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Career (Serious Leisure) Volunteering

Abstract: Career volunteering is motivated by altruism and self-interest as well as by a sense of career in the activity and a set of special rewards gained from pursuing it. First, the theoretic advances that have been made beyond the two basic statements made in 1982 and 1996 are summarized. Next, a theoretic typology of volunteers and volunteering is presented. It is a two-dimensional scheme created from cross-tabulating six types of volunteering interests and the three forms of the serious leisure perspective.

Keywords: altruism; career volunteering; rewards of volunteering; self-interest; serious leisure perspective; typology of volunteers

Stebbins, Robert A. Leisure and the Motive to Volunteer: Theories of Serious, Casual, and Project-Based Leisure. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. doi: 10.1057/9781137585172.0006.

Treating of volunteering as one principal type of serious leisure leads us to three aspects of the former that many specialists in voluntary action and citizen participation usually acknowledge but seldom examine. First, as observed previously, volunteers are inspired by two main motives, altruism and self-interest. Self-interest is a cardinal feature of all serious leisure which, when expressed in volunteering, enters into an intricate, but as yet poorly understood, relationship with altruism (Stebbins 1992:16). Most specialists in voluntary action research would acknowledge that “the volunteer gets something personal out of it too” (e.g., Smith 1981; Hodgkinson and Weitzman 1992).

Second, as already mentioned, serious leisure volunteering is career volunteering. And it is likely that the motive of personal interest often drives the pursuit of such a career more than the motive of altruism, even where a person’s altruism prompted him or her to enter the field in the first place (c.f., Chambre 1987). Of the two, self-interest seems to be the stronger motivator encouraging a volunteer to continue in a serious leisure career in voluntary action. This is true in good part because volunteering requires certain skills, knowledge, or training and, at times, two or three of these. As we shall see, their acquisition is most rewarding. Moreover, these rewards as they relate to the values associated with the volunteer activity (favorably) commit the volunteer to a career of finding fulfillment there.

Third, careers and self-interest in volunteering are inspired in good part by a person’s experiences with the special rewards found in all types of serious leisure. To date, these have been most thoroughly examined in volunteer studies by Fischer and Schaffer (1993), albeit only for the elderly. In comparison with their findings, however, my own research on various amateur activities (summarized in Stebbins 1992:Chapter 6) and on the hobbyist activity of barbershop singing (Stebbins 1996c) turned up a substantially longer list of rewards, rewards offered by serious leisure in general to those who participate in it. Then work on volunteers in the francophone sub-community of the English-Canadian city of Calgary (Stebbins 1994) indicated that volunteers in the sub-community experience these same benefits, albeit in ways unique to their type of leisure.

The ten rewards are presented here in terms related to voluntarism and citizen participation. They are also found in the amateur and hobbyist activities.

Personal rewards

  • 1 Personal enrichment (cherished experiences, including exceptional rapport with clients, senses of helping others, being altruistic)
  • 2 Self-actualization (developing skills, abilities, knowledge)
  • 3 Self-expression (expressing skills, abilities, knowledge already acquired)
  • 4 Self-image (known to others as a particular kind of volunteer)
  • 5 Self-gratification (senses of play, hedonic pleasure)
  • 6 Re-creation (regeneration) of oneself through volunteer activity after a day’s work
  • 7 Financial return (from volunteering)

Social rewards

  • 8 Social attraction (associating with clients and other volunteers, participating in the social world of the activity)
  • 9 Group accomplishment (group effort in accomplishing a volunteer project)

io Contribution to the maintenance and development of the group (including senses of helping, being needed, being altruistic in making the contribution)

The rewards of a serious leisure pursuit are the more or less routine values that attract and hold its enthusiasts. They constitute the objects of self-interest; they are what someone motivated by self-interest hopes to achieve through volunteer work. A given serious leisure career both frames and is framed by this enduring search for rewards, for it takes months, even years, to consistently find deep satisfaction in an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer role. Note, too, that in this scheme being altruistic is conceived of as a reward, as a particular expression of self-enrichment. This suggests that career volunteers can be distinguished from other types of serious leisure participants by the exceptional number of enriching experiences they gain by way of altruistic action.

Returning to the question of the sense of satisfaction in serious leisure and career volunteering, note that in particular terms this satisfaction is aroused by experiencing these rewards. Furthermore, these rewards are not only satisfying in themselves, but also satisfying as a counterweight to the costs experienced in the activity. For example, a volunteer board member might not always feel like attending board meetings, occasionally have his or her ideas rejected when there, be asked to perform some disagreeable tasks, and still generally regard this activity as satisfying - as leisure - owing to certain powerful rewards that it offers. To sum up, when we speak of self-interest in serious leisure and career volunteering, we speak more specifically about gaining satisfaction and experiencing rewards as these substantially offset costs.

As of July 2015, the SLP website - - had listed in its Bibliography under the heading of “Volunteers” 102 entries, almost all of which bear on volunteering as serious leisure. Guided by this bibliography, the present book will examine and evaluate the main areas of life where volunteering has been studied under the rubric of the serious leisure perspective (SLP). This review will also identify research weaknesses and neglected areas of study. Articles, chapters, and books on this subject written in the Asian languages and chapters appearing in anthologies, to the extent that they are inaccessible to the author, are not included in this list. Graduate theses, where these are known and available, are listed here, while conference papers are not. In all these publications analysis centers either substantially or wholly on the SLP or on one or two of its three forms.

Thus the 102 entries must not be understood as a complete list of all works published on career volunteering. Nevertheless, the time span for the empirical works contained in this list can be calculated: it is slightly less than thirty years. We look first at the theoretic advances that have been made beyond the two basic statements (Stebbins 1982; 1996a).

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