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Motivations to volunteer: the case


of Armenia
Voluntary Sector and Volunteering
Research Conference 2014

Valentina Gevorgyan, Turpanjian Center for Policy Analysis, American
University of Armenia
Yevgenya Paturyan, Turpanjian Center for Policy Analysis, American
University of Armenia

Introduction
Armenia is a post-Soviet country with a complicated history behind and number of
challenges on the way of establishing a free and a democratic state. Despite the
existing challenges however there seem to be certain positive signs, namely the
development of the civil society, defined as increased civic engagement and activism.
The role of volunteers in this process cannot be underestimated. Some research
indicate the increasing tendency of volunteering, mainly among youth (see for
example, Sargsyan 2012). Notwithstanding a few studies conducted so far, both the
region and the subject are under researched. There has been no nationwide analysis
on the condition of volunteering in the republic. There are no studies focusing on the
motivations to volunteer in the post-Soviet sphere and specifically in the region of the
South Caucasus.
This research aims at unleashing and comparing the motivations, purposes and
reasons to volunteer reported by volunteers and leaders of Armenian NGOs that
have volunteers. The research expands the understanding of volunteering and its
usage by organizations; provides recommendations for volunteer-involving
organizations and contributes to the body of literature on volunteering in post-
communist societies.
Literature review
Motivations to volunteer
The motivations to volunteer have been constantly discussed in academic literature.
Numerous studies explore motivations, purposes and reasons behind volunteering
through different theories. Most frequently the research is based on the application of
quantitative methods.
Placing the functionalist theory in the core of their study, and having analysed reasons
and motivations underlying human behaviour, Clary and Snyder identified six personal
and social functions served by volunteering. These include values, understanding,
enhancement, career, social and protective functions (Clary and Snyder 1999).
According to Wilson and Musick the values and norms characterized as expression of
altruism lie behind peoples decisions to volunteer (Wilson and Musick 1997).
Analysing the motivational perspective through behaviourism and rational choice
theory, Wilson explains that volunteerism takes different forms based on the values
which can be regarded both as sacrifice and self-improvement (Wilson 2000). Some
studies advocate that motivating factors such as self-development, expression of
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personal values and strength of social ties are the ones to bind individual to
organizational activities (Thoits and Hewitt 2001; Salamon and Sokolowski 2003).
In the framework of the research on motivations to volunteer there is a debate
focusing on the humanitarian motives of volunteers. The altruism debate has
generated an understanding that it is a natural process for the people when asked to
list altruistic reasons for volunteering as the main ones (Smith 1981; Pearce 1993).
Surveying international volunteers, Rehberg found out that the majority of
respondents define the willingness of helping others as the main motive to volunteer
(Rehberg 2005). Another study examining motivations of college students indicates
that altruism is involved in each of the various motivations highlighted by the young
adults (Burns et al. 2006).
Few authors have discussed the motivations to volunteer with a qualitative
methodology focusing on interviews with hospital volunteers. In this regard, sense of
generosity and personal fulfilment are discussed as the main motivational factors.
Thus, motivation can be regarded as specific combination of altruistic and egoistic
factors (Skoglund 2006; Blanchard 2006).
Some authors speak about the existence of a conceptual problem related to the
notion of motivation. Shye (2010) puts forward the idea that the very concept of
motivation to volunteer is not well-grounded in the academic scholarship and is in
need of a clarified explanation. The author argues that besides motivation, there are
demographic antecedents in terms of personal capacities to volunteer and
circumstances which are required for volunteering.
The research on volunteering usually explains motivations either from altruistic or
egoistic perspective. Both philanthropy and self-oriented concerns are interlinked in
peoples willingness to volunteer. There is no single and clear theory applied or
accepted for the concept of human motivation to volunteering.
Volunteering in Armenia
The Armenian history is characterized by different periods of domination and
hardships. During the 20
th
century Armenians have survived almost any kind of
destructive policy and oppression including the genocide, the Soviet regime (when
people were subjected to mandatory volunteering
1
), and war.
Volunteering is not a new phenomenon in Armenia. Armenians have proved to be
participatory and mutually supportive especially in the times of crises. For example,
1
Voluntary Service of Armenia: Republican Headquarters of Student Brigades: Historical Overview of Volunteerism
in Armenia, 2014. Available at: http://www.huj.am/index.php/overview
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after the Spitak Earthquake in 1988, Armenians provided a united response by
assisting the victims of the earthquake. In early 1990s, a mass assistance was provided
to the refugees and similar vulnerable groups during the Karabakh
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conflict (Aslanyan
et al. 2007).
