Introducing the voluntary sector
Introducing the voluntary sector

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Introducing the voluntary sector

4 Why volunteer?

Figure 4 The many reasons why people volunteer

Understanding why people volunteer is one of the biggest topics of interest to policy makers, organisations and researchers. If politicians and policy makers want more people to volunteer, then they need to know what motivates people to give their time for free. Equally, organisations may use this information in terms of their own recruitment and retention policies.

Increasingly, organisations target their adverts at volunteers – for example, highlighting how volunteering can be useful for work experience and CVs, or perhaps for making friends or for gaining health benefits. These aspects are based on an understanding of why people volunteer and the differences between groups such as younger people or between different ethnic groups.

Much discussion on people’s motivation at work has traditionally focused on paid staff (viewing pay as an important incentive to work), which may not be that helpful in understanding volunteers’ motivations. Is there something different about volunteers’ motivations and does this mean working with, and managing, them also needs to be different? If you are a volunteer yourself, this section should help you explore your own motivations and your role in your organisation.

To note, some of these issues fall into the area of management and are explored in the free badged open course Working in voluntary organisations, which will be available in 2016.

Activity 6 Why volunteer?

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Watch the following video featuring the same volunteers you met in Activity 4. Write notes on why they volunteer.

Download this video clip.Video player: volb1_wk7_activity6_volunteers_ou_pro_res_master_edited.mp4
Skip transcript


Lisa Harris
I volunteer for Bravery Boxes because I saw the trauma that my friend went through with having a son that was very sick, but also how positive it was that she was doing something so positive in the hospital and to help other children like hers. So, that was very important that I got involved and got on board. With the community theatre, I love drama. I love performing. I enjoy directing. So it was a great way of doing that in my spare time. I have two young children, and I work. And so there’s lots of other things going on in my life, but it’s nice to go and do something that is aside from all of that and that I enjoy.
Louisa Allen
I’ve always felt quite passionate about sort of giving back to society. And I think actually I see it the other way round now. I think how I’ve benefited as a person. Some of the people that I’ve met that I wouldn’t have ordinarily met, I think, in my daily life, has been really enriching. And also I think of the skills that I’ve learned as well. So I think about actually speaking to children in the assembly environment and the sort of things that they are really interested in knowing. And the Red Cross doing the first aid side of the things has been so interesting because I wouldn’t have ordinarily been in those kind of environments. So I think I’ve benefited as an individual through doing it, and hopefully, I’ve sort of given back a little bit as well.
Bernard Coen
The discussion groups, because I originally went along and attended a discussion group, and progressed, I think, where they needed somebody who would help out with facilitating discussion groups. And I enjoyed the social aspect, and I found that I was learning a great deal as well. And so I wanted to attend and needed a role. And the Sunday school teaching partly because I saw the benefits with my own children, and they were looking for somebody. And I said I could help and found myself still doing it 15 years later and enjoying it, sometimes. And sometimes it’s quite hard.
I volunteer because, well, for various reasons, I think, depending on the type of volunteering that I’m working on. I think, and they all seem quite selfish now I’m thinking – I’m running them to back off in my mind. I think I like to work with the kids because that’s at lunchtime in the middle of the week. And I think after you’ve had lots of meetings with adults discussing procedure and scheduling and arguing over finite bits of work, it’s really refreshing to go to the school and see kids who are just super enthusiastic to read and shout and talk and you can see them learning the world as you’re reading with them. And I think it’s really fun to move from one extreme to another, and that’s a nice way to break up the day.
I think similar reason for volunteering at the library, after you’ve kind of spent all day in your mind on the computer, thinking things through and answering emails, it’s nice to break off completely. And when I’m at the library, I primarily just stack books. And it’s nice to do something that requires very little mental effort whatsoever. And so it’s a really nice way to kind of transition from a very kind of intense day where you’re thinking a lot to just very simple, basic physical activities, I think.
And I guess finally with the shelter, I don’t think there’s any one particular reason but the fact that it’s just really interesting to be in a situation where you can have all these really fun conversations with people. And everyone there comes from such a variety of backgrounds, and some of them aren’t even from this country. And you can just sit there and have chats with them and play games and talk with them. I think it’s kind of really rewarding for us, as well.
And not to mention, they give us free food. So it doesn’t really feel like you’re volunteering. You’re just having a conversation with a few friends. Then you get to go home. So, I think quite different reasons for all of them actually, when I come to think about it.
End transcript
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


What you might have noticed is that some of the volunteers use what they get out of volunteering as part of their explanation of why they volunteer.

So, for example, Louisa talks about learning new skills and being in a different environment. Lisa’s motivation for helping with the Bravery Box scheme came about because her friend had a seriously ill child and started the scheme as a way of helping children on oncology wards.

Bernard volunteered because he enjoyed attending discussion groups and saw the benefits for his own children from attending Sunday school. Both Bernard and Lisa were asked to help, which is a common reason why many people volunteer in the first place but, of course, the person asked has to identify an interest or concern in the cause.

Sas volunteered for three organisations doing very different tasks. He felt these activities were so different from his day job that they were almost therapeutic for him. However, at the same time he was aware that volunteering with homeless people was a very important role and one that might not appeal to everybody because it is emotionally challenging. As Sas highlights, some of the reasons for volunteering sound selfish but that is quite common as people often need to see benefits for themselves when giving their time for free.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371