Why online volunteer? A qualitative study about motivations to engage and work for free at an art-oriented online community
AbstractPeople, today, use the Internet more and more for everything and there are courses on different aspects of our Internet use: social media, leadership, and networks. However, there is not much said about volunteering online, despite many active online volunteers who work several hours each day. It is relevant to know what inspires and motivates a person to volunteer to keep him or her motivated to continue to do so and to be able to get new volunteers. To find out what makes someone volunteer online, especially on an art community, I interviewed former volunteers and surveyed members with Seniority on the art site deviantART, which is one of the biggest art communities online. I used Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI) by Clary and Snyder together with theories based on Manuel Castells' and Eva Jeppsson Grassman's work. It was determined that passion for the subject (in this case, art), the need or desire to help, community spirit and size, time, and friends are vital to why and how people engage themselves and why someone chooses become an online volunteer on an art-oriented Internet site. The why and how are important to know, since they together with the volunteers higher motives (like career and visibility) provide insight on how to keep and procure new online volunteers.
SummaryThe aim of this bachelor's thesis is to find out the motives behind volunteering and engagement on the Internet within culture through surveys and interviews with people who have different positions on the art site deviantART. The main questions were:
1. Why does a person volunteer in an art-oriented online community?
2. How to be engaged and engage others on an art-oriented online community?
MethodThe empirical material comes from members on the art site deviantART. I interviewed three former volunteers (two of whom now work for a smaller art site) and the Director of Community Operations. The interviewees also participated in a survey based on VFI which was part of a more extensive survey which was sent to nine active members on deviantART. These members have gained Seniority for their inspiration and engagement.
TheoriesThe research was conducted using Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI) by E. Gil Clary and Mark Snyder. VFI is based on a functional approach, and deals with the causes, objectives, plans and goals which create psychological processes. VFI has six motivational functions: Career, Enhancement, Protective, Social Understanding, and Values.* I also used the Swedish researcher Eva Jeppsson Grassman's work about motivations within social volunteer work offline since she claims that the reason people volunteer is because of a combination of altruistic and egoistic motives. Since my work focuses on online volunteer work I also added an extra function: Visibility. On top of that I also took under considerations the work of Manuel Castells about the network online being based on communication, interests, and same values of the members.
*Career - to gain career-related experience, Enhancement - to grow and develop psychologically, Protective - to reduce negative feelings, such as guilt, or to address personal problems, Social - to strengthen one's social relationships, Understanding - to learn more about the world and/or exercise skills that are often unused and Values - to express or act on important values, such as humanitarianism and helping the less fortunate.
ResearchInterviews: A common theme seen throughout the interviews is that the volunteers have always had the feeling that they want to help. However, the volunteers seem to have different principal reasons. The first interviewee wants to offer help. The second one seems to possess a social motivation. The last person desires knowledge gained from the experience. Another common theme is the importance of organization and the feel the volunteer gets from his or her workplace, as determined by the manner in which each volunteer discussed the community as a whole, and its organization. An additional common theme is the aspiration from all volunteers to make others happy while doing something the volunteers personally enjoy.
Surveys: The survey takers would like to do the same thing as they do now if they were online volunteers. They also emphasized both the community feeling and the importance of friends for engagement. Both interviewees and survey takers felt that others got involved because of the motivational functions: Visibility and Social. While the interviewees considered Career to be important on that question, the survey takers ranked Career as least important. The answers on why they themselves became engaged were scattered, but both survey takers and interviewees ranked Career, Protective and Visibility on the bottom of their lists, which is almost the opposite of what they believe about other people's motives. Volunteers and survey takers placed Visibility and Career as their top reasons for why people volunteer on deviantART, while both interviewees and survey takers agreed that Protective was not important.
AnalysisThe information from the surveys and interviews were analyzed and discussed against the theories of motivational functions, altruism versus egoism, values and visibility. Focus was on answering the two main questions of the thesis.
ConclusionIt is not enough to share values and to satisfy the motivational functions (motive-mix). Several other requirements must also be satisfied. The community spirit and size, time, passion for the subject, friends and the need or desire to help are vital to why and how people engage themselves and why someone chooses to become an online volunteer on an art-oriented Internet site. This is important to know both for matching the task with the right volunteer worker but also to contract and retain volunteers.
The reasons for becoming involved, engage others, and to volunteer online seem to have the same origin, which leads to another interesting question: why do some choose to take on more responsibility than others? The question reveals the need for more research on engagement and voluntary work on online communities, other than what already exists.