The role of disgust sensitivity in volunteer recruitment and retention

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In the United States, many volunteers contribute unpaid labor to nonprofit organizations. This labor includes direct volunteer service (working in close physical proximity to individuals who receive assistance, such as homeless and elderly individuals) and indirect volunteer service (administrative or fundraising tasks that do not require direct engagement with the target population). This paper extends the marketing theory of product contagion, in which proximity to disgust-inducing stimuli devalues consumer products, to preferences for direct versus indirect volunteer activities. A study conducted among U.S.-based adults found that higher sensitivity to disgust led to a greater preference for indirect volunteer service opportunities over direct volunteer opportunities. This result—which did not differ by gender—was mediated by the likelihood that indirect (vs. direct) volunteering was perceived as representative of volunteer work. Disgust sensitivity did not predict the total amount of volunteer work performed. Implications for recruitment and retention of volunteers are discussed.

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