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Introducing the voluntary sector
Introducing the voluntary sector

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4.2 Further motivations for volunteering

As you have seen, motivations for volunteering can usually be divided into those that address a person’s own needs and interests and those that relate to the needs and interests of others. The relative importance of these differs, for example, by gender, age, income and so on (Musick and Wilson, 2008, pp. 54–80).

One issue raised about surveys of volunteering is that often people are asked to choose from a list of statements, so they feel compelled to choose the one that seems to fit and they may not actually put much thought into analysing why they decided to volunteer. People who have been volunteering for, say, 20 years or more may also have forgotten why they started! Many people will also give ‘because someone asked me to’ as a reason.

So why is motivation important? Organisations need to function efficiently and effectively, therefore staff and volunteers need to work with energy and enthusiasm. Managers of the organisation have a responsibility to provide staff and volunteers with work they find satisfying and rewarding, which they are unlikely to do if the managers do not understand what people really want and expect from their work.

Understanding the motivations of volunteers is important: they are not dependent on the organisation they work for to meet their basic needs and volunteers are not tied by a formal employment contract. As a result, volunteers are usually more free than employees to pick and choose the organisation to which they give their time and efforts. If organisations do not provide an appealing environment and motivating work, they are likely to experience problems with recruitment and retention.

Furthermore, there has been considerable attention in recent years on the benefits of volunteering and how it can contribute to health. Based on a survey of the research, Harflett (2015, p. 5) summarises the potential benefits as:

  • improved mental and physical health
  • increased life expectancy
  • improved physical health and happiness
  • enjoyment and pleasure
  • positive well-being
  • increased self-confidence
  • social inclusion
  • empowerment and increased employability.

Obviously, the context of the volunteering is important: where someone volunteers, what they are doing and whether the volunteering is likely to be stressful. Not everyone can expect these benefits.