Volunteering and Communication

Studies from Multiple Contexts

by Michael W. Kramer (Volume editor) Loril M. Gossett (Volume editor) Laurie K. Lewis (Volume editor)
©2013 Textbook XII, 434 Pages


This book won the 2014 Applied Communication Division Award for Outstanding Edited Book
There is a growing interest in studying nonprofit organizations and volunteers as an alternative to studying employees in for-profit businesses and government agencies. This is driven in part by the recognition that volunteers make important contributions to society and the economy. This book is the first edited volume written primarily by communication scholars to focus on volunteers. It explores the experience of being a volunteer and managing volunteers through a focus on empirical examination of communication in volunteering. The contributors explore volunteers broadly and are divided into five sections which cover becoming a volunteer; learning about self as a volunteer; dark sides of volunteering; organizationally supported volunteering; and voice and dissent. The final chapter suggests areas of future research and application of the book.
An important focus of the book is its data-based, empirical studies. Although each chapter includes applications, those recommendations are based on systematic studies of volunteers rather than primarily on anecdotal evidence or previous literature. Furthermore, each chapter includes a brief field experience narrative written by a volunteer, as well as addressing a broader conceptual or theoretical issue of organizational studies. In this way the book provides more than just case studies of volunteers, but also addresses general organizational issues.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Volunteering and Communication
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Ch 1: An Introduction to Volunteers
  • Laurie K. Lewis
  • What is Volunteering?
  • Volunteering in the US: Numbers and Scope
  • International Volunteering
  • Stereotypes of Volunteering
  • Trends in Modern Volunteering
  • Episodic Volunteering
  • Virtual/Online Volunteering
  • Voluntourism
  • Corporate Volunteering
  • State of the Art: Research on Volunteering
  • Communication Research on Volunteering
  • The Organization of this Book
  • References
  • Section 1: Becoming a Volunteer
  • Ch 2: Blogging for Peace: Realistic Job Preview Strategies from the 21st Century Peace Corps Volunteer
  • Casey Malone Maugh
  • Literature Review
  • Realistic Job Previews
  • Peace Corps Organizational Website
  • Volunteer Blogging
  • Method
  • Findings
  • The Blog as a Primary Means of Communication
  • Motivation for Volunteering
  • The Realities of Work
  • Accepting Boredom as a Way of Life
  • The Challenges of Development Work
  • Integration and Adjustment
  • Peace Corps Critique and Commentary
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Ch 3: Communicating Belonging: Building Communities of Expert Volunteers
  • Joel O. Iverson
  • Knowledge Management and Communities of Practice
  • KM for NPOs and Volunteers
  • Belonging
  • Volunteer Management and Training
  • Methods
  • Organizations
  • Rationale for Organizations
  • Sources of Data
  • Data Analysis
  • Findings
  • Training in Sonoran Garden
  • Training in Disaster Aid
  • Sonoran Garden Interaction
  • Disaster Aid Interaction
  • Discussion
  • Limitations
  • Conclusion
  • References:
  • Ch 4: The Socialization of Community Choir Members: A Comparison of New and Continuing Volunteers
  • Michael W. Kramer
  • Review of Literature
  • Research Questions
  • Method
  • Qualitative Data
  • Quantitative Data
  • Findings
  • RQ 1: Making Sense of Anticipatory Role Socialization
  • RQ2: Similarities and Differences in Understanding MCC’s Culture
  • RQ3: Predictors of Positive Outcomes for New and Continuing Volunteers
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Ch 5: Learning by the “Seat of Your Pants”: The Socialization of Nonprofit Board Members
  • Theresa R. Castor & Mary Jo Jiter
  • Organizational Socialization
  • Data Gathering and Analysis
  • Findings
  • Prior Expectations
  • Learning as a New Board Member
  • Change in Newcomer Status
  • Communication Changes
  • Comparing Voluntary & Work Assimilation Experiences
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Ch 6: Supporting the Supporters: Implications for Organizational Commitment
  • April A. Kedrowicz
  • Review of Literature
  • Methods
  • Setting
  • Data Collection and Analysis
  • Findings
  • Training and Support Expectations
  • Meanings of Support: Competence in Volunteering
  • Supportive Actions: Fulfillment of Roles
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Section 2: Learning about Self
  • Ch 7: The Sisterhood of the Hammer: Women Organizing for Community and Self
  • Claudia L. Hale & Anita C. James
  • Theology of the Hammer, Community, & Sensemaking
  • Method
  • Findings
  • Use the Volunteer’s Time Wisely
  • We Teach by Doing
  • Have an “Outrageously Good Time”
  • Create a Relationship
  • “Thank You” Goes a Long Way
  • I Can Do This
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Ch 8: “Like Nothing Else I’ve Ever Experienced”: Examining the Metaphors of Residential Hospice Volunteers
  • Cristina M. Gilstrap & Zachary M. White
  • Metaphors as Organizational Reality
  • Experiencing Hospice Volunteering Through Metaphors
  • Receiving a Gift
  • Friendship
  • Family
  • Dress Rehearsal
  • Helping Hand
  • Fact of Life
  • (Re)Conceiving Volunteer–Patient Relationships
  • Practical Applications
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Ch 9: What Does This Mean, "Just be a Friend"?: Analysis of Volunteer Uncertainty During the Assimilation and Socialization Process at a Youth Mentoring Organization
  • Janette C. Douglas & Do Kyun Kim
  • Uncertainty, Assimilation, Socialization, and Exit
  • Uncertainty Reduction Theory
  • Uncertainty Reduction and Assimilation/Socialization
  • Anticipatory Socialization
  • Encounter
  • Metamorphosis
  • Exit
  • Method
  • Findings
  • I Am Experienced!: Anticipatory Socialization
  • What Do I Have To Do If?: Uncertainty at Encounter
  • Am I Doing Right?: Uncertainty at Metamorphosis
  • Am I Making As Difference? Exit
  • Discussion
