2011. Vol. 2, No. 1, 60-61
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.21010
A Functional Analysis of Secondary School Students’
Motives for Volunteering
George I. Whitehead, III, Andrew P. Kitzrow, Thomas A. Taylor
Salisbury University, Salisbury, USA.
Received August 12th, 2010; revised December 15th, 2010; accepted December 18th, 2010.
This investigation examined whether or not a functional analysis was useful in understanding the motives for
secondary school students’ motives for volunteering. Specifically, we coded comments from fifteen student in-
terviews into the following five functions: value-expressive, social-adjustive, ego-defensive, knowledge, and so-
cial-affirming. We calculated the percentages of students whose responses included each of the five functions
and found that the students’ responses were consistent with a functional analysis. The implication of these find-
ings for the creation of a V o l u n t e e r Functions Inventory for students is discussed.
Keywords: Pro-Social Behavi o r, Citizenship Behavior, Age-Related Issues
Clary and Snyder (1991) proposed a functional analysis of
prosocial behavior. These functions were: value-expressive,
social-adjustive, ego-defensive, and knowledge. Each function
serves a different purpose. The value-expressive function rec-
ognizes that other people’s welfare influences behavior. The
social-adjustive function recognizes that normative influences
of significant others influences behavior. The ego-defensive
function recognizes that coping with inner conflicts influences
behavior. Finally, the knowledge function is that greater under-
standing influen c es behavior.
To examine the functional approach, Omoto and Snyder
(1995) assessed motives for AIDs volunteerism. Toward this
end, they created an inventory of motivation for AIDS volun-
teers that assessed five (not four) dimensions. These were: val-
ue-expressive (e.g. Because of my humanitarian obligation to
help others.), knowledge of AIDS (e.g. to learn more about how
to prevent aids.), ego-defensive (e.g. to make my life more
stable), personal development (e.g. to get to know people like
myself.), and community concern (e.g. Because of my obliga-
tion to the gay community.).
Similarly, Clary et al. (1998) assessed the motives of adult
volunteers who engaged in diverse forms of volunteerism using
the Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI). This scale assessed
six dimensions (not four or five). These were: protective (e.g.
By volunteering I feel less lonely), values (e.g. I feel compas-
sion toward people in need), career (e.g. I can make new con-
tacts that might help my business or career), social (e.g. My
friends volunteer.), understanding (e.g. Volunteering allows me
to gain a new perspective on things), and enhancement (e.g.
Volunteering is a way to make new friends.). Clary, Snyder,
and Stukas (1996) validated the VFI with in-home interviews
from a national sample.
Omoto and Snyder (1995), Clary et al. (1998), and Clary,
Snyder, and Stukas (1996) each examined the motives of adult
volunteers. In this investigation we wanted to ascertain whether
or not secondary school students explain their volunteerism in
terms of a functional approach with the intent of creating a VFI
The students in our sample attended public schools in Mary-
land where 75 hours of community service are required for
graduation. Students often participate in service to fulfill (or
surpass) this requirement, to have fun, and to be with their
friends. This type of motivation is social affirming because it
recognizes that peers and community approve of community
Socially-affirming reasons for community service do not fit
into the social-adjustive function because Clary and Snyder
(1991) originally defined it in terms of normative influences.
Omoto and Snyder (1995) and Clary, Snyder, and Stukas (1996)
used that definition in their research.
Social-affirming reasons do, however, fit into the broader so-
cial function as Clary et al. (1998) define it. Thus, it is difficult
to compare across studies with respect to the social function
because it is defined differently. In this investigation we exam-
ined social-adjustive function and social-affirming function
separately to examine whether or not one was more prevalent
than the other.
We examined whether or not young exemplars of pro-social
behavior included Clary and Snyder’s (1991) four functions in
their explanations for community service. We also assessed a
social-affirmi n g f u n c tion.
Various organizations nominated middle and high school
students to be interviewed about their community service on a
public access television show. After receiving parental permis-
sion, we interviewed these students. Several people, other than
the researchers, edited the show. We report on interviews with
fifteen young people (seven men and eight women). Each vol-
unteered for different organizations (e.g. American Cancer
Society, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, Boy Scouts,
G. I. WHITEHEAD ET AL. 61
Appalachian Service Project, the Public Library, Sister Cities,
their Church and Youth Leadership Academy). When more
than one person from an organization was interviewed, we
randomly selected one young person to represent the organiza-
tion for purposes of this study. The Committee on Human Re-
search at Salisbury University approved this project.
One researcher filmed the interview and another served as
the interviewer. He asked students to explain where they vol-
unteered and what they did. In addition he asked them why they
volunteered and what they got from volunteering. Two of the
researchers’ used Clary and Snyder’s definitions of the four
functions to code the responses to the two last questions. They
also coded for social affirmation. The coders used the inter-
viewee’s responses to both questions because they were similar.
Value-expressive: volunteer activity is based on altruistic
concern for others in need, humanitarian values, and/or desires
to contribute to society. Social-adjustive: volunteer activity
reflects the normative influence of friends, family, and other
significant associates who themselves are volunteers. Ego-
defensive: volunteer activity helps people cope with inner con-
flicts, anxieties, and uncertainties concerning personal worth
and competence. Knowledge: volunteer activity provides peo-
ple with greater understanding (e.g. new insights into the peo-
ple with whom they have contact). Social affirmation: the re-
wards and costs of serving. Included in the costs were any
negative comments about the mandatory graduation require-
Each evaluator individually assessed each of the fifteen tele-
vised interviews for the five functions. The evaluators could
code student responses into more than one of the categories.
They recorded their responses to the five functions for each stu-
dent interviewee and then discussed their responses and recon-
ciled any differences.
The percentage of participants whose responses were coded
into each category was as follows: value-expressive, 100%;
social-adjustive, 27%; ego-defensive, 13%, and knowledge,
60%, and social affirmation, 53%.
The typical response for value-expressive was to give back to
the community or help others. For example, the person who
traveled to NOLA after Hurricane Katrina said her group was
“helping people who lost so much.” The student who volun-
teered for a foundation said that his group is “helping organiza-
The typical social-adjustive response focused on parents,
family, church, and competing with others. For example, the
person who volunteered for American Cancer Society said that
her parents were role models. Another student i n dicated that her
mother was a nurse.
One of the young people who gave ego-defensive responses
said that volunteering “made one feel whole as a person.” The
other said she is “no longer being quiet.”
The typical response in the knowledge function category in-
cluded self-knowledge (e.g. learned to be responsible) and
knowledge of others (e.g. victims of Hurricane Katrina; know-
ledge of other cultures) and organizations (e.g. Habitat; the fire
The typical response in the socially-affirming category in-
cluded fulfilling the service requirement for graduation, coming
together, and having fun.
We found that secondary school students’ explanations for
their volunteerism were consistent with a functional analysis.
Our data also reveal the utility of including a socially-affirming
function in addition to a social-adjustive one when assessing
the motives of young people. Therefore, the data supports Clary
et al.’s (1998) use of a more global social function. We suggest
that future researchers use that definition.
Our results also indicate the need to develop a Volunteer
Functions Inventory to assess young people’s motivation for
serving. For example, Clary et al. (1998) career function may
be useful to include with students in institutions of higher edu-
cation but not with students in secondary schools. In our con-
versations with young people they mentioned that community
service was something they could put on their resume for col-
With regard to the mandatory requirement, none of the ex-
emplars disparaged it. In fact, most of them indicated that they
wanted to have the most hours. Nonetheless it would be inter-
esting to follow up with them to see if they continue to volun-
In sum, this study supports a functional analysis of secondary
school motives for community service. It also points to the need
to create an inventory to assess young people’s motives for
volunteering. Such an inventory will provide a better under-
standing of everyone’s motives for volunteerism.
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and Social Psychology: Vol. 12, Prosocial Behavior (pp. 119-148).
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Clary, E. G., Snyder, M., Ridge, R. D., Copeland, J., Stukas, A. A.,
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motivations of volunteers: A functional approach. Journal of Per-
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Clary, E. G., Snyder, M., & Stukas, A. A. (1996). Volunteers’ motiva-
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