Motivating Employees to Volunteer: Harnessing the Power of Self-Determination

Motivation, Volunteer Engagement

Volunteering is a powerful way to enhance corporate culture, foster team building, and support community. But motivating employees to volunteer can be, well, tough! So, we’re going to look at some of the typical barriers to motivation that employees face and give you some practical ways to overcome them through the lens of something called Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT is a psychological framework that focuses on intrinsic motivation and psychological needs. Let’s dive in!  

Typical Barriers to Motivation

  1. Time Crunch: Let’s face it, we’re all busy. Between meetings, deadlines, and the daily grind, finding extra time to volunteer can feel like a Herculean task. It’s no wonder that the number one reason employees don’t volunteer is simply feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day.
  2. Scheduling Woes: If volunteering opportunities are only offered during the 9-to-5, it can be tough to squeeze in time without feeling like you’re slacking on your job. And if they’re outside of work hours? Well, we all value our “me time,” don’t we?
  3. Passion Gap: Not every cause is going to light a fire in every employee’s heart. If the volunteering options don’t resonate with personal interests or values, it can be hard to drum up the enthusiasm to participate.
  4. Communication Breakdown: Sometimes it’s not that employees don’t want to volunteer, it’s that they don’t even know they can! If the company’s not doing a great job of spreading the word about volunteering opportunities, participation is bound to be low. Check out 6 communications principles to boost participation here.
  5. Support System: We all want to feel like our company has our back, right? If employees don’t feel supported in their volunteering efforts—whether that’s through time off, recognition, or resources—they might think twice before signing up.
  6. Confidence Crisis: Volunteering often means stepping out of our comfort zone. If employees feel like they don’t have the right skills or enough confidence, they might shy away from getting involved.
  7. Lack of Perceived Impact: We all want to feel like we’re making a difference. If employees can’t see the fruits of their volunteering labor, they might question whether it’s worth their time and effort. 

Understanding Self-Determination Theory 

Self-Determination Theory, developed by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, posits that people are most motivated when their psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are met.  

  1. Autonomy: The need to feel in control and to make choices freely.
  2. Competence: The need to master tasks and learn different skills.
  3. Relatedness: The need to feel connected to others, to care, and to be cared for. 

Applying SDT to Employee Volunteering 

Promoting Autonomy

To promote autonomy, companies can: 

  • Create a Volunteering Menu: Create a “menu” of volunteering opportunities from which employees can choose. This could include a range of activities, from mentoring students in local schools, to participating in environmental clean-up projects, to offering pro bono services to non-profits. This approach respects individual interests and passions, making employees more likely to engage. 
  • Offer Flexible Volunteering Schedules: Recognize that employees have different personal commitments and preferences. Some may prefer weekend activities, while others might be more available during weekdays. Offering flexible volunteering schedules can accommodate these differences and make volunteering more accessible. (Learn more about making volunteering accessible to different lifestyles here).
  • Encourage Employee-led Initiatives: Encourage employees to propose and lead their own volunteering projects. This not only gives them a sense of ownership but also allows them to work on causes they are truly passionate about. (Hint: If you need a little help finding and equipping volunteer leaders… get in touch.) 

Fostering Competence

To foster competence, companies can:  

  • Offer Skills-Based Volunteering: Match employees with volunteering opportunities that align with their skills. For example, a marketing professional could help a non-profit develop a marketing strategy, while an IT expert could assist with website development. This allows employees to apply their skills in a meaningful way, boosting their sense of competence. 
  • Provide Volunteering-related Training and Development: Provide training for volunteering roles that focuses on leadership development and equitable community engagement practices. This not only equips employees for the task – it also contributes to their personal and professional development.
  • Offer Consistent Channels for Recognition: Acknowledge and celebrate the skills employees bring to their volunteering roles. This could be through company newsletters, social media shout-outs, or a simple thank you note. Recognition can enhance employees’ sense of competence and motivate them to continue volunteering. 

Enhancing Relatedness

To enhance relatedness, companies can: 

  • Help People Grow: Encourage volunteers to not only take on new challenges and responsibilities – these can help them develop new skills and gain confidence – but work to connect people looking for the same kind of growth opportunities. Bringing likeminded folks together can be incredibly motivating and can help people feel included and part of a team. 
  • Involve Volunteer Leaders in Decision-Making: Involve volunteer leaders in decision-making processes to give them a sense of ownership over outcomes. This can make people feel more connected to company purpose and can increase their desire to contribute to the success of community engagement programming. 
  • Celebrate Diversity: Foster a sense of belonging by celebrating the diverse identities, backgrounds, and experiences of volunteers. Promote inclusivity, respect, and recognize cultural identities and events.  
  • Encourage Team Volunteering: Encourage employee volunteer leaders to offer events where teams can participate together, such as a charity run or a group build for a housing charity. These events can strengthen team bonds, help people get to know one another on a more personal level, and create shared memories. 
  • Encourage Employee-driven Storytelling: Encourage employees to share their volunteering experiences and stories. This could be in the form of blog posts, presentations, virtual celebration calls, or more casual in-person events like a coffee corner or lunch and learn. Sharing experiences can create a sense of community and inspire others to volunteer. 
  • Encourage Long-term Partnerships with Local Organizations: Encourage employees to work on longer-term partnerships with local charities or non-profits. This allows them to build relationships with the people they are helping and to see the impact of their work over time, fostering a sense of connection and purpose. 

Self-Determination Theory offers valuable insights into human motivation that can be harnessed to encourage employee volunteering. By promoting autonomy, fostering competence, and enhancing relatedness, companies can create an environment where employees feel more motivated to volunteer. Not only does this benefit the community and the corporation’s image, but it contributes to employees’ personal growth and job satisfaction.

Kelly Lynch

Senior Strategic Consultant

Recent Blogs:

Realized Worth helps you take a transformative approach to volunteering. We work with companies to create scalable and measurable volunteering programs that empower and engage employees, focus on empathy and inclusivity, and align with your most important business objectives. Talk to us today to learn more!

MotivationVolunteer Engagement

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed