Recently we were contacted to provide commentary for some forthcoming research. The request involved explaining the gender difference in various types of peer-to-peer events.
There isn’t a “more helpful” sex; both men and women help others. But the gender difference in the peer-to-peer realm is stark – women participate and fundraise at significantly higher levels than do men. This mirrors the general nonprofit space; on average, women are nearly 30% more likely to volunteer.
One popular explanation for this difference points to the amount of time that men and women have available. The argument goes that women volunteer more than men because fewer women hold full-time jobs. But when we compare men and women who work full-time, only 23% of men volunteer, compared to 30% of women. This pattern is true across just about any demographic you look at. Regardless of income level, age, or employment status, women are more likely to volunteer.
This begs two questions – why does this gender gap occur, and what can I do to recruit more men?
In her wonderful book, Strangers Drowning, Larissa MacFarquhar, talks about people being “do-gooders, concerned with the well-being of others.” It’s easy to be a do-gooder towards one’s family and friends; the people she writes about extend their conviction to help to strangers, people they have never met. (Note: I am using her language here somewhat loosely – if you haven’t read this book I recommend you do so ASAP).
Another type of person that MacFarquhar talks about is the “hero,” someone who comes upon a problem and decides to help. MacFarquhar, and other research confirms, when heroes aren’t helping, they return to their ordinary life. Contrast the hero with the do-gooder, who knows there are crises everywhere – all the time – and seeks them out. You can think of men as being more of the hero type, women more the do-gooders.
The difference between heroes and do-gooders affects the ways they volunteer. Research concludes that men and women engage in different types of prosocial behaviors. Men are more likely to engage in more physically demanding, risky activities, whereas women participate in long-term, sustained efforts.
Here are some of the ways men and women differ when volunteering –
Prefer to volunteer in organizations that are people oriented, emphasizing consensus, communication, and cooperation.
Prefer to volunteer in organizations that are less structured and less hierarchal than do men.
Prefer volunteer tasks that emphasize group-orientation, group-facilitation, and reciprocal relationships.
Remain longer in volunteer roles in which they feel a sense of intimacy and belonging with others in the organization.
Prefer to volunteer in organizations that are goal and achievement oriented, emphasizing efficiency in meeting clearly defined objectives.
Prefer to volunteer in organizations with a clearly defined hierarchy.
Prefer volunteer tasks that involve team competition.
Remain longer in volunteer roles in which they feel personally empowered, and derive a sense of efficacy.
What do these gender differences mean for attracting more men to our causes? Especially for men, it is important that there is a goal to shoot for. When the goal has been accomplished, give ‘em a trophy! Whatever it is, remember the “heroic” aspect of their behavior. Men -- -- the heroes -- respond strongly to being recognized publicly for working on your behalf.
Otis: I am not amused by the little trophy my wife, Katrina, installed near the trash containers in our house. But, I understand…