The study on volunteerism in Armenia conducted within the Civil Society Index
Initiative (2010) has found that Armenian non-governmental sector is largely staffed
by volunteers and that there is a lack of legislative framework to provide a clear
definition for the scope of voluntary work and reward. The study highlights the lack of
legislative encouragement for voluntary action, and that an informal, unmanaged
volunteering is the dominant form of the Armenian culture of volunteerism.
Regarding motivations, altruism is defined to be the strongest decisive factor for most
people to volunteer (Hakobyan and Tadevosyan 2010). The lack of an appropriate
legislative framework for the voluntary work is also highlighted by the European
Union (EU) Advisory Group to Armenia. The paper highlights volunteers often
lacking capacities and skills and that various civil society organizations promote
volunteerism in Armenia, unlike many European states (Ochoa 2012).
The draft law on the voluntary work was developed by the Armenian Ministry of
Labour and Social Affairs in 2010 (Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Armenia
2014). Since then it was debated and encountered disapproval on behalf of NGOs
over various points such as to remove the notion of volunteer work contract in order
not to cause further complications of the process, or to specify mechanisms within
the law that would clearly differentiate between the volunteer and paid work. The
draft law on the voluntary work generated burning discussions and was put back and
forth in the parliament several times since 2010.
The comparison of the civil societies of the three South Caucasian republics focusing
on trust toward NGOs and volunteering revealed that Armenia has the highest level
of self-reported volunteering in the region (Paturyan and Gevorgyan 2014).
Methodology
The study uses a qualitative research method by analyzing semi-structured interviews
with volunteers and leaders of NGOs. A total of 30 interviews were conducted: ten
with volunteers and 20 with leaders of NGOs. The data was analyzed using the
MaxQDA qualitative data analysis software.
The participants were selected with a fairly good representation of age, gender,
location and sector of organizational operation. The age of the youngest volunteer is
2
Armenia-Azerbaijan war over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh was fought after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The conflict is not resolved until present.
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18, the oldest 50 (average age 25); seven volunteers are female, three male; seven
volunteers were selected from the regional towns, three from the capital city. Eight
out of ten volunteers have higher education, one vocational and one high school
education.
The age of the youngest NGO leader is 22, the oldest 60 (average age 43); the
gender balance was maintained with ten female and ten male interviewees; eight
NGOs located in the capital city and 12 in towns. All the leaders of NGOs have higher
education. The year of establishment of the oldest NGO is 1993, the youngest 2012.
The participants represent NGOs of various fields of operation ranging from peace
building and human rights to tourism.
Volunteers were requested to speak about the motivations, purposes and reasons to
volunteer, as well as the role and impact of volunteering on their lives. The
participants were asked questions regarding volunteering in general and their own
reasons for choosing to volunteer for an NGO. Questions were designed to allow
respondents to explain their feelings about the type of volunteer work they do and
what they gain in return. The leaders of organizations were asked to speak about what
in their opinion are the motivations, purposes and reasons of volunteers to stay in
organizations, as well as volunteers recruitment procedure and their involvement in
organizational activities.
The duration of the interviews varied among respondents. Some interviews were very
brief, some longer than anticipated. The shortest interview was 15 minutes, the
longest interview one hour and 12 minutes
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. The data was collected in the period
from October to December 2013.
Findings and discussion
Volunteers at NGOs
Volunteering experiences are characterized by the existence of an intervening factor
which has led participants to volunteer. These factors are usually events through
which they learned about the opportunity to volunteer. Such events include various
workshops and seminars organized by NGOs where participants had took part.
Another factor leading to the voluntary involvement is a recommendation by a friend,
a fellow volunteer or an involvement of a family member (usually a brother/sister) in
volunteering activities that has led participants to engage with volunteering as well.
This is usually the practice for the young people which comprise the majority of
volunteers at NGOs. Volunteers at organizations located in smaller towns are mostly
3
The interviews included also other questions related to the condition of the civil society in Armenia, trust toward
NGOs etc.
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characterized by not being a part of any initiative before their volunteering
experience.
