Online Volunteering As A Means To Overcome Unequal Participation? The Profiles Of Online And Offline Volunteers Compared 2018 (Europe)


Published: 2018

Authors: Katherin Ackermann and Anita Manatschal

Published in: Journal of New Media & Society 2018, Vol 20 (12)

This study investigates online volunteering to assess whether this new form of engagement overcomes patterns of inequality in volunteering or exacerbates them. Inequalities in volunteering were found to be based on sociodemographic factors, human resources, recruitment to volunteer through social networks and psychological engagement. Insights were drawn from a comprehensive population survey carried out in Switzerland in 2014 as this survey included data on extent of online volunteering.

The internet may be a tool for volunteering that attracts the same people as offline volunteering thus reinforcing existing patterns of stratification regarding the resources, motivations and networks of volunteers. On the other hand differences in the nature of online and offline volunteering might also mobilise different kinds of people.

Older offline volunteers (35 years and more) generally have more social networks, are generally more trusting, have higher education levels and are more religious (in terms of denomination and practice). Young offline volunteers were seen to mobilise through different values not captured in this study.

Online volunteering has a high degree of flexibility and anonymity with a lower degree of commitment and obligation. Technical skills and an affinity for digital technology are more important explaining why young people are more eager to volunteer online. A gender gap is also visible with men being more likely to volunteer online than women.

Findings show that online volunteering reinforces existing patterns of inequality as well as mobilises different kinds of people to volunteer. The reinforcement theory seems to occur when online and offline volunteering are combined into a ‘hybrid’ form of volunteering. At the same time online volunteering seems to mobilise persons with other characteristics than the ones.

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