Varying Volunteer Motives

Too often campsites expect their volunteers to have completely altruistic motives for helping out.  But the truth is that altruism is rarely complete and people have more than one motives in volunteering.  Good volunteer management requires we have an honest understanding of the mixed motives our volunteers carry with them.  We certainly want volunteers to have the best motives possible, but we also need to understand that multiple motives exist simultaneously.  To utilize volunteers in the best way possible, we should be aware of these motives and try to speak into them as much as possible.

Seven main motivations exist:

To find purpose (Phenomenological)

These volunteers are motivated by their need to find purpose in life.  Sometimes these are recent widowers, people going through divorce, or those having a crisis of faith.  Sometimes they are people who just believe that the purpose of life is to serve, and they find that purpose through your campsite.  Whoever the specific individual, these volunteers want to be reminded that their work matters and lives are influenced.  Be sure to cast the vision and clearly share how the volunteer work impacts others to encourage these volunteers to engage and commit to your organization.

Because I figured out how (Social Learning)

These volunteers simply want to use their skills.  They have knowledge of some kind that they want to share.  These types of volunteers are particularly useful if their skills lie in maintenance, decorating, ropes, etc.  Sometimes it can be a challenge to use these volunteers if their knowledge base is a little obscure or incompatible with your organization (marine biology or massage therapy), but you will likely lose these volunteers if you cannot find ways to incorporate their skills.  Think creatively about how they can be of use, and even hold off on using them as volunteers until you are sure their knowledge will not be wasted.

Because I gain (Social Exchange)

These are the volunteers that need service hours, or want volunteer service on their resume.  Sometimes they serve because of the specific skill set they will gain.  These volunteers are often easy to work with and keep, but they are not always as dedicated to the mission of your organization as others.  If your campsite is desperately in need of more volunteers, this motivation sector is where you will see the largest and fastest increase in volunteers.  Letting high schools and colleges know about your campsite and volunteer opportunities is an easy way to find volunteers from this group of people.

Because I’m the right age (Life Course)

These volunteers see their volunteer work as simply a part of their current life stage.  Christian college students often work summers at camps because that is what everyone does.  Elderly women often volunteer to bake for church events because the other women their age are as well.  They just help out because they see that other people their age are doing the same thing.  Reaching this group of volunteers requires an understanding of the particular age group, but will be of tremendous help to your campsite.  Most camps will be particularly adept at reaching college age (for summer counselors), elderly women (for retreat work), and middle-aged men (for maintenance work).  Certainly these groups can expand and new groups can be used, but if you put your focus on these three areas you should find success.

To experience good (Self Actualization)

This group is very similar in nature to those who are volunteering to find purpose.  The main difference is that this group tends to carry less baggage into their volunteer experiences.  This type of motivation is possibly the most positive and most desirable type of volunteer to have at your organization.  These volunteers are also the easiest to work with and keep; they simply want to do good work and experience positive interactions and outcomes.

So others will (Empowerment)

This group of volunteers tends to be more aware of issues of justice and group dynamics than others.  They know that people tend to follow trends, and that whatever becomes the normal thing to do will be more easily accepted.  These volunteers serve because they recognize that others will be more likely to serve.  For these volunteers, it is vital that they have opportunities to share their work with others and are in a position to encourage new volunteers.  If possible, have these volunteers in places where community members can see them and the work they are doing.

For power (Conflict)

This type of volunteer is the least conducive to campsite service.  They serve because it will put them in a position of authority over people in some way.  They relish the knowledge that they know what is going on and can influence decisions and people.  Unfortunately, the space where this type of volunteer is most common is campsite leadership.  Board members and council members are the most likely to have this motivation, and once they are placed in those positions it can be very difficult to prevent the desire for power from becoming the prominent motivation.  Curb this motivation by highlighting the other reasons people should be serving, and by having clear accountability for all volunteers in every leadership setting.

This article is based on the information provided from Michael E. Sherr in Volunteerism and Human Behavior Theory“.

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The 3 Needs

Training: Volunteers

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