Inspiring volunteering.

What is volunteering?

I have always found that the word ‘volunteering’, a difficult word to define, don’t you think? With so many types of volunteering, it can be challenging to distinguish them. There is formal volunteering that is generally associated to fixed roles and responsibilities that must be completed for an organisation. Then there is governance volunteering, where volunteers offer management for an organisation. We can also find non-formal volunteering. Here individuals in a community gather to tackle a social need. Similarly, we find social action volunteering, where people come together to bring about a specific change. Lastly, there is project-based volunteering. Here people provide their specific skills, and which have an objective and timeframe in achieving it.

Despite these sometimes-vague definitions, it’s encouraging to learn that there are individuals who actively take part. They provide a service for no monitory gain but to contribute to the betterment of society. I know that there are drawbacks in volunteering and that not every activity is beneficial in hindsight. Regardless, I believe that volunteering improves communities and societies in large.

What motivates volunteering?

What makes people do what they do has always been a question mark to me. I am not a sociologist or phycologist to answer this question. However, there are some studies asking just that. One such paper divided volunteers’ motivations into extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivations are motivations that are driven by external rewards such as career enhancement or are required by external bodies. Examples such as school completion certificates where students are required to do some sort of volunteer service. I myself had to complete such a service to obtain my high school qualification. Other extrinsic motivations may be attached to community service due to minor offenses. Some private companies participate in contributing to the local community, and which employees are required to take part. Sometimes called corporate social responsibility.

Extrinsic motivations are valuable in contributing in improving societies, but only in the short-term. This is because such extrinsic motivators often do not continue volunteering after the activity is completed.   

Alternatively, intrinsic motivations are related to people who have particular interest on a certain topic. The drive to help the community are often derived from a sense of belonging. This can be found in most religious organisations but also in neighbourhoods, towns or cities they feel a part of. It is thought that such engagement results in much longer and continuous volunteering. 

I can relate to this association. My first volunteer experience was in high school and it was a mandatory service. I enjoyed the activities, but I did not continue volunteering after leaving school. It was only years later when I started working in Singapore when I began volunteering regularly again. I lived there for seven years and it became my home and part of the community. In essence, my motivations changed from intrinsic to extrinsic.  

How to encourage people to volunteer?

When doing my research to write this post, I identified three important ways that could encourage volunteering. First is to start early. Whether family volunteering or regular school volunteering, can help motivate continuous engagement. Second is providing a sense of community. This links directly back to intrinsic motivations. Finding a common goal and objective that contribute to the public and community is more attractive.

Alone, we can do so little: together, we can do so much“.


Lastly is required volunteering and relates directly to extrinsic motivations. While this might be thought to be least effective, they do entice some individuals to continue volunteering in the future.  

Volunteering in the future.

I believe that volunteering will continue to rise. According to the 2018 United Nations Volunteers report, ‘The thread that binds volunteerism and community resilience’, puts a full-time volunteer workforce at 109 million people globally. This number would equate to the fifth largest country in the world! That is no easy task and it’s not time to stop now. If you are interested in volunteering, explore opportunities in your local community. If you are already a volunteer, share what you do on this post so we can learn together.

Never miss a blog post!

Sign up for the biweekly newsletter and get great tips and stories like this!