Saturday, 23 November 2013

Volunteering: what do we get from it?

Volunteering in New Zealand is more culturally endemic than Australia; out of 4 million people we have 800,000 volunteers. Australia with 20 million has 200,000. That's 20% of Kiwis versus 5% of Aussies (this little stat got me wondering if Aotearoa has more volunteers than other nations - but I will leave that for a later post!).

Sport NZ commissioned a study in 2006 on what drove New Zealanders to volunteer in sporting organisations. They found four key generic values of "generosity; love of sport; social connection; and appreciation" (SNZ, 2006). The nature of volunteerism - not philanthropy - is fascinating, as are the motivations to do it.

The SNZ study also explored the life stage of volunterers, and found four main volunteer clusters: late teens, 'youth', family and 'seniors'. You are most likely to be a sports volunteer if you are a Pakeha man in their 40s with a child over 18 (2007). Half of sports volunteers are in visible roles, half are ‘behind the scenes’. A quarter of people volunteer for under two hours a week, a quarter for between two and four hours. A sixth of us volunteer for more than ten hours a week.

95% of volunteers recommend the value of volunteering to others. They get a lot out of volunteering: personal satisfaction, the sense of giving something back, leaving a future legacy, helping out their own kids and love of the sport (SNZ, 2007).

But we also fall off the perch often, with some pretty regular, recurring themes. These include outside or work pressure and a "feeling that it is time to move on", and getting on with people via personality clashes and club ‘politics’ (SNZ, 2007).

So why do we fall off? Harold Levinson & some Harvard buddies (1972) did some work on motivation, based on Schein's (1970) work, suggesting we have five main motivational assumptions which drive us. They are the rational economic, the social, the self-actualising (all dervied from Schein), the pyschological (Levinson et al) and the complex (Schein again) assumptions. Hmm... actually, that last one is really a combo of any of the others. So let's dial that back to four key assumptions.
  1. Rational-economic: People are motivated primarily by economic needs. They are passive and can be manipulated, motivated and controlled by the organisation. People are irrational, and so organisations must be structured to control their feelings and unpredictable traits. 
  2. Social: People are social animals and gain their sense of identity from relationships with others. Rationalisation has taken much of the meaning out of work itself, so meaning is sought in social relationships on the job. Management must be able to mobilise and rely on social relationships, and so issues of leadership style and group behaviour are important. 
  3. Self-actualising: People are primarily self-motivated and self-controlled. They seek to be mature on the job and are capable of it. 
  4. Psychological: People are complex, unfolding, maturing organisms who pass through physiological and psychological stages of development. Work is part of a person’s identity and ego ideal, and motivation depends on having opportunities to work towards that ego ideal.
  5. Complex: People vary, with many motives whose relative importance changes from time to time and situation to situation.
The rational-economic usually doesn't apply to volunteering. But the social, self-actualising and psychological ones do (and in combination in the complex view). So when people change, when a new club captain is appointed, when we suddenly see a new way; it is easy to see how our motivational mojo can suddenly run dry.

The trick in managing a volunteer organisation is to go and have those chats with people that keep them engaged. The best volunteer people do that in spades.

He Tangata, he Tangata, he Tangata!



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