4 Reasons to Adopt the Transformative Volunteering Method


In the traditional model of volunteering, the purpose is to freely provide a service to respond to a crisis or solve a problem. In the transformative model of volunteering, the purpose is to develop and strengthen empathy through experience.

1. What is Transformative Volunteering?

Transformative volunteering creates space for participants to reach beyond the immediate context and circumstances of themselves and their communities. Instead of simply exchanging time or resources for the reward of making a difference, volunteers are guided to consider their potential to become increasingly pro-social human beings with a greater capacity for empathy.

The primary focus of transformative volunteering is the change that occurs in the volunteers themselves. Volunteering programs and activities are designed to invite all participants to “engage in critical reflection on their experiences, which in turn leads to a perspective transformation.” This transformation in an individual’s perspective is necessary to achieve change at the psychological, convictional, and behavioral level.

Read the research: Mezirow, J. (1991).Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

2. What is Transactional Volunteering?

Transactional volunteering is the voluntary giving of one’s time, knowledge, social network, expertise, skills, abilities, experience, knowledge, training, or insight for the benefit of another without any expectation of direct or commensurate compensation. The “reward” is typically the knowledge that one was able to “make a difference” by helping solve a problem or advance a cause.

3. Four Good Reasons to Adopt the Transformative Model:

1. Increased Levels of Affective Commitment

Employees who are enabled to act pro-socially (give, volunteer, and otherwise “do good” for their colleagues or communities) are likely to respond with increased affective commitment to their organization.

Read the research: Grant, A. M., Dutton, J. E., & Rosso, B. D. (2008). Giving commitment: Employee support programs and the prosocial sensemaking process. The Academy of Management Journal, 51, 898-918.

2. Improved Job Performance 

Research indicates that “volunteering was associated with both volunteer and job meaningfulness, and that the pull of meaningful volunteer work was even stronger when employees had less meaning in their jobs. The results further revealed benefits of volunteering for employers. Volunteering was related to job absorption but not job interference, and it was therefore associated with better job performance.”

Read the research: Rodell, Jessica (2013). Finding Meaning through Volunteering: Why Do Employees Volunteer and What Does It Mean for Their Jobs? The Academy of Management Journal 56(5):1274-1294

3. Competitive Hiring Position

“For recruitment practice, our results suggest that the net effect of leveraging CSR practices in employee recruitment is clearly a positive one from the perspective of a hiring organization. The majority of our participants — about two-thirds of them — reported they were more attracted to the employer as a result of its community investment or environmental strategies.”

However, the research contains a very distinct and important warning: if the company’s CSR program is seen to be inauthentic or too small, prospective employees will take a negative position towards the company. In those cases where a company may not be willing to substantially invest in CSR, it may be better to not use citizenship programs in recruiting efforts. Additionally, community investment programs must be experienced as meaningful and relational.

Read the research: Jones David A., Willness Chelsea R., Heller Kristin (2016). Illuminating the signals job seekers receive from an employer’s community involvement and environmental sustainability practices: Insights into why most job seekers are attracted, others are indifferent, and a few are repelled. Frontiers in Psychology Volume 7 (00426).

Chris Jarvis - Chief Strategist

Chris Jarvis

Chief Strategist

4. Improved Organizational Resilience

By developing leaders through and experiential process of learning that involves intentional moments of critical reflection and sensemaking, employees in leadership positions acquire the critical skills necessary to contribute to organization’s overall resiliency. Transformative volunteering approaches develop leadership through the cognitive process of learning, modeling a practice of sensemaking and the creation of significance or meaning.

Equipped with this experiential knowledge, individuals possess the necessary skills and experience to contribute to the “organization’s capacity to anticipate, respond, and adapt”.

Read the research: (2014) Guidance on organizational resilience. BSI Standards Publication

chris jarvis chief strategist realized worthChris Jarvis
Chief Strategist, Co-founder, Realized Worth
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Realized Worth is a global agency that specializes in employee volunteer training, volunteer program design, and employee engagement. Want to talk? Shoot us an email. You can also reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter.