At the LSE Volunteer Centre we’re always keen to shout about the benefits of volunteering, especially how it can help student volunteers think about their career. Our friends over in Koç University (Istanbul) have written an amazing blog on volunteering amongst university students in relation to prospective careers based on a case study they’ve conducted!
Volunteering has largely been defined in relation to a lack of expectation in return (Musick and Wilson, 2008, p. 12). Indeed in our case study[i] on motivations, gains and expectations of volunteers mainly in an NGO[ii] and similar organizations in Turkey, we found that the highest rated motivation for volunteering was following one’s own life view and personal philosophy (60,9%), and the most highlighted gain from volunteering was feeling more morally satisfied as a result of contributing to society without any expectation (64,3%). While these correspond to one of the basic principles of volunteering, to increase the motivation of specifically college students for supporting different causes as volunteers, there could be certain incentives that are in particular related to their future careers.
There are various findings and arguments in the literature that present the relationship between volunteerism and individuals’ career trajectories. Within the “Volunteer Function Inventory”, a prominent collection of major volunteering motives created with a functional approach, one of the six major motivational functions served by volunteerism is listed as career (e.g. gaining skills), alongside with value (e.g. altruism), understanding (e.g. learning new things), sociability (e.g. making new friends), protection (e.g. protecting oneself from negativities), and enhancement (e.g. self-development) (Clary et al., 1998; Clary and Snyder, 1999). In addition, it has been reported that volunteering could be a powerful tool for employment and career development for marginalized and socio-economically disadvantaged youth (Pratt, 2005). Volunteerism has been found to help youth to gain knowledge and skills that they can use in their future careers and to strengthen their self-esteem (Bjälesjö, 2010). Also, consistent with previous research, it was indicated that international volunteering supports defining volunteers’ educational and career objectives while contributing to their future social and economic development (Lough et al., 2009).
In our case study, results have shown that one of the least preferred motivations for volunteering was academic purposes including obtaining more information on one’s area of study (2,3%), however, gains from volunteering displayed more career-oriented outcomes. 33,6% of the respondents indicated that they improved themselves about teamwork and cooperation with the help of their volunteering activities, which was the second most preferred option for gains from volunteering. The third most underlined benefit was that respondents acquired knowledge and skills which can contribute to their career in the future or that they acquired specialization, with a rate of 31,2%. The fourth most preferred gain volunteering brought about was increasing one’s self-confidence and respondents becoming more aware of their capacity and abilities (29,2%), which would be expected to enhance future careers of young individuals[iii]. Finally, the fifth most rated benefit was “I became friends with different people/got to know different institutions/expanded my social network” (28,6%), and that would also be anticipated to remarkably support one’s career. As can be seen, while the primary motivation is found to be compatible with the common definition of volunteering that it is undertaken without any compensation and for the interest of others and the society (Dekker and Halman, 2003), most underscored gains from volunteering have been closely associated with respondents’ (future) careers.
In our research, among the least preferred benefits of volunteering was “I found a job in civil society or another sector through my volunteering activities” (1,6%). It needs to be underlined that the sample of our case study comprised mostly undergraduate students (67,4%), hence it can be presumed that most of them are not employed yet. However, we argue that the connection between volunteering and the job market should be stronger in any case. But what can be done to achieve this? A few suggestions could be proposed as:
- Career centers of higher education institutions could promote volunteering in relation to students’ employment trajectories by also providing official certificates/reference letters to those who attend related activities.
- Workplaces could be given certain incentives for volunteering initiations, and they could offer affirmative action in hiring processes towards those who attend these programs.
- NGOs could collaborate with universities both for volunteering and employment opportunities.
While positive outcomes of volunteering have been to a great extent found as related to career prospects of young individuals, we argue that motivations for volunteering also need to be more associated with future employment of college students, both to strengthen volunteerism in society for different causes and support disadvantaged groups, and to reinforce the job market status of college students after their graduation. At the same time, building a bridge between different sectors including but not limited to civil society and volunteering would increase the awareness towards the importance of volunteer actions for individuals and societies.
- Musick, M. A., Wilson, J. (2008). Volunteers: A social Profile. Indiana University Press.
- Clary, E. G., Snyder, M., Ridge, R. D., Copeland, J., Stukas, A. A., Haugen, J., and Meine, P. (1998). Understanding and assessing the motivations of volunteers: A functional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1516-1530.
- Clary, E. G., Snyder, M. (1999). The motivations to volunteer: Theoretical and practical considerations. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8(5), 156-159.
- Pratt, J. (2005). Volunteering as a stepping stone for marginalized youth. Volunteer Victoria. Retrieved from: http://www.volunteervictoria.bc.ca/_pdfs/stepping_stone.pdf.
- Bjälesjö, J. (2010). Youth policy cooperation between Turkey and Sweden. In Introduction to Youth Policy – Swedish and Turkish Perspectives. The Swedish National Board for Youth Affairs and the Department of Youth Services at the Directorate for Youth and Sports in Turkey.
- Lough, B. J., McBride, A. M., Sherraden, M. S. (2009). Perceived effects of international volunteering: Reports from alumni. CSD Research Report 09-10. Retrieved from: http://csd.wustl.edu/Publications/Documents/RP09-10.pdf
[i] Volunteering Research Report: http://www.sosyalben.com/UPLOAD/fr/SBF%20Volunteering%20Research%20Report%2005.02.pdf
[ii] SosyalBen Foundation: http://www.sosyalben.org/dil/eng
[iii] 94,8% of the sample is under 30 years old.