Having too many motivations for volunteering can lead to added stress
When someone decides to volunteer for an organization they usually have at least one personal motivation for doing so. A person may be motivated by their values, their desire to better understand other people, to meet a personal challenge or to show concern and empathy for others. Despite these good intentions, volunteering does have a downside because it costs time and can be stressful. Generally when people feel they have achieved their personal motivations, however, they report feeling less stress and very satisfied with their volunteering experience. If achieving personal motivations reduces the stress associated with volunteering, would people with more than just one motivation to volunteer be more likely to enjoy their volunteering experience? To answer this question, researchers conducted three experiments that compared volunteers who had just one or multiple motives for volunteering.
What was the research about?
The first experiment included 282 volunteers in an AIDS service organization who provided emotional support and day-to-day assistance to people with HIV/AIDS. These volunteers completed an initial survey immediately before they began their volunteering duties, and then completed a follow-up survey 6 months later. The initial survey asked the volunteers to indicate their personal motivations for choosing to volunteer. The follow-up survey asked volunteers to report the stress they experienced while volunteering and how much volunteering had cost them (e.g., taking up too much time). The follow-up survey also asked volunteers to report how much each of their motivations for volunteering had been fulfilled and how satisfied they felt about their experience. Results showed that volunteers who had more than one motivation for volunteering reported experiencing more stress, more costs, less satisfaction and less fulfillment of their motivations compared to volunteers who had just one motivation for volunteering. The second experiment also found these same results with a sample of 146 hospice volunteers.
The third experiment actually manipulated how many motivations participants had for volunteering. Before they took part in a “volunteer activity” (stuffing envelopes for an environmental organization), participants read a testimonial supposedly written by another volunteer explaining why he had volunteered for the environmental organization. Participants were instructed to use this testimonial to “get in the mindset” before they stuffed envelopes. The testimonial contained either one or two motivations for volunteering. After stuffing envelopes for 15 minutes participants indicated how much their motivations for volunteering (as read in the testimonial) were satisfied. Results showed that participants who had only read about one motivation for volunteering reported more satisfaction.
Why should it matter to me?
Our time is a very precious commodity; therefore, when you actually do have the time to volunteer you may want to ask yourself exactly what your motivation for volunteering really is before you commit yourself. If you have one single strong motivation to volunteer, chances are you will enjoy the experience more than if you have a variety of motivations. Why might this be so? One reason may be that people who have multiple motivations to volunteer just can’t satisfy any one of those motivations very much, therefore, they just don't enjoy the activity as much as a person who has one clear reason for volunteering. So in the future, make sure you know why you are volunteering and you will probably feel much more fulfilled.
Source: Kiviniemi, Marc T., Snyder, Mark & Omoto, Allen M. (2002). Too Many of a Good Thing? The Effeccts of Multiple Motivations on Stress, Cost, Fulfillment & Satisfaction. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 732-743.