The Game of Life: Designing a Gamification System to Increase Current Volunteer Participation and Retention in Volunteer-based Non-profit Organizations


Date of Publication:      2011

Author:                           Ya Chiang Fu

Published by:                 Trinity University, Undergraduate Student Research

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Games have been powerful tools in motivating human behaviours. Today, games have become integrated into social media as a means to engage and encourage user behaviour and also in the workplace to motivate employees. At the time this research was undertaken, this phenomenon, called “gamification”, had been widely practised by for-profit businesses, but not by non-profit organisations. The purpose of this paper was to explore the feasibility of applying gamification to non-profits, to support retention and loyalty of volunteers and the processes that could be used to design a gamified volunteer program.

There were three phases used in completing this study. The first phase consisted of research, where information on volunteer motivations and non-profits, game design and player motivations, and gamification were gathered. In the second phase, brainstorming, a functional approach, and marketing paradigm was used to map out the research gathered on volunteer motives, game design, and gamification. The third phase consisted of creating a prototype gamification game design document. As such, the study developed a mock gamified volunteer program for Trinity University.

Five steps were proposed:

  1. Determine design approaches and align existing volunteer and player motivation models. Select and use general design approaches as a framework in evaluating player motives, and volunteer motives.
  2. Align sub-motives of existing volunteer and player motivation models.
  3. Use volunteer program-based profiling to identify traits and use best volunteer program practices to define the organisation for which to develop gamified volunteer programs
  4. With the given volunteer organisation profile and volunteer-player motivations, develop proper game mechanics (such as points/rewards, levels/status, challenges/achievement, virtual goods/self-expression, leaderboards/competition, gifts/altruism) which intrinsically embody and apply fundamental design characteristics)
  5. A gamified volunteer program is constructed based on the previous steps.

To conclude, this study was able to systematically find, evaluate, and suggest an existing and supported relationship between the key constructs (gamification, volunteers and non-profit organisations, and game design and theory). Gamification may possibly provide a sustainable tool through which society is motivated to do social good.