Motivational Theories of Animal Shelters Essay

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Functional motivation suggests that psychological factors, such as a need to feel useful, a need for a sense of purpose, motivate volunteerism (Widjaja, 2010). Therefore, volunteerism can be framed within the tenets of basic behaviorism and cognitive-behavioral principles. If volunteering feels good, then a person will be increasingly motivated to volunteer. Volunteering is not always selfless and altruistic; it can be ego-driven. In some situations, the motivation to volunteer comes from concrete extrinsic variables such as receiving credit in school or one's place of employment (Widjaja, 2010). Social motives for volunteering include social pressure or even shaming (Widjaja, 2010). Individuals can be pushed into volunteering from a sense of obligation or guilt, or pulled into it based on factors like boredom, curiosity, or an altruistic desire to promote the well being of others.
Self-determination theory takes individual differences into account, and differentiates between autonomous motivation and controlled motivation (Oostlander, Guntert, van Schie, & Wehner, 2013). Autonomous motivation comes from personal choice and is therefore a form of intrinsic motivation. Factors like "interest" and "fun" factor in to autonomous motivation (Oostlander, Guntert, van Schie & Wehner, 2013, p. 3). Research shows that intrinsic, autonomous motivation for volunteerism leads to greater volunteer work satisfaction and greater work effort, too (Oostlander, Guntert, van Schie & Wehner, 2013). Autonomously motivated persons find value in the volunteer work and find the work interesting or enjoyable (Oostlander, Guntert, van Schie & Wehner, 2013). Controlled motivation, on the other hand, entails extrinsic motivation such as pressure to engage in a volunteer activity, or guilt avoidance (Oostlander, Guntert, van Schie & Wehner, 2013). Research suggests that young people may be more apt to volunteer based on controlled motivation versus autonomous motivation (Markovitz & Queen, 2009). Volunteers in animal shelters tend to be motivated by "a need to act on important values relating to animals," suggesting intrinsic and autonomous factors, but that may also be due to the majority of shelter volunteers being female (Markovitz & Queen, 2009, p. 11). Moreover, Stroup, Dodson, Elias & Gewirtzman (2015) show that positive affect due to volunteerism is cumulative, in that a good experience with volunteering is more likely to lead to the motivation to volunteer again. Therefore, recruiting new volunteers becomes challenging.

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Gender Differences in Motivation to Volunteer

Historically, women have been involved in animal rights activism. In the 19th century, for example, antivivisection societies were almost exclusively female (Markovitz & Queen, 2009). The typical animal shelter volunteer is not only female but also white, heterosexual, employed, pet owning, and between the ages of 40 and 59 (Markovitz & Queen, 2009). The reason for women's historical engagement with volunteer activities is likely due to women's exclusion from the paid labor market until around the time of Second World War. Therefore, women have theoretically been autonomously motivated to volunteer. Individual differences aside, women might have been motivated by a desire to make their lives meaningful, to fill their time, or to devote their time to promoting welfare. Taniguchi (2006) found that even when women work part time or full time, they are more likely than men to volunteer or provide unpaid work in the form of caring for elders. Women's unpaid labor in the domestic sphere can also be framed as a version of volunteerism, and one signaling intrinsic and autonomous motivators.

Gender differences in the motivation to volunteer for animal shelters can therefore be explained partly by the differences in attitude towards volunteer work between men and women. Whereas women will volunteer regardless of their job status, men are actually less likely to volunteer when they are unemployed versus when they are employed part time (Taniguchi, 2006). If animal shelters wish to attract more male volunteers, it will be helpful to understand what intrinsic factors motivate men to volunteer. Autonomous motivation and self-determination theory suggest that making the work engaging, interesting, fun, and personally rewarding will stimulate motivation among both genders, thereby promoting interest in volunteering at animal shelters.

For men, volunteer work may be considered more of a "leisure activity," versus work (Taniguchi, 2006). This may be due to the pressures to conform to masculine roles as bread winners and active participants in the labor market, whereas it is more socially acceptable for women to work outside of the labor market such as by volunteering. Yet if men construe volunteer work as leisure activity, then it would not make sense that free time.....

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Davis, R. (2013). Understanding volunteerism in an animal shelter environment. College of Professional Studies Professional Projects, Paper 54.

Markovitz, A.S. & Queen, R. (2009). Women and the world of dog rescue. Society and Animals 17(2009): 325-342.

Oostlander, J., Guntert, S.T., van Schie, S. & Wehner, T. (2013). Leadership and volunteer motivation. Nonprofit and Volunteer Sector Quarterly 20(10): 1-21.

Stroup, J.T., Dodson, K., Elias, K. & Gewirtzman, A. (2015). A passion for service?

Taniguchi, H. (2006). Men's and women's volunteering. Nonprofit and Volunteer Sector Quarterly 35(1): 83-101.

Widjaja, E. (2010). Motivation behind volunteerism. Retrieved online:

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