this post about volunteering is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me or use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.
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merrill, the president of our board of directors at the CMHA, made a comment a little while ago about volunteering.
when i lived in germany, the UK and south america, i didn’t have much of a sense of volunteering. it’s just not as important as here. on the other hand, in north america, the non-profit sector, which rests mostly on volunteering, is one of the top ten biggest sectors.
this changed dramatically once i came to canada and particularly when i came to vancouver. i’ve volunteered for the carnegie centre, for an extended care society, for a large internet support group, etc. i also had the great joy of hiring and co-ordinating volunteers, and co-ordinated a participatory action research project on volunteering in the downtown eastside.
the latter was quite fascinating. here are some of the findings:
what motivates persons on low income to volunteer? clearly, the most frequent answer to this was straight forward: a desire to help. that this is tied in to volunteers’ self worth is very likely. directly, this is shown by the high frequency of the theme of self esteem/self worth in one round of interviews (“makes me feel good about myself”). indirectly, the surprisingly high number of responses to the question “what would it take for you to volunteer?” that indicated that prospective volunteers would simply like to be asked to volunteer points into the same direction – they want to feel needed and worthy of contributing. when volunteers are concerned about feeling equal to staff, we are confronted with the same issue: that volunteers want to see evidence that they are seen as human beings, equal to anyone else in worth and value, regardless of their socio-economic status, education, ethnic background, or any such characteristics. a further corroborating fact is that volunteers are seeking ongoing validation much more than formal appreciation.
two other important factors in terms of motivation were: to make a connection with the community at large, and to form personal relationships. this makes sense in light of the fact that the population in the area is relatively transient and that there is a very high percentage of single persons in the area. for many single persons, the community can become similar to a family. this community/family aspect of volunteering also came up with modest frequency when prospective volunteers were interviewed. in the advisory group discussions, the social aspect of volunteering was also mentioned.
taken together, the volunteer motivators of wanting to help, wanting to feel worthy, wanting to be part of the community and wanting to form relationships all point into one direction: the “people” or interactional aspect of volunteering is of tantamount importance, overshadowing by far all other reasons for volunteering.
here is the full report on volunteering in vancouver’s downtown eastside.