Organized Cooperation: A Behavioral Perspective on Volunteerism

Carolyn Brayko, Ramona Houmanfar, Elizabeth Ghezzi


In 2014 in the United States, an estimated 62.8 million people, or 25.3% of the population volunteered their time and money to a nonprofit organization, spending around 7.9 billion hours of volunteer time (“Volunteering in 2014,” 2015). Volunteerism accounts for a significant portion of the workforce, particularly among nonprofit organizations that rely heavily on community support to provide necessary, yet usually unprofitable services. Despite the importance of volunteer practices, volunteer retention is a pervasive issue and can be a time-consuming and costly endeavor for the organization. The current paper provides a review of behavior analytic literature of cooperation, altruism, and more generally in terms of verbally and socially-maintained behavior patterns to discuss how behavior science is suited for empirically investigating volunteer behavior. Furthermore, although behavior systems analysis has not specifically addressed volunteerism, this analytic approach could be beneficial to investigate ameliorating volunteer maintenance and retention on the large scale. The conclusion explores research suggestions and likely implications of expanding behavior analysis further into this domain.


Volunteerism, cooperation, altruism, units of analysis, behavior analysis, behavioral systems analysis, macrocontingency, metacontingency

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Published by the University of Illinois at Chicago Library

And Behaviorists for Social Responsibility