A Cross-National Examination of the Motivation to Volunteer

Religious Context, National Value Patterns, and Nonprofit Regimes
  • Lesley HustinxEmail author
  • Ronan Van Rossem
  • Femida Handy
  • Ram A. Cnaan
Part of the Nonprofit and Civil Society Studies book series (NCSS)


Although motivation to volunteer (MTV) is one of the most frequently researched topics in the field of volunteering research, few studies have compared and explained MTV cross-nationally. Using data from the 1990 World Values Surveys, this study examines if and how specific societal characteristics are associated with self-reported motivations to volunteer, focusing on national religious context, dominant value patterns, and institutional variations in terms of welfare state regimes and characteristics of the nonprofit sector. Across all countries studied, people who volunteered expressed both altruistic and self-oriented motivations, but we observed important cross-national variations in the emphasis put on both motivational dimensions. Besides the influence of individual-level characteristics, we found partial evidence for a contextual understanding of MTV. With respect to religion, we expected a beneficial relationship with altruistic motivations. While such a positive relationship was found at the individual level, the evidence for a religious national context was ambiguous: On the one hand, no relationship was found between extensive religious networks and support for altruistic motivations; on the other, strong religious beliefs among the general population were negatively associated with both altruistic and self-interested MTV. The prevalence of a postmaterial value pattern did not represent a threat to feelings of altruism, and produced mixed findings concerning self-interested MTV. Finally, welfare states with lower social spending, a large nonprofit sector with little revenue from government, and an active citizenry, in terms of a high rate of volunteering, stimulated the expression of altruistic motivations.


Motivation to volunteer Value patterns Religious context Cross-national variation Nonprofit sector regimes 


