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Why online volunteer? – A qualitative study about motivations to engage and work for free at an art-oriented online community


People, today, use the Internet more and more for everything and there are courses on different aspects of our Internet use: social media, leadership, and networks. However, there is not much said about volunteering online, despite many active online volunteers who work several hours each day. It is relevant to know what inspires and motivates a person to volunteer to keep him or her motivated to continue to do so and to be able to get new volunteers. To find out what makes someone volunteer online, especially on an art community, I interviewed former volunteers and surveyed members with Seniority on the art site deviantART, which is one of the biggest art communities online. I used Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI) by Clary and Snyder together with theories based on Manuel Castells' and Eva Jeppsson Grassman's work. It was determined that passion for the subject (in this case, art), the need or desire to help, community spirit and size, time, and friends are vital to why and how people engage themselves and why someone chooses become an online volunteer on an art-oriented Internet site. The why and how are important to know, since they together with the volunteers higher motives (like career and visibility) provide insight on how to keep and procure new online volunteers.


The aim of this bachelor's thesis is to find out the motives behind volunteering and engagement on the Internet within culture through surveys and interviews with people who have different positions on the art site deviantART. The main questions were:
1. Why does a person volunteer in an art-oriented online community?
2. How to be engaged and engage others on an art-oriented online community?


The empirical material comes from members on the art site deviantART. I interviewed three former volunteers (two of whom now work for a smaller art site) and the Director of Community Operations. The interviewees also participated in a survey based on VFI which was part of a more extensive survey which was sent to nine active members on deviantART.  These members have gained Seniority for their inspiration and engagement.


The research was conducted using Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI) by E. Gil Clary and Mark Snyder. VFI is based on a functional approach, and deals with the causes, objectives, plans and goals which create psychological processes. VFI has six motivational functions: Career, Enhancement, Protective, Social Understanding, and Values.* I also used the Swedish researcher Eva Jeppsson Grassman's work about motivations within social volunteer work offline since she claims that the reason people volunteer is because of a combination of altruistic and egoistic motives. Since my work focuses on online volunteer work I also added an extra function: Visibility. On top of that I also took under considerations the work of Manuel Castells about the network online being based on communication, interests, and same values of the members.

*Career - to gain career-related experience, Enhancement - to grow and develop psychologically, Protective - to reduce negative feelings, such as guilt, or to address personal problems, Social - to strengthen one's social relationships, Understanding - to learn more about the world and/or exercise skills that are often unused and Values - to express or act on important values, such as humanitarianism and helping the less fortunate.


Interviews: A common theme seen throughout the interviews is that the volunteers have always had the feeling that they want to help. However, the volunteers seem to have different principal reasons. The first interviewee wants to offer help. The second one seems to possess a social motivation. The last person desires knowledge gained from the experience. Another common theme is the importance of organization and the feel the volunteer gets from his or her workplace, as determined by the manner in which each volunteer discussed the community as a whole, and its organization. An additional common theme is the aspiration from all volunteers to make others happy while doing something the volunteers personally enjoy.

Surveys: The survey takers would like to do the same thing as they do now if they were online volunteers. They also emphasized both the community feeling and the importance of friends for engagement. Both interviewees and survey takers felt that others got involved because of the motivational functions: Visibility and Social. While the interviewees considered Career to be important on that question, the survey takers ranked Career as least important. The answers on why they themselves became engaged were scattered, but both survey takers and interviewees ranked Career, Protective and Visibility on the bottom of their lists, which is almost the opposite of what they believe about other people's motives. Volunteers and survey takers placed Visibility and Career as their top reasons for why people volunteer on deviantART, while both interviewees and survey takers agreed that Protective was not important.


The information from the surveys and interviews were analyzed and discussed against the theories of motivational functions, altruism versus egoism, values and visibility. Focus was on answering the two main questions of the thesis.


It is not enough to share values and to satisfy the motivational functions (motive-mix). Several other requirements must also be satisfied. The community spirit and size, time, passion for the subject, friends and the need or desire to help are vital to why and how people engage themselves and why someone chooses to become an online volunteer on an art-oriented Internet site. This is important to know both for matching the task with the right volunteer worker but also to contract and retain volunteers.

The reasons for becoming involved, engage others, and to volunteer online seem to have the same origin, which leads to another interesting question: why do some choose to take on more responsibility than others? The question reveals the need for more research on engagement and voluntary work on online communities, other than what already exists.  
Thank you: Jens Arvidson for mentoring, Karen Kim for proofreading of abstract and summary, Jonatan Kindh and Dennis Wikman for proofreading my thesis as a whole and of course all the people who participated in the survey and the interviews, this bachelor thesis would never had existed without you.

