In today's fast-paced, data-driven society, measuring satisfaction with the paid work experience is a standard practice in the world of paid employment. However, when it comes to the sphere of volunteering – a context where compensation is not monetary but emotional and spiritual – the traditional metrics of job satisfaction fall short.
This article delves deep into why volunteer satisfaction demands its own unique measurement and the realization of that that lead to the development of the Volunteer Satisfaction Index (VSI).
The Different Contexts: Paid vs. Unpaid Work
In traditional employment settings, job satisfaction is often gauged by factors like pay, benefits, and promotions. But in the context of volunteerism, these parameters lose relevance. For instance:
Pay: By definition, volunteers are not financially compensated, making pay an irrelevant metric.
Benefits: In the volunteering world, benefits aren't health or retirement plans but intrinsic rewards like personal growth, fulfillment, and the joy of giving back.
Promotions: Unlike traditional jobs, promotions in volunteerism could mean added responsibilities without additional rewards, which might not always be welcome.
To genuinely fathom the core of volunteer satisfaction, one must first understand the unique context in which volunteerism operates. A comprehensive framework detailed in the literature review of the development of the Volunteer Satisfaction Index (VSI) beautifully encapsulates this:
In the realm of paid work, necessity is a primary driver. Individuals need to earn a living, pay bills, and maintain a certain lifestyle. The act of working is, in many ways, non-negotiable. Volunteerism, in stark contrast, operates on pure choice. There's no external compulsion, only an internal calling. This free will, the sheer act of choosing to give without expecting financial compensation, plays a pivotal role in shaping a volunteer's satisfaction.
The motivations underlying paid work are mostly self-oriented. Think salary hikes, promotions, professional growth, and perks. But the heart of volunteerism beats for others. It's an other-oriented space, where actions are driven by altruism, a passion for a cause, or simply the joy of giving back. This fundamental difference in orientation drastically changes the satisfaction landscape.
In traditional jobs, rewards have a tangible aura. They reflect in bank balances, in the form of bonuses, or in physical benefits like insurance. But how do you quantify the joy of seeing a hospital patient smile, the satisfaction of planting trees, or the warmth of helping someone in need? In volunteerism, rewards are deeply emotional and psychological, intangible yet immensely powerful.
However, some elements from the paid work scenario do translate to the volunteer realm. Factors like the nature of the work itself, relationships with supervisors, and interactions with fellow volunteers can significantly influence a volunteer's job satisfaction.
Existing Measurements a Mismatch
While there's a rich history of measuring job satisfaction in paid roles, the same cannot be said for volunteer settings. Current methods adapted from paid work contexts are often ill-fitting for volunteers. Research has been scant, and while a few measurements have emerged, none have consistently and reliably captured the essence of volunteer satisfaction.
The Volunteer Satisfaction Index (VSI) Survey for Measurement
Building on the foundational work of researchers like Smith, Kendall, and Hulin, and inspired by the early efforts of Gidron, Volunteer Satisfaction Index (VSI) is a reliable and validated measure of the volunteer experience that took into account these contextual differences in its development. The tool aims to illuminate the specific facets responsible for job satisfaction in volunteer settings.
But what makes volunteer satisfaction so important anyway? Besides providing a richer understanding of the volunteer experience, a reliable measure can help predict a volunteer's intent to remain. This is crucial for organizations that rely heavily on a consistent volunteer workforce.
The Way Forward
The recognition of volunteerism's unique context is just the beginning. With the Volunteer Satisfaction Index (VSI), we're taking a leap towards understanding and enhancing the volunteer experience. Such tools not only provide insights but also pave the way for organizations to better support, nurture, and retain their invaluable volunteer teams.
While the world of volunteerism might overlap with traditional employment in some ways, its distinct nature demands its own set of metrics. The time has come to move away from one-size-fits-all measurements and embrace tools specifically designed for the vibrant, passionate world of volunteering.
Roseanna Galindo, ECBA, CAVS
Roseanna Galindo is Principal at Periscope Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy, the human experience in healthcare, and leaders of volunteers everywhere. Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right