Motivational factors that encourage volunteers

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1st Jan 1970 Psychology Reference this


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Non-profit organizations rely on volunteer workers to fulfill many of their day-today functions. Without a volunteer workforce, many organizations would simply cease to exist. It is vital that we understand what inspires people to provide their services without the desire for monetary compensation. This study was conducted with the volunteers at a Non-Profit Organization. This study employed a qualitative research design. Data were collected through questionnaires, in-depth interviews, and observations.

1.1 Background of the Study

Although volunteerism is a large industry that is important to a society, it is an understudied topic (Green, 2002). Specifically, little is known as to what motivates these volunteers to serve and what motivating factors contribute to their retention. For example, an individual may be eager initially to enlist in volunteer work, but more research is needed to discover what motivational factors must be present for the volunteer to continue serving over time.

The literature is thorough regarding work-related motivation. Motivational theory can be applied to volunteers, but the primary difference is that managers do not hold any fiscal power over the unpaid worker-he or she serves for other reasons. Without understanding motivational factors that drive volunteerism, it is difficult to design programs and environments that attract and retain volunteers.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Esmond and Dunlop (2004) write, “What actually motivates a person to volunteer is a complex and vexing question, yet understanding these motivations can be of great assistance to organizations in attracting, placing, and retaining volunteers” (p. 6). Many non-profit organizations attract and place volunteers, but these organizations experience high turnover rates among their volunteer workforce (Mayer, 1999). The problem is that the literature is lacking in regard to volunteer motivation; it is unknown why some people get involved and stay involved while other people quickly grow tired of volunteering or refuse to volunteer.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore the experiences, feelings, and attitudes of the volunteers at a Non-Profit Organization to discover what motivates them to volunteer and what sustains their participation over time. The intent is to increase the understanding of why individuals volunteer and how to retain their involvement. The researcher will explore the experiences, feelings, and attitudes of those who volunteer at a Christian Church, referred to in this study as the Non-Profit Organization, to identify what factors lead them to volunteer and what factors inspire them to continue serving.

1.4 Research Questions

Question 1

What motivates volunteers to donate their time?

1. What functions are filled by volunteering at the Non-Profit Organization?

2. What kinds of rewards, if any, motivate volunteers?

3. How do volunteers in a religious environment perceive the rewards related to volunteering?

Question 2

What conditions must be present to motivate unpaid workers to continue serving in a volunteer capacity?

1. To what extent do extrinsic motivators need to be in place to motivate volunteers?

2. To what extent do people volunteer for intrinsic reasons?

3. What is the role of leadership in motivating volunteers to continue serving over time?

1.3 Significance of the Study

This study is intended to have a direct impact on the volunteer workforce at Non-Profit Organization. Therefore, the results of this study will help the organization create programs and an environment that would allow volunteers to flourish. The results of this study will also potentially be useful to organizations that attract, recruit, and retain a volunteer workforce, such as social welfare organizations, relief organizations, hospitals, and faith-based communities. It is anticipated that such organizations would be able to increase their effectiveness as they better understand what attracts volunteers and what motivates them to continue serving over time. Moreover, this study is also expected to potentially assist the leadership efforts of those who manage volunteers.

Finally, this study is expected to benefit the field of volunteer motivation, helping to narrow the gap in the literature that has left many unanswered questions.

1.4 Limitations

This study will only examine the volunteers and non-volunteers at the Non-Profit Organization; therefore, the results may transfer to other non-profit organizations, but additional research may be necessary to draw conclusions for other settings.

1.5 Nature of the Study

This dissertation will be a qualitative study. The research for this study will take place among volunteers and non-volunteers who serve at the Non-Profit Organization. The theoretical framework of this study is motivational theory. Two lines of motivational theory will be reviewed: extrinsic motivational theory from the behavioral school of psychology, and intrinsic motivational theory from cognitive psychologists. Both theoretical frameworks can be applied to volunteer motivation, although there is a lack of evidence regarding what motivates a volunteer to act or behave. This study will sought to make a contribution to the theoretical base by assessing the motives of volunteers and theorizing about what motivates their volunteerism and what factors promote lasting habits of sustained participation.