Interplay of different factors brings participants to the voluntary involvement. The
motivational factors are divided into the following aspects: a) acquiring knowledge
and new skills, b) work experience, c) wish to help others, d) self-confidence (defined
as becoming confident and initiative taking), e) networking and better information, f)
personal pleasure and a pure change in life brought about by volunteering. The
answers of participants are characterized by no single factor definition. Several
motivational reasons are mentioned at once.
The majority of participants indicate volunteering to be important for mainly two
reasons: (1) it helps in gaining knowledge and developing skills, and (2) it
compromises the lack of work experience. Volunteering contributes to the personal
development by providing knowledge and skills, and a line in resume in order to find a
job.
Gaining knowledge and skills seems to be the most frequently mentioned factor
regarding motivations to volunteer. Moreover, this is also the case with a volunteer
having a different educational background. According to one volunteer, I graduated
from my university with a completely different degree, but it has always been
interesting for me to see how NGOs operate. Since I knew little and had no
experience in working with NGOs, I decided to volunteer to gain experience and new
skills. (Female, 26, Yerevan)
Volunteers at a benevolent NGO that works to help disadvantaged individuals (mostly
children with limited abilities) highlight psychological factors in developing a wish to
help people by becoming a part of volunteering teams. As one volunteer indicated
referring to the interviewer, If you visit our organization only once and look into the
eyes of these kids, you would not ask the question on why I volunteer. (Male, 23,
town) As he further elaborated, the indication refers to the moral and psychological
gains acquired through helping the children who are very much in need of this help.
These moral values are incompatible with any financial or other gains.
It is interesting to observe that notwithstanding a lot of overlapping answers of
volunteers regarding motivational factors, there are also diverse reasons that exclude
each other. The two most divergent reasons indicated are: wish to help others (based
on the moral values), and the line in the resume (for the purpose to find a job).
Among the most frequently overlapping answers are acquisition of qualities such as
self-confidence, becoming initiative-taker, informed and a better participant in the
civic life of their communities. As one volunteer indicated I have opened the doors
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to the civil society for myself through volunteering. This was the greatest impact.
(Male, 18, town)
Activities of volunteers differ depending on the sector of NGO operation. Most of
the time, however, the tasks are organizational and administrative. The tasks include
provision of support in the process of organizing events such as workshops and
seminars, preparation of documents such as invitations and announcements,
translations, distribution of information online, participation in flash mobs, answering
phone calls, making copies and fulfilling other administrative help as required.
The reasons behind volunteering differ. One factor however that unites them all is the
positive image of volunteering. No matter the sector, activities and location of
organization all participants rank high the opportunity to be involved in volunteer
work and consider it to be of great value for themselves. Volunteering helps them
understand their role and show better ways of pursuing their goals in life.

Leaders of NGOs
Throughout the existence of their organizations at a certain point in time all heads of
organizations had volunteers at their NGOs. The number, tendency and scale of
volunteers involvement differ depending on the sector and scope of organizational
activities. In most cases volunteers are students and youth. Their age usually ranges
from 18 to 30. The leaders of older NGOs refer to volunteering as a newly developed
phenomenon. In the early 1990s there were few volunteers and the concept of
volunteering was not on demand the way it is today.
According to the heads of NGOs volunteers are guided by three possible reasons to
volunteer: a) personal growth and development; b) resume highlight and
recommendation letter; c) interest and curiosity.
The majority of leaders think that the main motive behind volunteering is volunteers
personal growth and development. This becomes possible through the knowledge,
skills and abilities gained throughout their experience as volunteers. Learning new
things stands as the main motivational factor. While ranking high volunteers
motivation to learn new things, a concern has also been raised due to the need of
skills. When speaking about volunteers motivation, one leader highlighted,
Motivations are important but not enough for us. One has to have skills. Volunteers
can be committed but know nothing. We cant work like this. (Male, 47, town)
People volunteer to gain knowledge and develop their skills, it is although required to
bring a certain amount of knowledge as a volunteer.
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Over half of participants think that the main reason for volunteers to involve in a
voluntary work is to enrich their resume and get a recommendation letter. Students
graduate from universities but they have no working experience to find a job. This
condition brings them to volunteering with a purpose to become employed
afterwards. In general, this motivation is approached with an understanding on behalf
of leaders, but not always. As one head of NGO indicated, There are volunteers who
come simply for the sake of a signed recommendation letter, which is a shame.
(Female, 30, Yerevan)
Some of the heads indicate volunteers interest and curiosity in the process of
volunteering. These highlight that volunteering is a manifestation of personal interest
and curiosity. Volunteers try to find out if their knowledge can be applied in a
corresponding setting.
