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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Why people help : motivations and barriers for stewardship volunteering Wahl, Veronica


Community-based environmental stewardship organizations (or ‘stewardship groups’) provide vital opportunities for individuals to become involved in local environmental issues and to help rehabilitate local habitats. Community members, in turn, provide vital volunteer support to stewardship groups. The main purpose of this research is to contribute to the literature on motivations and barriers for stewardship volunteering, and in doing so support the work of environmental stewardship organizations by making recommendations on strategies to increase participation while avoiding the barriers for this type of volunteering. A second, and minor, purpose of the research is to examine theories that relate environmental citizenship and stewardship volunteering. Firsthand knowledge on a variety of aspects of stewardship volunteering was gained through a survey of the volunteers in eleven stewardship groups based in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia. Coordinator interviews provided information that supplemented the survey data. Findings from the study indicate stewardship volunteers are generally not strongly motivated by reasons that one might expect from the general volunteering literature. Instead, stewardship volunteers seem most likely to become involved in their groups’ activities through the ‘big four’ environmental motivators of: i) accomplishment, ii) group solidarity, iii) learning and skills, and iv) personal welfare. Additionally, the volunteers in this study were generally more constrained by personal factors, like feeling unappreciated, than by more practical matters, like difficulty reaching the worksites. Finally, the enjoyment of the activities seems to play a key role in the development of an environmental ethic in hands on stewardship volunteers. Based on the research findings, a number of recommendations are made to stewardship group coordinators and beyond-group supporters, like umbrella organizations and governmental agencies, as well as to the volunteers themselves. The dissertation also contains a list of ‘serendipitous’ findings, an outline of research limitations, and suggestions for future research. This research makes several contributions. The main one is to both the literature and to the ‘on the ground’ management of stewardship volunteers. It is the proposition of the ‘big four’ motivators that may act as the basis for a model of volunteer motivations in an environmental context.

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