Giving and Volunteering

  • Gulnara MinnigaleevaEmail author
Living reference work entry



Giving and volunteering are actions of providing support to people or a cause by free choice and for no explicit compensation. Such assistance may be rendered in the form of some material assets such as money, food, real estate, and other things or by giving time, skills, and labor. The latter is called volunteering.


Volunteering and giving have been interwoven into people’s lives since ancient times. Both phenomena are quite diverse, multifaceted, and manifest themselves in a broad range of activities. For example, giving alms to a beggar, donating funds to a nonprofit organization, or bequeathing a mansion for a children hospital are all acts of charitable giving. Giving time, or volunteering, is also a multifold phenomenon and may take different forms such as helping neighbors to look after their children, or providing professional legal services to a nonprofit organization, or even rescuing children in war conditions. Areas that may become points of application for volunteer skills and time are numerous: social services, disaster relief, arts, culture, democratic movements, education, community safety, etc.

Charitable Giving and Philanthropy

Charitable giving, or donating assets, was the basis for welfare provision in many countries before the welfare state appeared. It is still an important source of assistance in most countries. It can be realized privately, directly to a person in need or a cause, or via an agency – usually a church or another nonprofit organization. Nonprofit organizations then use the assets to provide goods or services to those who need them. Nonprofit organizations specially set up to accumulate funds and distribute them for particular causes are called foundations. Foundations differ by the primary source of their income – community, private funds, or corporations.

For wealthy people, starting a private foundation provides a meaningful way to ensure that one’s name will live. It also helps to organize bequests and guarantee that the funds will be used for a certain purpose (Adloff 2009). It is not only the wealthiest people, who make donations. Surprisingly, research finds that size and frequency of donations are not directly related to a person’s income (Tonin and Vlassopoulos 2016).

In the corporate world, giving, as well as volunteering, is realized as a part of corporate social responsibility. Major motivations here, besides personal motives of the managers, can be those that optimize output of giving for a corporation itself. For example, findings show that giving to philanthropy by financial institutions in Bangladesh is associated with institutional, more stable, investors (Bose et al. 2016). Charitable activities may enhance a business’s reputation, improve the recreational or other facilities in the community, and therefore increase workers’ satisfaction without raising their salaries. Donations to a research institution in the long run may contribute to a supply of better educated workforce. Managers may decide to give because of the so-called warm glow phenomenon. Fundraising efforts and tax exemptions are also instrumental in encouraging large corporations to donate to charitable causes (Bassi et al. 2014).

Corporate and private foundations are often associated with philanthropy, which unlike simple charity does not target specific population or concrete needs, but rather aims to advance humanity at large.

Formal and Informal Volunteering, Pro Bono

Volunteering may be performed by an individual on his or her own, together with an informal group of like-minded people (informal volunteering) or in a formal setting, in an organization (formal volunteering). For example, an informal volunteer helps an elderly neighbor with the house chores, whereas a formal volunteer participates in a specifically organized program in an elderly care home.

Formal volunteering may be organized by civil society organizations, public agencies, or even businesses. In public or civil society organizations, volunteers may assume a broad range of responsibilities. Volunteers may be invited to help with maintaining organizational capacities by fulfilling everyday operations such as required paperwork or to provide professional legal or accounting services.

Volunteers may be a part of a professional team in a specific charitable program. For example, a doctor or a teacher may volunteer in a program targeting children with special needs. A person with no specific education may also participate in a program as volunteer. Usually he or she will receive specific program-related training or at least detailed instructions on his or her responsibilities. In case if professional service is provided by highly qualified individuals at no cost, it is called pro bono service.

Formal volunteering is more common in the countries with democratic values and well-developed nonprofit sector, whereas informal volunteering more often occurs in the countries which have gone through the experiences of socialist regimes. Persons engaging in formal volunteering appear to be more educated or more religious. Participating in one kind of volunteering does not entail not participating in the other type (Taniguchi 2012). In the countries, where state provides most social welfare services, cultural and artistic types of formal volunteering tend to be more significant (Salamon and Sokolowski 2001).

Cultural Differences

Volunteering as a societal phenomenon exists in every culture. Individuals, who become volunteers, are usually also active in other related activities aimed at some common good. For example, many volunteers are also regular donors and are engaged in community building. Ubiquitously volunteers are more involved in church activities, membership associations, socializing through networks and are more often engaged in political activities than nonvolunteers. However, culture may determine perceptions of volunteering and giving, attitudes towards it, most common forms of volunteering, and dominating motives for making decisions to volunteer or donate funds.

