Volunteer Motivations Under the Microscope
27 January 2015 at 9:58 am
Volunteers who are primarily motivated to help others were more likely to report higher levels of well-being, satisfaction, and intentions to continue volunteering than volunteers who were primarily ‘self-oriented’, according to new research.
Researchers at La Trobe University in Melbourne surveyed more than 4,000 volunteers in late 2014 about their current volunteer positions and their motivations to volunteer.
The aim of the research called Motivations to Volunteer and Their Associations With Volunteers’ Well-Being was to measure self-esteem, wellbeing, self-efficacy, social connectedness, and social trust.
The findings suggest that “organisations that work with volunteers may wish to seek those with ‘other-oriented’ motivation and to encourage it in current volunteers”. However they cautioned that “volunteers are rarely purely ‘other-oriented’ or ‘self-oriented’ in their motivations.”
"Self-oriented" volunteers were described as motivated by reasons such as career advancement or boosting self esteem.
Lead researcher Dr Arthur Stukas said he suspects "other-oriented" motivations may simply be easier to fulfill—it’s easier to make volunteers feel that they’re contributing to a good cause than it may be to help them find a new job.
“Our primary hypothesis is that ‘other-oriented’ motivations to volunteer will be more strongly related to well-being than self-oriented motivations to volunteer,” he said.
“Overall, Australian volunteers who engaged in service primarily for ‘other-oriented’reasons; to express their prosocial values or to reaffirm their relationships with close others, or for exploration reasons, to learn more about other people, the world, and their own strengths, were more likely to report higher levels of well-being."
The research found that these volunteers were also more likely to report higher satisfaction, perceived support from the volunteer organisation, and intentions to continue volunteering.
In contrast, the research said Australian volunteers who engaged in service primarily for "self-oriented" reasons; to distract themselves from personal problems or to advance their careers (but not specifically to feel good about themselves), were more likely to report lower well-being and poorer outcomes.
Dr Stukas said future research was needed to better understand the causal direction of these effects and the possible mediators that link "other-oriented" volunteering to better outcomes.
“Organisations that work with volunteers may wish to seek those with ‘other-oriented’ motivation and to encourage it in current volunteers."
He pointed to previous research by Okun, O’Rourke, Keller, Johnson, and Enders (2014) which pointed out that religiosity and the key ‘other-oriented’ motivation of value expression are positively associated, suggesting that religious organisations may be a valuable source of reliable volunteers.
“However, volunteers are rarely purely ‘other-oriented’ or ‘self-oriented’ in their motivations. As such, we recommend that organisations be wary of those who might not show enough interest in helping others but not necessarily seek to turn away volunteers who wish to help themselves too," he said.
“After all, if organisations are able to provide opportunities that allow volunteers to satisfy their primary motivations, whatever they may be, this may attenuate the differences in outcomes attributable to motivation type, and potentially increase benefits for all.”