The Role of Connections to Other People and Communities
In addition to the motivations that individuals bring to volunteerism, theory and research point to important influences of other people and of social contexts. Thus, studies of volunteerism have revealed that connections to other people and to the larger community are intricately interwoven into the processes of volunteerism (Omoto & Snyder, 2002). Specifically, concerns for the well-being of one’s community and the influences of other community members figure prominently in the motivations measured in samples of new volunteers. Moreover, longitudinal studies in which volunteers are followed over the course of their service and measured at successive points in time have revealed that volunteers become increasing connected with their surrounding communities, including those defined by their volunteer service organizations. And, their effectiveness as volunteers is enhanced by these community connections.
In addition, volunteering builds community. For instance, longitudinal studies of volunteerism reveal that, over time and as a consequence of their work, volunteers are increasingly surrounded by a community of people who are connected to their volunteer service; including people they personally have recruited to be volunteers (Omoto & Snyder, 2002). Moreover, as connections to a community of shared concerns increase, participation in the community, including forms of social action other than volunteerism (such as giving to charitable causes, attending fund-raising events, and engaging in social activism), also increase (Omoto & Malsch, 2005). Finally, volunteering can and does contribute to the creation of the bonds of social capital (e.g., Stukas, Daly, & Cowling, 2005) that are thought to be the “glue” that holds society together; in fact, volunteering is sometimes considered a key indicator of social capital itself (Putnam, 2000).
It appears, then, that there is a cyclical process at work here, one in which connection to community leads to volunteerism, which builds further community connection, which stimulates more volun- teerism, which in turn leads to other forms of social action. As this process spreads and permeates the larger society, it may contribute to the emergence, development, and perpetuation of a concerned, caring, and actively involved citizenry working for the common good of all members of society. For elaboration on, and discussion of, these interconnections of volunteerism and community, see Omoto and Snyder (2002; 2009).