This is the abstract and summary of the bachelor's thesis I am handing in on the 1st of June and is discussing on a seminar 7th of June. We'll see if it gets passed. :aww: I will update this when I know.

I am actually pretty nervous to show this to all of you, haha, maybe you won't agree :paranoid: I am right now more nervous over that than by the seminar in two weeks.

Obs. the rest of the thesis is in Swedish.
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Honeykitten Featured By Owner May 31, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Mycket intressant :nod: Det märks att du har lagt ner mycket tid och eftertanke när du har genomfört den här studien. Du har en klar frågeställning och du har gjort ett bra jobb med att försöka besvara dessa frågor :D Det är en mycket trevlig studie du har gjort (jag håller med om att fler sådana här studier hade varit intressant!) och jag tycker du ska, helt klart, vara nöjd med den. Jag vet vad jag talar om, jag har läst och rättat en hög rapporter de senaste dagarna :lol:
petrova Featured By Owner May 31, 2011  Hobbyist
Åh vad jag behövde höra det där just nu :tighthug: Jag gjorde precis den till .pdf och jag känner liksom sisådär om den. Deadline i morgon så jag skickar den i morgon även om den är klar i dag, vill inte råka ut för att min handledare hinner klaga :giggle:

Usch för rapporträttning, jag hoppas att det gick bra? :hug:
Honeykitten Featured By Owner May 31, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Asch då, jag säger bara vad jag tycker :hug: Det kommer att gå bra, kära du, oroa dig inte! Men jag tycker att det låter som en bra idé att du väntar med att skicka in den tills i morgon :giggle:

Ehm, ja, vissa hade lyckats skriva en hyfsat bra rapport (med tanke på att de bara läser andra terminen på universitetet), andras däremot var rena katastrofen :faint: Hade jag fått bestämma så hade de behövt rätta till allting jag hade synpunkter på innan jag hade godkänt dem, men nu är det inte jag som bestämmer och jag misstänker att de kommer att bli godkända oavsett :shrug: Men men, de har i alla fall fått höra hur man bör gå till väga =P
petrova Featured By Owner Jun 9, 2011  Hobbyist
Det är alltid bra att få veta sådant dock efter att ha pluggat på typ 7-8 universitet så vet jag också att alla dessa normer och hur saker och ting ska vara inte ens stämmer inom olika institutioner vilket är enormt förvirrande. Jag har fått kritik många gånger för att jag inte gör rätt >.> Men hey, jag har lärt mig en hel del på det :giggle:
Honeykitten Featured By Owner Jun 10, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Jo tack, det har jag också märkt: den ene säger si och den andre säger så. I slutändan har man ingen aning vad som är rätt >.< Man får göra så gott man kan helt enkelt och anpassa sig efter vad just den läraren har sagt :giggle:
petrova Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2011  Hobbyist
Mmm precis. Vissa säger att det är bara göra som man alltid gjort och så kommer de ge bra betyg i alla fall men det stämmer inte riktigt. En lärare gav VG till en vän till mig trots att han inte skrivit ut källor. Den andra läraren gav mig G för att jag inte hade satt ut tillräckligt många källor utan klumpat ihop dem. Detta var ändå samma kurs. :giggle:
Honeykitten Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Alltså, man kan få spel för mindre :iconnotimpressedplz: Men det är som vi har sagt: det beror helt och hållet på vad läraren tycker, och alla tycks tycka helt olika. En säger si, en annan säger så. Vem ska man egentligen lyssna på, vem har rätt? :crazy:
HeatherRivera Featured By Owner May 29, 2011  Professional Photographer
Very interesting, I think you have a solid thesis here. You put a lot of work into this and I am sure the work will pay off when you hand it in. :hug:
petrova Featured By Owner May 29, 2011  Hobbyist
Thank you for believing in me, I just hope it will be enough :nod: :hug:
Miskwaadesi Featured By Owner May 28, 2011
Very good! I'm going to read through this a couple more times.
petrova Featured By Owner May 29, 2011  Hobbyist
If you have any questions don't hesitate to ask :hug:
namenotrequired Featured By Owner May 28, 2011  Professional Interface Designer
That's really interesting! thanks for sharing :hug:
petrova Featured By Owner May 28, 2011  Hobbyist
My pleasure, I'm glad you found it interesting (I've found it really fascinating but it's another thing to share it with others and see what they think) :hug:
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