Motivations and Barriers to Volunteering/Helping

Many of the reasons that people volunteer and help can be universally applied to volunteers of any background. It's important to remember the basic human motivations for volunteering and helping when you're thinking of retooling your volunteer program because you will want to make sure that you respond to the needs of all of your volunteers and helpers.

Some of the basic reasons for volunteering and helping include:

  • Helping others.
  • Having an interest in the work or activity.
  • Wanting to learn and gain experience.
  • Having free time available.
  • Being devoted to the cause.
  • Knowing someone else who was involved.

Of course, in addition to these basic motivations, people who volunteer find other benefits, including the following ("Matter of Survival: Volunteering," Points of Light Foundation):

  • Acquisition of new skills.
  • Higher self-esteem.
  • New contacts and networks.
  • Possibility for a new job. 

While the motivations for volunteering and helping don't vary significantly among racial and ethnic groups, the barriers do. In the late 1990s, the United Way of Santa Clara, California, surveyed people of color to determine whether there were barriers to volunteerism. The following barriers were mentioned (United Way of Silicon Valley, as cited by National CASA Association, November 1999,

  • Not being asked.
  • Fear of being used as a token.
  • Not feeling connected to the mainstream community.
  • Lack of personal time.
  • Cultural emphasis on family involvement over community involvement.
  • Lack of identification with agencies serving communities of color.
  • Lack of knowledge about volunteer opportunities.
  • Belief that input from communities of color is not taken seriously.
  • Uncertainty about the benefits of involvement.
  • Economic hardship

Clearly some of these potential barriers are easier to overcome than others. But just understanding them can give you a better sense of how to communicate with communities of color and how to design programs that are culturally relevant to volunteers and helpers of color.

Complete Benefits and Barriers to Volunteering and Helping and Analyzing Information.


Overview: Volunteers

Benefits of Having a Diverse Base of Volunteers

Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Base of Volunteers/Helpers


Managing Volunteers: Policies and Benefits