Readings: Volunteerism and Values

This is a suggested pre-meeting reading for August 15, 2018, noon, at the Austin Public Library Central location.  Free, but please RSVP.  To learn more or register, visit here:  BookSpring Lunch & Learn

Overview of Volunteerism in America

Over 63 million people in the United States volunteer each year, says the advocacy group the Independent Sector – 800 of them through BookSpring!  Volunteers help out neighbors in times of need, serve their communities to promote a better quality of life for everyone, and provide their expertise to non-profit organizations, like BookSpring.  And yet, there is a paradox that volunteer work is often undervalued. How do we recognize, cherish and preserve this great American tradition?

There are few who would deny that volunteerism is grounded in a personal sense of purpose.  People who volunteer are working because it’s meaningful, not because they are getting cash compensation for it.   There are at least three perspectives for considering volunteerism:

  • Economic, or the social capital perspective,
  • Psychological, or the social psychology perspective, and
  • Interactional, or the communicative perspective.

The social capital perspective refers to the increase of personal influence or connections to society created through volunteering, that are consciously or unconsciously contributing back to the individual’s social status.  The social psychology perspective focuses on larger societal factors such as age, ethnicity, and amount of available leisure time to predict volunteer participation, as well as individual enhancement goals such as gaining additional skill sets, personal self-expression, or sense of belonging.  The third perspective, communicative, focuses on how volunteers manage multiple roles, and how these identities interact with and inform each other.  For instance, consider how your own personal volunteer, work, and relational identities overlap and yet exist in separate spheres (see Cruz, 2009).

Research shows that lower task complexity, more communicative interaction, and more preparation time reduced uncertainty and improved volunteer retention.  Other studies report that lack of coordination, disorganization, and timing issues negatively impacted the personal and social benefits of volunteer participation.

Interestingly, studies that focus on highly specialized volunteer roles of disaster response teams and environmental preserve docents, which both require extensive training, illustrate blurring of the roles of volunteers and professionals that often occurs in non-profits.

In conclusion, understanding how, when and why individuals do and do not identify as volunteers would be helpful for non-profits and those who study, work in, and support them.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the primary reasons that you volunteer?
  • Why do you think that other people volunteer?
  • What is an organization’s responsibility towards its volunteers?
  • What are a volunteer’s responsibility towards its organization?

Further Reading

The Independent Sector publishes an hourly rate for the value of volunteer time. Currently it is $24.69, far higher than minimum wage!  See more here:

There are physical and mental health benefits in volunteering.   See more here:

Volunteering can be an important part in building Corporate Social Responsibility programs.  See more here:

Readings: Volunteerism and Values
United Way Day of Caring
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