  • Uncertainty and Anticipatory Socialization
  • Uncertainty Reduction at the Encounter Stage
  • Support for Metamorphosis
  • Feedback at Exit
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Ch 10: Volunteer Tourists: The Identity and Discourse of Travelers Combining Largesse and Leisure
  • Jennifer Mize Smith
  • Volunteer Tourism
  • Values and Identity in Volunteering
  • Identity and Structuration
  • Method
  • Process
  • Participants
  • Volunteer Vacation Destination
  • Data Collection Procedures
  • Data Analysis
  • Findings
  • Pre-vacation Philanthropic Identity
  • Volunteer Vacation Discourse
  • Discussion
  • Limitations and Future Research
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Section 3: Dark Sides of Volunteering
  • Ch 11: “You Just Gotta Be Careful About Those Boundaries:” Managing Risk in a Volunteer-based Organization
  • Abbey E. Wojno
  • Review of Literature
  • Risk and Relationships
  • Communication Privacy Management
  • Methods
  • Participants and Settings
  • Data Collection
  • Interview Procedures
  • Analysis
  • Findings
  • Encountering Discourses of Risk
  • Responding to Discourses of Risk
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Ch 12: Negotiating Aging and Agedness in Volunteer Disaster Response Teams
  • Jacquelyn N. Chinn & Joshua B. Barbour
  • Master Narratives of Decline: Exploring Aging in Organizations
  • CERT as Case: An Overview and Analytical Framework
  • Procedures
  • Findings
  • Contested Definitions of Age
  • Inside the Aged Volunteer Experience
  • Outside the Aged Volunteer Experience
  • Aging and Organizing: Experiences of Volunteer Coordinators
  • Discussion
  • Insights for the Negotiation of Master Narratives
  • Insights for Practitioners
  • Insights in the Embodied Research Experience
  • Conclusion and Future Directions
  • References
  • Ch 13: Managing Volunteer Tensions: Unpacking Experiences and Responses to Organizational Irrationalities
  • Disraelly Cruz
  • Organizational Irrationalities and Nonprofit Organizing
  • Data Collection and Analysis Methods
  • Analysis of Findings
  • The Paradox of Involvement
  • Experienced Organizational Tensions
  • Voice and Silence in Tension Management
  • Discussion
  • Reflections and Implications for Volunteer Organizers
  • References
  • Section 4: Organizationally Supported Volunteering
  • Ch 14: Volunteerism and Corporate Social Responsibility: Definitions, Measurement, Roles, and Commitment
  • Donnalyn Pompper
  • CSR and Volunteerism
  • CSR: What Is It and Who Criticizes It?
  • Social Exchange Theory Framework
  • CSR and Employees
  • Method
  • Findings
  • Definitions and Measures
  • Types of Activities
  • Employee Volunteer Roles
  • Volunteer Work Timing
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Ch 15: When Volunteering is No Longer Voluntary: Assessing the Impact of Student Forced Volunteerism on Future Intentions to Volunteer
  • Isabel C. Botero, Tomasz A. Fediuk, & Kate M. Sies
  • Review of Literature
  • Understanding an Individual’s Intention to Volunteer
  • Effects for Requiring Volunteerism in the Classroom
  • Methods
  • Participants
  • Procedure
  • Measures
  • Results
  • Understanding Intentions to Volunteer
  • Effects of Requiring Volunteerism on Future Intentions to Volunteer
  • Discussion
  • Implications for Scholarship and Future Directions
  • Implications for NPO Practice
  • Limitations
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Section 5: Voice and Dissent
  • Ch 16: Spontaneous Volunteers: Understanding Member Identification Among Unaffiliated Volunteers
  • Loril M. Gossett & Rachel A. Smith
  • Spontaneous Volunteers
  • Motivations to Volunteer
  • Why Study Spontaneous Volunteers?
  • The Context: Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita
  • Identification and Spontaneous Volunteers
  • Time Spent Volunteering for Katrina vs. Rita
  • The Volunteer Role
  • Methods
  • Measures
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Theoretical Implications
  • Limitations
  • Practical Implications
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Ch 17: Breaking the Rules: The Secret of Successful Volunteering in a Caring Role
  • Jenny Onyx
  • Organizational Professionalism
  • Volunteers in the Caring Relationship
  • Clients in the Caring Relationship
  • The Volunteer/Client Relationship and the Development of Social Capital
  • Some Empirical Examples of Working Beyond the Boundaries
  • Study One: Women Volunteers in Human Services
  • Study Two: Staying Connected: The Lived Experiences of Volunteers and Older Adults
  • Study Three: The Rotary Readers Program
  • Discussion
  • Theoretical Implications
  • Practical Policy Implications
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Ch 18: Connecting, Voicing, Retaining: Linking Volunteers’ Involvement, Willingness to Voice Ideas, and Intent to Remain with the Organization
  • Johny T. Garner & Kristen Horton
  • Literature Review
  • Retention and Volunteers’ Dissent
  • Retention and Volunteers’ Involvement
  • Dissent and Volunteers’ Roles
  • Methods
  • Participants and Procedures
  • Measures
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Ch 19: Challenging Nonprofit Praxis: Organizational Volunteers and the Expression of Dissent
  • Kirstie McAllum
  • Is Volunteer Dissent an Oxymoron?
  • Dissent as a Component of Organizational Experience
  • Managing Organizational Dissent
  • Managing Volunteer Dissent
  • Method
  • The Organizations
  • Data Collection and Analysis
  • Findings
  • St John Volunteers’ Expressions of Dissent
  • Plunket Volunteers’ Expressions of Dissent
  • Organizational Forms of Control and the Expression of Volunteer Dissent
  • Discussion: The Impact of Volunteer Dissent
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Conclusions
  • Ch 20: New Directions for Volunteering
  • Laurie K. Lewis, Loril M. Gossett, & Michael W. Kramer
  • Key Themes in the Text
  • Areas for Future Research
  • Examining Volunteer and Paid Staff Interactions
  • Defining Volunteers
  • Examining Volunteers in Additional Contexts
  • Providing Additional Practical Advice
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix
  • Practitioner Resources
  • Author Biographies
  • Author Index
  • Topic Index

