Examining motivations to volunteer using Self-Determination Theory
Davis-Smith, Patti Jeane
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Self-Determination Theory (SDT) has identified three essential needs for optimal psychological growth and well-being: competence, relatedness, and autonomy. The SDT perspective further suggests that satisfying an individual’s basic psychological needs will result in optimal functioning, and that social situations that allow individuals to feel self-determined serve as nutriments for psychological well-being. I proposed that for some individuals, engaging in volunteer work serves as a source of psychological nutriments. As such, volunteering functions as a mechanism for satisfying their basic psychological needs. To test this hypothesis, I conducted two studies, in which I expected need satisfaction to be a psychologically meaningful variable. In Study 1, I examined the associations between need fulfillment, aspects of personality (e.g., self-esteem) and volunteering (e.g., length of service). In Study 2, I further explored the role of need fulfillment in motivations to volunteer using persuasive communications to solicit future volunteer behavior (e.g., donating time to a fictitious upcoming volunteer fair). The results from Study 1 support the overarching hypothesis that when volunteer work satisfies an individual’s basic needs, they will experience greater levels of psychological well-being and positive volunteer outcomes. However, the findings from Study 2 provide limited initial support for the efficacy of utilizing need-relevant messages in persuasive communications. Discussion centers around further research on the motivational foundations of volunteerism, implications for the practice of helping, and implications for the nature of volunteering.