Motivations for entering and remaining in volunteer service: findings from a mixed-method survey among HIV caregivers in Zambia

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: A high burden of HIV in many sub-Saharan African countries has triggered renewed interest in volunteer-based community health programmes as a way to support treatment roll-out and to deliver services to children orphaned due to HIV. This study was undertaken as an evaluation of a USAID project implemented by a consortium of 7 NGOs operating in 52 Zambian districts. We aimed to examine motivations for becoming volunteer caregivers, experiences in service and commitment to continue volunteering in the future. Methods: A mixed-method survey approach was adopted incorporating close- and open-ended questions. District selection (3 of 52) was purposive, based on representation of urban, peri-urban and rural volunteers from a mix of the consortium’s NGO affiliates. Individual volunteer recruitment was achieved via group information sessions and opportunistic sampling was used to reach a quota (~300) per study district. All participants provided written informed consent. Results: A total of 758 eligible caregivers were surveyed. Through parallel analyses of different data types and cross-over mixed analyses, we found shifting patterns in motivations across question type, question topic and question timing. In relation to motivations for entering service, responses to both open- and close-ended questions highlighted the importance of value-oriented functions and higher order social aspirations such as “helping society” or “humanity”. However, 70% of participants also agreed to at least one close-ended economic motivation statement and nearly a quarter (23%) agreed to all four. Illustrating economic need, as well as economic motivation, over half (53%) the study respondents agreed that they had become a volunteer because they needed help from the project. Volunteers with lower and mid-level standard-of-living scores were significantly more likely to agree with economic motivation statements. Conclusions: Reliance by national and international health programmes on volunteer workforces is rooted in the assumption that volunteers are less costly and thus more sustainable than maintaining a professional cadre of community health workers. Understanding individuals’ motivations for entering and remaining in volunteer service is therefore critical for programme planners and policy makers. This study demonstrated that volunteers had complex motivations for entering and continuing service, including “helping” and other pro-social values, but also manifest expectations of and need for material support. These findings contribute to evidence in support of various reforms needed to strengthen the viability and sustainability of volunteer-dependent services including the need to acknowledge and plan for the economic vulnerability of so-called volunteer recruits.






Zambia-Led Prevention Initiative