My thoughts continue down the path of not why do people volunteer, but rather, why don’t people volunteer.
I loved your reference to Australian mateship ethic, described by Russel Ward, in your comments on my first contribution. Having recently studied arduously for my citizenship test, I too am familiar with the ideas about the harsh environment bringing people together. Perhaps our playgroup is suffering from the opposite of this. We live in the affluent eastern suburbs of Sydney – a beautiful but densely populated area, hardly a harsh environment to live. As you know more about Ward’s work perhaps you could discuss this aspect further. Has the mateship ethic been lost in the large conurbations?
The dynamics of playgroups are unique in many ways so I’m not sure the theories relevant elsewhere apply. People with young children moving into the area look up the local playgroup and head there straight away – even more so than people who have lived here for years before starting families. People moving into the area see it as the best way to make friends and connect.
Playgroups are a unique form of volunteer community groups – any action of one person has an immediate effect, one that can be benefitted from by that person immediately, but also shared by the free riders. Still, this is perhaps more tangible than other volunteering efforts such as environmental or social work, where someone’s actions don’t necessarily result in direct benefits to the individual. That to my mind is altruistic action and I commend it – if only I had more time! That is when the dynamics of volunteering that you write about are more relevant.
I’ve noticed two breeds of volunteers – obviously I am going to place myself in the more favourable of the two groups. One which selflessly carries out work with little fuss, without taking the task or themselves too seriously (I could go on but I won’t). And the other, where they take the role far too seriously and make it almost political or personal. I had a conversation with a friend at playgroup a few years ago. She had been heavily involved in the local surf club and as a result, was put off from volunteering for any other community organization. When I asked her why, she said that it became all too political. (I have some other great examples, but I don’t want to bore you or embarrass anyone concerned). It only takes one bad experience or story of another’s experience to put someone off.
Back to my original point – I still cannot understand why people don’t volunteer, whether this is for the session they attend, in whatever form, or to a more long-term role. I agree, the timescales of a bigger role may put people off. Maybe some people do such a great job, they think it is a hard job or a hard act to follow (I say that in regard to two day leaders that have just finished an eight month stint and not myself!). I’d be interested to discuss any other barriers. One friend also suggested that people won’t commit (even for a month) if they are thinking of moving out of the area. Given this is an expensive area to live, this could be the reasoning for many attendees. However, at least two of our volunteers last year were both here on a temporary basis (not knowing how long for) and both have moved back overseas.