The Psychology of Volunteering

Guest post by Amanda Carlson

The psychology behind volunteeringDespite how cynical people often feel, there are reasons to be proud of being a human. Humans are known for sacrificing their own well-being to help others, and some even perform actions that will help people they will never see.

It’s important to understand the inner motivations of your volunteers – so you can make sure their experience with your organization is as fulfilling as possible. Here are some of the factors driving volunteerism and some facts about the psychology behind it:

Why do we volunteer?

A number of theories have been proposed to explain why people help others for no benefit. Some say that it is a result of human evolution: before civilization was developed, humans would have to depend on each other in order to survive. While volunteering is no longer essential for individual survival, this instinct still remains.

What about religion?

Some propose that it is primarily religion that encourages people to volunteer their time and energy. Indeed, monotheistic religious texts place an emphasis on helping others. For example, the concept of karma in Hinduism may make volunteering tempting.

However, volunteerism is still high among those who subscribe to no religion, and there is no evidence that religious people volunteer more regularly than those who are not religious. Still, religious institutes are often at the forefront of organizing volunteer efforts.

Who volunteers?

It’s difficult to determine who volunteers most frequently from a demographic perspective. Volunteerism is popular among both young people and the elderly, and people of all races and religions tend to volunteer at similar rates. That said, a majority of people do not volunteer regularly, but most people state that volunteering is a goal. Some have suggested that there may be techniques for encouraging more people to spend their time helping others.

Does encouraging volunteerism work?

Some have proposed increasing the tax benefits for those who volunteer. Further, some suggest funding volunteer efforts so that those who help are paid for their time. However, the most effective way to increase volunteerism might simply be to talk about it more often.

Simple television advertisements, blog posts and social media conversations about volunteer opportunities may be able to help, as most people express a desire to volunteer more frequently. Some have also suggested making volunteering a group effort: Instead of people signing up individually, they could form groups and decide where their time will be spent collectively.

Amanda Carlson, a blogger as well as a former newborn care nurse contributed this post. To stay connected to her previous career and share the knowledge she gained, she began writing for You can reach her at

(Photo from Hey Paul Studios on Flickr.)