KOŠČ, S.: Special attention to the motivation in the voluntary social service

KOŠČ, S.: Special attention to the motivation in the voluntary social service

In: NOWAK, M., DOMAGAŁA-ZYŚK, E. (ed.): European Social Work – State of the Art and Future Challenge. Lublin : KUL / Gaudium, 2010, ISBN 978-83-929868-0-5, s. 173-182.





One of the positive phenomena of the present culture is the enhancement of the voluntary engagement in the social service.




As far as the voluntary work is not financially remunerated and contemporary the social status of this service increases, motivation becomes the most important issue for understanding the reasons for this type of work. For the management of the voluntary services is more and more important to consider and to evaluate the motivation for this service, especially regarding the aspirants (but not only). In this issue some special attention could and should be given to the religious motivation – both as the prevention from some “dangerous” motivational factors, and as the way to the integral social service.


Motivation in the human acting

Motivation is a substantial feature of every human activity. In fact, it is even a characteristic attribute distinguishing significantly human work from animal activity, even though at first sight, they could seem to be (when speaking about some manual activities) very similar. Motivation engages human spirituality by means of rational reflection and free decision-making, which are exclusive characteristics of a human being. Even if the motivation absents (some activities, deeds, etc.) and man acts unwittingly, this aspect continues to be significant because the man remains rational and free in every case and situation. With the exception of acting under pressure (violence), motivation, intention, is what defines the quality of man`s deed or action. Even from moral point of view motivation is one of three fundamental features which condition moral quality of an act (the other two are the object of the act and its circumstances). In accordance with Christian morality good intention does not justify bad act („The end does not justify the means’), but on the other hand good act done with bad intention is morally disqualified just because of bad motivation with which it was done.[1]

Just for these reasons the issue of human acting motivation accompanies the whole history of mankind, and exceptionally its deliberations which can be said to be psychological by means of




present terminology. Psychology has worked out plenty of theories trying to describe complicated processes running in one`s mind while deciding rationally and freely to act in this or that way. It is not the aim of this reflection to analyze these theories. However, it does not mean they are not important for our topic.


Special attention to some motivation factors

If it is important to think about the issue of man`s acting motivation, it is especially interesting to think about it as connected with optional or voluntary[2] activity which is not motivated by economical benefits and its incentives does not belong to the “give and take” category. In fact, this is what makes volunteership a worth noticing phenomenon – especially in present age and culture when people seem to hurry more and more intensively to achieve the biggest success in the shortest time and this motivation appears to be dominant, almost the only one. And yet, parallelly  with this “mainstream” culture of consumism, awareness of need to do something selflessly as a demonstration of personal maturity spreads more and more as an alternative culture.  Of course, together with stating this, it is necessary to point out that the volunteership phenomenom itself would suffer the biggest damage if it were taken as a priori “rosily”, as if it were automatically good, useful, beneficial and laudable. From the object of volunteer activity point of view it seems to be enough to differentiate volunteers dedicated to welfare services from destructive character volunteers (vandals, terrorists, etc.) and this statement would be applicable. However, concerning volunteers` motivation one should sometimes be on his guard against very useful service for man and society, because badly motivated volunteers can not only disqualify their work, but also ruin the whole volunteer organization. In this context Vitoušová presents nine “dangerous” motivations which every non-profit company looking for volunteers should be careful about:




-         compassion leading to degradation (putting down) of a client;

-         inappropriate and unnecessary curiosity;

-         service resulting from sense of obligation;

-         effort to deserve something;

-         personal unhappiness the candidate can not cope with, so he wants to look for his own spiritual balance in this service;

-         loneliness and desire for friendship resulting from it;

-         feeling of self-importance and irreplacability;

-         lack of self-respect and consequently desire to meet even more miserable people;

-         domineeringness, desire to control others and influence them.[3]

Such motivations hide unsolved inner personal problems which can hurt the service provided to clients very much, particularly when speaking about psychologically difficult situations of voluntary social service, and subvert entire organization formed and represented by the volunteer. These reflections underline the need for mature personality for voluntary work, especially in social service.


Religious motivation in voluntary service

This is the first reason for which it seems to be very useful to think about religious motivation for voluntary work. Of course, this can also be a case of religious “overlaying ” of some other motivation, however, on the other hand, religious motivation usually gets one to decision of engaging himself into religious, especially church charity works which are known for being interested in forming of their members, volunteers included, paying special attention to the forming of their heart. The present Pope Benedict XVI explains this forming as a requirement of love which demands special approach in relation to the volunteer as well as to his client: “It is needed to make them meet the God in the Christ which will awaken love in them and open their hearts for others, so that love to their brothers would not be a command given from outside to them, but a result of their faith which becomes active by means of love.”[4]




Such a formation works as a prevention of “dangerous” motivations mentioned above, respectively as help to identify them as voluntary work candidates. Along with that, a heart open to God by service to neighbour protects from temptations brought by this service – mainly from being fed up when results don`t appear, or from a temptation to excessive activism when one thinks help is needed everywhere as well as from a temptation to passiveness when it seems that our “drop in the ocean” won`t solve anything.[5] What is maybe even more important, sincere connection with God in prayer helps to identify these thoughts as temptations and makes one to face and overcome them in the right way.

The content of religious motivation itself is the second aspect making us highly regarding this kind of motivation in social services (professional or voluntary). There are some basic religious motivating ideas (thesis) causing the fact that the social service voluntary work was not only mostly religiously motivated in the past, but is a characteristic trait of majority of voluntary activities in social area at present.

First of them is a moral responsibility towards the created world, common for all monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) which make more than a half of world population together. This responsibility is based on common faith in God – the Creator and bears a vision of all creation as a harmonic “cosmos”, work of God`s love, worth of protection and development with awareness of responsibility towards the next generations. According to the faith of all three monotheistic religions the God will hold the man responsible for treating his creation, it means nature, natural resources, etc. From this point of view it seems to be especially urgent to fight intensively against tendency, typical for the last century, to subordinate the nature to higher and more devastating requirements of economical development: “A man, instead of carrying out his task of God`s co-worker in the work of creation, stands onto God`s position and causes a revolt of the nature tyrannizing it more than governing it.”[6]

From this point of view ecological mentality seems to be a requirement of these days, a condition of constantly sustainable development of humankind. Religious motivation in ecological




voluntary organization helps to face frequent extremisms of almost fundamentalistic deification of nature even at the expense of man the result of which is very often a distrust of ecological associations and their work.

Other significant religious motivation for social service is an idea of general brotherhood also based on faith in the only God – Creator of all people. Even this idea is common for all monotheistic religions. The faith in the only originator leads to the faith in universal brotherhood among all people. So if the first religious idea motivates mostly to ecological activities, the second one carries motivation mostly to peace activities. From religious point of view it is unacceptable to bolster hate among people seeking refuge in the same God – originator of both of them. Although it is only Christianity that names God “The Father”, this close, familiar relationship is present at the other two religions too in some way, and that is what the term brotherhood among people gets from. Pope John XXXIII. even identified this awareness of general brotherhood among people and desire for peace arising from it as a part of human nature.[7] That is why peace is a universal value and desire of all the people independently on their religious belief – as long as they let themselves to be led by their nature. Even here religious motivation helps at voluntary activities not to get to the extreme of pacifism in favour of peace and to respect the truth, justice, freedom and solidarity among people and nations when seeking peaceful solutions of existing conflicts.

The third significant motivation idea, present in this case too in theological reflection of all three monotheistic religions is a requirement of love for neighbour. It comes out from general brotherhood idea mentioned above, but leads a religiously based man to a deeper interpersonal relationship and to its specific manifestation. Of course, we can find different definitions of the term “neighbour” in particular religions, therefore our emphasizing of presence of mentioned motivating ideas in all monotheistic religions does not intend to put all of them on one level, but it wants to highlight that in social service monotheistic religions have very wide (and fundamental) common base which leads and must lead their disciples to searching for cooperation in social area.




Shortly said, although there is more of what makes these religions different than what is common for them, the common features are substantial for social service motivation. On the other hand, it is necessary to point out that it is Christianity that brings the idea of universal brotherhood to results of universal treatment of the term “neighbour”. The basic cornerstone of this idea are Christ`s words defining the term “neighbour” in relation to “love for neighbour” requirement. It`s mainly about a Good Samaritan parable in which Jesus turns the view of Hebrew culture, formulated by question “Who is my neighbour?” (Lk 10, 29) and after telling the story about the Samaritan who was, from three wayfarers, the only one being interested in a man in need, asks the question reversely: “Which of these three was a neighbour to the man?” The present Pope Benedict XVI explains this “copernicus ” perspective change by words: “Whoever needs me and I am able to help him, is my neighbour.

The term of neighbour is generalized (universal – note of S.K.), remains concrete though. In spite of its spreading over all people, it does not narrow itself to non-obligatory and abstract love, but requires my activity here and right now.”[8]        

Finally, there is one more substantial religious, in this case already specifically Christian, motivation for selfless social service, and that`s mutual interdigitation, even identification between service to God and service to neighbour in need. Jesus`s parable about the Judgement Day (Mt 25, 31-45) is maybe the most powerful motive accompanying Christianity from its beginning two thousand years ago until the present day and leading Christians as individuals as well as community towards a multilateral, persistent and single-minded creative service for people in need.[9]

Any act of service (resp. refusing of it) for neighbour in need is an act of service (resp. refusing of it) to God. This caused charity service to become one of the three inherent pillars of Christian life (together with preaching the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments). In his program encyclical the present pope aims Christian community`s (especially Catholic church the head of which he has become) attention just to this awareness at the beginning of the third millennium.[10] In his words one can




even sense a disagreement with rather widespread perception of social work as professional service and charity voluntary activity as a complement of it. He names professional competence the first requirement of Christian charity love: “The helping ones have to be formed in such a way that they will be able to act in the right way in right situation.”[11] This idea is exceptionally motivating for social workers as well as for social volunteers: love is the first motive that leads and forces to seek opportunities to help one in need , but also to form own competence with a goal of helping him in the most effective way if possible. What also helps with identification of love for neighbour and love to God manifestation from the beginning of Christianity is a reflection of St. John (being a part of the New Testament) in which the evangelist refuses vigorously as unacceptable and deceptive those religion (love to God) manifestations which are not demonstrated by charity service (love for neighbour): “if anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”(1 Jn 4,20)


