Volunteering and Organizational Diversity

Lars Skov Henriksen, David Rosdahl

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Background, data and methods

The voluntary sector consists of a multitude of organizations and associations. They have different purposes, different activities, and various target groups. They vary in size, membership base, ideology, and political orientation. Some take care of their own members' interests, while others act to help other people in need. Under the heading of ‘voluntary' we include everything from the local church choir, Greenpeace, political parties, unions, hunters' association, nursing homes, to homeless shelters, football clubs and so on. In other words, we all have a good sense of the heterogeneity of the sector, and the sector itself often pay tribute to this fact.

It is quite obvious that there must be a variety of reasons why people volunteer for these different organizations. Still, it seems that we tend to think that different types of volunteering can be explained by the same set of mechanisms and social theories. Hence, few analyses of determinants of volunteering try to break down the dependent variable into different types (Janoski and Wilson 1995; Grønbjerg and Never 2004). In many cases this is probably also due to a lack of sufficient data and statistical power.

In this paper we rely on a comprehensive population survey carried out as part of the Danish Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project in 2004 (Koch-Nielsen, Henriksen, Fridberg & Rosdahl 2005), which will permit the kind of disaggregation we think, is needed to improve our understanding of why people donate some of their scarce time to different types of volunteering. The survey is based upon a random sample of 4.200 persons aged 16-85, drawn from the Central Population Register. The response rate was 75 percent and interviews were obtained through phone interviewing conducted by trained staff at The Survey Department of The Danish National Institute of Social Research. The pre-coded questionnaire applied, was constructed in accordance with the Johns Hopkins manual. A comparison of the characteristics of the 2,319 persons in the data set used for the analysis in this paper with the characteristics of the Danish adult population suggests that the sample is representative as regards gender, age, and place of living. However, respondents with non-western citizenship are under-represented in the study.

In the survey respondents were probed about formal volunteering within 14 different fields of volunteering (culture, sports, hobby, education, health, social services, environment, housing and community, unions and work organizations, advice and legal assistance, political parties, international organizations, religion, and other).

We propose a categorization which is theoretically meaningful at the same time as it is empirically sensitive in the Danish (and Scandinavian) context. We distinguish between the following three types of volunteering: ‘Activity oriented volunteering' includes volunteering within the fields where we find most of the voluntary organizations and associations in Denmark (and Scandinavia), that is, sports, hobbies and other culture and leisure activities. Characteristic of this type of volunteering is the focus on the activity and that the membership itself is the prime beneficiary of the collective good being produced. ‘Welfare oriented volunteering' includes volunteering within the three major welfare fields: social service, health, and education. It could be argued that this is a more heterogeneous type of volunteering, because some volunteers work in ‘service organizations' aiming at particular client groups (battered women, homeless, elderly people etc.) while others work for ‘interest organizations' who try to influence policies and improve the conditions of their own membership. However, the common denominator is the effort to improve the welfare of others. Our third type called ‘societal volunteering' comprises the more ideological and political kind of volunteering, which links volunteering to the promotion and advocacy of ideas and interests in the public sphere. This is where we find volunteering for political parties, unions, business and professional organizations, environmental protection, international solidarity and so on.

Such categorizations are, of course, always subject to discussion and empirical reality is far more complex and multi dimensional than we are able to model. There is a certain element of contingency in the way we construct our research object. In this paper we will argue that there are substantial differences between these types of volunteering, and we will test our hypothesis that we need different explanations to determine why people engage in each type of volunteering.

Theory and indicators

Our theoretical starting point is a general model developed and explored by John Wilson and his colleagues in several studies of individual volunteering (Wilson and Musick 1997, 1998, 1999; Janoski and Wilson 1995). The model starts from the preposition that volunteer work is a productive activity. The fact that volunteer work is freely undertaken, uncommodified and unpaid does not make it unproductive (Wilson and Musick 1997:694). The idea that volunteer work is a productive activity "... steers the investigation towards the' inputs' needed to do it" (Wilson and Musick 1997:694), that is, towards the resources and qualifications that are required to become part of ‘the volunteer labour force' in order to contribute services, goods or money to help accomplish some desired end (Smith 1981:33). The question of why people volunteer is thus guided towards factors governing entry and exit from ‘the volunteer labour market' (Wilson and Musick 1999:244).