| XIII →


| 1 →

Chapter 1


Laurie K. Lewis
Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey

In February 2011, a massive earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand. University students wanted to help in the cleanup and rushed to the scene. However, the official disaster responders were wary of these young volunteers and too stressed to figure out how to work with them and so they turned them away. Sam Johnson, the leader of these volunteers, reports that the students persevered and eventually thousands of students self-organized through social media and joined in the effort to aid the cleanup effort (Johnson, 2012). Johnson shares the story of the volunteer effort that through physical labor made a huge difference in the cleanup effort. The student leaders focused on safety, personal responsibilities, a team approach, having fun, connecting in personal ways to those who had lost loved ones and homes, and supporting each others’ grieving process through service to the community. Along the way the students faced ambivalence and resistance from the bureaucracy of government response agencies.

This example serves as an illustration of the high complexity involved in the execution of volunteering in various contexts across our globe. It also reminds us that common stereotypes of the “candy striper” or elderly polling place volunteer are limited archetypes. Further, volunteering is more than an offer of “free labor” as many common definitions would imply. Behind the labor is a complexity of experience, motivation, needs, expectations, relationships, and political, spiritual, philosophical, and emotional expression. The outcomes of volunteering relate to the needs of those receiving direct service and benefits to the volunteers themselves, but also point to much deeper sociological effects on the formation and maintenance of civil society in terms of building social capital, breaking down racial, social, and intercultural barriers, and increasing participation in political systems.

The ability of organizations to make use of volunteer labor is largely dependent on the ways boundary spanners interact with volunteers, construct ← 1 | 2 → and manage their roles and relationships, and interpret needs and interests of volunteers. This book is the first effort to capture some of this complexity through a focus on empirical examination of communication in volunteering. Before I introduce the sections of the book, I’ll first highlight some key issues in the theory, practice knowledge, and research related to volunteering.

What is Volunteering?

Most scholars of volunteerism define volunteering as altruistic behavior and typically employ three criteria for defining a volunteer: 1) performs tasks with free will, 2) receives no remuneration, and 3) acts to benefit others (Handy et al., 2000; Musick & Wilson, 2008). Scholars also make distinctions between volunteering done individually (e.g., spontaneous kind acts typically referred to as “informal volunteering”) and through organizational service (typically referred to as “formal volunteering”). Conceptualizations of volunteering have tended to focus on explicating traditional volunteering that involves assuming a role and commitment to a schedule of performing tasks for a lengthy time (months if not years). Common treatments of volunteering are less sensitive in describing modern forms of volunteering particularly episodic volunteering which involves very short-term, perhaps single-event, donations of labor for an organization or cause that requires no lengthy commitment nor ongoing schedule of performance. This is problematic in light of the observation made by Hustinx, Handy, and Cnaan (2010) and others of a “shift from habitual and dedicated involvement toward more episodic or one-off volunteer efforts, more self-interested motivations, and weaker organizational attachments” (p. 79).

