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Introducing the voluntary sector
Introducing the voluntary sector

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4.1 Making sense of reasons for volunteering

Surveys are frequently carried out to find out why people volunteer. If you volunteer, you might have been asked why you volunteer, perhaps at an interview or on an application form. Theorists use this data to develop models of volunteering, and policy makers use it to inform initiatives to encourage more volunteering.

Box 1 outlines three perspectives on volunteering, which Rochester et al. suggest can be used to understand why people volunteer.

Box 1 Perspectives on volunteering

Volunteering as service: this is perhaps the dominant perspective, where volunteering is seen as an altruistic act, i.e., it is the ‘gift’ of a person’s time (similar to the gift of money as in philanthropic acts). People volunteer in order to help others in need. This type of volunteering is most common in social welfare and in large, formal organisations such as charities or hospitals. Volunteers are frequently managed in the same way as paid staff, and they are recruited and trained for specific roles.

Civil society/activist: in this perspective, motivation is based on self-help and mutual aid and people working together to meet common needs. Volunteers may work in small, informal self-help groups that may not have any paid staff. Volunteers may fulfil several roles including leadership as well as front-line work. They are not necessarily recruited for a specific activity: their role tends to evolve and develop over time. Volunteers also get involved with bigger campaigning organisations such as Greenpeace or political parties such as The Green Party.

Volunteering as serious leisure: this implies a much more committed attitude to volunteering. Volunteers have enthusiasm, knowledge and skills in a specific area and tend to be involved in arts and culture or sports clubs. The organisations offering these opportunities can range from large national organisations to small, local clubs or societies. Roles may include coaching, teaching, administration and so on.

(Source: based on Rochester et al., 2010, pp. 10–15)

Activity 7 Understanding why people volunteer

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Reread the overview of the different perspectives in Box 1 and note down which perspective fits with your view on why and how you volunteer. If you do not volunteer, try to relate the perspectives to volunteers in an organisation you are familiar with or look back at the volunteers in Activity 6.

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These perspectives can be used to help us understand volunteering in a general context and you may have found it difficult to ‘fit’ yourself to one (and you probably wanted more information on each anyway). Rochester et al. highlight that in reality the situation is complex and people’s reasons for volunteering do not necessarily fit into neat categories, as you saw with the volunteers talking in Activity 6.