- Why do we need volunteers in civil society organisations?
- What is their motivation?
- What are specific challenges organisations and employees are facing?
- How can work with volunteers be supported
- How can motivation be enhanced?
- How can new people be invited and involved?
All these questions are important in talking about the work with volunteers and their motivation. In trying to answer them one will face different aspects which are crucial to highlight in having a long term and fruitful atmosphere in our organisations in which volunteers can take as much as possible out of it for their personal growth.
“A person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.”
“A person who works for an organisation without being paid.”
The most important thing to mention right here is that without volunteer work a lot of organisations would not function as they do. Volunteer work as an integral part of society became more and more indispensable for societal processes and started to shape the centre of social politics. Active volunteers empowered to bring positive social changes create the core of civil society.
One can see that volunteers often fill empty spaces in encountering the people’s needs while governmental actions stop. Volunteering helps citizens to connect with other people in their local networks and communities who are often from entirely different backgrounds. Their engagement and investment is important to shape society in a way it suits marginal groups, in a way intercultural exchange is needed because volunteer work enhances the participation of people from different countries to an extent that’s not always given in jobs.
Volunteers are important for civil society organisations because they come in with very various perspectives on topics, political and societal processes, visions, opinions, experiences, skills and interests. All these things are potential and fruitful for a better understanding of the reality of a lot of people organisations are working with. Due to the fact that volunteers are often young people, there is this chance to get an inside of their realities.
As well as the fact that civil organisations are kind of dependent on their investment one should appreciate the fact that beside employees who get paid for their work, the intrinsic motivation of volunteers can be very beneficial.
So what motivates them to spend their time volunteering?
First of all it’s important to assert that there are different terms who might have a similar denotation but in fact differ in meaning. “Motivation” and “Stimulation” are two important terms here. While Motivation usually comes from within, Stimulation always comes from outside.
Motivation results from a feeling of really wanting to do something. Either because of yourself or because of getting inspired by others. Stimulation would rather result from outside factors like appreciation or financial fees.
A third term that could be considered is “need”. This can either result from a feeling of responsibility that people have the strong necessity and desire to help others or can also mean that people satisfy their own conscience by helping others.
When thinking about motivation one needs to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Due to the fact that extrinsic motivation keeps very little as they do not get a financial allowance or other benefits in a materialistic way out of their volunteering one should keep a focus on intrinsic motivations that are a crucial factor for their investment in organisations.
Probably the most important factor is that within volunteer work people can do good to others. This ethical motivation gives the volunteers a feeling of self-fulfilment and the sense of being needed.
This can lead to an extension of the feeling of self-worth and the feeling of belonging. Especially in a nowaday’s society which is developing in a more and more anonymous one, this is something a lot of people struggle with if this is missing in a way. It provides opportunities to question one's own opinions, perspectives and come to the conclusion of being grateful in comparison to the situation other people are in.
Another important factor is that volunteers gain self confidence and get more self-efficacy through exploring their talents and skills and taking steps in taking charge of different responsibilities. Volunteers might be motivated by the feeling of having an impact as they are working on changing societal structure or improving inner organisational processes.
The self-actualisation is also one of the five levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In contrast to the other four levels which include deficiency needs, self-actualisation is important for people who have all the other needs satisfied to feel more content and well-balanced in the long run. Maslow's thesis was that people need to find places where they could grow themselves, seek goals consistent with their skills and talents to be contented. This includes serving others and doing something good without getting materialistic reward for it.
They can have a powerful and influential effect on topics which might motivate them to invest themselves in it. Seeing things changing can then result in optimism and more positive views on different topics and situations.
In consideration to professional outcomes or advantages volunteers can get through their work in civil society organisations it is important to mention that also the process of exploring their own talents, skills and things they feel enjoyment about can be a fruitful and sustainable one.
Volunteers can learn a lot of so-called soft skills in organisations which help them also in their actual professions.
Did you know that doing volunteer work is also influencing on a physical level? Dopamine, endorphin, serotonin and oxytocin – all of these hormones can be there to a higher extent because of doing good.
When thinking about the advantages and value one can discover in working with volunteers, there are also some challenges organisations could face. It’s important to include them as well as a determining factor.
One challenge could be that some organisations might notice a high rate of fluctuation, instability due to the fact that volunteers usually don’t have contracts nor give commitments for a certain time period.
Abrupt endings of volunteering could then leave a gap in certain areas. For employees it could be difficult to work on topics and projects with an uncertain team for example.
In addition to that in social fields it’s often important for the Participants of groups or the like that they have constant counterparts they can build trustworthy relations with.
Another challenge could be that some volunteers might struggle with the compatibility of their actual job and their volunteer work. The work in organisations might require flexibility which are not always accordable with other professional duties.
How to Support Volunteers
Taking in consideration that a lot of volunteers are highly motivated as well as there could be some challenges one needs to wonder how the work with volunteers can be supported in a long term and fruitful way.
First of all it’s important to show appreciation for what they are doing and investing in the organisations. They give their time as a gift and they should get gratitude for that.
Furthermore it’s crucial to get in personal contact with them. Asking how they feel about what they are doing, what they need, what their visions are, what they want to focus on and so on and so forth. Working as a team, providing a network they can grow in and ask for help at the same time is a very important point that should be provided.
Furthermore it would be good if organisations would supply tools and options to foster the skills and competences of the volunteers. This could be with help of training sessions, workshops, digital learning material or the like. This would enhance the quality assurance of their work and would have an outcome for the organisations at once.
How Appreciation can look like?
Other than that mentioned, it’s necessary to think about how the motivation of volunteers can be enhanced. As already said, appreciation is one of the main things one should focus on.
This appreciation can look in different ways. Some organisations decide to honour the work financially in ways of expense allowance. This is often not possible because of the dependence of donations. Most of organisations use small presents and their own merchandise products to express their gratitude.
Other ways could be ideas of reliefs in other forms. One could think about opportunities of the leave of absence. This could decrease stress factors in the compatibility with the actual profession and the volunteer work. Furthermore there could be possibilities of financial reliefs.
For example, volunteers could take advantage in a way that they themselves or their families can participate in activities of the organisations without paying for it or also on a broader level that governments support volunteer work by decreasing financial obligations.
Another very helpful and important support could be the issuance of a document in the form of a certificate which proves the engagement. Especially in social work fields these kinds of documents raise the chance to get employed and are highly requested to see if someone has practical experiences next to professional hard skills.
As seen, volunteers play an important role in the work of our organisations. That’s why it’s crucial to think about how it’s possible to reach new volunteers getting involved and invited to organisation’s projects. Furthermore, personal invitations and requests are important. It shows real interest in the person and their engagement and could be more effective than any kind of impersonal approach. In addition to that it could be good to reach out in public spheres and present the organisation and the projects in a connectable way to get attention and arouse interest among potential future volunteers.
To end with a quote:
“Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.”
by Erma Bombeck
Organisations and coworkers should be available for the needs of volunteers, reachable to support and willing to have an impact of growing processes through personal experiences and a sphere, volunteers can try out things and learn more and more about people, society and themselves.
- HOR_DINl (migrapolis.de)
- Youth and Volunteering – UN Volunteering
- The Importance of Youth Volunteerism (galaxydigital.com)
- Why do young people volunteer? – Charityworks (charity-works.co.uk)
- Maslow's hierarchy of needs – Wikipedia
The material is created within the project “ Governance and Quality Development” supported by Erasmus+, Key Action 2 programme.
Movement Strengthening in YMCA Europe is aimed at building the capacity of organisations in different spheres including governance, internal policies, quality standards and strategic planning.