Any successful business or nonprofit organization knows that people are their most valuable asset. Nonprofits have the added advantage of using volunteers to improve their organization and significantly expand their reach. Volunteers today are finally being viewed as essential contributors to the success of the sector, with one volunteer hour being valued at $22.55 in 2013, according to a report from Independent Sector in Washington, D.C.
WHY DO PEOPLE VOLUNTEER?
As the need for volunteers grow, nonprofits search for ways to increase the loyalty, motivation and production of the ones they have. In order to do this, they first must understand what drives people to volunteer in the first place. A report produced by Independent Sector in 1997 followed a study of this issue and identified eight top reasons why people volunteer:
1. To make a difference.
2. To use a talent or skill.
3. To gain professional or other experience.
4. To express religious faith.
5. To meet people.
6. To achieve personal growth and enhanced self-esteem.
7. To seek a more balanced life.
8. To give something back.
WHAT MOTIVATES VOLUNTEERS?
While these specific reasons why people volunteer is helpful to nonprofits, the issue of what motivates those volunteers is an issue that has been studied for many years and can be broken down fairly easily. Psychologist A. H. Maslow organized human needs on five general levels (which he called a hierarchy of needs) in his book called Motivation and Personality. The five levels are described below in ascending order (i.e. the first levels are the most basic and essential, with the higher levels only being pursued after the basic ones are satisfied):
1. Physiological needs such as food, water and shelter.
2. Safety needs such as protection.
3. Social needs such as belonging, and acceptance.
4. Ego needs such as achievement, status, and appreciation.
5. Self-actualization needs such as the need to realize one’s potential.
Most individuals who volunteer have the first two basic levels covered, and therefore are driven to satisfy the third through fifth levels of needs. When working on your volunteer program, keep in mind the eight reasons why people volunteer to grow your number of volunteers, and how to satisfy their social, ego and self-actualization needs to motivate and engage them. This information, combined with good and ongoing communication, will ensure a healthy and productive team of volunteers.
Maslow, A. H. Motivation and Personality (Harper & Row, Inc., New York, 1970).