There are several controversies surrounding the definition of volunteering including questions about inclusion of stipended volunteers who get some financial support for their work; mandated volunteers (e.g., students volunteering for credit toward graduation, convicted criminals or welfare recipients fulfilling community service hours), and activists (e.g., protesters, those practicing civil disobedience for a cause, political advocates). Although the “free will” component of the volunteer act is disputable in some of these examples, as is the complete lack of payment, some expert practitioners have argued that these should be treated as cases of volunteering. Ellis and Campbell (2005) define volunteering this way: ← 2 | 3 →

To volunteer is to choose to act in recognition of a need, with an attitude of social responsibility and without concern for monetary profit, going beyond one’s basic obligations (p. 4)

They further define volunteering as a “methodology for getting something done” rather than an act imbued necessarily with a restricted or particular set of ethics, philosophy, morality, or politics. Thus, “volunteering” may apply to both sides of a politically or morally charged issue or movement.

A plethora of alternate terms are used to describe volunteering including community involvement, pro-bono service, service-learning, corporate social responsibility, and lay ministry among many others. There are historical and contemporary debates about these and many other terms easily confused and misapplied in practice and in published work (see Ellis & Campbell, 2005, for detailed discussion).

Volunteering has been a historical feature of the United States since its founding. Ellis and Campbell (2005) detail the role that volunteers played in founding the first American bank, establishing the first libraries and museums, beginning youth sports leagues, and preserving Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks among other examples. These authors trace many examples of volunteers contributing to fulfilling civil society needs including news, public health, access to education, care for the poor, and social justice.

In the 1990s, Putnam’s Bowling Alone (1995) described what he claimed was the deterioration of associational membership in the United States. Putnam and other scholars pointed out evidence of declining civic participation and community focus. However, other scholars noted the increase in participation through modern technologies enabled by the Internet. At the same time “bowlers” may have stopped meeting up, chat rooms, listservs, citizen journalism, and social networking online was on the rise. The birth of “virtual volunteering” enabled people to be in service through their Internet connections. “Most online volunteers engage in operational and managerial activities such as fundraising, technological support, communications, marketing and consulting” (UN State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, 2011, p. 27).

Volunteering in the US: Numbers and Scope

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (US Department of Labor, Volunteering in the United States, February 22, 2012 report) about 64.3 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between ← 3 | 4 → September 2010 and September 2011. The report established that the volunteer rate of women is at 29.9% and for men it is at 23.5%. Thirty-five to 44-year-olds and 45- to 54-year-olds were the most likely to volunteer (31.8% and 30.6%, respectively). Persons in their early 20s were the least likely to volunteer (19.4%). Among the major race and ethnicity groups, whites continued to volunteer at the highest rate (28.2%), followed by blacks (20.3%), Asians (20.0%), and Hispanics (14.9%). Individuals with higher levels of educational attainment engaged in volunteer activities at higher rates than did those with less education. Interestingly, employed persons (29.6%) tended to volunteer at higher rates than unemployed (23.8%) or those not in the labor force (22.5%). Among the employed, part-time workers were more likely than full-time workers to have participated in volunteer activities—33.3% compared with 28.7%.

The study’s volunteers of both sexes spent a median of 51 hours on volunteer activities during the year. Median annual hours spent on volunteer activities ranged from a high of 96 hours for volunteers age 65 and over to a low of 32 hours for those 25 to 34 years old (US Department of Labor, Volunteering in the United States, February 22, 2012 report). According to the Corporation for National and Community Service US volunteers served 8.1 billion hours in 2010 valued at $173 billion.

It is important to note that the concentration of volunteer work is another statistic that shapes the landscape of accounting for volunteering labor. Musick and Wilson (2008) analyzed independent sector data to see if volunteers share volunteer work evenly among themselves. They found that a “tiny minority (3.5% of Americans and 10% of the volunteers) contributed 39% of all the hours volunteered and just below 8% (or 25% of all volunteers) contributed 68% of all hours worked” (p. 27). A similar pattern emerged in Canadian data. Interestingly, they also found that the degree of concentration depended on the sub-sector of volunteer work. That is, in the fields of arts and culture, environment and animal welfare, and foreign and international activities, there was high concentration (reliance on a small number of highly committed volunteers). However, in other fields such as sports and recreation, education and youth, development and business, and professional associations and unions, the volunteer rate was more distributed (relying on a larger number of volunteers to divide the work).

