From Compassion to Action: Why Young Dutch Volunteers Choose to Make a Difference in the Disability Sector

by Hester van der Weij, Joelle Klein, Jamilia Walhof, & Leonor Fernandes

4667 words



Literature Review





Appendix A

Appendix B


            This new research question led us to identify many themes and overarching concepts (Appendix 2). Codes were grouped based on similarities (e.g. ‘social skills’, ‘gaining self-knowledge and awareness’, and ‘differences between cultures’ were grouped). After grouping these codes, categories were further connected into groups (e.g. code group mentioned before was labelled with category ‘improvement of soft skills’). Ensued, groups of categories were linked into concepts (e.g. categories of ‘improvement of soft skills’ and ‘improvement of hard skills’ are represented by the concept of a ‘positive learning curve’). This process was applied to every code, which enabled production of the visual map below (Figure 2).

Figure 2
Visual Mapping: Decision-Making Processes Involved With Starting and Continuing to Volunteer

Factors Influencing Volunteering Motivations (a)

            Two factors were found to affect volunteering motivations: personality traits and exposure to volunteering. During our interviews, participants identified personality traits they deemed vital for volunteers to have. Based on what participants described, connections to the ‘Big Five personality traits’ were made. These are five core bidirectional personality traits which have been derived from a comprehensive set of personality traits; they are said to underlie all of human personality (Engler, 2013). Three of these – ‘extraversion’, ‘openness’, and ‘conscientiousness’ – have been identified as central to an ‘ideal’ volunteer. 

            Participants explained what personality traits they perceive to possess, and also how these traits helped them decide to take up volunteering. For instance, Interviewee 7 described the importance of patience, alluding to open and conscientious personality traits (Big Five Personality Traits): “You have to be really patient. Because when you handle someone, [...] who’s disabled, everything is in slow motion.”. Participants mentioned the importance of being talkative, community-oriented and eager to help as a volunteer. These pertain to the ‘extraversion’ dimension of the Big Five, which include someone’s sociability and warmheartedness. Being willing to help others also falls under the ‘agreeableness’ dimension, which encompasses traits like altruism and compliance. Furthermore, participants described traits of the ‘openness’ dimension, like being unbiased and eager to learn. These traits relate to how open-minded and how open to experience one is. Lastly, maturity and patience - relating to the ‘conscientiousness’ dimension - were described as vital for a good volunteer; ‘conscientiousness’ is related to diligence and dutifulness (Engler, 2013). 

            Prior exposure to volunteering was also found to encourage volunteering. For example, having friends and family do voluntary work encouraged participants to model their behaviour and, consequently, continue volunteering themselves: “I started [volunteering] because my mother was volunteering at the organisation SailWise.” (Interviewee 2).

Volunteering Motivations (b)

            Above-mentioned factors consequently shape the following volunteering motivations: values relating to altruistic or humanitarian concerns, personal gains, career development, social influences, and uncertain motivations. 

            The first volunteering motivation is related to participants who start volunteering because they consider themselves to have altruistic values or humanitarian concerns. These participants wanted to help people because it felt like the right thing to do, as Interviewee 5 explained: “I like the feeling of just helping without getting something in return.”. Interviewee 8 agreed by stating: “I want to do something for someone else, without having any expectation to get anything out of it.”. Moreover, for Interviewee 2, this was the main reason to take up volunteering: “I think the main reason [to start volunteering] is to help others.”.

            The second motivation is wanting to maximise (non-career related) ‘personal gains’, such as by making yourself feel good and being able to merge your hobby with helping people: “My biggest motivation was to just spend time with my friends, and if at the same time you could do something good and help other people, that would be a nice bonus.” (Interviewee 9). This motivation category also includes those who use volunteering as a means to make themselves feel better when they are not in the right mind-set (Kassin et al., 2014). This is illustrated by Interviewee 9: “When you are not feeling like yourself, I experienced that I found it really nice that I was able to make other people happy [through volunteering].”.

