Individualism/collectivism: Implications for the Volunteer Process

Article excerpt

In the present study the constructs of individualism and collectivism were incorporated into current perspectives on the volunteer process. Penner (2002) proposed that volunteerism could be understood by integrating two theories of long-term helping: functional analysis and role identity theory.

According to the functional view (e.g., Clary et al., 1998), people volunteer in order to satisfy particular needs or motives and continue volunteering as long as the relevant motives are fulfilled (Clary & Snyder, 1991). Clary et al. specified six volunteer motives: Values (to express values related to altruistic and humanitarian concerns for others); Understanding (to acquire new learning experiences and/or exercise skills that might otherwise go unused); Social (to strengthen social relationships and satisfy normative expectations); Career (to gain career-related experience and increase job prospects); Protective (to reduce negative feelings about oneself or address personal problems); and Enhancement (to grow and develop psychologically and increase self-esteem).

According to role identity theory (e.g., Grube & Piliavin, 2000; Piliavin & Callero, 1991), social norms often provide the initial impetus to volunteer. With continued service, the individual establishes a volunteer role identity. This new identity drives further participation as the individual strives to behave in concert with the changed self-concept.

In his integrated conceptualization, Penner (2002) proposed motive as an antecedent to volunteering. One consequence of the volunteer experience is the development of a volunteer identity, which serves to sustain the activity. Results from previous studies support the integrated approach (e.g., Finkelstein, 2009; Finkelstein & Brannick, 2007; Finkelstein, Penner, & Brannick, 2005).

The present effort provided a broader perspective on the volunteer process by re-examining it in the context of the individualism/collectivism construct (e.g., Singelis, Triandis, Bhawuk, & Gelfand, 1995; Triandis, 2001). Fundamental to individualism is a focus on autonomy and self-fulfillment. Individualists favor personal goals over group goals and personal attitudes over group norms. In contrast, collectivists define themselves in terms of their group membership. They will submerge personal goals for the good of the whole and maintain relationships with the group even when the cost to the individual exceeds the benefits.

Here the researcher asked whether individual differences in volunteer motives and identity are related to differences in individualism and collectivism. The researcher also addressed an ongoing debate about whether individualism or collectivism is more compatible with volunteerism. Some have argued that the centrality of social norms in initiating volunteering makes collectivists more likely to volunteer (Hofstede, 2001; Wilson & Musick, 1997). Parboteeah, Cullen, and Kim (2004) found that people in collectivistic societies more commonly engaged in formal volunteering. Similarly, Mattis et al. (2000) found that communalism, which is an individual's orientation toward social obligation and interdependence, predicted time spent volunteering.

However, collectivists often limit their volunteerism to in-group members (e.g., Batson, Ahmad, & Tsang, 2002), while individualists work with people from diverse groups (Glaser-Segura & Anghel, 2002) and may more readily help strangers. Waterman (1981) argued that autonomy fosters respect for the individual and a sense of personal responsibility that can encourage people to volunteer. Kemmelmeier, Jambor, and Letner (2006) found both formal and informal volunteering were more closely associated with individualism.

It was hypothesized that collectivism would be more closely associated than individualism with the other-oriented Values and Social motives for volunteering. The more self-focused Career motives were expected to show the strongest relationship with individualism. …