Volunteers, like paid workers, may have more than one volunteer job with more than one organization. According to the 2011 Current Population Survey (CPS) special supplement on volunteering, 69.6% of Americans aged ← 4 | 5 → 16 or above volunteered their time to only one organization, 19.4% to two organizations, 7.0% to three, 2.2% to four and 1.4% to five or more (U.S. Department of Labor, 2012). In 2011, the organizations for which the volunteer worked the most hours per year were religious (33.2% of all volunteers) followed by educational or youth service related (25.7%), and then social or community service organizations (14.3%) (U.S. Department of Labor, 2012).

According to the Department of Labor’s (2012) Current Population Survey, volunteers spend the bulk of their time on fundraising (11%) and collecting, preparing, distributing, or serving food (10.6%). Men and women tended to engage in different main activities. Male volunteers were most likely to engage in general labor (13.3%) coach, referee, or supervise sports teams (10.1%); or fundraise (8.9%). Female volunteers were most likely to fundraise (12.6%); collect, prepare, distribute, or serve food (12.5%); or tutor or teach (10.7%). Ellis and Campbell (2005) developed an extremely detailed list of contexts for modern volunteering including labor and employment, business and industry, communications, transportation, human services, health care, education, religion, leisure and recreation, justice, public safety, the military, international involvement, political and social action.

International Volunteering

According to the United Nations (UN State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, 2011), “Volunteerism is not only the backbone of civil society organizations and social and political movements, but also of many health, education, housing and environmental programmes and a range of other civil society, public and private sector programmes worldwide” (p. 2). However, according to this report, “no comprehensive, comparative study of worldwide volunteerism exists” (p. 3). There are many challenges with assessing the degree and scope of volunteerism worldwide including disagreements about what to include and the best methodology to collect data about volume and value of volunteer action. There have been a number of initial and ongoing studies of volunteering within specific countries. Canada, the US, and Australia provide detailed ongoing studies of volunteering. “In 2008, the United Nations Secretary-General noted 15 country specific studies in developing countries” (UN, 2010). In 2010 the United Nations Volunteers identified 14 new developing country studies on volunteerism. Certainly a large issue in the gathering self-reports of volunteering involves the language used ← 5 | 6 → to describe activities associated with volunteerism as well as cultural beliefs about the nature of and desirability of those activities. “There is variation in the meaning of volunteering in different contexts, and…many individuals that could, in essence, be considered volunteers…do not consider themselves as such” (Butcher, 2010, p. 92).

Stereotypes of Volunteering

Penner (2002) defines volunteerism as “long-term, planned, prosocial behaviors that benefit strangers and occur within in organizational setting” (p. 448). This definition focuses on common characteristics of traditional volunteering but it ignores many modern trends in volunteering (e.g., episodic, spontaneous, or virtual volunteering) and even discounts a vast array of volunteer roles involving service to membership organizations, professional associations, sports/civic/school organizations (i.e., serving those we know well), fine arts volunteers, and those with questionable social ethics (e.g., volunteering to support a hate-group’s efforts to spread stereotypes).

Further, many scholars tend to assume the volunteer term has nothing but positive connotations (e.g., helper, giver, good citizen). However, volunteering can be viewed as a pejorative term. In talking with practitioners, they suggest there is evidence of the volunteer role being thought of in negative, powerless terms (e.g., sucker, loser, unemployable, low status, meddler and do-gooder). In fact, some volunteers eschew use of the term and may in fact underreport work they label in different ways (e.g., pro bono, board member, coach). There may be sexism surrounding volunteering as well. For example, men who coach or provide professional pro-bono services may tend not to consider their donations of time as volunteering. Musick and Wilson (2008, p. 3) argue “although volunteers are widely admired because they give their time freely to help others, their work is devalued precisely because it is given away.” For some, use of volunteers is only a substitute for funding for a paid staff position. If you can’t afford “professionals” you have to rely on volunteers. “In a highly materialistic society devoted to the pursuit of economic gain, working for nothing is devalued, even stigmatized” (Musick & Wilson, 2008, p. 86). This has become a sensitive point for some practitioners. Some organizations have noticed that the “v-word” is a problem for some (by invoking stereotypes, implying long-term commitments) and have tried substitutes such as describing needed help/tasks/roles and just not using the “v-word” (see Volunteergenie.org). ← 6 | 7 →

Other stereotypes focus attention on social service volunteers—particularly direct service roles—but ignore the wide array of volunteers in cultural, political, civic, and professional spheres. For example, classic examples of volunteers are those who care for the elderly, poor, or hospitalized. The archetype of the “candy-striper,” depicted as a middle-aged female volunteer with time on her hands, is a common cultural image in the US. The Mother Theresa image is likely more common worldwide. There also exist stereotypes of the challenges of managing volunteers including that they tend to be unreliable, unskilled, and unaccountable for the quality of their work.