There are organizations that consider volunteer work as helpful, but not highly
important. According to one interviewee, Volunteers are good, helpful and can do a
very good job. But their job is going to be conditioned by small tasks such as holding
posters and distributing information. When it comes to the hard work, one cant rely
on volunteering. (Male, 46, town) Three NGO leaders indicated that having
volunteers is a good thing when it comes to organizing flash-mobs, or other similar
activities that require availability of mass public participation.
Overall NGOs recognize the importance of volunteers involvement. But the personal
approaches of the leaders of organizations toward the volunteer work differ.
Notwithstanding, at times reserved attitude toward volunteers the majority of leaders
highlight that public awareness and practice of volunteering is grown in the country,
which is unanimously considered to be a positive development for Armenia.
Comparison and implications
Analysis of the interviews revealed two major findings: (1) Both, volunteers and
leaders of NGOs report that the main motivational factor to volunteer is to gain
knowledge and to develop skills; (2) NGO leaders consider volunteers motives to be
self-oriented, while volunteers highlight a range of both self-oriented and altruistic
motivations to volunteer.
(1) The main motivational factor to become involved in a voluntary work reported by
participants is personal development, defined as gaining knowledge and developing
skills. The tasks and duties of volunteers at organizations are mainly administrative.
The implication for the volunteer-involving organizations is to pay a particular
attention to the activities of volunteers. It is recommended to provide effective task
distribution to ensure motivational needs of volunteers are fulfilled. Organizations
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should pay attention to matching skills, assignments and, importantly, motivational
needs of volunteers.
(2) The research shows that none of the NGO leaders admit the existence of altruistic
reasons behind volunteers decision to volunteer, whereas almost half of volunteers
highlight the wish to help others as a decisive factor in their volunteering activity. To
escape the condition of volunteers work being unrecognized it is recommended to
consider volunteers as a potentially valuable source for their organizations instead of
solely treating them as people volunteering for egoistic reasons.
To make the best use of volunteers, organizations should properly match volunteers
skills and assignments and reconsider task distribution strategies by treating volunteers
as potential future employees taking into account that the main motivations behind
volunteering are to gain knowledge, develop skills, and get work experience with a
purpose to find a job afterwards.
The existing studies on motivations to volunteer show that range of various factors
serve as reasons behind volunteering. The reasons range from highly altruistic to
grounded self-oriented motives. The findings of this research likewise suggest that
volunteers at NGOs are guided by both altruistic and egoistic reasons. The motives
however differ according to the types of activities and the organizational setting.
Conclusion
Volunteering is a newly developing phenomenon in Armenia. One of the main
reasons for this is the existence of active youth. As was observed volunteers are mainly
youth under the age of 30. The youth however is not only active in volunteering but
also in the civic life of their communities at large. Over half of NGO leaders rank high
the role of youth in the modern civic life of Armenia.
The main motivation for the young people to engage in volunteering is personal
growth. The tasks of volunteers differ due to the organizational setting. Most of the
time however, the tasks are limited to small scale administrative duties. Volunteer-
involving NGOs consider young people volunteering for self-oriented motives only,
while volunteers rank high the opportunity to be of support highlighting interplay of
self-oriented and altruistic reasons. More attention should be paid to the effective
task distribution to match the motivational needs of volunteers. Volunteers at NGOs
should be considered as a valuable source taking into consideration their wish to help
among other reasons to volunteer.
There is an increasing tendency of volunteering in Armenia, which can be considered
to be a positive development for a post-Soviet and developing country. More studies
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should be focused on volunteering in the region of the South Caucasus to encourage
volunteering and to nurture the development of democratic principles. A
recommendation for further research would be to study volunteers satisfaction
related to the knowledge and skills gained in the capacity of volunteers. Further study
would necessitate an enquiry to volunteers already having a longer experience of
volunteering behind, to see if the expected motivational needs are matched and
fulfilled by the organizations.

Acknowledgements
I would like to thank my teacher and friend Jenny Paturyan whose support and advice
were instrumental in the development of this research. I would also like to
acknowledge the help of Tatevik Badalyan and Arman Gasparyan for their active
participation and feedback in the discussion over the literature review.
This research became possible through the Academic Swiss Caucasus Net (ASCN)
grant. My special thanks to ASCN for supporting young scholars and promoting
academic research in the region of the South Caucasus.
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