The Corporate Volunteer: What Motivates YOU?


“Psychologists have identified six different motives that underlie volunteering: prosocial, belonging, self-enhancement, self-protective, developmental, and career.”
– Adam M. Grant, University of Pennsylvania. Read Adam’s full report here.

Just like a good cup of coffee motivates the average adult to get out of bed in the morning, there are quite a few fundamental motives that get employees into the volunteering mood. Are you the friendly next door neighbour that is in it for prosocial* reasons? Or are you the ambitious go-getter set on figuratively (or literally!) dominating the professional world through your career?

*“… Voluntary behavior intended to benefit another”, consisting of actions which “benefit other people or society as a whole.”

In Adam M. Grant’s incredible article, he describes the six motivators that initiate corporate volunteering, which I’ll explore a little further here.

Prosocial | For the Benefit of Others

While browsing through, I happened to come across a book titled Prosocial Motives, Emotions and Behavior: The Better Angels of Our Nature by Mario Mikulincer and Phillip R. Shaver. I haven’t had to opportunity to read it yet but I thought the title was very adequate. Those that are prosocially motivated are there to just do good because they are kind, positive and caring individuals (almost like “angels”, if you will). If I had to guess their personality type based on the Myers Briggs Test, it would be the ISFJs or “Nurturers”. Click here to find out your personality type (it’s fun!). Especially so as it’s January, the new year often motivates the prosocial side of people!

Belonging | For the Relationships

This, I would imagine, is quite a popular motivator. If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you will find that a “sense of belonging” follows right behind a person’s very basic needs (food, clothing, etc.) and safety needs. In fact, corporate volunteering is a great place to get to know your coworkers better and in an environment without strict deadlines. It’s also a great place to meet new people that may share similar interests, i.e., if you were both to volunteer at an animal shelter, it’s a pretty safe bet that you both love animals!

Self-Enhancement | For the Self-Esteem Boost

We all have days were we feel a bit down about ourselves and a great pick-me-up for some people is a good volunteering experience. Getting out and doing something good for others may result in an individual associating positive traits with themselves. Society’s impression of those that volunteer their time without asking for anything in return is that they are warm-hearted and giving. If these are traits that you associate with yourself, chances are, you’ll feel pretty good about that person in the mirror.

Self-Protective | For the Distraction

Here’s a motivator that isn’t as positive as some of the others. Many times we protect ourselves from the day to day issues or a big life crisis through distraction. Going out and potentially helping better someone else’s tough situation allows a break from concentrating on your own. It may also put your situation in perspective when you see people willingly help one another through a hard time.

People’s Favorites:

Otherwise, perhaps you feel like you’ve had it too easy after receiving a big holiday bonus at work, or upgrading from the iPhone 5 to 5S just because you like gold even though you’re getting an opaque case for it … we all feel a little guilty when we’ve spoiled ourselves while others aren’t so fortunate. This kind of “privileged guilt” is an excellent motivator for people wanting to inject some of their good karma back into society.

Developmental | For the Knowledge and Skills

Through volunteering, there are many skills to be learned and knowledge to accumulate. Take a food bank, for example: it requires a lot of effort to organize the actual food that comes in as well as coordinate volunteers. This helps quickly develop strong communication and leadership skills, all very important in the workplace. We can even get more technical and create positions for volunteers who need to manage the finances and ensure that their spending does exceed donations. It’s a great place to learn at your own pace without the pressures of grades and tests that you find in school or performance measures at work.

Career | For the Job Prospects

Let’s face it: resumés look a lot better when there is a volunteer section. It speaks volumes for the type of person you are: someone giving, ethical (very important in business), and you likely have interesting stories about your experiences. This is probably not going to be the number one motivating function for a hiring manager, but it’s a good bonus in a competitive market,  especially for the young adults who might not have as much actual work experience.

Let’s Bring it Back to YOU

Grant suggests that what motivates a person is rooted in “genetic biological propensities and life experiences”. In other words, it’s a classic nature vs. nurture situation except that in this case, it’s both that decide what motivates somebody.

You may feel that many of the categories mentioned are a good fit for you, and that’s a good thing. If you’re new to a town, doing some corporate volunteering is a great place to meet new people but you also know that it’ll look good on your resumé when you apply for that big city job!

By Cynthia Zheng

So what motivated you to volunteer? What still motivates you to volunteer? Or what do you think will motivate you to bring out your inner corporate volunteer? Are their other elements that may influence an employee’s motives to volunteer, or to keep volunteering? Check back in a few days for more in our series analyzing Adam Grant’s article Giving Time, Time After Time: Work Design and Sustained Employee Participation in Corporate Volunteering. Leave a comment below or email us at and let us know.


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