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Why volunteer?

What motivates people to volunteer? In Finland, motivators for volunteers are poorly known, but they should be examined. This information would benefit both civic activity professionals and volunteers.

Finns are active volunteers. Volunteering in Finland 2018 report (In Finnish) shows that 40% of Finns regularly participate in volunteering.

Due to national surveys, we are well aware of the kind of activities Finns are involved in and how their participation is divided according to occupation. In 2018, volunteering with children and adolescents as well as in physical activity and sports was at the forefront. We also know that one out of three Finns wants to do more volunteer work (In Finnish).

However, one important thing remains in the dark: why do people participate in voluntary activities? And why would so many want to do more volunteering than they do today?

The attractiveness of volunteering is not surprising – its benefits are well known. For example, volunteers feel that they acquire many important skills (In Finnish) that can be useful in their daily and working lives and studies.

However, the benefits acquired from volunteering do not always reflect the original reasons for involvement. What initially motivates people to volunteer? In Finnish surveys, it is difficult to find answers to this question.

In Sweden motivators are mapped annually

On an annual basis, the Swedish Volontärbyrån examines the reasons for volunteering in Sweden. According to last year’s survey (In Swedish), the most common reasons are the desire to do something concrete, to offer support and help to other people, to have a positive impact on society, and to develop as a person or to learn something new.

However, the results of Volontärbyrån’s survey do not tell the whole truth. In the questionnaire, answers are chosen from 11 predefined answer options, and a number of important reasons may be left out. For example, the survey addresses the sense of community and the possibility of making new friends, but not the desire to feel at home in a new place of residence. This might be a very tangible reason for a recent immigrant to get involved in civic activity.

For the first time, the 2019 survey also examined the sense of duty as a motivator. 16% of the respondents – and up to 20% of young respondents – consider volunteering as a duty.

This should raise questions among volunteer organisations. If a volunteer is primarily activated by a sense of duty, do they truly see the activity as volunteering? Will volunteering become too stressful?

Motivators are reflected in the coordination of volunteering

As a youth support coordinator at HelsinkiMissio, I encounter volunteer motivators on a regular basis. During the application process, we ask the people applying for the support activity why they want to volunteer.

Volontärbyrån’s research results are also reflected in our youth support activity: our volunteers’ main motivator is their willingness to help and support others. Many of the applicants also mention, for example, that they want to participate in something meaningful and to feel useful.

Also, the sense of responsibility and duty are brought up on the applications. Many of the applicants tell that their lives are in balance and, therefore, they want to support a person in a more challenging situation. Some mention they had a well-balanced childhood and want to help a young person living in a more difficult situation. Others, in turn, want to utilise the challenges they encountered when they were young to help another person.

Why should we pay attention to motivation?

Observing motivators is important for organisers of voluntary activities. When a volunteer identifies their own motivators, they are better adjusted to committing to their tasks. Our job is to create processes that encourage volunteers to self-reflect.

We professionals make sure that every volunteer’s own motivation and the tasks planned for them go together. At the same time, we also need to ensure that the volunteering tasks we offer match the most common motivators. Different motivators call for different volunteering tasks. A person who is looking for networking opportunities and new friends does not want to volunteer completely independently. For someone else, an independent task might be the best solution, as long as they continue to feel involved, for example, in positive and socially significant activities.

At the moment, it is not possible to monitor the development of motivators for volunteers in Finland. In its annual survey, Sweden’s Volontärbyrån inquires the views of people involved in voluntary activities. Finnish surveys, on the other hand, have been carried out with the help of random sampling. Thus, it is possible to examine the views of both active and potential volunteers.

In the future, it would be great to ask this same group selected at random why they participate or would like to participate in voluntary activities. In this way, we, the professionals organising voluntary activities, could react to the trends in motivators, thus providing Finns with even better opportunities for volunteering.

Text: Sophie Holm

Volunteering Coordinator at HelsinkiMissio

The text was previously published on the HelsinkiMissio blog.

Translation: Eve Lahikainen

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