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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


KRUGELL, Waldo. Who are the good Samaritans? Characteristics of volunteers in South Africa. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2010, vol.50, n.2, pp.187-196. ISSN 2224-7912.

Volunteers are people who supply labour for the production of goods and services for the benefit of others. They play an important role in the economy and community. One in four Americans work as volunteers and in Sweden 59 per cent of people who are employed also work as volunteers. Volunteer work is of significance in a time when social safety nets are thinning and there are ever increasing demands on welfare organisations. If volunteers are understood better, it may be possible to harness their power for the greater good. The question is, who are these good Samaritans? The consumption model of volunteer work states that individuals choose to spend time on paid work, leisure and volunteer work. It is then an empirical question whether volunteers are high-income or low-income individuals. If the substitution effect dominates, an increase in the wage rate will lead to a decrease in volunteer work as the opportunity cost of an hour of volunteering increases as the remuneration of paid work increases. If the income effect dominates, a higher wage rate means that an individual can work fewer hours to earn the same income as before and this will lead to an increase in volunteer work. By contrast, the investment model of volunteer work states that individuals volunteer as an investment in human capital. Future earnings may be increased if the skills and contacts that are developed in volunteer work can also contribute in the field of paid employment. This study examines the characteristics of volunteers in South Africa through the use of data from the labour force survey of September 2007. The focus is on formal volunteers. They work for organisations in the fields of social and health services, education, emergency services, the environment, politics and religion. The results show that volunteers in South Africa are mostly female and white. They are of working age with an important share of them being older than 55 years. Most volunteers are well educated and have obtained qualifications after Grade 12. Most volunteers are employed, but a substantial portion is not economically active. Of those that are working, most are in permanent positions and often they can determine their working hours themselves. A significant percentage of people who own businesses also do volunteer work. When the monthly income of volunteers is examined, it is clear that greater proportions of people from high-income groups work as volunteers. This is, however, only a first effort to learn more about volunteers in South Africa. A rich international literature exists about the hours that volunteers work, the types of volunteer work and factors that motivate volunteers. The management of volunteer work in non-governmental organisations is another field of study. In South Africa there is a clear need for further research. The HIV/Aids pandemic is putting significant pressure on social safety nets and provides volunteers with a key health care role. Similarly, the organisation of the 2010 Soccer World Cup will depend on the work of volunteers. Official data sources are, however, limited and further research will require good surveys.

Keywords : Volunteers; Labour Force Survey; South Africa.

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