1.6 Organization of the Study

This dissertation will be organized in five chapters. This first chapter will describe the research problem. The problem is that the literature is lacking in regard to volunteer motivation; it is unknown why some people get involved and stay involved while other people quickly grow tired of volunteering or refuse to volunteer. Chapter 2 will discuss the appropriate literature related to the research problem. Motivational theory from the behavioral school of psychology is reviewed, as well as self-determination theory, social cognitive theory and the self-efficacy model. The literature surrounding volunteerism will also be reviewed, and one theory that directly relates to volunteer motivation will be examined. Chapter 3 will describe the research methodology used to respond to the research problem. Most studies that assess motivational behavior take place in laboratory settings and are of a quantitative nature. The methodology that this study will use will be qualitative and will emerge from real-world data that will be collected and analyzed. While a quantitative study provides statistical data regarding how many and how much (Yin, 2003), what will be sought after in this study will be rich description that will focus on data in the form of participants’ own words and onsite observations. Chapter 4 will present and analyzes the data collected using the methodology described in Chapter 3. This dissertation will conclude with chapter 5, which will be a summary of conclusions drawn from the data presented in Chapter 4. Chapter 5 will also present recommendations for future research regarding volunteer motivation.

2.0 Literature Review

2.1 Introduction

This chapter reviews the literature relevant to this study with particular emphasis on motivational theory, volunteerism, and volunteer motivation. The purpose of this literature review is not to direct the researcher to form an initial opinion about volunteer motivation. In grounded theory research, the methodology that will be adopted for this dissertation, theory is grounded in a set of real-world data and not the existing literature (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2003). Therefore, the purpose of this literature review is to establish the broad context for this dissertation and provide the theoretical framework for this study.

2.2 Two Groups of Motivational Theorists

The word motivation comes from the Latin word movere, which means to move (Mitchell & Daniels, 2003). Motivational theory seeks to explain what moves people into action, what directs such behavior, and how this behavior is maintained (Mitchell & Daniels, 2003). Researchers and theorists discuss motivation in terms of extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation takes place when someone engages in a certain behavior for external factors, such as rewards, pay, or social approval (Richter, 2001; Witzel & Mercer, 2003). Intrinsic motivation takes place when someone engages in a certain behavior for internal factors, such as doing an activity for the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation has been widely researched and theories have been developed regarding what moves people into action and what directs behavior. Because both types of motivation have implications regarding what motivates volunteers, a discussion of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation will follow.

2.3 Extrinsic Motivational Theory

Extrinsic motivation is rooted in B.F. Skinner’s (1953) reinforcement theory from the behavioral school of psychology. Skinner’s research, which was mostly conducted with rats and pigeons, demonstrated that laboratory animals will expect a reward for desirable behaviors and a punishment for undesirable behaviors (Skinner, 1953). Today reinforcement theory is applied to motivation by purporting that a manager can control an employee’s behavior by controlling the consequences that follow the employee’s behavior through a set of techniques known as behavior modification (Komaki, 2003).

According to reinforcement theory, managers should positively reinforce worker behaviors that lead to positive outcomes and negatively reinforce behaviors that lead to negative outcomes (Skinner, 1953). While some (Kohn, 1998, 2002; Ruenzal, 2000) argue that rewards and punishments seek to control the behavior of individuals and are unethical, recent studies (i.e. Komaki, Coombs, Redding, & Schepman, 2000) describe how reinforcement theory is an effective and innovative method to motivate individuals.

While extrinsic motivation has implications for a volunteer environment, intrinsic motivation might be better suited to explain the internal factors that influence a volunteer’s behavior and motivation.

2.4 Intrinsic Motivational Theory

Two prominent intrinsic motivational theories in the literature are self-determination theory (SDT) developed by Deci and his colleagues (Deci, 1972; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999; Ryan & Deci, 2000) and Social-Cognitive Theory (SCT) (Bandura, 1976, 1997, 2002). Deci and his colleagues (Deci, 1972; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999; Ryan & Deci, 2000) have theorized that The first need, competence, is the need to perceive oneself as capable to accomplish a task. According to SDT theory, people’s actions are driven by the need to perform a task effectively. For individuals to feel competent, they must be provided with the skills, knowledge, and resources to accomplish their tasks (Richter, 2001; Kerka, 2003). The second need, autonomy, is the need to exert a sense of control when one is performing a task.

Finally, relatedness is the need to connect with others and feel socially valued (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Richter (2001) asserts, “Relatedness is the feeling that one is emotionally tied to significant others in his or her life” (p. 87). While these three needs – competence, autonomy, relatedness – must be met if individuals are to be intrinsically motivated, it is equally important to make sure that an activity that one performs is meaningful to the individual. “It is critical to remember…that people will be intrinsically motivated only for activities that hold intrinsic interest for them, activities that have the This current study will seek to address to what extent (if any) extrinsic rewards affect the intrinsic motivation of a volunteer worker.