For example, students from countries with high level of individualism are more motivated by opportunities to build a resume than students from countries with lower level of individualism (Grönlund et al. 2011). For the USA volunteering is a cornerstone of democracy and self-organizing, for Germany it is more about communal service for the public good. In some former socialist countries like Russia volunteering was compulsory before the change of regime, and nowadays they are experiencing renaissance of different forms of volunteering, despite that it may be difficult to instill the whole idea of volunteering as a free choice activity. In African countries, informal volunteering is a part of normal village life and is deeply rooted in the local culture (Salamon and Anheier 2009). In Islamic countries, giving is embedded in the religious rules, whereas in Scandinavian countries it is almost nonsense that someone has so much more money than others that they can donate it. Political and economic conditions are found to contribute to levels of volunteering. For example, increasing public expenditure, government support for democratization, or higher levels of political consensus decrease probability of volunteering. Economic instability also negatively influences volunteering rates (Hackl et al. 2012).

Economic Significance of Volunteering

Volunteering and giving are also an economic phenomenon. Volunteers provide various services to community and nonprofit organizations, which in turn provide services to other people. Without volunteers, these services would have to be paid by the state or population. For example, 70% of paramedics in Germany are volunteers and 87% of the US fire departments are operated mostly by volunteers (ibid.).


Researchers have tried to understand the underlying reasons for giving and volunteering, which seemingly do not bring any benefit for a giver. For example, Menchik and Weisbroad suggested explaining volunteering by a public goods model and consumption model (ibid.). The former assumes that individuals volunteer to increase total supply of the public good. Public good benefits are nonrivalrous and nonexcludable; therefore, volunteers benefit from the total supply of the public good. The latter suggests that volunteers receive benefits directly from the process of volunteering. For example, they feel satisfaction from doing the work they like or feel satisfaction because by doing good they prove being good, worthy persons. This phenomenon is also known as the “warm glow.” Understanding of the public good they create does not influence the decision to volunteer.

Social capital theory. Putnam (1993) considers social capital a fundamental driver for volunteering. Social connections and shared values facilitate resource availability and trust. Volunteering is both a mechanism and result of social connectedness and trust (Stone and Hughes 2002).

Human capital theory. Human capital includes all forms of resources which may bring income and other useful outputs. In order to engage in volunteering, an individual needs to possess affluent human resources, which would be enough not only for survival but for performing extra activities (Wilson and Musick 1999). Warburton and Stirling (2007) indicate the following human resources as essential for volunteer engagement: health, level of education, special skills, and income level.

Exchange value benefit theory (Ziemek 2006) or investment theory suggests that a volunteer increases his human capital by acquiring new skills, networking, or receiving training. Contrary to this theory Freeman argues that organizations search for volunteers with already high human capital, who are productive and feel obliged to do something when asked. A typical volunteer is employed, well educated, married, and has children and high income ( Hackl et al. 2012).

Predictors of Giving and Volunteering

Empirical research based on theoretical models described above allowed identifying which circumstances may be determining individuals’ participation in giving and volunteering. There are three groups of factors: personal socio-demographic characteristics, human capital factors, and social capital factors.

Personal socio-demographic characteristics. Age is considered to be a very strong predictor of volunteer participation. Multiple researches have demonstrated that during life course volunteer engagement is quite stable, it somewhat increases in the early old age (55–69, stage of empty nest and recent retirement, or decrease in working hours) and drops drastically after the age of 75. (Verbrugge et al. 1996). Gender research shows that women generally participate in volunteer activities more frequently than men (Brudney and Lee 2012). Race appears to play an important role as well. Even though racial differences are reported in volunteering patterns in the USA, they may be attributed to the differences in human or social capital (Wilson 2000).

In the group of human capital factors, health is an important personal resource, which obviously has an effect on a person’s ability to volunteer. It is worth mentioning that a decision to spend resources on volunteering may be based not on objective state of a particular resource but rather on the subjective self-evaluation of this resource. Education has been reported as a reliable predictor of likelihood of volunteer engagement. According to Brudney and Lee a bachelor’s degree positively affects formal volunteering, but not the informal engagement (Brudney and Lee 2012). Income is often considered to be a negative predictor of volunteering as higher income means higher opportunity cost of volunteer hours; however, there is also the contrary data showing that higher income is a consistent positive predictor of volunteer participation.

