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Volunteering as Experience – Re-examining Theories of Volunteering

Tue, July 10, 12:00 to 1:30pm, Room, 5A 33


Volunteering is usually understood as undertaking tasks for the benefit of others, receiving no remuneration (or very little), out of their own free will (Cnaan, Handy & Wadsworth, 1996).
However, research by Reid (2014, 2015) found that volunteers at two golf events were not motivated through any sense of altruism. Instead the volunteers explained that they had a significantly better experience than if they had simply spectated. At one event the volunteers were willing to pay for the volunteer experience.
This theme of volunteering experience was also found through research into the IDEALS programme by Reid & Tattersall (2013, 2017) in sport volunteer tourism. Here student volunteers reported that they had the best 6 weeks of their lives, and recommended the experience to their friends despite the high cost in terms of time training and fundraising and actual monetary cost to the individual of participating in the programme.
Research by Rogerson, Reid, Sly and Nicholson (ITSR conference 2018) considers the Host City Volunteers (HCV) at Commonwealth Games 2014 volunteering experience as an intervention – where significant investment was made in a programme to achieve certain outcomes for individuals and the group. Here, there was a large cost for the individuals to take part (in this case met by Glasgow Life and the Big Lottery Fund). Their paper explores whether there was a long-term social outcome for the individuals involved.
This paper re-examines findings from the studies above to consider whether concepts of volunteering should be altered to include the important experiential element. In-depth qualitative interviews were re-examined for the themes of experience and value. The concept of providing a service for free is reconsidered to include payment by the volunteer (or other organisation) for the experience afforded by volunteering.
This important change in perception of volunteering from benefitting the recipients of the voluntary service to benefitting the individual volunteers can be seen in policy-making today. Volunteering is seen as a solution to a variety of problems and to provide a variety of interventions to improve the lives of individuals. Perhaps those benefits experienced by volunteers are now something organisations can charge for (either to the state or to the individual). This is currently evident in the number of grant funding for projects with a volunteering element or legacy. This could become an important revenue stream for third sector organisations faced with cuts in state funding as long as they understand the needs of the volunteers.
This could signal a shift in the concept of volunteering. Research continues to question the use of the term volunteering, and perhaps the terminology should be altered to differentiate between the different types of activities that are undertaken for a host of motives?