Understanding Volunteerism

Julia Nakamura (UBC)

University of British Columbia (UBC) Doctoral Student Researcher, Julia Nakamura led the analysis of two waves of the Canadian Social Connections Survey (n=3,454).

In 2023 a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, led by doctoral student Julia Nakamura, conducted a study to understand volunteer motivations in Canada. The study involved analyzing data from the 2021 and 2022 waves of the Canadian Social Connection Survey (CSCS), followed by six follow-up focus groups with a subset of survey respondents. Much of the focus of these surveys was to understand respondents’ volunteer tendencies during the later years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Findings

Characteristics of volunteers:

  • Volunteers were predominantly women, White, and lived in urban environments.
  • There was an even distribution of volunteers across income levels.
  • Volunteers tended to work directly with people in need and for events—meaning they were less likely to engage in maintenance or telephone work.
  • Volunteers were more likely to work alongside friends (44%) than with strangers (38%), family (35%), acquaintances (32%) or alone (27%).
  • Two-thirds of volunteers (67%) participated in-person as opposed to virtually.

Motivations for engaging in volunteer work during the pandemic:

  • As part of the Canadian Social Connection Survey, respondents completed the Volunteer Functions Inventory which examines different motivations for volunteering. For more information about the different categories of volunteering, refer to the Motivations to Volunteer section.
    • Overall, respondents were most motivated to volunteer based on their values.
    • Many also reported volunteering to increase their understanding, and for enhancement
    • In comparison, participants were motivated by protective, social and career motivations to a lesser extent.
  • The research team combined data from the VFI, demographic information and responses to the Big Five personality traits to generate six volunteer profiles. These profiles explore how things like demographics and personality influences volunteer motivations.

The research team also created a guide with strategies for organizations to increase volunteer participation. The full guide can be found here.

To learn more about this research project and its findings, view the entire body of work here:

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