The Propensity to Volunteer: The Development of a Conceptual Model

Article excerpt

This paper explores the determinants of propensity to volunteer as a foundation for developing a conceptual model to enhance understanding of voluntary participation. The paper reviews literature on existing theoretical models applied to volunteering, related social behaviours, and various internal determinants of propensity to volunteer (social background factors, personality, attitudes, values, motivations, perceptions and volunteering experience). Building on this research base, a cross-disciplinary approach is taken to develop a comprehensive multi-variate model of propensity to volunteer. The various components of this model and its posited relationships are described and key research questions are subsequently presented. Future directions stemming from testing of this model include the development of a theoretical scale to assess predisposition to volunteer and a practical inventory-based instrument designed to assist organisations with volunteer workforces, including those operating within the tourism industry, to better identify and align potential volunteers to compatible working environments.


The importance of volunteers to society was formally recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in 1997 with the declaration of 2001 as the International Year of Volunteers. Recent estimates by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate volunteer numbers in 2000 comprised 4,395,600 people, aged 18 years and over, representing 32% of the Australian civilian population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001). Further findings show these volunteers to have contributed 704.1 million hours of voluntary work, undertaking activities such as fundraising (56%), management (45%) teaching (44%) and administration (41%) for organisations in fields including community/welfare (26%) and sport/recreation (21%). In making this contribution, volunteering can promote positive social outcomes and community benefits (Paull, 1999; Wheeler, Gorey, & Greenblatt, 1998) and make an economic contribution by allowing organisations reliant upon this valuable resource base to undertake activities that would otherwise require private or public funding to partially or fully proceed.

With these positive outcomes in mind, certain trends have been identified as impacting upon volunteer numbers in the future. These trends include changes in workforce participation and composition in Australia, the ageing population, increasing social inequalities and public and private sector downsizing (Warburton, Le Brocque, & Rosenman, 1998; Wheeler et al., 1998). The significance of trends such as these ensure the importance of identifying, both from a theoretical and applied standpoint, those people from the general population whom are likely to engage in some form of volunteering activity.

This paper explores "propensity to volunteer", particularly with reference to tourism organisations. In the present context, volunteering is defined as "people exercising their own free will, for no remuneration at all, in a formal setting to help others" (Paull, 1999, p. 27). The rationale for this particular industry focus is the dependence of many tourism organisations on volunteer workforces in order to operate and the spectrum of volunteering opportunities the industry provides. An example of this dependence includes the network of visitor information centres across Australia, the majority of which rely to some degree upon volunteers assisting in service provision. The scope of the industry provides opportunities for regular (sustained) participation and also discrete volunteering opportunities (e.g., assisting at a special event). Information that would allow managers in the tourism industry to more effectively target suitable volunteers may subsequently reduce turnover and training costs for these organisations and provide a coordinated approach to volunteer recruitment. Volunteering research undertaken to date in the field of tourism has not specifically addressed the question of propensity and minimal research attention has been directed to the topic in general volunteering literature. …