2.5 The Values of Volunteers

Even though millions of British provide their services freely each year without compensation, very little academic research has been conducted regarding the performance of volunteers. To some (i.e. Freeman, 1997) this is surprising since volunteering plays a substantial role in the UK national income. “Without volunteering, the country would need a much larger public sector or would lose considerable charitable, cultural, and educational activities” (Freeman, 1997, p. 145). To others (i.e. Green, 2002) it is not surprising to find volunteerism understudied. Green (2002) explains that most studies concentrate on the business and public sectors because of their strategic roles in the market place and the economy. The voluntary sector, on the other hand, does not appear to be as important. “The diminutive voluntary or ‘third’ sector is regarded as permanently lagging some way behind both, chugging along on the wheels of worthiness, but perennially short of resources” (p. 29). Green (2002) argues that volunteers are often taken for granted and treated as second class citizens rather than being recognized for the gift of their time and effort (Green, 2002). Unpaid workers do play a vital role in society (Freeman, 1997; Green, 2002), and more studies are needed that address the environment of volunteers.

2.6 Reasons Individuals Volunteer

A search of the literature reveals that volunteers donate their time for a variety of reasons. First, individuals donate their time because of altruism, the “selfless regard for the well-being of others” (Marx, 1999, p. 52). People also volunteer so that they can be involved in causes that are important to them (Lenkowsky, 2004). If a cause is not appealing to someone, he or she is not likely to dedicate his or her time for that cause (Freeman, 1997). It is also suggested in the literature that people volunteer to feel needed (Clary & Snyder, 1999; Marx, 1999, Gerstein, Wilkeson, & Anderson, 2004), to give something back (Kumar, Kallen, & Mathew, 2002), to gain skills, knowledge, and abilities that can be applied toward a career (Marx, 1999, Gerstien, Wilkeson, & Anderson, 2004), personal satisfaction (Kumar, Kallen, & Mathew, 2002), and the opportunity to do work that is of extreme interest to them (Linder, 1998). The literature also suggests that people volunteer to make a contribution with their lives (Allison, 2002, Green, 2002; Karren, 2004, Throop, 2003). Green (2002) writes how volunteers will donate their time if volunteers are assured that they have “the opportunity to make a difference” (p. 31). Freeman (1997) found that one motivating factor stands above all the others for volunteers. He writes, “one social event – whether a person is asked to volunteer – is the key to understanding why people work for nothing” (p. 160). Analyzing the data of a

1984 survey from the Independent Sector, Freeman (1997) found that “44% of respondents said that they volunteered because they were asked – making this the single most important reason for volunteering” (p. 163).

In summary, volunteers will donate their time for a variety of reasons. These reasons include internal incentives, such as to feel needed or to gain skills that can be applied toward a career, the desire to give something back, and simply being asked to volunteer. While it is suggested in the literature why people decide to volunteer, the volunteer literature is lacking in regard to what sustains volunteerism. What inspires a volunteer to continue serving for the long haul? What moves an individual to perform well in his or her voluntary duties? There is one theoretical approach that has helped to explain what motivates volunteers to serve and what motivates them to continue serving: the functional approach.

2.7 The Functional Approach to Volunteer Motivation

Functionalism is a theoretical framework in the field of psychology which purports that people act and strive toward personal and social goals to serve different psychological functions (Clary et al.., 1998). Clary et al. (1998) and Clary and Snyder (1999) have applied the functional approach to understand the reasons individuals volunteer and continue to volunteer.

As noted earlier, there is evidence to suggest that people volunteer because they are asked to do so. Freeman (1997) concludes that volunteering is “something that people feel morally obligated to do when asked, but which they would just as soon let someone else do” (p. 140). Functionalists would unquestionably disagree with Freeman’s statement. The functional approach maintains that people volunteer because it fulfills psychological functions. Through diverse empirical investigations with active volunteers, non-active volunteers, and non-volunteers, Clary et al. (1998) and Clary and Snyder (1999) hypothesized and validated six personal and social functions that are served through the act of volunteering. These are: values, understanding, social, career, protective, enhancement.

2.8 Conclusion

This review of the literature presents the broad context for the research problem addressed by this dissertation. Behavioral psychologists have empirical evidence supporting the notion that extrinsic motivators are effective in inducing others to act. Cognitive social psychologists concede that extrinsic rewards motivate individuals, but they are concerned that such extrinsic motivators are controlling and reduce intrinsic motivation. Behaviorists, however, argue that in certain conditions extrinsic rewards actually increase intrinsic motivation. While there is research to support both sides of the debate, the literature is lacking in explanations of how extrinsic factors and intrinsic motivators apply to volunteer workers. In addition, although there is some indication as to why volunteers initially enlist, such as advancing one’s career or the feeling of making a difference, more research is needed to explain what sustains long-term volunteerism.