Ellis and Campbell (2008) provide a detailed breakdown of volunteering in a wide variety of settings (see earlier for list) that call into question some of our common stereotypes. They remind us of those who provide volunteer service to all of us (even if we aren’t poor, hospitalized, or aged) including travelers aid, concession booth staff, museum and zoo docents, professional association officers and organizers, firefighters and police reservists, trail maintenance workers, parade and civic celebration, polling place staff, artists/performers/organizers, USO performers for military, artistic and historic demonstrators/re-enactors, consumer advocates, political activists, condo and neighborhood association officers/committee members, weather watchers and reporters, citizen journalists, school PTO, community sports coaches/referees/organizers among myriad others. The wide variety of contexts of volunteering combined with cultural stereotypes of what it means to be a volunteer certainly affect the ways in which people self-report their volunteerism. Providing a service, expertise, support, labor, etc. without expectation of payment or benefit to those in need is something many more people engage in regularly than most realize.

Some scholars have attempted to ground the definition of volunteering in public perceptions. Net-cost theory was developed to explain how people judge the degree to which a volunteer is “pure.” The net-cost of any volunteer situation is the “the total cost minus total benefits to the volunteer” (Handy et al., 2000, p. 45). Scholars who embrace this perspective suggest “what is understood as volunteering is a matter of public perception” (Hustinx et al., 2010, p. 74) and argue that those perceptions are based largely on assumed motives of the volunteer. Musick and Wilson (2008) explain net-cost theory this way, “Purity of motivation becomes the template against which individual acts are compared and volunteer status is denied to those motivated primarily out of self-interest” (p. 17). To test net-cost theory researchers used a survey methodology to present hypothetical volunteers with ← 7 | 8 → their motivations stated. Respondents were asked to judge the degree to which they would consider each case as volunteering (“definitely a volunteer” to “not a volunteer”). Examples receiving low ratings as volunteer acts included “an accountant charged with embezzling who accepts a sentence of community service in lieu of prosecution,” “the individuals who agree to offer services at the symphony in exchange for a free ticket to the concert.” On the high end of ratings for pure volunteer acts were things like “a teen who volunteers to serve a meal at a soup kitchen,” and “an adult who offers his or her time to be a Big Brother or Big Sister” (Handy et al., 2000). These examples presume motivations that may not exist in all cases. For example, the volunteer may do so in order to get an “item” on a resume.

Trends in Modern Volunteering

Although traditional long-term, high commitment, face-to-face volunteer roles are still very much a part of the volunteer landscape, there are new trends in how volunteering is accomplished. I highlight four modern trends here: Episodic volunteering, virtual/online volunteering, voluntourism, and corporate volunteering that have been often noted in the practice and scholarly literatures (Brudney, 2005b; Culp & Nolan, 2000; Hustinx et al., 2010).

Episodic Volunteering

Many individuals who want to volunteer have few free hours and demanding work and life schedules. To satisfy interests in providing services to worthy causes, participate in civic activities, and develop relationships and experiences that come from volunteering such individuals often seek episodic volunteering opportunities. This term is often defined as “individuals who engage in one-time or short-term volunteering” (Cnaan & Handy, 2005, p. 30). Macduff (2004) developed a typology of episodic volunteering identifying three distinct types: 1) temporary episodic volunteers who give a onetime service; 2) occasional episodic volunteers who volunteer for one activity, event, or project for the organization, but at regular intervals; and 3) interim volunteers who serve on a regular basis but only for a short period of less than six months. Further, Handy, Brodeur, and Cnaan (2006) distinguished between 1) habitual episodic volunteers whose volunteering occurs over multiple episodic opportunities on a continual basis, and 2) genuine episodic volunteers who volunteer for two or fewer volunteer episodes a year. ← 8 | 9 →

Many scholars and practitioners have recognized this as a trend in modern volunteering that nonprofit organizations are learning to incorporate into recruitment and management of volunteers. For example, the Hands On Network’s “Cares” program as well as VolunteerMatch.org and Points of Light help episodic volunteers find one-time volunteer opportunities. Volunteers can check websites in their area for specific needs, organizations, and events to which they can devote a few hours or make lengthier commitments.

Statistics on episodic volunteering are scarce, but some research has shown an uptick in this type of volunteering. The AARP state volunteer survey in 2010 showed that “while the rate of traditional volunteering (i.e., volunteering through or for an organization) has held steady, the amount of time volunteers spend in service has declined as volunteering becomes more episodic” (Williams, Fries, Koppen, & Prisula, 2010, p. 2). This study found that almost two out of three volunteers (63%) spent less than 10 hours a month volunteering. Further, Cnaan and Handy’s (2004) study of 1,320 adults in North America found that almost half their sample (47.9%) reported performing both episodic and traditional types of volunteering and a fifth of the sample reported to be involved only in episodic volunteering. Brudney’s (2005a) study using data from the independent sector found that 31% of American volunteers could be described as episodic.