  1. Batson, C. D., Schoenrade, P., & Ventis, L. (1993). Religion and the individual. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Beck, U. (1997). Kinder der Freiheit: Wider das Lamento über den Werteverfall [Children of freedom: against loud regrets concerning the collapse in values]. In U. Beck (Ed.), Kinder der Freiheit (pp. 9–33). Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  3. Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. M. (1985). Habits of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American life. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bennett, W. L. (1998). The uncivic culture: Communication, identity, and the rise of lifestyle politics. PS: Political Science & Politics, 31(4), 741–761.Google Scholar
  5. Berking, H. (1996). Solidary individualism: The moral impact of cultural modernisation in late modernity. In S. Lash, B. Szerszynski, & B. Wynne (Eds.), Risk, environment and modernity: Towards a new ecology (pp. 189–202). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Clary, E. G., & Miller, J. (1986). Socialization and situational influences on sustained altruism. Child Development, 57(6), 1358–1369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clary, E. G., & Orenstein, L. (1991). The amount and effectiveness of help: The relationship of motives and abilities to helping behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17(1), 58–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clary, E. G., & Snyder, M. (1999). The motivations to volunteer: Theoretical and practical considerations. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8(5), 156–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clary, E. G., Snyder, M., Ridge, R. D., Copeland, J., Stukas, A. A., Haugen, J., & Miene, P. (1998). Understanding and assessing the motivations of volunteers: A functional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(6), 1516–1530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cnaan, R. A., & Goldberg-Glen, R. S. (1991). Measuring motivation to volunteer in human services. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 27(3), 269–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cnaan, R. A., Kasternakis, A., & Wineburg, R. J. (1993). Religious people, religious congregations, and volunteerism in human services: Is there a link? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 22(1), 33–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dekker, P., & Halman, L. (2003). Volunteering and values: An introduction. In P. Dekker & L. Halman (Eds.), The values of volunteering: Cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 1–18). New York: Kluwer Academic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Delhey, J. (2009). From materialist to postmaterialist happiness? National affluence and determinants of life satisfaction in cross-national perspective. World Values Research, 2(2), 30–54.Google Scholar
  14. Dickinson, M. J. (1999). Do gooders or do betters? An analysis of the motivation of student tutors. Educational Research, 41(2), 221–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ellison, C. G. (1992). Are religious people nice people? Evidence from the National Survey of Black Americans. Social Forces, 71(2), 411–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Esping-Anderson, G. (1990). The three worlds of welfare capitalism. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  17. Evers, A. (1999). Verschiedene Konzeptionalisierungen von Engagement. Ihre Bedeutung für Analyse und Politik [Different conceptualizations of commitment: Their meaning for analysis and politics]. In E. Kistler, H. Noll, & E. Priller (Eds.), Perspektiven Gesellschaftlichen Zusammenhalts. Empirische Befunde, Praxiserfahrungen, Messkonzepte (pp. 53–65). Berlin: Sigma.Google Scholar
  18. Gerstel, N. (2000). The third shift: Gender and care work outside the home. Qualitative Sociology, 23(4), 467–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gillespie, D., & King, A. E. (1985). Demographic understanding of volunteerism. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 12(4), 798–816.Google Scholar
  20. Graham, G. (1990). The idea of Christian charity. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  21. Hall, M., Lasby, D., Gumulka, G., & Tryon, C. (2006). Caring Canadians, involved Canadians: Highlights from the 2004 Canada survey of giving, volunteering and participating. Toronto: Statistics Canada.Google Scholar
  22. Handy, F., Cnaan, R. A., Hustinx, L., Kang, C., Brudney, J. L., Haski-Leventhal, D., Holmes, K., Meijs, L. C. P. M., Pessi, A. B., Ranade, B., Yamauchi, N., & Zrinscak, S. (2010). A cross-cultural examination of student volunteering: Is it all about résumé building? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 39(3), 498–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Handy, F., & Hustinx, L. (2009). Review essay: The why and how of volunteering. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 19(4), 549–558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hustinx, L. (2001). Individualisation and new styles of youth volunteering: An empirical exploration. Voluntary Action, 3(2), 57–76.Google Scholar
  25. Hustinx, L., Handy, F., Cnaan, R. A., Brudney, J. L., Pessi, A. B., & Yamauchi, N. (2010). Social and cultural origins of motivation to volunteer: A comparison of university students in six countries. International Sociology, 25(3), 349–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hustinx, L., & Lammertyn, F. (2003). Collective and reflexive styles of volunteering: A sociological modernization perspective. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 14(2), 167–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hwang, M., Grabb, E., & Curtis, J. (2005). Why get involved? Reasons for voluntary association activity among Americans and Canadians. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 34(3), 387–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Inglehart, R. (1971). The silent revolution in Europe: Intergenerational change in post-industrial societies. The American Political Science Review, 65(4), 991–1017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Inglehart, R. (1997). Modernization and postmodernization. Cultural, economic, and political change in 43 societies. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Inglehart, R., & Welzel, C. (2005). Modernization, cultural change, and democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Kelley, J., & De Graaf, N. D. (1997). National context, parental socialization, and religious belief: Results from 15 nations. American Sociological Review, 62(4), 639–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lam, P.-Y. (2002). As the flocks gather: How religion affects voluntary association participation. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41(3), 405–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lim, C., & MacGregor, C. A. (2012). Religion and volunteering in context: Disentangling the contextual effects of religion on voluntary behavior. American Sociological Review, 77(5), 747–779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Musick, M. A., & Wilson, J. (2008). Volunteers: A social profile. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Ruiter, S., & De Graaf, N. D. (2006). National context, religiosity, and volunteering: Results from 53 countries. American Sociological Review, 71(2), 191–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Salamon, L. M., & Anheier, H. K. (1998). Social origins of civil society: Explaining the nonprofit sector cross-nationally. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 9(3), 213–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Salamon, L. M., Anheier, H. K., List, R., Toepler, S., & Sokolowski, S. W., et al. (1999). Global civil society: Dimensions of the nonprofit sector. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies.Google Scholar
  38. Salamon, L. M., & Sokolowski, S. W. (2003). Institutional roots of volunteering: Toward a macro-structural theory of individual voluntary action. In P. Dekker & L. Halman (Eds.), The values of volunteering: Cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 71–90). New York: Kluwer Academic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Salamon, L. M., & Sokolowski, S. W., et al. (2004). Global civil society: Dimensions of the nonprofit sector (Vol. 2). Bloomfield: Kumarian Press.Google Scholar
  40. Salamon, L. M., & Sokolowski, S. W. (2009). Bringing the ‘social’ and the ‘political’ to civil society: Social origins of civil society sector in 40 countries. Paper presented at the 38th Annual Conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, Cleveland, OH, November 12–21, 2009.Google Scholar
  41. Stark, R. & Bainbridge, W. (1996). A Theory of Religion. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Stolle, D., & Hooghe, M. (2005). Inaccurate, exceptional, one-sided or irrelevant? The debate about the alleged decline of social capital and civic engagement in Western societies. British Journal of Political Science, 35(1), 149–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Van Der Meer, T., Grotenhuis, M. T., & Pelzer, B. (2010). Influential cases in multilevel modeling: A methodological comment. American Sociological Review, 75(1), 173–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Weiss Ozorak, E. (2003). Love of God and neighbor: Religion and volunteer service among college students. Review of Religious Research, 44(3), 285–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Welzel, C. (2010). How selfish are self-expression values? A civicness test. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 41(2), 152–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wilson, J. (2000). Volunteering. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 215–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wilson, J., & Janoski, T. (1995). The contribution of religion to volunteer work. Sociology of Religion, 56(2), 137–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Winniford, J. C., Carpenter, D. S., & Grider, C. (1995). An analysis of the traits and motivations of college students involved in service organizations. Journal of College Student Development, 36(1), 27–38.Google Scholar
  49. World values survey, 1981–1984 and 1990–1993 [Data file]. World Values Study Group. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor]; 1994 (ICPSR; 6160).Google Scholar
  50. Wood, J. R., & Hougland, J. G. (1990). The role of religion in philanthropy. In J. Van Til & Associates (Eds.), Critical issues in American philanthropy (pp. 29–33). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  51. Wuthnow, R. (1990). Religion and the voluntary spirit in the United States: Mapping the terrain. In R. Wuthnow, V. A. Hodgkinson, & Associates (Eds.), Faith and philanthropy in America: Exploring the role of religion in America’s voluntary sector (pp. 3–21). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  52. Wuthnow, R. (1991). Acts of compassion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Wymer, W. W. (1997). A religious motivation to volunteer? Exploring the linkage between volunteering and religious values. Journal of Nonprofit and Public Sector Marketing, 5(3), 3–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Ziemek, S. (2006). Economic analysis of volunteers’ motivations: A cross-country study. Journal of Socio-Economics, 35(3), 532–555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lesley Hustinx
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ronan Van Rossem
    • 1
  • Femida Handy
    • 2
  • Ram A. Cnaan
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.School of Social Policy and PracticeUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Graduate Institute for PeaceKyunghee UniversitySeoulKorea

Personalised recommendations