Volunteering Research in Australia: A Narrative Review (2019)


Authors: Darja Kragt and Djurre Holtrop

Published by: Australian Journal of Psychology

Australian research on volunteering is rich and diverse, but also increasingly fragmented. In an attempt to promote a more integrated study of volunteering, the authors reviewed volunteering research in Australia emphasising volunteers themselves with less emphasis on organisational context. They summarised literature on volunteer characteristics, motivations, benefits, psychological contract (that is, the development and maintenance of the relationship between the individual and organisation), commitment, and withdrawal.

A comprehensive review yielded 152 studies on volunteering. It was found that volunteers tended to be older, better connected, be employed, and reside in rural areas. 

The motivation for volunteerism involved a variety of reasons and this motivation could change over time. These reasons included better psychological well-being (e.g., well-being) and increases in social capital (i.e., to do with strong social networks). Volunteer expectations and commitment to the organisation were key drivers of volunteering. 

Conversely, three variables led to volunteer withdrawal. First, volunteers can experience significant stress in their roles. They can also experience burnout. Some volunteering roles put the volunteers in potentially traumatic circumstances that can severely impact on their mental health. Second, work–family conflict: volunteering often competes for time with activities in other life domains, most notably family life.Third, negative interactions with others; for example, interactions between staff and volunteers.  In extreme cases, negative interactions with other individuals can lead to bullying (e.g., intimidation).

The authors concluded there is a need for more methodological rigour in research and theorising.

The non-print online version can be viewed via the following link.