Note: This is a guest post from Nilima Abrams, Founder and President of Chalo, Inc.
Though the primary motivation of most volunteers is helping others, not personal recognition, they are less likely to quit if they are thanked for their service (New York Cares 2009). With US non-profits losing $30 billion annually due to high volunteer attrition (New York Cares 2009), why are there not more programs to thank and reward volunteers? As co-creator of Reward Volunteers, a mobile app that attempts to do just that, I realized that part of the problem lays with prevalent societal attitudes that value volunteers’ self-sacrifice and the appearance of humility.
In designing Reward Volunteers we used a variety of techniques to safeguard against volunteers appearing “selfish,” while still trying to give them sufficient support and recognition. Basically, Reward Volunteers allows volunteers to log and share their service hours at any organization — the more activity, the more chances to win cash and prizes, both for themselves and the organizations they serve. Though the program has had a positive reception, we received a complaint, suggesting that it would detract from the “spirit of volunteerism,” and teach youth that volunteers should expect material gain. As we near the culmination of the first Reward Volunteers campaign, Iíll reflect on these views, in the context of my experience with using “gamification” techniques to support volunteers.
Is the concern with the “spirit of volunteerism” valid? I believe it stems from a sincere desire to avoid skewed motivations, which could result in poor quality services delivered. The concern is that if a tutor, for example, were ONLY interested in a reward, rather than the child’s education, he probably would not be very effective — but how is that different from a paid teacher’s responsibility? Anyone in a helping profession, or who works for social good at non-profits, is expected to care about their work, though they are still compensated. While 75% of Americans participate in loyalty programs, which further incentivize spending, volunteers are not given such options or incentivizes (CIO). If the rewards were extremely large and guaranteed, then we would be concerned with the “spirit of volunteerism” being overshadowed for material gain, whereas providing a bit of excitement and mystery can support volunteers without adulterating their motivations.
According to the bureau of labor statistics, youth (people in their 20′s) are the least likely age group to volunteer (2012). Though many people may support the idea of providing tools for volunteers, the fact remains that, despite 500,000 iPhone apps, fewer than 10 support volunteers — representing a void in providing youth the social and technological tools that they use in virtually every other aspect of their lives. The concern that youth will expect a material reward for volunteering overshadows the fact that most youth are not volunteering and need a reason to start. What if youth see their friends on Facebook are volunteering, using an app to share, maybe winning prizes — and they want to try? To see a child’s eye light up when you praise their art work, or feel the satisfaction of a city-garden blooming provides its own reward, but sometimes it takes a little extra push to start. This initial push, whether it’s to be lauded by friends, or to win a prize, can lead to the lasting, intangible benefits — both for the volunteer and the recipient.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.