Forced to volunteer in school, I realised that no one had tried to understand what would motivate me or my friends to volunteer. While mandating students to volunteer will, by definition, make them do it, if we really want to develop responsible citizens in high school then we must understand what motivates students to volunteer and build volunteer programs accordingly to drive their impact.
That is why I conducted a survey in which students were asked questions to assess their motivations on 6 factors: social, value, protective, career, enhancement and understanding using the Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI) scale which defines each factor as follows:
What I found was that across all age groups, Value was the most important factor, followed closely by Understanding. Interestingly, Social was the least motivating factor.
Other studies, such as that done by the University of Pennsylvania, also show Value as the most important factor with 96% of people being driven to volunteer by that factor.
When I analysed the data for people above the age of 26, Understanding was actually the least motivating factor, which shows the importance of understanding motivations when designing programs from younger versus older volunteers.
Further, enhancement rose in importance amongst 16–18 years olds, which perhaps is not surprising given the age group and most likely for similar reasons the importance of the protective factor diminished once people entered the 22–25 age group and the importance of career fell drastically for the 26+ year olds.
I also analysed the data to see if the number of hours someone volunteered for impacted what motivated them. The Value factor remained the most motivating factor across the different groups, and in fact, became stronger the more people volunteered as did the Understanding factor. Also, the Enhancement factor increased for people who volunteered 10–15 hours, while the importance of the Protective factor diminished for people who volunteered 5+ hours.
In the survey, we asked people to identify which stream they were in; Commerce, Science or Humanities. Value and Understanding factor was the most motivating factors for the Science and Commerce streams. However, for the Humanities stream Value was the most important factor, with Career, Enhancement, Social and Protective all following very closely.
Through most of the data, Value and Understanding were the most motivating factors. With this understanding, schools and NGOs can better design their volunteer recruitment programs by focusing on how they can help the cause and have a positive impact on people around them, while also building their skills.
There were some important differences when I analysed the data by age, stream and how long people have volunteered. Understanding these differences can really help schools and NGOs tailor their communication when both recruiting and working with volunteers to get them on board and continue to keep them engaged.