The Role of Social Identity Processes in Motivating and Sustaining Volunteerism in Victim Support Organisations

Researcher Lisa Rathmann

Supervisors Dr Emma Thomas

Date: November, 2010

Between 1996 and 2007, there were over 200,000 reported victims of violent crime in Australia (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2010). As a result of their victimisation, these individuals report increased rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, increases in fear, and a heightened suicide risk (Brewin, Andrews, & Rose, 2000; Kilpatrick et al., 1989). Victim support organisations around Australia offer support to individuals who have experienced a traumatic criminal event. These organisations range from government agencies, to not-for-profit organisations, all of which recruit volunteers as service providers. Volunteers in victim support not only provide better outcomes for victims of crime, but also support the organisations that they work for. Volunteers are thus essential for the existence of such not-for-profit organisations (Piliavin, Grube, & Callero, 2002).

However, no published research has explored volunteerism in the victim support context. As most of these organisations rely on volunteers to provide their services, it is essential to understand the motivating and sustaining factors of these individuals to ensure the longevity of these organisations.

The current research
Our starting point is that, although many people are sympathetic to the goals of victim support volunteerism, few people actually go on to become volunteers. That is, it is important to differentiate between people who are sympathisers of the cause, but not active volunteers, and focus on ways to motivate them to translate their support into action (following Oegama & Klandermans, 1984). The work reported below takes this as our primary focus.

The current research had two key goals:

  1. To review the relevant research on motivating and sustaining volunteerism and determine whether this literature might usefully inform understanding of victim support volunteerism;
  2. Explore the role of identity (personal and social identity), and other group-based factors (group emotion and group efficacy) in motivating and sustaining victim support volunteerism.

Goal 1: Review of volunteerism literature
Motivating and sustaining volunteerism
Understanding motivations to volunteer is a prominent focus in existing volunteerism literature. The most influential research on motivations has been conducted by Clary and others in the development of the Volunteer Function Inventory (VFI) (Clary & Snyder, 1999; Clary et al., 1998; Clary, Snyder, & Stukas, 1996). According to the VFI, volunteering may satisfy up to six functions. These are identified as values, understanding, social, career, protective and enhancement functions. The VFI has been widely reviewed in academic volunteerism research, and these functions have been widely found to understand, or explain, volunteerism across a variety of contexts (Allison, Okun, & Dutridge, 2002; Clary & Snyder, 1999; Clary, et al., 1998; Clary, et al., 1996; Greenslade & White, 2005).

While motivating individuals to volunteer is beneficial for recruitment within volunteer organisations, sustaining this volunteerism is vital for the future prospects of these organisations. In their analysis of motivations to volunteer in AIDS organisations, Clary et al. (1998) found that the achievement of the goals and plans individuals set for volunteering predicted their intentions for future volunteerism. Thus, individuals whose motivations (as measured by the VFI) matched their achieved goals were more committed to volunteerism in both the short and long term future.

Goal 2: The role of identity, emotion and belief in motivating victim support volunteerism
Of particular concern to the current study is that volunteerism research is yet to fully attend to the group-level motivations of volunteerism. Volunteerism is inherently a group, collective and collaborative behaviour and as such, it is necessary to understand the factors or processes that combine people as group members. While we do not dispute the importance of understanding individual values and personality, we argue that this focus has come at the expense of exploring the role of group-level processes in motivating and sustaining volunteerism. Therefore, the focus of the second goal of the current research is to provide a more thorough understanding of how people behave as group members, that is, to apply an analysis of the role of social identity, emotion and efficacy belief in motivating victim support volunteerism. To do so we take an approach informed by the social identity perspective.

Personal and social identity
A central insight within the social identity perspective is that people can define themselves as individuals (“I” and “me”) and as group members (“we” and “us”). Personal identity or the personal self is used to describe situations where individuals perceive themselves to be distinct and different from others. Personal identity can encompass attributes such as ones personality, values and talents. On the other hand, a social identity or the social self refers to an individual's "knowledge that he [or she] belongs to certain groups together with some emotional and value significance to him [or her] of the group membership" (Tajfel, 1972, p. 31). Social identity reflects the meaningful psychological membership to a group. As volunteerism is inherently a group, collective and collaborative behaviour, it seems practical to analyse group-level processes which motivate and sustain volunteerism, as captured in social identity processes.

The current research explored three levels of identity: personal identity as a supporter (where supporting victims of crime is an idiosyncratic feature), social identity as a supporter (where supporting victims of crime is a feature of self that is shared with other people who also support victims) and organisational identity (where volunteers may develop an organisational identity with a specific victim support organisation). We hypothesised that, the extent that individuals internalise support for victims as an aspect of their social identity, will motivate increased commitment to volunteer. We also predicted that organisational identity will be a key sustaining factor in victim support volunteerism.

Emotion and efficacy beliefs
Emotions and efficacy beliefs are focal in the social movement and collective action literatures, in bringing about positive social change. Similarly, they could provide important insight into motivating and sustaining volunteerism.

While self-efficacy refers to the belief that one’s individual efforts can be successful in bringing about a desired change, collective efficacy refers to the belief that group-level actions can be successful in bringing about a desired change. It is argued that, without a belief that the groups actions can be effective, group members can have little motivation to act (van Zomeren et al., 2004). Various emotions have also been implicated in volunteerism. Thomas (2005) showed that sympathy and moral outrage were both predictors of commitment to assist people in developing countries, while Boezeman and Ellemers (2007) found that volunteers who displayed pride for volunteer groups were more inclined to commit to volunteer and also perceived the organisation as more important. Therefore, the current research aimed to determine if efficacy and emotions (sympathy, outrage and pride) were implicated in motivating and sustaining volunteerism in victim support organisations.