Christian voluntary work as a charity service

Just on this New Testament foundation Benedict XVI. explains practical results of Christian religion and at the same time lays theological fundamentals of Christian motivation for charity service: “Love for neighbour is a way to meet the God and closing eyes just not to see our neighbour makes us blind towards to God. [12]” From the other side: “Just my willingness to go straight ahead my neighbour and to express my love for him makes me sensitive to God. Just service to my neighbour opens my eyes to see what God does for me and how He loves me.”[13] Such taken a service to neighbour is selfless by its very nature, but what is even more important, it is a meeting of a whole man with a whole man. In other words, it is a meeting of a person accepting a man in need as a person too, with its richness and needs on physical, mental and spiritual level – which is of a piece with the gift of self-giving. In this way the volunteering in social service to people in need becomes in




the true sense of the word “the school of life educating to solidarity and willingness to give not just some thing but education to self-giving too. ”[14]

In this meaning we don`t speak just about “religious” motivation to voluntary work as it seems to be better to call it spiritual motivation. In our opinion, it is not about making the term wider, but narrower – a volunteer motivated by true love for neighbour does not engage himself in social service just because of his faith, but also for existential reason – it is a lifestyle form for him or her, a part of personal culture, his or her own spiritual life manifestation. It is remarkable that service in relation to spiritual life of a volunteer understood and provided in this way works as “connected containers”: active voluntary work (especially in social service) makes spiritual life (of an individual or community) deeper, and together with that deeper spiritual life leads to more intensive engagement in voluntary service.

From subjective point of view, this motivation is an exceptionally effective part of integral personality development, particularly in the context of contemporary economistic and consumistic mentality. However, the real cause why, in our opinion, society – however secularly and pluralistically oriented – should purposefully support just Christian religious motivation to volunteer social service as well as works done in this spirit, is its effect bringing from objective point of view. Self-giving, giving of own heart aimed by purposeful service at a whole man in need, with his needs in other words, taking to account all the three levels as we mentioned above, is really an effective way to reach success in providing social service as such.

In the course of history and nowadays too one can state that society, however secularly, atheistically or in anti-Christian manner oriented, bowed and bows itself to authentic Christian charity service and its fruit. Maybe it would be useful to ask an open question in what lies and by what is this service motivated… and subsequently to do the best to support it without any prejudices if we want the social sphere to provide real effective social service.

[1] For instance, if I help my neighbor with her garden-work (good object of an act) when she is exhausted and there is going to be a storm in a while (good circumstances), but I do it to seduce her to be unfaithful to her husband (bad intention), from moral point of view the whole act is bad.

[2] For a discussion about the content and differences between these terms see: MATULAYOVÁ, T.: Dobrovoľníctvo v sociálnych službách v kontexte andragogiky a sociálnej práce. Prešov : Prešovská univerzita v Prešove, 2007, p. 17.  We will use them as synonyms for this reflection purpose.

[3] VITOUŠOVÁ, P.: Motivace pro práci v neziskovém sektoru. Praha : Agnes, 1998 – quoted in: TOŠNER, J., SOZANSKÁ, O.: Dobrovolníci a práce s nimi v organizacích. Praha : Portál, 2006, p. 46.

[4] BENEDIKT XVI.: Deus caritas est (25.12.2005), art. 31, Vatican Tipografia Polyglotta : 2006 (from now on: DCE).

[5] Cfr. DCE 35ff.

[6] JOHN PAUL II, Centesimus annus (1.5.1991), art. 37, Vatican Tipografia Polyglotta : 1991.

[7] Cfr. JOHN XXIII, Pacem in terris (11.4.1963), especially the 1st chapter, Vatican Tipografia Polyglotta : 1963.

[8] DCE 15.

[9] See also: KOŠČ, S.: Teologické proprium sociálneho učenia Cirkvi. In: DUDA, J. (ed.): Aktuálne otázky z teológie. Zborník z vedeckej konferencie, Ružomberok, 7. decembra 2005, Ružomberok : Pedagogická fakulta Katolíckej univerzity v Ružomberku, 2006, p. 119-131; KOŠČ, S.: Prednostná láska k chudobným ako kritérium spoločenskej morálky. In: Katechéza v škole a v rodine. Zborník prednášok z konferencie, Ružomberok, 6.-11. novembra 2006, Ružomberok : Pedagogická fakulta Katolíckej univerzity v Ružomberku, 2006, p. 7-12.

[10] Cfr. DCE, the whole 2nd part.

[11] DCE 31.

[12] DCE 16.

[13] DCE 18.

[14] DCE 30.



Stanislav Košč