Social capital factors. Employment status has a vast influence on forming of social networks and is a positive predictor of volunteering. Marital status. According to social capital theory married couples are more likely to be involved in volunteer activities, as they have large combined social networks of two spouses. Research shows that married people are more likely to volunteer than unmarried individuals (Sundeen 1990). Parental status. Parents are often involved in activities of volunteer associations in schools, parents, who chose not to be employed because they want to spend more time with their child will also have more time for volunteering (Wilson 2000). Community type, i.e., rural or urban, and size of the community may be influencing social networks, resources availability, and therefore be predictive of volunteering. Researchers demonstrate controversial results, i.e., Smith (1994) stated that cities are less favorable for volunteering; however, it has not been confirmed by the Census data in the USA. In Russia, informal volunteering seems to be more common than formal one, and organizations are more common in larger cities.

At individual level, decisions to volunteer may also be influenced by personal experiences. Very often the initial decision to volunteer or donate to a particular cause is determined by personal difficulties or sympathy to another person. For example, former cancer patients may volunteer for a cancer treatment society or parents of children with disabilities start a volunteer association. People give to charities more willingly when they possess enough information and trust the reputation of a particular organization. Television, printed media, the Internet, or word of mouth are major sources of information in this case. Different fundraising strategies, adding emotional content to informational materials, may influence the decision on the recipient and size of donation (Zarghamee et al. 2014). Donors often choose a particular cause they are willing to donate to and follow their decision even when other types of charities increase their fundraising efforts (Meer 2017).

Effects of Volunteering

Participation in giving and volunteering are believed to produce positive effects on the society and on individuals, both givers and recipients (Wilson 2000). For example, volunteers tend to contribute to citizenship. They are more politically proactive as they are engaged in organized activities and possess special civic skills, such as skills on how to organize a meeting. For the young volunteer, engagement is important because it prevents them from being involved in antisocial behavior, exposes to informal social control and supervision. Volunteering promotes physical and mental health. The effects are especially remarkable for older volunteers. However, in this case it is essential to keep the right balance of volunteer hours and rest. Spending too many hours on volunteering may, on the opposite, cause fatigue and burn out effects. Volunteering boosts self-esteem and self-confidence and is related to higher life satisfaction. It is also often seen as an opportunity for networking and learning.

Costs, Effectiveness, and Social Impact

Volunteering, though unpaid, cannot be considered a completely free labor. Formal volunteering requires organizational resources to recruit, motivate, train, and retain volunteers, which therefore entails expenses for an organization. Moreover, volunteer programs sometimes make provisions for compensating expenses a volunteer bears during his work. For example, it may include meals, or transportation allowance. Given that volunteer hours also have value, it is possible to calculate economic effectiveness of a volunteering program. A volunteer hour may be assigned either a market value of a similar service or a value of leisure activity that a volunteer could have been engaged in otherwise. Economic effectiveness then may be calculated as a difference between the resources saved and expenses for administrating the program. There are also other methods of calculating volunteer effectiveness. For example, method of social accounting attempts to recognize intangible benefits of volunteer work.


Giving and volunteering are important societal phenomena. They are multifaceted and culture specific and have been known since ancient times. Charitable giving may be realized privately or via an organization. Nonprofit organizations specifically set up for accumulating resources for charitable purposes are called foundations and may have different sources of funding, such as community donations, private funds, or corporate funds. Starting a private foundation for wealthy people has become a popular way to ensure the meaningful use of their fortunes. In many business companies nowadays philanthropy and organized employee volunteering constitute a significant part of corporate social responsibility.

Some of the modern theories, which scientists have developed trying to understand the phenomena of giving and volunteering, include public goods model and consumption model, social capital theory, human capital theory, and exchange value benefit theory also known as investment theory. In accordance with the social capital theory, it appears that such personal characteristics as employment status, marital and parental status, community type, i.e., rural or urban, and size of the community influence a person’s participation in volunteering and giving. According to human capital theories, such determinants include health, education level, and income. Other personal socio-demographic characteristics such as age, gender, and race may also influence the probability of a person’s participation in giving and volunteering. At individual level among other circumstances, personal experiences, information availability, and reputation of a particular organization appear to be important for a person’s decision to volunteer.

A person may engage in volunteering informally or in an organization. In both cases, it appears to have a positive effect on a personal well-being of the volunteer. At the societal level, volunteering contributes to citizenship by creating special skills and environment and to economy by providing services or goods, which would otherwise have to be paid for. Formal volunteering also has its costs for an organization, because of the staff time and resources used for organizing volunteer programs. Economic effectiveness and social impact of volunteer programs are not straightforward and are quite difficult to measure objectively.



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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Strategic and General Management, Department of Public AdministrationNational Research University Higher School of EconomicsMoscowRussia