The following three different forms of resources or capital are identified as being of crucial importance (Wilson 2000; Wilson and Musick 1997, 1998, 1999).

Human capital is the individual resources that people bring to the market. They are the qualifications which make an individual an asset for any given voluntary organization. As indicators of human capital we use individual income and education. Income in combination with education indicates a dominant status in society which qualifies the individual for volunteer work (Smith 1994:247; Wilson and Musick 1997:698).

Social capital, networks and trust are the kind of resources people gain through connections and social networks. Networks and connections provide resources such as information and trust which make volunteering more likely (Wilson and Musick 1997:699; Wilson and Musick 1999:247,248; Smith 1994:253). Besides, networks provide opportunities for recruitment. This is why socially integrated people are hypothesized to volunteer more. Indicators of this kind of capital are a person's trust in other people; whether you have family members who are volunteers; and the number of years one has lived in the same community which is taken as an indicator of the respondent's attachment to the community (Smith 1994:250).

The third type is called Cultural capital and civic values. Generally, this type can be described as learned cultural understandings which are embodied in individuals' ‘taste' for volunteering and pro attitude towards voluntary organizations. Indicators of such values, attitudes or preferences are often difficult to grasp since we are talking about highly abstract resources. The following variables are often taken as indicators of cultural capital or, maybe better, indicators of civic values: interest in politics (since this could be an indicator of the value put on sustaining an active public sphere); church attendance (since this could be an indicator of the importance put on reaching out to the least fortunate); and trust in voluntary organizations (since this could be an indicator of how much respondents value the work done by voluntary organizations).

Analytical strategy

As dependent variables we use our three types of formal volunteering, and as independent variables we use the indicators of the three different forms of capital. To this general framework we add two different sets of control variables. The first is a set of contextual variables such as the individual's family and work condition. The second is a set of demographic background variables such as gender, age and citizenship.

We test this general model in a multivariate analysis using logistic regression. If our hypothesis is correct we should expect our capital variables to have different impact on the different types of volunteering. In general we expect human capital factors to be more important for ‘societal volunteering' since this type aims at promoting particular interests. We expect social capital indicators to be more important for ‘activity oriented volunteering' since this often takes place in local communities. Finally, we expect indicators of civic values to be more important for ‘welfare oriented volunteering' since this type aims at improving the welfare of others.


Gronbjerg, Kirsten A. And Brent Never (2004): The Role of Religious Networks and Other Factors in Types of Volunteer Work. Nonprofit Management & Leadership, Vol. 14, No. 3:263-289

Janoski, Thomas and John Wilson (1995): Pathways to Voluntarism: Family Socialization and Status Transmission Models. Social Forces, 74(1):271-292

Koch-Nielsen, Inger, Torben Fridberg, Lars Skov Henriksen & David Rosdahl (2005): Den frivillige indsats i Danmark. Socialforskningsinstituttet.

Smith, David Horton (1994): Determinants of Voluntary Association Participation and Volunteering: A Literature Review. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 23:243-63

Wilson, John (2000): Volunteering. Annual Review of Sociology. 26:215-40

Wilson, John and Marc Musick (1997): Who Cares? Toward an Integrated Theory of Volunteer Work. American Sociological Review. 62:694-713

Wilson, John and Marc Musick (1998): The Contribution of Social Resources to Volunteering. Social Science Quarterly. Vol. 79, No. 4:799-814

Wilson, John and Marc Musick (1999): Attachment to Volunteering. Sociological Forum. Vol. 14, No. 2:243-272

TitelISTR 2008 abstracts
Antal sider20
StatusUdgivet - 2008
BegivenhedInternational Society for Third-Sector Research - Barcelona, Spanien
Varighed: 9 jul. 200812 jul. 2008
Konferencens nummer: 8


KonferenceInternational Society for Third-Sector Research


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