Nationwide, volunteering rates have held steady at just over a quarter overall for the last several years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the rate of male volunteering is lower than that of female volunteering, by an average of nearly seven percent, regardless of age, ethnicity, or level of education.
Why do many volunteer organizations typically receive more female volunteers than males, and what can be done about it?
Two major determining factors for volunteering are the way individuals think of volunteering, and the way that communities as a whole perceive and provide access to volunteering. A volunteer-friendly community makes it more likely that, within any given social group, there will be people involved in volunteer work who can then influence, directly or indirectly, others to volunteer. Nearly a quarter of volunteers became involved with their organizations through another volunteer, the most common method of involvement, which is performed mostly through religious volunteer services and distributing food, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. People are more likely to participate in volunteer activities if they have peers who participate in them, as well. Attitudes toward volunteering at both the individual and community levels can, to an extent, work hand in hand: a community supportive of volunteering makes it easier for an individual to do so, and individual opinions about volunteering can create community-wide support.
Values, however, don’t always lead to action. What can we do to make volunteering attractive, particularly to men?
One increasingly popular way to encourage volunteering of both genders is to create a “culture of giving back”. This can take several forms; workplaces can offer incentives to employees who donate their time and energy to volunteering, parents can volunteer as a way to create positive opinions about volunteering for their children, and schools and universities can provide volunteer opportunities to students or potential students. Another way is to highlight some of the more indirect benefits, beyond the sense of reward one gets from volunteering. Celebratory events such as the Seedling Foundation’s Mentor Appreciation event celebrate volunteers’ commitment to volunteering on a highly visible stage, while also elevating their social status and prestige among their peers, who are encouraged to attend. It may also be important to highlight the potential for networking, career advancement, and skill-building inherent to many types of volunteer activities.
Perhaps most important when considering the barriers to volunteering is the time commitment involved. The blurring of the lines between work hours and off hours means that, for many of us, work is never truly completed, and our free time is never truly free. Thus, how can one volunteer their time when their time is never truly theirs to give? The answer, as mentioned previously, may lie in workplace volunteer initiatives, in addition to individual ingenuity. Employers can allow employees to take time out of their workday to perform volunteer work, attend information sessions, or perform community outreach. This helps employers by showing that their company is actively involved in their community, and helps employees by allowing them time away from work, the potential to network and acquire new skills, and the capacity to help their communities without sacrificing their free time.
Ultimately, the onus of male volunteering lies not just with the potential volunteers themselves, but with volunteer organizations and the communities they work within. It takes a concerted effort to make volunteering more appealing, and the first step is to creating a volunteer-friendly environment, as well as making it easy to find, participate in, and ultimately enjoy volunteer opportunities.
~ Adrian Smith, Seedling Foundation Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator