The effects of recognition and group need on volunteerism: a social norm perspective

The significance of volunteering for both individuals and society has lead to numerous studies on this behavior across the social sciences. However, virtually no prior research has evaluated how and to what extent organizations can effectively encourage individuals to contribute time to a worthy cause. The present research uses a social norm perspective to examine the conditions under which promotional appeals based on group need and promises of recognition affect volunteerism. The perspective suggests that norm compliance can be expected only when the prescribed behavior is both important to the group's welfare and subject to group‐mediated rewards. Consequently, we hypothesize that promotional appeals based on group need and promised recognition are effective only when they are used in combination. Results of a laboratory and a field experiment are consistent with this hypothesis and provide insights into the process by which the appeals affect individuals' decisions to help. The results also have implications for understanding and promoting other socially desirable behaviors such as recycling, energy conservation, litter reduction, and the purchase of “green” products.