Ninety-nine volunteers (12 Males, 81 Females, 6 did not indicate their gender) and one hundred and thirty four non-volunteers (37 Males, 89 Females, 8 did not indicate their gender) completed the questionnaire. The volunteer group had a mean age of 54 years while the non-volunteer group had a mean age of 28 years. Volunteer participants were recruited through 12 Australian victim support organisations.

There were two versions of the questionnaire for the volunteer and non-volunteer samples. Both questionnaires were identical with additional items added in the volunteer questionnaire. The non-volunteer questionnaire contained 85 questions, while the volunteer questionnaire contained 144 questions. Both questionnaires measured behavioural intentions to volunteer, personal and social identity, attitudes towards volunteering and victim support organisations, pride, sympathy, outrage and self and collective (supporter) efficacy. The volunteer questionnaire also measured intentions for future volunteering, VFI, organisational identity and collective efficacy (volunteer). All items were presented using a Likert-type response scale that ranged from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (7). All scales had good to excellent internal consistency.

Both the volunteer and non-volunteer versions of the questionnaire were administered electronically via the Murdoch University SCORED website. All participants were informed that the questionnaire was anonymous, did not contain highly personal questions and would take approximately 20 minutes to complete.

Below are the key, mean level differences between volunteers and non-volunteers:

  • Both groups expressed positive attitudes towards supporting victims of crime but volunteers possessed more positive attitudes towards volunteering. This indicated that individuals sympathise with victims of crime, however some individuals can be motivated to become actively involved rather than just sympathise with the cause.
  • Volunteers possessed higher levels of personal and social identity, pride and self and collective efficacy. This indicated that when individuals joined social groups (e.g. volunteer organisations) they possessed a strong social identity as a supporter of that organisation.
  • Surprisingly, non-volunteers possessed higher levels of sympathy and outrage.
  • With regards to Clary’s VFI scale, volunteers were most motivated by values and understanding functions and least motivated by career and protective functions.

Below are the key findings with regards to what predicted motivation to engage and sustain volunteerism:

  • Non-volunteers were motivated to volunteer through personal identity, sympathy and self efficacy; while volunteers were motivated to volunteer by social identity, outrage and collective efficacy.
  • Clary’s VFI Values function was the only function to predict behavioural intentions to engage in volunteerism.
  • It was also shown that identity processes (social identity) predict intention to engage in volunteerism over and above the VFI; that is, adding social identity significantly adds to our understanding of victim support volunteerism over and above measures traditionally used in understanding volunteerism.
  • Organisational identity as a volunteer in a victim support organisation and collective efficacy amongst volunteers predicted future intentions to volunteer in victim support.
  • Pride did not predict future intentions to volunteer in victim support.

Practical Implications
How do we motivate non-volunteers (sympathisers) to volunteer?
As the non-volunteer sample in our research were indeed sympathetic to the goals of supporting victims of crime, efforts could usefully focus on ways to motivate sympathetic non-volunteers to engage in volunteering. In particular, results suggest that victim support organisations should focus on enhancing the identities of sympathisers such that the support for victims of crime transitions from being an aspect of a personal, or individual, self, to an aspect of social, or group self. Personal identity predicted action amongst this sympathetic sample but by focusing on enhancing collective processes, these individuals will move to the next step in participation (active volunteerism). Put simply: organisations need to find ways of encouraging individuals to think in collective terms (“we can”), rather than personal terms (“I should”).

In practical terms, this can be done in 2 ways: by making individuals feel like their support is something that is shared by similar others, and by making the individual feel that goals can be achieved through collective work. Given that sympathy was also a predictor of intention to volunteer in this sample, recruitment efforts could draw on messages which attempt to promote feelings of compassion for victims in this sympathetic sample.

How do we motivate existing volunteers to engage in greater levels of volunteerism ?
To motivate existing volunteers, organisations should focus on maintaining and enhancing social identity and collective efficacy amongst their volunteers. Volunteers will continue to volunteer if they maintain an identity as a supporter of the cause and continue to believe that together with other supporters, positive social change can be achieved. Given that social identity was a strong predictor of behavioural intentions to volunteer – over and above traditional items used to predict volunteering – organisations should boost their volunteers sense of identity as a supporter of victims of crime. This can be done through making them feel like a team member and enhancing their identification with the cause. If an individual holds a sense of social identity as a supporter of victims of crime, they are more likely to volunteer because it meets the norm of this identity (i.e. to support victims of crime).

Given that moral outrage also predicted greater volunteerism in this sample, organisations could also harness this emotion in a productive way by making individuals feel outrage towards the unfair system in which individuals fall victim to crime. This outrage should promote productive work to support victims of crime and increase efforts to reduce victimisation. By harnessing outrage, this emotion can also be aligned with an individuals social identity as a supporter of victims of crime, and fuel continued volunteerism.

How do we sustain volunteerism over time?
To sustain volunteerism, organisations must ensure that volunteers form a sense of social identity for the cause and organisational identity for their particular organisation. If volunteers possess an identity as a volunteer in a victim support organisation, they are likely to continue volunteering and adopt strong norms and beliefs similar to those of the organisation. To put it simply, if volunteers identify with their volunteer work, this identification will sustain their volunteerism.

Organisations need to ensure that their volunteers have a strong shared belief that they have the collective power to achieve the groups goals. To sustain volunteerism, less emphasis is upon the individual achieving personal goals, and more on the collective power of the organisation to achieve goals. As volunteers possess social identities as supporters and volunteers, an organisations achievement is an achievement for the individual as a member of that group. Victim support organisations should advertise the achievements that they have made and ensure volunteers are aware of the goals that have been set and when they have been accomplished. Individuals are more likely to sustain volunteerism if they feel the organisation is capable of creating genuine change for victims of crime, and believe that they can achieve it through volunteerism at the organisation.