I have been doing some research lately to help out a young person who is setting up a social enterprise. He is looking at ways of supporting small businesses to develop employee volunteering schemes. His aim is to match the businesses with not-for-profits so that a more personal, on-going connection is established between the employees and the community organisation. The greater, ideological aim is to revolutionise the social impact that businesses might make in Aotearoa New Zealand.
There is a wealth of evidence around the benefits of volunteering for both the groups who are helped, usually not-for profit groups, and for those who do the volunteering (for eg; Flanagan, Kim, Collura & Kopish, 2015; Weinstein & Ryan, 2010). But as I was doing the research I was particularly interested in why young people may, or may not, choose to do some volunteering in their community. This article by Stukkas et al (2016), among other things, explores some of the reasons why young people might decide to volunteer and finds that there can be tensions between “approaches that rely principally on the intrinsically motivating aspects of volunteerism and community involvement and those that rely on extrinsic motivators to encourage service” (p. 246).
The authors point out that for many young people a commitment to prosocial behaviour can begin early through modelling of volunteering and service by parents, or through the kind of socialisation where children learn that helping can make them feel good about themselves. They also noted that being exposed to a strong sense of community is highly associated with increased volunteering. People are often encouraged to first begin volunteering through their social networks. This links to the importance of the level of social capital in terms of getting involved – those with higher levels of social capital tend to have more social networks so might be encouraged more by significant others towards volunteering. But what about those young people who have not experienced upbringings or experiences that result in more internalised dispositions towards helping?
The writers address this issue in some parts of the article. According to some studies they referenced, proactively bringing people together in small groups to try and create a sense of community helped to boost prosocial action in areas of initial interest for these groups. This could be a way of supporting young people towards the idea of volunteering in something that has meaning for them. It was also suggested that there is a need to provide “behavioural pathways” – in other words, provide the means by which young people can go out and become involved in helping in their community. If it is seen as easy to do, then it might lead to an increase in the willingness to engage in helping activities. Another reason why people continued to volunteer was because they found it fun. I wonder if this is also something that needs to be considered when we think about encouraging young people to volunteer– perhaps the satisfaction around the volunteering also needs to be related to the sheer enjoyment of the volunteering activities as well as the chance to ‘do good’? This article made me think that being able to be part of a community, helping around one’s interest, making it easy to be a volunteer and having fun while doing it might all be ways of encouraging more young people to experience volunteering in their community.
These are just some ideas that I drew from this article but you can read the whole piece with much more analysis about volunteerism in the community in general here:
Flanagan, C. A., Kim, T., Collura, J., & Kopish, M. A. (2015). Community service and adolescents’ social capital. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 25, 295-309.
Stukas, A. A., Snyder, M., & Clary, E.G. (2016). Understanding and encouraging volunteerism and community involvement. The Journal of Social Psychology, 156, 243-255.
Weinstein, N., & Ryan, R. M. (2010). When helping helps: Autonomous motivation for prosocial behavior and its influence on well-being for the helper and recipient. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 222-244.