in volunteering as high as 43% among study participants ( Sloane, et. al., 2008). Further research among older volunteers has found that those who are volunteering are doing so with the desire to interact with other like minded persons in a common social/work environment (Nassar-Mcmillan & Lambert, 2003) . These efforts among the older population have given rise to the terminology of Productive aging and Successful aging ( Celdrán, & Villar, 2007).
In contrast, studies have found that young volunteers are not particularly loyal to organizations; young volunteers tend to be particular as to what function they will perform for the nonprofit organization and they expect a return on their investment of time and energy ( Rehberg, 2005; Shields, 2009). In addition, these younger volunteers tend to focus on three motivational factors in their selection of who and what cause they will volunteer and these include; personal enjoyment, importance of the task and strong leadership within the volunteer organization. ( Schondel & Boehm, 2000). Gender appears to have an influence on volunteering aswomen have a tendency to be involved in nurturing and caring volunteer roles, while men tend to serve in more masculine volunteer roles (Ozorak, 2003) .
Limitations of motivation
While studies have demonstrated that the positive effects of volunteering among participants include better physical health, improved well being and increased longevity and overall personal satisfaction (Pillemer, et. al., 2009; Chacón, Vecina, & Davila , 2007) . There are components of volunteering that the volunteer manager needs to be aware of in regards to maintaining a strong and viable volunteer workforce. One area of concern is volunteer “burnout”. Currently defined as a period of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion brought on by exposure to high emotional demand. “Burnout” while typically assigned to professional employees, who have lost interest in their work, can and is, being applied to the volunteer worker. Multiple studies have been completed, identifying and discussing volunteer burnout, with the most common end result being the loss of the volunteer from the host organization(Pilar, Jime´nez, & Hidalgo, 2010). This loss of volunteers has been found to be as high as 35 – 40% among first year volunteers (Chacón, Vecina, & Davila , 2007). Further research needs to be done in the attrition rates of first year volunteers. Can the attrition rate be this high from “burnout” or our other mitigating factors causing this rapid loss of volunteers?
Another area requiring further research is in international volunteering and its effects on host communities. While studies of volunteers who participate in international or tourism volunteering repeatedly show the participants volunteered for altruistic motives and there is no suspicion of the participant intentions ( Rehberg, 2005; Ooi & Laing, 2009). Recent research has begun to explore the negative aspects of volunteer tourism on the host country and communities and it has been argued that volunteer tourism can enforce “a form of neo-colonialism or imperialism” with respect to developing nations (Raymond & Hall, 2008).
Legal liability and the impact on both the organization and the volunteer should be addressed. While legal protections do exist in the form of some federal and state laws, such as the Federal Volunteer Protection Act of 1997. Within the professional positions, such as the medical profession, a concern over liability is a major issue among participants and must be addressed by the nonprofit organization ( Sloane, et. al., 2008).
Furthermore, the economic recession that the United States is currently undergoing could have far ranging impacts on volunteer staff. Recent studies have demonstrated a decline in volunteering among women and retirees, two groups of personnel who are generally known for donating their time and energy (Garland, Myers, & Wolfer 2008) .
What motivates a person to willingly surrender his or her time, energy and resources to help someone they do not know or a cause that he believes? Studies have found an estimated 55% of the American population volunteers for some amount of time each year (Mowen & Sujan, 2005). While research into initial motivational factors for volunteering exists; these studies have been criticized as concentrating on particular segments of society and thus limiting their research into certain perspectives and, or group of persons (Yeung, 2004). Conversely, studies into long term volunteer motivational factors have had little research (Millette &Gagne, 2008). Researchers of volunteer motivations have applied economical, organizational behaviorism and marketing perspectives of human behavior to their research in attempts to define the volunteer’s motives (Mowen & Sujan, 2005). Some of the methods of surveying motivation include, but are not limited to;
1. Self determination theory- Each individual is in possession of different motivations which will underlie human behavior (Millette &Gagne, 2008).
2. Volunteer process model- The examination of individuals motivations in three phases; why become involved, the experience of volunteering and the consequences of volunteering (MacNeela, 2008).
3. Phenomenological Analysis- Examination of the volunteer motivation from their personal experiences and what motivates them to remain committed to an organization( Yeung, 2004).
4. Original datasets and testing- Researcher’s created testing methodologies that do not follow established procedures for the intent of examining certain data sets and uncovering correlating factors within the defined research data(Antoni, 2009).
While the methods and the procedures of surveying differ, the objectives remain the same. For the volunteer manager the need to understand the volunteer is as critical as understanding the organization. Survey’s both formal and informal can provide the needed data for the manager to understand what is occurring within the volunteers motivations. Failing to undertake these surveys and understanding the motivations of the volunteers can result to a loss to both the volunteer and organization.
Volunteering is an engaged avocation that a person undertakes as thoughtfully as they would their vocation. Volunteering is a thought out self chosen activity where the volunteer has an expectation of some personal motivations and an expectation of some degree of gratification for their efforts. In the event the volunteer fails to achieve this, the volunteer can quit at will (Boezman, & Ellemers, 2008). Under these circumstances the volunteer manager and the nonprofit organization have a responsibility to meet these volunteer objectives in exchange for the volunteer’s service. Mangers need to possess an accurate understanding of their volunteer’s motives to work. Through the use of volunteer surveys, both formal and informal will enable the nonprofit organization to better serve the volunteer in meeting their objectives, who will in turn meeting their goals, will more successfully serve the nonprofit organization. However, to fully engage and meet these expectations of the volunteer, the nonprofit organization needs to develop a working approach to understand that not all volunteers are created equal or serve for the same purpose.
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