Just northeast of Los Angeles is a mountain range known as the San Gabriels and they are special to me. When the sunlight starts to fade they turn this gorgeous shade of purple, and despite seeing them nearly every day, I have yet to find them unremarkable. They’re why we have words like majestic. I’ll catch myself staring at them when I go out to get the mail, unsure of how much time has passed or what meetings I’m late for.

Come visit us!

I know. I need to.

What’s stopping you?

Work. I’ve got work. But soon!

By Dainéal Parker

Part I: Guy Volunteers to Impress a Girl (The Extrinsic Motivator)

Lately LA has felt more like Seattle with all the rain we’ve been getting, but the previous 5 years have been bone dry. For the San Gabriels, this means forest fires. Like most things ecological, people are both the problem and the solution. Sure, we’re warming up the earth and drying it out and creating ideal conditions for disaster, but we’re also creating groups like Tree People who, because I’m not the only one that cares about these mountains, work and sweat and bleed to replenish them.

You don’t have to live in Southern California to appreciate Tree People. Check them out!

When I first volunteered with them it was because of a girl. This girl (let’s call her Molly), being well aware of my passion for all things environmental, had asked me to come along and I agreed before she could finish the question. Don’t get me wrong: I was excited to spend a day in the mountains planting baby trees. I love hiking and being out in the wilderness, but my real motive was Molly (that’s my cat’s name; is that weird?). This is what’s known as an extrinsic motivator, and I’ll come back to that.

“I remember how good it felt to have done something, anything to make thing things better when it seemed like everything was getting worse.”

The experience was incredible. My fellow volunteers were happy and pleasant and motivated; we were equipped with everything we needed, we understood what we were doing and why, and our proximity to the beneficiary was about as close as it gets. We even got to watch a rescue helicopter take off. If this had been a date, it couldn’t have been going any better.

I’ve since lost touch with Molly (oh, don’t worry; I don’t mean my cat; she’s on my lap as I’m writing this), but she’s not what I think about when the sunshiny imagery of that perfect day comes to mind. What I think about are those trees I planted with my own hands. How tall are they now? Did they even survive? Are they thriving? Could I find them? Would they remember me if I visited?

You don’t remember me, but …

And I remember how good it felt, not being with Molly per se, but to have done something, anything to make things better when it seemed like everything was getting worse.

Part II: Guy Volunteers Just to Volunteer (The Intrinsic Motivator)

These days, when I return to the wilderness for the purposes of volunteering, my heart is all aflutter not so much due to romance, but because of the deep satisfaction and sense of purpose I feel when I’ve got sweat on my face and dirt on my hands. When reminding other planters to put some rocks or sticks around the base of baby Groot so that the sun doesn’t dry out the roots, I fondly recall having once been on that stage of my volunteer journey and suddenly I don’t feel so dead inside.

This is what’s referred to as an intrinsic motivator.

It’s not complicated, I promise. You’ve probably already figured it out.

First-time volunteers are almost always extrinsically motivated. They feel obligated by an employer or parent or teacher; they were seeking a reward (more time with Molly, say) or even avoiding punishment. They are also influenced by their values (in my case, the environment), context (I could demonstrate my usefulness to impress a potential partner), and their situation (just a single guy looking for love among the trees, right?).

“It is imperative that you recognize whether volunteers are driven extrinsically or intrinsically if you expect them to have a meaningful experience.”

The most effective way to motivate this type of volunteer to participate is with what we call a value bundle. I’ll come back to that.

Turn that leaf over (get it?) and you’ll find that more seasoned (get it?) volunteers tend to be intrinsically motivated. They are expecting nothing more valuable than 1. the work itself, and 2. a sense of ongoing accomplishment. In other words, the experience is the reward; the journey is the destination, you dig? OK, no more puns, I promise.

Part III: Guy Makes a Pitch

Having read this, how obvious does it seem? I’m basically telling you that larger birds have more feathers than smaller ones (wait, is that even true?). But listen, if you’re in a position where motivating an individual or team, it is imperative that you recognize whether they are driven extrinsically or intrinsically if you expect them to have a meaningful experience. It also can’t hurt for you (the volunteer) to understand your own reasons for doing what you’re doing.

OK, back to the value bundle. I know you’re excited about that. Actually, you know what? As the editor of the RW blog, this thing is plenty wordy already. What I’m going to suggest is that you enroll in a new program our fearless leader Chris Jarvis is leading called Empathy in Motion: The Power of Employee Volunteering. It’s free, it’s online, it requires absolutely no credentials of any kind to join, it’s just a few weeks away, and yes – this entire blog has been a pitch for it. But the recommendation is sincere. If you haven’t heard Chris speak, well … he has a way of getting through to even the most hardened of cynics (trust me).

Find me on Twitter if you’re heading to the San Gabriels and I’ll see if there’s some trees we can plant. Or we could clean up the beach. Or feed some food insecure families. Or help our furry friends find desperately needed homes. I guess it depends on what motivates you …

Empathy in Motion costs you nothing, and its value far exceeds the price of admission. Enroll now!

Realized Worth is a global consulting firm that works with companies to design and implement employee volunteer programs. We focus on equipping individuals to lead programs in a scalable way, achieving impact for the company, the community, and the employee. Would you like to discuss your program with us? We’d be happy to hear from you! Email us directly at contact@realizedworth.com, or find us on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

Dainéal Parker
Director of Online Content
Follow Dainéal on Twitter
Follow Realized Worth on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn