Membership

Asking Volunteers to Think Differently About Their Time

By / Oct 10, 2012 (TMG archive photo)

A study shows giving time away makes you feel like you have more time, but how do you convince potential volunteers this is true?

It’s a tall task to persuade a person into believing that doing something will result in exactly the opposite outcome than would be logically expected. It’s asking them to take a leap of faith. And it’s probably a familiar challenge for association professionals who aim to engage members and, in particular, recruit volunteers.

Helping others makes us feel more effective, and therefore we feel like we have more time because we can do more with our time.

A report in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science, “Giving Time Gives You Time,” shared the results of experiments on people’s feelings of “time affluence,” or how much time they feel like they have. The results offered “a counterintuitive solution to the common problem of feeling that one does not have enough time: Give some of it away.”

As [email protected] reported, the experiments compared people’s reactions to using their time to help others with their reactions to completing busy work, spending time on themselves, or being granted unexpected free time. In each case, people who helped others reported feeling like they had more time. One of the report’s co-authors, Cassie Mogilner, an assistant professor of marketing at Wharton, explains why:

“One of the first things to go when we have a super busy schedule is helping others because we focus on all that we have to do and then relaxing, but if we helped others, we would actually feel like we have more time,” Mogilner says. “The reason that this happens is that helping others makes us feel more effective, and therefore we feel like we have more time because we can do more with our time.”

If you’re a lifehacker who likes to base life choices on science rather than emotion, this is a good study to keep in the back of your mind. But if you’re a volunteer recruiter, you probably can’t just hope that your members will read this study, suddenly shed their reservations about time commitments, and all raise their hands to volunteer. As the study points out, it’s just not human nature. The feeling of having more time after spending time helping others is counterintuitive.

So, I’m curious how membership professionals and volunteer managers could use this information to their advantage. Can you present this study in a nutshell and tell potential volunteers that they’ll feel like they have more time if they spend it volunteering for your association? Do you wrap it into a more general message about the feel-good benefits of volunteering to help others? Do messages about intrinsic benefits work, or are messages about more tangible, external benefits of volunteering more effective?

Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. More »

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