            Some participants were motivated to volunteer because they saw it as an opportunity to volunteer to enhance one’s career. As Interviewee 1 mentioned “it fits with my study [occupational therapy]. So, I could learn a lot about the kids and use that at school.”. Furthermore, Interviewee 6 explained how volunteering benefits their career: “The experience as a volunteer is also good for my CV to get other jobs.”.

            Codes like having a disabled person in your social circle, being asked/pressured to volunteer, and meeting new people, exemplify how ‘social influences’ can also encourage some participants to take up voluntary work: “When I looked through all the other people that joined the [volunteering organisation], it was because of people around them in the family, or they knew other people that [...] had some health issues. They joined because of them. And it’s the same with my brother and me. My mom and dad got help from other people. And we were like, we can also help other people.” (Interviewee 3).

            The last motivation which was found pertains to those participants who took up volunteering without any specific motivations. Although they did not specify why they started or continued to volunteer, it was still important for us to include this ‘uncertain’ dimension in our visual map. As Interviewee 4 described: “I didn’t care what to do. I didn’t care where to go, as long as it was far away from home”. One of our other participants was just searching for something to do during her gap year: “I was just searching the internet and I wanted to do something with sailing [...] and I found [the volunteer organisation’s] site. And I thought, ‘well, that’s great.’ So just try it.” (Interviewee 7).

Cost-Benefit Analysis (c)

            These motivations mediate the participants’ analysis of what they expect to gain from volunteering and any barriers: “My biggest issue with volunteering is the lack of time, [...] I have to find babysitters for my children, which is not always easy.” (Interviewee 4). Interviewee 1 mentioned: “I felt I didn’t have the time [to take up volunteering]”. 

            Any initial challenges that volunteers may have faced were considered ‘barriers’. These challenges ranged from lack of time to not having a job that supports volunteering. Another barrier to working alongside people with disabilities is that volunteers require training and must be certified to carry out their job. Furthermore, some participants thought they would be unable to perform the job: “I thought: ‘I am not capable of doing this’.” (Interviewee 9).

            However, since all the participants in this study volunteer, they recognised that benefits outweigh the costs of volunteering and hence felt inclined to take-up volunteering (Hustinx et al., 2010). As interviewee 1 said: “you get so much more back than you put in.” Notably, participants with uncertain motivations could not have conducted a conscious cost-benefit analysis.

Consequences of Volunteering (d)

            Lastly, there are several consequences to volunteering that would influence their decision to continue volunteering, such as participants experiencing positive learning developments. Some experienced an improvement in soft skills: “I was very shy in groups. And [volunteering] taught me to socially explore in groups and to stand for my own [and for] what I want instead of what people are expecting of me.” (Interviewee 2). Others saw improvement in hard skills; “practical skills, like getting someone in and out of bed with a certain machine and making a transfer from the wheelchair to the toilet.” (Interviewee 5). 

            Furthermore, participants perceived the volunteering sector in a positive light: “It means so much to participants. And that makes me feel really, really good.” (Interviewee 5). Interviewee 4 answered the question why she continued to volunteer with: “I just really enjoy doing it.”.

            Any of these consequences can reinforce and encourage volunteers to continue on their journey. Based on their actual experience (and no longer just what they expect to gain), they perfect their unconscious volunteering cost-benefit analysis and consequently repeatedly choose to continue. As one interviewee puts it: “because the kids have so much fun, that is more important than the difficulties we have” (Interviewee 1).

            Notwithstanding, there are also volunteers who are uncertain of the benefits this activity brings them, as Interviewee 9 answered to the question of what the work means to them: “I’m not really sure”. Interviewee 3 also indicated that they do not apply the experience from volunteering to their private life: “No. That’s not how I am. It’s nice for a week and maybe the week after I’m still thinking about it, but then it’s back to the life which I’m living.”. Volunteers with uncertain motivations do not follow the same decision loop as those who identify other consequences to volunteering.