Volunteering is defined as “any activity in which time is given freely to benefit another person, group, or organization” (Wilson, 2000). It is often mentioned in the context of social capital. Researchers believe that volunteering has contribution to the development of social capital so that it produces social and economic benefits to society. Beside this, volunteering also brings about benefits to volunteers themselves. Therefore, non government organizations (NGO) should have responsibility to promote and maximize volunteer opportunities.
This essay aims to analysis this point of view. What is volunteering? There is a broad range of definitions describing the concept of volunteering. Many definitions of volunteering are used in research, creating confusion for readers and researchers (Pereiwskyj and Warburton, 2007). The definition of volunteering varies from researcher to researcher, from organization to organization, and from country to country. Regarding who or what is considered a volunteer, according to Justin Davis Smith (2000), volunteering takes different forms and meanings in different contexts.
Although volunteering has a variety of definitions, there are some core characteristics which constitute a voluntary activity. First, voluntary activities should not be undertaken primarily for financial gain. Voluntary action is not rewarded with a wage or salary. Some would argue that only purely altruistic behavior should be considered as volunteering. Others think that there is no pure altruism behavior so that all volunteering contains an element of exchange and reciprocity.
Hence, some definitions allow volunteers receive reward in some way, either non-materially, through the provision of training or accreditation, or materially, through the reimbursement of expenses or the payment of an honorarium. This characteristic is the most important point to distinguish between volunteering and paid employment. Volunteer should not undertake the activity primarily for financial gain. The second, it is undertaken of one’s own free will.
The decision to volunteer may be influenced by peer pressure or personal feelings of obligation to society but, in essence, the individual must be in a position to choose whether or not to volunteer. The third, the activity should be of benefit to someone other than the volunteer, or to society at large, although it is recognized that volunteering brings significant benefit to the volunteer as well. Fourthly, some definitions claim that volunteering must be carried out through a formal, non-profit organizations or NGOs. Other definitions also include activity undertaken within the public or corporate sector.
This characteristic is used to separate formal volunteering from informal volunteering which may include everyday situations such as when a group of neighbors help a local family by picking up children from school. In Australia context, a volunteer is broadly described by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS, 2001) as someone who willingly gives unpaid help in the form of time, service or skills, through an organization or group. Benefits of volunteering Studies on the value of volunteering have focused on three areas: the economic value, social value, and the benefits to volunteers themselves (Kirsten, 2009).
First, volunteering makes a direct economic contribution to society. By providing time and resources to organisations, volunteers help deliver services, products and opportunities. Without volunteer’s help, these services or products may have been provided at a higher cost to the recipient or not be provided at all. Therefore, volunteering adds to the overall economic output of a country and reduces the burden on government spending. In order to evaluate the economic value of volunteering, some approaches are used, but they are limited in their ability to capture reliable figures on the exact monetary value (Kirsten, 2009).
The first economic approaches to valuing volunteers have focused on counting volunteer hours and converting them to either full-time equivalent paid staff or a monetary value, but this approach overlooks other potential benefits which volunteers may bring aside from their productivity. The second approach is more complex as there are several methods which could be used to calculate the financial value of the volunteer hour. A third way of calculating the value of volunteer time is to ask the volunteer what they consider to be the value of their activity.
Despite their limitation, result drawn by these approaches could help us realized that voluntary work makes a significant contribution to the community. For example, Ironmonger estimated that the value of each South Australian’s volunteer labor in 2000 was $4, 352. The aggregate value of South Australian volunteer contributions in 2000 was $4. 98 billion-equivalent to 11. 5% of Gross State Domestic Product (Ironmonger, 2002) Second, volunteering also makes indirect social value to the nation which related to social capital accrued from taking part in voluntary activities, it enhances social cohesion, strengthens communities.
Social capital is defined by Coleman as “being the networks and norms that form connections among members of a society” (Coleman, 1988). Having built upon the Coleman definition, Robert Putnam (1993) defines social capital as “a set of horizontal associations among those who have an affect on a community, and these can take the form of networks of civic engagement” and “features of social organizations such as networks, norms and truths that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit”. Researchers have linked between social capital and volunteering.
Volunteering has been counted as an indicator of social capital as being predicted by civic engagement (Putnam, 2000), it also has a contribution to the development of social capital (Smith, 2000) and may be seen as “an expression of reciprocity or potentially as a direct outcome of social capital” (Commonwealth of Australia, 2002). In the study of the Italian experience of political decentralization, Putnam (1993) has demonstrated that there are significant indirect benefits which flow from volunteering.
In his study, Robert Putnam concludes that significant differences in the administrative performance of different provincial governments can be accounted for by differences in levels of social capital. Civic engagement was greatest where there were high levels of volunteering and voluntary participation in clubs, societies, political parties, sporting clubs and civic associations, which produced social capital. He maintained that voluntary participation in civic organizations was associated with high levels of trust in others, obedience to the law and an acceptance of the legitimacy of political institutions.
He concluded that the most significant component of ‘civic engagement’ was the ‘social capital’ generated by a wide range of voluntary activities. Where there were high levels of voluntary participation there were also high levels of trust in others, strong expectations that other citizens will obey the laws and widely-shared perceptions that regional politics are largely free from corruption. More recently, in his latter studies of social capital in the USA, Putnam has turned his attention to the United States.
In his book, Bowling Alone (2000), Putnam found that levels of social capital were strongly correlated with a number of social consequences such as lower levels of violent crime, lower mortality levels, and better educational outcomes. Third, volunteering also brings about benefits to the volunteer. Although “volunteer” is someone who contributes time to helping others with no expectation of pay or other material benefit to herself, this does not mean that volunteer work is of no consequence for the volunteer.
Indeed, it is widely believed that helping others is as beneficial for the donor as for the recipient. Volunteering is believed to foster interpersonal trust, toleration and empathy for others, and respect for the common good. This, in turn, makes us less likely to engage in socially pathological behavior, such as vandalism, and less likely to prey on other people and engage in self -destructive behavior. Moreover, not only social capital is good for health but social relationships are crucial to finding jobs or to finding better jobs.
By helping others, volunteers may develop stronger networks that buffer stress and reduce disease risk. It is possible that the association between volunteering and health is due to the fact that volunteers have access to more information about the benefits of exercise and preventive medical care. Additionally, “the altruistic features of volunteerism might reduce destructive levels of self-absorption”. Social networks are also a principal source of information for many people about employment opportunities, career changes, investment options and other paths to wealth creation