What motivates volunteer mentors?

Shier, M. L., Larsen-Halikowski, J., & Gouthro, S. (2020). Characteristics of volunteer motivation to mentor youth. Children and Youth Services Review, 111, 104885. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.104885

Summarized by Kirsten Christensen

Notes of Interest:

  • Although mentor volunteers are critical in promoting positive youth outcomes, programs often struggle to recruit and retain skilled mentors.
  • This qualitative study examined 22 adult female mentors’ motivations for volunteering with a mentoring program.
  • Three categories of motivations emerged from the data: 1) social propensity (e.g., mentoring was suggested by someone in their social network), 2) psychological propensity (e.g., having a prosocial personality), and 3) organizational dynamics (e.g., program viewed as a worthwhile place to volunteer).
  • Program managers and recruitment staff may benefit from targeting these motivations in potential volunteers.

 Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Organizations supporting youth development can benefit from direct insights from mentors on their motivations to volunteer to better support recruitment and retention in these programs. Twenty-two adult, female mentors completed semi-structured interviews concerning their motivations for volunteering with a mentoring program for high school aged girls living in a low socio-economic status neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Utilizing a process of inductive analysis of interview transcripts, motivations to engage with the program were found to fall under three themes: mentor social propensity, mentor psychological propensity, and experiences with organizational dynamics. While organizational dynamics were not sufficient motives on their own, they acted in tandem with respondents’ social and psychological propensities and compelled mentors to volunteer with the organization. Implications of these findings are most relevant to organizational personnel recruiting volunteers, which can support their efforts by highlighting the psychological benefits of volunteering, utilizing the networks of current staff and volunteers, and promoting relevant organizational values and accountability structures.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The practical implications for these findings will be best utilized by organizational personnel undergoing a recruitment process for volunteers. By incorporating these findings, those recruiting for an organization can maximize the organization’s attractiveness to potential volunteers. To leverage the findings around the psychological propensity to volunteer, organizations can highlight the psychological benefits of volunteering. The primary link that connects the recruitment process to the subthemes of psychological propensity to volunteer is the need for congruence between the values of the organization and the values of the individual. On the part of the organization, a strong mission and values statement is required, as is a steadfast commitment by all staff and volunteers to the organizational values. This requires clear communication and alignment between all levels of the organization. Without a strong base in understanding the organization’s values, the capacity of value-alignment to incline people to volunteer will be diluted. Additionally, in the volunteer recruitment process, organizations

might consider promoting their values and the opportunities that would-be volunteers will have to work in line with. For example, organizations that publicize their mission to promote social justice or include the pursuit of social justice in their values statement can facilitate the recruitment of volunteers who are committed to social justice.

Considering the social propensity to volunteer, the mobilization of social relationships to recruit volunteers could be replicated in the context of another organization. Organizational leaders looking for volunteers are advised to leverage their current network to find individuals that match their organization’s needs. Further, these findings show that the mobilization of current volunteers’ personal, extended networks are useful in recruiting suitable volunteers for the organization. The use of extended networks to recruit volunteers also plays into the findings on the prosocial history of would-be volunteers. The respondents’ discussion of being a person who typically volunteers for good causes may be used as a recruitment strategy. When recruiting potential volunteers, organizations can target those who have volunteered before, or are in a professional or social standing that would create some social pressure to act altruistically. When seeking those who are in a social climate that promotes (or pressures one into) altruism, organizations can target their recruitment strategy more effectively by highlighting the volunteer role as a way to give back and by reaching out to those who see themselves as giving people.

Organizational dynamics did not seem to contribute to the propensity to volunteer on their own but had an effect in tandem with the social and psychological propensities. The social and psychological motives of the mentors drew them to the organization, where the organizational strengths confirmed that their choice to volunteer was a positive one. Organizations must not underestimate the significance of their structures’ impacts on potential volunteers. While organizational dynamics may not draw people, they can motivate would-be volunteers to continue or abandon the recruitment process. The organization may have minimizing effects on an individual’s propensity to volunteer if there are not structures in place that promote program accountability, ease of volunteering, and support available to volunteers.

The current research implies a need for further testing of this hypothesized model of the motivations to mentor youth. Future research could focus on developing a quantitative measure of an organization’s attractiveness to volunteers, or a measure of how likely an individual is to engage in mentorship. Through quantitative research, a measure of an organization’s attractiveness to volunteers could be used to identify factors contributing to its appeal. The promotion and enhancement of these factors within organizations could increase an individual’s motivation to volunteer or their willingness to continue volunteering.


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