Taking the voluntary out of volunteering

Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote goodness or improve human quality of life. In return, this activity can produce a feeling of self-worth and respect. There is no financial gain involved for the individual. Volunteering is also renowned for skill development, socialization, and fun. Volunteering may have positive benefits for the volunteer as well as for the person or community served.

When is the last time you volunteered to do something? When is the last time you volunteered to do community service hours? Did you truly do it voluntarily or did you do it involuntarily to meet the service hours for your greek organization or an outstanding citation? I have a sense that most of us millennials, I know there are a lot of exceptions, are part of the group that need an outside force or motive to get us to do any sort of volunteer task. I get the sense that most of my generation does volunteering not out of the kindness of their heart, but rather out of self-interests such as meeting hour requirements for organizations or adding it to a resume to improve how people perceive them. However, I also know there are countless of examples of the opposite. These are people who do genuinely do it voluntarily and do not want any sort of personal gains. Unfortunately, this is not majority. But what if we could have these kind of people be the majority instead of the minority? What would that take? Is the only way to get people to volunteer by requiring it? Doesn’t that defeat the true nature of volunteering?

The majority of the population and a lot of society sees volunteering and community service as unpleasant acts and sometimes even as punishment. For example, many young people who get in trouble with the law or with other institutions often have to do countless of community service hours as a learning experience, however, I just see it as an “alternative punishment”. This is a perfect example of how not to force people to volunteer. It is requiring someone to do something as a form of punishment. Community service should never be thought of as punishment, but rather, it needs to be thought of as the opposite of that. In order to change many people’s perception and attitude towards volunteering, we need to make the terms community service and volunteering synonymous with the word “reward”, rather than “punishment”. People need to be rewarded for volunteering. Walt Disney’s “give a day, get a day” program incentivized people to volunteer by awarding a free admission to their park if they have a day of volunteering. Companies could follow similar incentives for employees and customers to promote giving back to the community. This would create a lot of social good, help fix communities, and help people who are in need at very low costs. The costs of the work completed for the greater good of society would be distributed amongst a lot of different institutions.

Incentives is a way to get people to volunteer but is it changing their attitudes about it? What happens if we stop those incentives? Will people keep volunteering? I believe that people will continue to volunteer. Volunteering produces positive feelings of self-worth and respect. I believe that getting people to volunteer (to get a reward rather than for punishment) will change the way they perceive it. The positive feeling that they get from it will be enough of an incentive where they will do it voluntarily. With enough people volunteering and giving back to communities, there could be significant social changes and improvements. Seeing these improved communities and experiencing that volunteering can have big impacts, I believe that volunteering will spread like a virus. We just have to get over the tipping point of first getting people to do it but ultimately to change the way people perceive volunteering to show them that it can be a powerful tool.


4 thoughts on “Taking the voluntary out of volunteering”

  1. Your discussion on volunteering is intriguing and thought provoking. I think one reason volunteering is used as a form of “punishment” for individuals is because it can show people a different side of life whether its poverty or how volunteering can change you as a person; volunteering has big impacts like you state. Over the last 50 years volunteering has become ingrained in the American culture (compared to Europe where volunteering is not as imbedded). I hope we do see a cultural shift in how we view volunteer work.


  2. . I never really conceptualized the ideas you presented in your blog. Community service should be a selfless action rather than a punishment. I agree with Jess’ sentiments above too. The point of community service may open an individual’s eyes and change their perspective of the world.


    1. You’re right, community service SHOULD be a selfless action, however, nowadays it is often used as alternative forms of punishment. It also seems to have become Greenwashing to some extent, where people do it to look good rather than because they really mean to do good. People should do community service without getting any sort of outside reward or appraisal.


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