Types of Volunteers

Many volunteers are loyal to one or more projects - giving up several days a month to work in a range of weather conditions, to ‘do their bit’ for the environment. Many of them do it for a variety of reasons, but they rarely question whether their work makes an impact, because they see the project site changing in front of their eyes, and see the changes across multiple months and years. I characterise these volunteers as bumblebees - they keep coming back to the hive to do more work.

There have been many studies of volunteer motivation generally, and several more specifically about volunteers who engage in environmental conservation work. Some studies indicate the need for the sector to recognise volunteering not purely as an altruistic gesture, but as a leisure activity (Ringer, 1996 [117]), as a Wellbeing strategy (Molsher & Townsend, 2016 [118]), and even eco-aware adventure experiences (Nisbett & Strzelecka, 2016 [119]).

There is a section of volunteers, who I characterise as butterflies, who want more variety, and see volunteering as a recreation activity that enables them to travel, socialise, and see new places. This isn’t just the international ‘voluntourism’ phenomenon, it also exists in urban areas - such as the Community Action Wellington Meetup Group which works with a range of landowners to bring volunteers to their sites.

Having worked with this group in Wellington, I am aware of the desire of participants to stay in contact with the projects they have worked with, and better understand the cumulative total of activities they’ve been involved in, and the impact they have had across different projects.