Discover the Motivation: Exploring the Empathy Map

With numerous competing priorities, how do you motivate employees to place volunteering at the top of their list … over and over again? Getting your volunteers to “just show up” is not an easy task. Some would argue it’s the biggest challenge that CSR practitioners face. Understanding what is competing at a situational level for the employees we would like to motivate is fundamental to the success of a corporate volunteer program. Instead of starting with “what is of interest to the company,” practitioners should answer the question all employees are asking themselves: What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?

By Sabrina Viva

Motivation is Complicated

There are Different Types (Intrinsic, Extrinsic) …

If you recall our Three Stages Of The Volunteer blog, Tourists, or stage 1 volunteers, begin their volunteer journey with casual curiosity. They have not intrinsically aligned to volunteering or a specific cause area the way that Travelers (stage 2 volunteers) and Guides (stage 3 volunteers) have. Extrinsic motivation is when individuals are motivated to perform a behavior that leads to a reward. A paycheck, for example, is a reward. Tourists will attend a volunteer event because they are motivated by extrinsic factors, like being asked to come along by a co-worker or boss. By providing continuous opportunities for your tourists to volunteer, we create the space and opportunity for them to fall in love with volunteering and be transformed by their experience. This is the root of intrinsic motivation – engaging in a behavior that is personally rewarding.

The Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is concerned with “supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways.” This is a theory about motivation. In a psychological study called Reciprocal Relationships Between Contextual and Situational Motivation In A Sport Setting, the authors made an interesting discovery:

Intrinsically motivated behaviors are performed for their own sake, to experience pleasure and satisfaction inherent in the activity. On the other hand, extrinsically motivated behaviors are performed as a means to an end. When people’s reasons for engaging in their activities emanate from their true authentic selves, their resulting behavior regulations are characterized by self-determination. By contrast, when people feel pressured to participate in an activity, they experience little self-determination or autonomy.

… and Different Levels (Global, Contextual, and Situational)

We lead busy lives. Between work, family, hobbies, and well … life, we are constantly being pulled in different directions and have a multitude of responsibilities that we carry. We may have every intention to get around to volunteering, but we tend to prioritize our regular obligations, leaving little to no time for it. So how do we make it work? We can start by examining our motivation on three levels. These levels often tell the story of why an individual did or did not end up becoming a volunteer. 


“Experiences encountered while volunteering are the primary determinants of whether people decide to continue volunteering.” – Adam Grant


  1. Global motivation. This can be regarded as an individual’s orientation towards their environment. Think large-scale, big picture. Think broad interests. Let’s take a typical volunteer; we’ll call him Tommy. From our empathy map exercise (more on that later) we’ll learn that Tommy, like most “regular” guys, loves sports. He may be interested in a more athletic centered volunteer event.

2. Contextual motivation. This starts to take the shape of a specific context. Let’s look at Tommy’s love for sports through a different lens: Tommy has kids, and one of his great joys in life is attending their soccer games. That’s it! Seems like Tommy would be pretty motivated to participate in a youth sports program, right?

3. Situational motivation. This is the main competing motivator to which we should all be paying attention. Since we’ve got Tommy so figured out, let’s go ahead and ask him to commit to volunteering with an educational youth sports program every Saturday for the next 6 months and see what he says. If you think this approach is a bit much, you might be right. In his mind, this is already competing with other priorities, and becomes overwhelming (and motivation-killing) as he pictures the commitment costing him a seat on the bleachers at his own kids’ events.

But this is not a sad story with a sad ending. We absolutely can motivate Tommy and tourists like him to participate in ongoing corporate volunteer activities. It begins by taking the perspective of the employee and determining their WIIFM. Understanding their point of view will allow practitioners to shape the volunteer program and opportunities around what matters to them the most. Using an empathy map will help you chart your course to that understanding.

Who are You Trying to Motivate?

Here at Realized Worth,we rely on the empathy map activity to help practitioners we’re working with think about how to build a volunteer program differently. The exercise was adapted from Business Model Generation developed by XPlane. It is a valuable tool to ensure change is implemented in a people centered way, using Human Centered Design (HCD). The basic principle here is to start with the people who will directly experience change (stage 1 volunteers) and design a program with their needs in mind.

To get started, ask yourself:

Who is Your “Average” Employee?

The empathy map is not meant to be exhaustive. Companies usually have a diverse demographic of employees, but for the sake of this exercise, we want to identify the prototypical employee we’re attempting to motivate. In marketing, this step is similar to identifying a target consumer for the product you are selling. In corporate volunteering terms, understanding the average volunteer – so that we can uncover what is important to (read: what motivates) them – will help to build a compelling value bundle and speak to their WIIFM.

Are You Asking – and Answering – the Right Question?

Once you’ve drawn up your basic employee, let’s use our friend Tommy, choose a single orienting question:

Why would Tommy want to participate in our volunteer activity?

– OR –

What is the most important benefit for Tommy when it comes to volunteering?

How Accurate is this Picture?

Use the empathy map diagram pictured above as your guide this activity. Your team will work together to learn more about what Tommy’s life is like so that they can determine what kind of program he might get involved with.

Here are the six quadrants:

  1. What do they see?
  2. What do they hear?
  3. What do they really think and feel?
  4. What do they say and do?
  5. What is the volunteer’s pain?
  6. What does the volunteer gain?

Connecting to the WIIFM & Value Bundle

Having completed the empathy map exercise, the team now has a clearer understanding of what motivates Tommy. We know he is a middle manager; he is in his mid 30s to mid 40s; he has kids, he exercises, he travels. He wants to be noticed by his boss and works hard, long hours to advance in his career. And, as we’ve mentioned, he loves sports.

A volunteer program tailored for Tommy may include opportunities to volunteer on the weekend for example, where he can bring his kids. It may be somewhere close to home and preferably with his boss participating. Including the extrinsic motivators that matter to him in his everyday life will connect to his WIIFM and outshine all of his competing priorities at a situational level.

The extrinsic motivators that were listed in the exercise create Tommy’s value bundle and WIIFM. If practitioners can take his extrinsic motivators and “bundle” them in with the volunteer opportunity, Tommy will not only be likely to participate, but he’ll do so on a regular basis.

Not that Tommy.

To summarize:

Start by understanding what motivates your employees at a situational level through the empathy map exercise. Then, create a volunteer program and specific volunteer opportunities around the POV of your prototypical employee and their value bundle. Allow the time and space for volunteers to become intrinsically connected to volunteering. You will begin to experience a shift, a transformation, not only in your program and those hard to reach participation rates, but within your employees as well.

We can help! Realized Worth can guide your team through a program design workshop which includes an empathy map exercise to help you identify your prototypical volunteer. If you’d like our help please feel free to drop us a line at contact@realizedworth.com or call us at 855-926-4678. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


Sabrina Viva
Director of Account Management &
Latin American Initiatives
Follow Sabrina on Twitter 
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