Satisfaction as a Volunteer

In a field study of an “elder volunteer” program, the matching of benefits to motivation (e.g., actually making the friends or getting the esteem boost that one seeks through volunteering) predicted satisfaction with volunteer experience (Clary et al., 1998). Moreover, in a longitudinal study of the volunteer process, matching between motivations, expectations, and experiences predicted greater satisfaction and lesser burnout (Crain, Omoto, & Snyder, 1998). Additional evidence of the importance of matching volunteers’ tasks and experiences to their motivations in predicting satisfaction is provided by the research of Davis, Hall, and Meyer (2003) and Houle, Sagarin, and Kaplan (2005).

Intentions to Continue Volunteering

In research on intentions to continue serving as a volunteer, Stukas, Snyder, and Clary (1999) found that the matching of benefits to motivation (e.g., looking to gain career skills through volunteering and actually gaining the sought-after career skills, discovering that volunteering actually affirms humanitarian values important to the volunteer) predicts short- and long-term intentions to volunteer among students in a campus volunteer program. Moreover, commitment to sustained service has been found to be greater among volunteers whose experiences were congruent with, or matched to, their motivations for volunteering as measured six months earlier (O’Brien, Crain,

Omoto, & Snyder, 2000). Finally, the effects of matching on intentions for continued volunteer service have also been demonstrated in laboratory analogues of volunteer activity (e.g., O’Brien, Crain, Omoto, & Snyder, 2000; Williamson, Snyder, & Omoto, 2000).

As critically important as motivations are throughout the course of service as a volunteer, there are indications that motivations may operate differently at different stages of the volunteer process. In fact, the forces that initiate action are not necessarily the same as those that sustain action. Thus, although “other-oriented” considerations such as humanitarian concern often figure prominently in the motivations reported by new volunteers, such motivations may have little predictive power in accounting for ultimate duration of volunteer service; by contrast, although “self-oriented” motivations such as esteem enhancement are relatively rare among the motivations that bring volunteers into service, such motivations can have particularly great predictive power in forecasting just how long volunteers will remain active as volunteers (Omoto & Snyder, 1995; but, see also, Penner & Finkelstein, 1998). In keeping with the critical importance of the matching of motivation and experience at various stages of the volunteer process, it may be that differences between the motivations behind the initiation and maintenance of volunteer service may reflect differences in the extent to which these motivations match the experiences that volunteers have in the course of their service as volunteers.

The particular power of self-oriented motivations suggests a possible irony—it may be that it is the most self-oriented, and perhaps even selfish, of citizens who end up making the most seemingly altruistic contributions to society through their sustained involvement in vol- unteerism. For this reason, it can be tempting to use the term “selfish altruists” to describe volunteers who have created the “win-win” situation of doing good for themselves at the same time as they do good for others and for society. The criteria for identifying actions as altruistic are, of course, complex (for one discussion, see Batson, 1998); nevertheless, the motivations behind volunteer service may be revealing of some of the complex intertwining of the dynamics of actions for the benefit of others and actions for the benefit of the self.

The role of motivations in volunteerism is also evident in other forms of social action. In fact, studies of phenomena as diverse as participation in social movements (e.g., Klandermans, 1984; Simon, Loewy, Stuermer, Weber, Freytag, Habig et al., 1998), organizational citizenship in the workplace (e.g., Rioux & Penner, 2001), community leadership (e.g., Bono, Snyder, & Duehr, 2005), and civic and political participation (e.g., Miller, 2004; Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995) have all revealed motivations with strong family resemblances to those emerging from studies of volunteerism.

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