Nancy Hanawi

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Executive Summary:

Virtually all nonprofit organizations depend to some extent on the work of volunteers; many deliver their services entirely through volunteers. Yet research has contributed relatively little to fundamental understanding of volunteers and volunteerism, perhaps because what research has been done tends to deal with volunteerism in a narrow context. Typically, research efforts have consisted of querying a set of volunteers for one or more organizations regarding their motivation and satisfactions with respect to that particular volunteering situation. Thus what is usually being examined is the person in a specific volunteer role. In this study, what is suggested is an interactive model for analyzing volunteering. Using this model, the individual in her volunteer role is viewed as the intersection of two larger spheres: the whole organizational setting and the overall life of the volunteer. Placing examination of the particular and current volunteer role in the setting of each of these broader spheres allows some new perspectives and speculations about volunteering motivations, satisfactions and development.

The results of the project are presented in three parts. The first part builds on the results of a prior research project in a nonprofit San Francisco organization (A). This project included as one component a study of A's volunteers. A second organization (B) was the site for the current research project: B is in the same geographic area as A, offers the same kind of services and has a similar initial training. The two organizations have, however, very different cultures. A group of B's prospective and current volunteers were surveyed, as had been A's, by questionnaire and/or interview. Where appropriate for current purposes, identical- questions were used. Comparative analysis of the results provides support for concluding that organizational culture has considerable impact on volunteer attraction, motivation, retention, sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, and therefore also on the overall makeup of the volunteer pool. Data on volunteer utilization were also yielded by this research. Implications of the findings for managers of nonprofit organizations are explored.

In the second section one of the major interactive aspects of the volunteer experience is explored, that of learning or self-development. Here what is of interest is learning that extends beyond skills used directly in the volunteer role, to learning relevant to and useful in the larger sphere of the volunteer's current and future life. Volunteers reported an array of changes in competencies, attitudes and values that resulted from volunteering; many are clearly relevant to other portions of their lives. Implications both for volunteers and for volunteer organizations are discussed.

The final section of the report views the experience of particular volunteering in the context of the volunteer's life, both past and current. Lengthy interviews provided the vehicle for exploring such questions as: What does an individual's life course reveal about her motivation to volunteer? Do an individual's motivations relative to volunteering remain the same throughout life? Is there a relationship in a given individual between motivation to work and motivation to volunteer? The results lead to several working hypotheses: (1) Lifelong themes of interest, motivation and sources of satisfaction can be identified in individual histories. These themes are established early and persist into later life. (2) The ways in which these themes are manifested tend to mature from early activities directed to larger, more globally framed causes to ones that are more focused, more local, and with more evident impact (though perhaps still contributing to larger causes). (3) Volunteer activities provide the means to satisfy one's lifelong "themes" when they are not being, or cannot be, satisfied in paid work. Thus there appears to be a strong relationship between paid and unpaid work motivations and satisfactions. Further study of concurrent work and volunteerism histories is suggested, in order to shed more light on both spheres, and also to contribute to the understanding of adult development.