What Keeps Corporate Volunteers Engaged: Extending the Volunteer Work Design Model with Self-determination Theory Insights

Abstract

Despite enthusiastic claims around the benefits of corporate volunteering (CV) for the workplace and its widespread implementation, the impact of such programs for beneficiaries and non-profit organizations remains uncertain, particularly when employees’ participation is one-off. Previous research suggests that the benefits of CV for employees, businesses, and society are more likely to occur if employees internalize a volunteer identity—that is, if being a volunteer becomes a part of their self. This leads them to sustain their participation in CV over time, maximizing CV’s positive effects on all stakeholders. This study explores the factors explaining why employees internalize a volunteer identity in a corporate context. We do so by empirically testing Grant’s (Acad Manag Rev 37(4):589-615, 2012) volunteer work design (VWD) theoretical model with a sample of 619 employees involved in CV programs, and by comparing its relevance with an alternative, extended model relying on insights from self-determination theory (SDT). Whereas we find only partial and weak empirical support for the VWD model, our SDT-extended model is supported empirically. These results show that the quality of motivation that employees experience while volunteering plays a more important role than repeated participation, as it illuminates the process of how factors such as the quality of the projects, organizational support for CV, as well as the causes targeted affect the internalization of a volunteer identity. In particular, we show that employees are more likely to internalize a volunteer identity if they can choose what cause to engage for and if they feel that the projects they participate in are meaningful. Surprisingly, we also show that a prestigious cause as well as recognition and managerial support foster a controlled form of motivation for employees, which are then unlikely to internalize a volunteer identity. In doing so, we contribute to a better understanding of how CV can have lasting benefits for both business and society, and provide business leaders with actionable insights about how to design impactful CV programs.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Please note that we deliberately excluded the first part of Grant’s model, which focuses on the entry to CV activities, due to the conceptual density of the framework and our exclusive focus on those employees who have decided to become involved. We refer to an extensive study by Rodell (2013) for findings on the intersection between paid work and volunteering, which addresses questions raised in the first part of the VWD model.

Abbreviations

CV:

Corporate volunteering

CSR:

Corporate social responsibility

NPO:

Non-profit organization

SDT:

Self-determination theory

VWD:

Volunteer work design

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Correspondence to Susan van Schie.

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van Schie, S., Gautier, A., Pache, A. et al. What Keeps Corporate Volunteers Engaged: Extending the Volunteer Work Design Model with Self-determination Theory Insights. J Bus Ethics 160, 693–712 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-018-3926-y

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Keywords

  • Corporate volunteering
  • Internalization
  • Self-determined motivation
  • Volunteer role identity