In a study comparing episodic volunteers with traditional volunteers at a Ronald McDonald House, Hustinx, Haski-Leventhal, and Handy (2008) use net-cost theory to help account for differences between those with lower net-costs (episodic) with those with higher net-costs (traditional). These authors argue that those with higher net costs will likely inflate their report of rewards in order to off-set perceived costs and that they will be more likely than low net-cost volunteers (episodic) to seek rewards and recognition for their volunteering. Further, they hypothesized that high net-cost (traditional) volunteers would be more altruistic in motives for volunteering given the high costs of engaging in volunteering compared with low net-cost (episodic) volunteers. Their study found that both types of volunteers reported similar levels of satisfaction, and that episodic volunteers are more frequently motivated by social incentives (e.g., someone asked them to volunteer) and more driven by civic or religious sense of duty. Traditional volunteers were more likely to be motivated by meeting new people and being close to other volunteers. In contrast to hypothesized relationships, their data found that episodic volunteers were more idealistic in motivations to volunteer than were traditional volunteers. They also found that traditional volunteers ← 9 | 10 → placed higher importance on appreciation by staff and families, attending volunteer appreciation events, free meals, and free parking than did episodic volunteers. However, they found that both sets of volunteers placed very little emphasis on receiving tangible rewards.

Virtual/Online Volunteering

Virtual volunteering is the term coined to “describe the use of information and communication technology to permit some part of the volunteer process to be carried out at a distance from the organization” (Murray & Harrison, 2005, p. 31). Some scholars consider virtual volunteering a special case of episodic volunteering. For some, virtual volunteering concerns only the means of locating volunteer opportunities (such as the VolunteerMatch Internet site noted earlier) and in other cases involves the doing of the volunteering, and in some cases both apply. Virtual volunteers also go by the names of telementors, teletutors, and online mentors, and may be described as providing cyber service (Cravens, 2006). Examples of mentoring include HighTech Women; Ask the Employer.com; Nursing Net; and MentorNet.

As of 2004 complete virtual volunteers were still quite rare (Murray & Harrison, 2005), Although this volunteer trend appears to be growing, few reliable statistics are available on the popularity or scope of this volunteering. The United Nations Volunteers manages an online volunteering program (www.volunteeringmatters.unv.org). Launched in 2000, it connects NGOs, country governments, and UN agencies with people who wish to volunteer through the Internet and mobile communication devices. “Some 10,000 volunteers from 170 countries complete an average of 15,000 online assignments each year” (UN Report, 2010, p. 27). Among the advantages of online volunteering, volunteers can overcome the barriers of time and distance, reduce social barriers to giving and receiving help, be enabled to volunteer despite physical disabilities, and adapt to flexible schedules. Examples provided by the UN Report include, social media used for recruiting, organizing, increasing awareness, fundraising, and communicating with decision-makers.


“Voluntourism” is another form of episodic volunteering. “In 2008, the market for volun-tourism in Western Europe had grown by 5 to 10% over five years, with Africa, Asia and Latin America as the most popular destinations” ← 10 | 11 → (UN Report, 2010, p. 31). College students and adults typically spend a few days, a couple of weeks, or a month involved in activities like education, training, construction, and working with children. They typically mix tourism with service projects. Volunteers who opt for these opportunities tend to be attracted to the idea of gaining a deeper understanding of the places they visit (Hustinx et al., 2010). These experiences are now commonly marketed as “ecotourism,” “mini-mission,” and “volunteer vacations” among other names, and have become similar to the mass-marketed tourism packages. Further, numerous nonprofit and for-profit organizations market voluntourism and mission trips to religious and civic groups.

Benefits of the voluntourism model include increases in awareness and sources of funding for the host site (given that volunteers tend to stay in touch after the return home and even fundraise on behalf of communities they serve). The UN Report also discusses some of the drawbacks or critiques of voluntourism including that volunteers often lack training and relevant qualifications and they can typically only take on simpler and small-scale tasks with minimal impact.

Research on voluntourism has only been a focus of scholarly study since the early 2000s. Most studies have focused on describing voluntourists’ profiles, motivations, behaviors, and experiences; their interactions with host communities; their environmental and social attitudes and values; and aspects of self and cultural identity as well as the qualities of sponsoring organizations that bring voluntourists to host countries (Holmes, Smith, Lockstone-Binney, & Baum, 2010; McGehee & Andereck, 2009). McGehee and Andereck (2009) argue that most research has ignored or uncritically examined the impact of voluntourism on what they term the “voluntoured” or those who receive contact of the volunteers in the host country. Case studies dominate volunteer tourism research including examination of organizations specializing in volunteer tourism, individual projects, or types of volunteering in particular locations (Holmes et al., 2010). The Mize Smith chapter (Chapter 10) in this book details an experience of voluntourism.

Corporate Volunteering

The corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement has given rise to a corporate trend in promoting various sustainability and voluntary efforts across the globe. “It means that private companies have moral, ethical and philanthropic responsibilities, in addition to the obligation to earn a fair return ← 11 | 12 → for investors” (UN Report, 2010, p. 33). One important impetus to CSR is the UN Global Compact that was launched in 2000 to promote human rights, environmental and anti-corruption principles in the private sector. The UN Report notes that the number of companies in the Global Compact has grown from 47 in 2000 to over 8,700 in 2011 across 137 countries. One of the goals of the Global Compact is to encourage companies to mobilize volunteers. Another driver of the move toward corporate volunteer programs is the increased interest in employees in working for a company that is a “good corporate citizen” (Pajo & Lee, 2010).