While extrinsic and intrinsic motivational theory relating to volunteers is deficient in the literature, there is one theoretical approach, functionalism, which explains why volunteers get involved. Functionalism maintains that individuals volunteer because it fulfills psychological functions.

3.0 Methodology

This study employed a qualitative research design. Merriam (1998) defines qualitative research as “an umbrella concept covering several forms of inquiry that help us understand and explain the meaning of social phenomena with as little disruption of the natural setting as possible” (p. 5). Merriam (1998) lists the essential characteristics of all qualitative research designs: “the goal of eliciting understanding and meaning, the researcher as primary instrument of data collection and analysis, the use of fieldwork, an inductive orientation to analysis, and findings that are richly descriptive” (p. 11). Morse

(1991) suggests that a researcher use a qualitative design when (a) the concept is “immature” due to a conspicuous lack of theory and previous research; (b) a notion that the available theory may be inaccurate, inappropriate, incorrect, or biased; (c) a need exists to explore and describe the phenomena and to develop theory; or (d) the nature of the phenomenon may not be suited to quantitative measures (p. 120).

A qualitative design for this study would be well suited to the research problem. The concept of volunteer motivation is “immature” due to lack of theory and research; theory development would be needed to better understand what motivates a volunteer worker; and the nature of this problem is not suited to quantitative measures. While a quantitative study could provide statistical data regarding “how many” and “how much” (Yin, 2003), what will be sought after in this study is rich description that focuses on data in the form of participants’ own words and onsite observations.

3.1 Grounded Theory

Merriam (1998) discusses five types of qualitative research commonly found in the field of educational research: “the basic or generic qualitative study, ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory, and case study” (p. 11). This study will use grounded theory, which is a research methodology introduced in 1967 where “the researcher attempts to derive a theory by using multiple stages of data collection and the refinement of interrelationship of categories of information” (Creswell, 1994, p. 12). While many research studies are designed to test a theory that has been developed, grounded theory calls for data to first be collected, and then a theory is derived from that data (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2003). “The resulting theory is called grounded theory because it is ‘grounded’ in a set of real-world data” (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2003, p. 91). It is expected that a theory would emerge to explain what motivates the volunteers at the Non-Profit Organization to serve and what sustains their participation over time.

The researcher will obtain a set of real-world data through the distribution of a self-completed questionnaire, in depth interviews, and observations.

3.2 Questionnaires Administered to Volunteers

A self-completed questionnaire will be given to each volunteer at the Non-Profit Organization who would to participate in this study. A self-completed questionnaire is a questionnaire that respondents fill in for themselves (Robson, 1993). Because the researcher will use participants’ questionnaires as a foil for discussion during the in-depth interview, participants will be asked to write their names on the questionnaires.

The design of the questionnaire would involve wording that is clear, unambiguous and permitts participants to successfully answer the questions asked (Drennan, 2003).

The questionnaire will include both closed questions and open-ended questions. In the first section of the questionnaire, volunteers will be asked to describe their participation with the Non-Profit Organization. The second section will consist of an open-ended question that asks participants to list their motivations for engaging in volunteer work. The third section will employ the Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI) (Clary et al., 1998; Clary & Snyder, 1999) and consisted of 30 questions which will ask participants their reasons for volunteering. The open-ended question from section two will precede the VFI to prevent participants’ answers from being biased from exposure to the reasons listed in the VFI (Allison, Okun, & Dutridge, 2002). The fourth section will consist of basic demographic information, such as name, gender, age, and annual income. The researcher will use the results of the questionnaire to help determine the motivational forces underlying the behavior of volunteers at the Non-Profit Organization.

3.3 Questionnaires Administered to Non-Volunteers

A self-completed questionnaire will also be given to individuals who agree to participate in this study who were not volunteers at the Non-Profit Organization. Their responses to the questionnaire would help to determine the reasons they do not volunteer.

3.4 In-Depth Interviews

In grounded theory, interviews are the primary method of data collection (Corbin

& Strauss,1990). The researcher will interviewed 12-15 volunteers at the Non-Profit Organization. The length of each interview would be under two hours, since “two hours seems too long to sit at one time” (Seidman, 1998, p. 14).

3.5 Observations

In addition to questionnaires and interviews, the actions and behaviors of volunteers would be observed in the field. The researcher will serve in a “participant-as-observer” role (Robson, 1993). In this role, “as well as observing through participation in

activities, the observer can ask members to explain various aspects of what is going on”

(Robson, 1993, p. 197). Observations would be recorded in a field notebook.

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