Corporate volunteering, also known as employer-supported volunteering, has become a strong trend in the United States and worldwide. Pajo and Lee (2010) suggest that research indicates that such programs are among the fastest growing philanthropic activities in the UK, Western Europe, and North America. Often employers incorporate volunteer programs into human resource programs to enhance recruitment of employees, boost morale of existing employees, and increase the company’s public image and reputation. Over 90% of Fortune 500 companies report having formal employee volunteering programs (UN Report, 2010). Benefits of the programs to employee volunteers are touted to include developing leadership and other skills, enhancing visibility with supervisors, and increasing work productivity and satisfaction (Pajo & Lee, 2010; Tschirhart & St. Clair, 2008).

Programs for corporate volunteering vary considerably. For some organizations, group events are planned where employees volunteer together during work hours. In other programs, employees are granted paid or unpaid time off periodically to volunteer as an individual to an organization of their own choosing. In some cases, corporations release employees to volunteer full-time for lengthy periods of time (e.g., loaned executive programs). Other programs involve matching donations for employee volunteering hours.

Critics of corporate volunteering initiatives have questioned the coercive nature of some programs in which companies expect employees—especially executives–to volunteer as part of their performance expectations in the company. “Corporate volunteering may address the willingness to volunteer –by encouraging employees to do so; by making volunteering an organisational norm and expectancy; by creating peer encouragement or pressure; or, in a more extreme scenario, forcing employees to volunteer or making it part of their evaluation and promotion criteria” (Haski-Leventhal, Meijs, & Hustinx, 2009, p. 148). Further, issues that erode the purity of these volunteer efforts concern the choice of organizations that employees may give their ← 12 | 13 → time, and the degree to which work-mandated volunteering may decrease individuals’ felt needs to participate in civic society as a private citizen. Tschirhart and St. Clair (2008) report on two case studies of large nonprofit companies with volunteer programs and identified four major areas in which the employees believed their employers had “crossed the line or are close to crossing the line of appropriateness” (p. 207) including: encouragement of participation, recognition of participants, use of program to promote the company image, and flexibility in choice of program activities. Their interview data revealed some negative reactions at felt pressure to volunteer:

Before I was involved in the program, the CEO at an all-employee meeting made a comment about the fact that volunteerism is part of your job and that you are expected to do it. I have worked for three years to try and say that is not how we operate and that’s not what he meant. Employees had a totally negative reaction to it. (Tschirhart & St. Clair, 2008, p. 207)

Other employees interviewed in their study raised the point that mandated or expected volunteering is not volunteering by their definition. Employees in this study also raised issues of overemphasis (or lack of emphasis) on recognition. Some employees felt it was inappropriate for their employer to get credit for their own personal volunteering. Others raised concerns that individuals were using their volunteering for their own personal gain (e.g., promotions, positive job evaluations, tangible awards, and rewards) that seemed to run counter to the philosophy of volunteering. Volunteers also critiqued the restrictions on what sorts of volunteering and the types of organizations that employers would “count” (Tschirhart & St. Clair, 2008).


XII, 434
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2012 (August)
society economy experience Volunteerism Nonprofit organizations Businesses Employee
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 429 pp.

Biographical notes

Michael W. Kramer (Volume editor) Loril M. Gossett (Volume editor) Laurie K. Lewis (Volume editor)

Michael W. Kramer (PhD, University of Texas) was Professor at the University of Missouri for nineteen years before coming to the University of Oklahoma in 2010 as Chair and Professor of the Department of Communication. His research focuses on the assimilation/socialization process of employees in transition but lately has focused on volunteers. He has published two other books: Managing Uncertainty in Organizational Contexts (2004) and Organizational Socialization: Joining and Leaving Organizations (2010). Laurie K. Lewis (PhD, University of California at Santa Barbara) is Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication in the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information. Previously she held faculty positions at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Texas at Austin. A recognized expert in organizational communication including change processes, nonprofits, and collaboration, her work has appeared in Communication Monographs, Human Communication Research, Management Communication Quarterly, and her book, Organizational Change: Creating Change through Strategic Communication. She has consulted and done training for various nonprofit organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, the Sharing Network, and Austin’s Community Action Network. Loril M. Gossett (PhD, Colorado at Boulder) is Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Organizational Science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Previously she was a faculty member at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and the University of Texas at Austin. Her theoretical interests are focused on issues of identification, member voice, and managerial control strategies within organizational settings. Her research has been published in such forums as Communication Monographs, Management Communication Quarterly, Communication Yearbook, and Public Performance and Management Review.


Title: Volunteering and Communication
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452 pages